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American conservatives create their own reality

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If you sometimes feel that the world is increasingly impossible to understand, that many things simply make no logical sense at all, that a kind of craziness prevailed, consider that it may be your own failure to keep up. Face it: You just don't understand how much of the world works anymore, and it's time you got with the program.

I first got a sense of how the program worked back in 2004 in a riveting New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind. Mr. Suskind was reporting a conversation he'd had with an aide to George Bush (probably the president's diabolical Rasputin, Karl Rove), and presented the following mind-bending revelation:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

So: Virtually all Americans already believe in their country's exceptionalism -- the axiom (to them) that the United States is qualitatively different from and superior to all other nations and that it's entitled to play by special rules. Now, within this immensely reassuring paradigm, American conservatives have developed a caste system. Some exceptionalisms, it seems, are more exceptional than others. (Stephen Harper's Conservatives in Canada have now adopted this mindset, as we'll see next week.)

It is really only by appreciating the concept of creating your own reality, described by Mr. Suskind, that the deranged -- yet frighteningly effective -- escapades of the Republican Party over the past decade can be remotely understood. From the war on an enemy called terror (can terror surrender?) to the invasion of Iraq to transforming John Kerry from genuine war hero into a cheat, liar and coward; from Sarah Palin to the Tea Party to the wholesale proliferation of firearms; from the present Republican presidential candidates to denying Barack Obama's American citizenship to denying climate change to denying evolution -- you can see that the scope of an alternative reality is infinite.

Let me do what seem at first entirely absurd and invoke here in support of my argument David Frum, until now so pugnacious a hard conservative he made the Harper government seem positively pinkalicious. Yet his Republican Party has now sunk to levels even lower than Mr. Frum's. Writing last month in New York magazine, Mr. Frum seemed to be elaborating on the Suskind revelations:

Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority...Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) "the only place in the world where it doesn't matter who your parents were or where you came from."

Could any liberal (don't fret, David, just saying...) issue a harsher indictment?

Look at the freak show known as the Republican presidential race, which has finally degenerated into two candidates. One, Newt Gingrich, is a self-adoring serial hypocrite who believes labour laws for children are "truly stupid" and calls for child janitors as young as 9 to clean their school bathrooms. Who can disagree when he argues they would be "dramatically less expensive than unionized janitors"? Mr. Gingrich, whose history PhD mortifies all others of us with one, also describes the Obama administration as a "secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did." In the pungent phrase of liberal pundit Eric Alterman, this is "batshit-crazy."

The other leading candidate, Mitt Romney is deemed the least whacko of the contenders. Mr. Romney, who may well be a droid, is worth as much as a quarter of billion dollars thanks to companies he bought where he then laid off masses of employees, adheres to a religion that makes Scientology look sensible, has turned opportunism into a way of life, lies unabashedly about President Obama, and would pre-emptively invade Iran to ensure it had no nuclear weapons.

Where is Sarah Palin when we need her?

Of course the Republicans have no monopoly on inventing imaginary new worlds. In fact, the most guilty party of all in this respect may well be Barack Obama himself. Few will forget the magic moment at the 2004 Democratic convention when we first met him. Remember that passionate speech declaring that there were in America no red states, no blue states, only the United States? It was fabulous rhetoric and complete hooey -- a utopian fantasy ignoring a dysfunctionally polarized reality. And just to complete the delusion, Mr. Obama has governed as if his fantasy was the reality. The tragically ironic result has been an ever-crazier hardball conservatism that nevertheless commands substantial public support and a weak, amateurish President who has moved ever closer to those who are dedicated to destroying him.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

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