Karl Rove's Republicanism or why the Democrats are more closely aligned with internet culture
I wrote this post earlier in the year, health system before Karl Rove left the White House, and forgot about it. I decided to bring it back since I've been thinking a lot about how the web is changing our lives.
The thing about comparing Republicans and Democrats is that it's not an apples to apples comparison. I’d argue that they are two different constructs that as a function of necessity and history have been described as two political parties, but really it would be like comparing a noun and a car, or a fruit and philosophy – things that might share some common elements but really should not be the basis for meaningful comparisons. Listening to Karl Rove talk about his party's "mission" and Tom Delay talk about global warming, I get the sense that each party is running a separate race, not against each other with a common definition of success, but separate battles altogether.
Enter bias. Democrats seem to pursue change based on humanitarian ideals, whereas Republicans seem to pursue control in the name of more abstract ideals. It is interesting that Karl Rove's Republican rhetoric involves use of the word “natural” so often. A "natural majority" for example. Because he knows that to further his party's agenda requires skillful and heavyhanded masterminding, precisely because the agenda is...unnatural. It is unnatural to protect extreme wealth in the face of huge economic disparities, to believe so strongly in individualism that we ignore compassion. It is unnatural to deny our responsibility in damaging the earth.
Karl Rove observes two important trends: that people want individual responsibility/market forces and that they crave spirituality. I actually agree, but I think he is dead wrong about how we will get there. I believe people will seek a new level of wholeness and fulfillment in their lives but not by flocking to evangelical churches, but rather by tuning into their environments, joining communities for social change, paying more attention to their health, examining their role in social inequity and demanding greater transparency from their institutions. And yes people want market forces; Karl Rove cites Ebay. But he draws a totally weird conclusion about free markets. What people are really doing on Ebay is building a new economy of trust, by proving that the individual empowered by information and access to resources will be a creative, productive force of “good” in the world. Communities will form that will self-regulate. Groups will learn. Ethics will not have to be sleazily forced by political machinery; a point totally lost on Karl Rove. A sense of collective morality can grow if you believe in people. And this is really what the internet ethic is about; what we are seeing evolve in the socially networked world some of us are lucky enough to live in.
Rove's brand of Republicanism isn't about this at all. According to him, unless the party is hypervigilant and controlling of the message it will lose its grip. It's the essence of old school, top-down, unidirectional media; web 0.0. And probably, his fear is justified, because his version of the party line is inherently unnatural and precarious to begin with. It requires a politics of fear and insecurity. Not unlike what would be spouted by dictators who live with the constant threat of a coup because deep down inside they know they've wrested power, not earned it; that the principles for which they stand would not be the logical outcome of truly democratic debate. Instead the message needs to be constantly repositioned and framed so that it's never seen for the Emperor's new clothes that it is.