Even so, it seems that in this era of Obama -- particularly in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision -- the process of politics, Rovian or otherwise, has surpassed simple politics in general, in its contribution as a nurturing force in the ongoing devolution of American culture. But even prior to the Court's ruling -- which forever provides corporate right-wing activists like David and Charles Koch the cover necessary to legally fund a wide range of covert political activity -- the political process had become a virtual firewall that filters out many of those most fit for the job, thereby managing to reserve ground only for the loudest and strangest of bedfellows, instead of the brightest that America has to offer.
As a result mainstream American culture, both social and political, has basically been left to fend off assaults to its dignity from the likes of cultural grifters such as Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin; unctuous pseudo-theologians like Rick Perry or Mike Huckabee; illicitly opportunistic "defenders of the Constitution" such as Senators Jim DeMint and Rand Paul; educated-beyond-their-intelligence "thinkers" such as Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D'Souza and Bachmann; and irksome buffoons like Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump, and Rush Limbaugh. Another result has been the obvious uptick in the degree of social and political polarization which seems to have resulted in the open displays of callous indifference toward fellow Americans witnessed during the debates.
The hate pot
So, how did we get there?
The view here is that it started at the top. For starters, one need look no further than Ronald Reagan; the GOP's sainted "Gipper" (who, by the politically fratricidal nature of today's Tea Party-inspired conservatives, would likely be attacked as a conservative wuss by Republicans of the Gingrich, Santorum or Bachmann ilk). Nevertheless, America's so-called "amiable dunce" was the figure in many ways largely responsible for helping remove the stigma connected to the open expression of prejudice; for elevating it from a subtle whisper between like-minded malcontents, to the blatant roar it has reached today.
Although the couriers of his legacy would never own up to it, Reagan's mendacity helped generate an atmosphere that emboldened certain elements of society into openly expressing attitudes of racism, sexism, and class-ism. It was their "Great Communicator" who meshed his considerable charisma and oratorical gifts with barely-coded rhetoric to graft and popularize demonstrably false bromides about Cadillac-owning "welfare queens" and such, thus assisting in the furtherance of the "us versus them" mind-set that's culminated in the "red state-blue-state" political dynamic. And he got himself elected -- twice -- in part, as a result of that strategy.
The GOP has since used cultural polarization as a formidable and decisive political weapon. It's been successfully employed to both attain and retain power up to and including that of the Commander in Chief. Bear in mind that in the early to mid-eighties, it was an admittedly scruples-challenged Lee Atwater , ace political tactician for Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, who greatly honed the concept of cultural divisiveness as part of his general political strategy of negative campaigns. "Just keep stirring the pot," Atwater famously advised. "You never know what will come up."
The "pot" referenced by Atwater is likely the same one boasted about in Massachusetts just a few years prior when, in 1978, then-incumbent Governor Michael Dukakis, a liberal "technocrat," was defeated by Republican Edward J. King, a right-wing political neophyte. At the time, the newly-elected governor's campaign manager, Angelo V. Berlandi, provided the following explanation of how the arch-conservative King was able to pull off the stunning upset in the uber-liberal Bay State: "We put all the hate groups in a big pot and stirred"."
As it turned out, King served just one term as Dukakis re-gained that office in the very next election. Dukakis then ran -- while remaining governor -- for the presidency against George H.W. Bush in a campaign during which the Republican hate pot was used extensively to cook up a veritable feast of negative campaigning including the blatantly iniquitous "Willie Horton " political ad Atwater unleashed on Dukakis.
It was also during that campaign that Dukakis' prospects for election suffered what was considered a grave, self-inflicted wound resulting from his remarks during one of his debates with Bush. It occurred when the Dukakis gave what was considered the "wrong" response to a Bernard Shaw question designed to test the resolve of the Massachusetts governor's opposition to the death penalty. It was a hypothetical concoction by Shaw involving the rape and murder of Dukakis's wife. Shaw asked whether Dukakis would, under those circumstances, change his anti-death penalty position.
"No, Bernard," was Dukakis' response. "And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent and I think there are better and more useful ways to deal with violent crime."
Many felt that the Dukakis' presidential ambitions were at that moment vaporized due to what was widely criticized as a response completely devoid of human emotion. And though it did indeed have a devastatingly negative effect on his candidacy, it was primarily the barrage of negative campaigning culminating with the Horton spot -- which, for all intents and purposes was essentially a death penalty issue -- that was widely considered the key in turning public support toward Bush, Sr., who eventually came back from as many as 17-points behind in the polls to win.
"Pro-life" and death
And so again today, it is the death penalty which has joined an extraordinary carousel of peculiar factors in the upcoming presidential election. This time around it involves the unexpectedly spontaneous, near cult-like "cheer for death" -- showered upon evangelical front-artist and sometimes front-runner Rick Perry during an MSNBC-sponsored debate.
By now, it's been well-documented: Brian Williams made note of the fact that as Texas Governor, Perry has presided over a record number of executions. As he introduced the question, the audience at that point was, to quote an infamous bad guy: "so quiet you could hear a rat pissing on cotton in China." But once Williams delved into the actual number -- 234 at the time and counting -- the crowd erupted in raucous cheer.
Perhaps the underlying message of these proud, faith-based Tea Party conservatives is: "Pro life? You betcha! Right up until the moment you emerge from the womb."