Third Party & Independents Archives

The politics of projection

In the tit-for-tat world of Republican-Democratic duopoly politics, “I know you are but what am I” is a revered comeback for beleaguered ideologues. Is there any hope for those of us more interested in principles and truth than in the trivialities of two-party politics?

Democrats respond to the claim that John Kerry is a "flip-flopper" by itemizing the issues on which Bush has staked out territory on both sides of the fence. When the GOP criticized Kerry for voting against "vital weapons systems," Democrats/liberals pointed out that Cheney had cast similar votes when he was in the Congress. When Team Bush claims that Kerry wants to raise taxes, the "opposition" notes that Republican led state governments have been raising taxes for years. Etc.

Does this pattern of allegation on the part of the Bush campaign indicate a conscious strategy, or is it rather an unconscious projection, a naive hypocrisy? Clearly, on the assumption that everyone hears the allegation but few catch the rebuttal, it could be worthwhile (though risky) to determine which criticisms would be most damaging to your own presidential bid, and then level them against your opponent before he can call you on them. But then again, perhaps this is just one more example of the Bush administration's ineptitude: it can't avoid getting caught in its own rhetorical traps. Whatever the case may be, political ping-pong has been virtually built into the presidential campaign at the tactical level.

A similar back and forth plays out at a more general level as well. While liberal Democrats have no qualms about accusing the right of "lacking patriotism," conservative Republicans are fond of denouncing the left as "anti-American." The logic of political projection, however, suggests that it is liberals who are unpatriotic and conservatives who are anti-American. Indeed, is it not unpatriotic to question the patriotism of one's ideological opponents simply to score sound bytes in the mass media, just as it is anti-American to claim that questioning or criticizing government gives aid and comfort to the enemy? It is surprising that liberals and leftists have yet to loudly make the case that conservatism is anti-Americanism. Just today Tom Delay denounced Nancy Pelosi for daring to criticize the president.

Instead, liberals and Democrats whine that the Bush administration is losing the war of ideas abroad. But they often seem to forget that this war begins at home. There should be no doubt that conservatives understand themselves to be at war with the "secular left," "the enemy within," which they believe is represented by the Democratic Party. But nonetheless, as Kevin Drum points out, their forty year offensive hasn't been particularly successful. The rising tide of conservative anti-Americanism, and the projection thereof onto the ideological opposition, may signal that the movement is on the verge of exhaustion. The fact that conservatives continue to support the Republican Party even as it rides roughshod over their supposed principles is further evidence to support this suspicion. Of course, the same can be said of the liberals' and progressives' allegiance to the Democrat Party. In the end, US citizens, both left and right, are going to have to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the two-party system and the crude logic of a binary politics.

Posted by charles sanson at May 21, 2004 6:19 PM