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Drill, Baby, Drill: Anatomy Of A Slogan

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Remember that moment during the Biden/Palin debate when she corrected him on McCain economic policy? Not Drill, Drill, Drill. No, she said, with that corrective index finger raised. It's Drill, Baby, Drill.

Actually, ludicrous though it seems, the difference makes a difference. There's the not too obvious sexual connotion to Sarah's version which is supposed to appeal to working class white men. She's like some Freudian condensation of the babe who struts around the wrestling ring between rounds and everyman's sister or mom. That's Sarah's genius. She authorizes both those images of women at once.

But here's the real significance of the slogan. It's more powerful than sex. What is more powerful than sex? Identity. Drill, baby drill caters directly to the angry base that Palin and McCain have been inciting. Their rage goes beyond resentment of elitism, it goes beyond even racism. It goes to the growing realization in their hearts that they have been wrong about everything. And not just wrong in their opinions. Wrong in their very being.

That's not my judgment of them. It's their own framing. They anchored their politics on the idea that they were the "real Americans" and that America was "the greatest country in the world." It followed that they were pretty special and their God-given specialness meant they didn't have to bother reading history or researching issues. They just knew! So now, as the whole Reagan-Bush house of cards comes tumbling down, the fear that grips them is primal. Their identity is stake. Mere equity, mere human dignity was never enough for them. They had to be "#1."

Back in the 80's, back before wind and solar were splashed all over corporate websites, back when most Americans thought environmentalists were a tiny fringe of loony tree-huggers--there was a bumper sticker you used to see on some of the gas guzzlers: Nuke The Whales, it said. A brilliant image, actually, in its own horrifying way, That sneering little slogan caused much hilarity among Bill O'Reilly's "folks" when it was Morning in America.

Drill, Baby, Drill is a contemporary version of Nuke The Whales. Except the power balance is reversed. What was once a mocking expression of actual domination has been reduced to a desperate simulation. It's a symbolic cry for a lost simplicity, a lost centrality in American culture. Because, in their hearts, the folks understand that the ground has cratered beneath them. They feel the abyss.

So drill, baby, drill. It's a long way down.