What the Hell Was That Ground Zero 'Mosque' Uproar Really About, Anyway? The Future of the Conservative Movement
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Now that the so-called Ground Zero Mosque controversy is slipping off the front pages for the first time in weeks, it's time to ask: Just what the hell was all that about, anyway? Why was it so important that we had to spend all that time discussing it? And why are the conservatives taking out after the Muslim community now -- nine full years after 9/11?
By now, it's pretty obvious that this was never really about sacred ground or respecting the memories of the dead. What it was really about was the future of the conservative movement.
Where Have All The Bad Guys Gone?
Conservatives can do without a God, but they can’t get through the day without a devil. Their entire model of reality revolves around the existence of an existential enemy who’s out to annihilate them. Take that focal point away, and their whole worldview collapses into incoherence. This need is so central to their thinking that if there are no actual enemies around, they’ll go to considerable lengths to make some (or just make some up).
Unfortunately, the past couple of decades have been rough for them on this front. Losing the Communists as the Bad Guys left a big gap in the conservative cosmology, which they've been trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to fill ever since. This void has driven them crazy, forcing them to reveal their inner ugliness in all kinds of ways as they thrash around looking for some likely replacement. The longer this goes on, the more of that ugliness we've all seen -- and the less coherent their politics have become.
They had some luck early on with gays. But that target had one serious flaw. If you're going to go to all the trouble of conjuring yourself a major existential demon, you want one people can hate on with unfettered abandon for at least a couple of decades to come. The biggest threat to that goal is familiarity: it's nearly impossible to sustain the necessary level of fear when members of the feared group are living on your own street (or can be seen regularly on your own TV), where you're forced to deal with them as actual human beings. It's a question of ROI: you don't want to invest all that effort in a creating a target, only to have people figure out within just a few years that you were flat-out lying about how awful those people are. In the end, hating on gays turned out to be nothing but a big fat credibility hit, which they're still paying for.
Hating on Latinos seemed promising for a while; but it's fizzling out, too. Even the most rageaholic right-wingers now realize that the GOP has no future if conservatives don't knock off that crap, preferably 15 years ago. You've got a rising Millennial generation that's 44% minority -- a plurality of it Latino -- that will probably not be voting Republican in their lifetimes due to this new New Southern Strategy. So that's not going to work, either.
For a couple of years around 2008-2009, they tried to ratchet up the liberal-hating. The proximity problem made liberals a bad target from the get. But on top of that, there was a scary rash of nutjobs who didn't get the memo that this was all just political noisemaking, and the "liberals are a mortal threat to the nation" exhortation wasn't meant to be taken as a literal call to arms. In less than a year, over a dozen people were murdered in cold blood as a direct result of this hatemongering; and Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bernard Goldberg, and Bill O'Reilly were all put in the uncomfortable position of telling people that they didn't mean for their blustering eliminationist screeds to be taken seriously. Given the choice between dialing down the liberal-bashing or acknowledging the blood on their hands, they picked the obvious alternative.