The pendulum swing has begun

I’ve resisted entering the discussion about the Terri Schiavo matter, because there really is no “win” position, and everytime I get into politics, the normally smooth water in here gets rough. However, there are events happening now in this story that are pertinent to my world view and the future visions about which I’ve written, so here goes nothing. While others write today about how this case is splitting the Republican party, I think that if you can step far enough away from the nuts and bolts of the matter, an image emerges on the horizon — the pendulum swing has begun that will move the culture to the left.

The most important thing I see ahead is the weakening of the conservative movement, which has been building since Jimmy Carter. The Reagan years included the explosive growth of televangelism and, despite the rather public failings of a few, that has impacted our culture dramatically by introducing Evangelical Christian concepts into the public square and subsequently moving the Republican party closer and closer to the fringe. I was there in Virginia Beach with Pat Robertson when he began his effort to impact the culture from the ground up. He’s been very, very successful.

But the essential problem with any social movement is that the scent of victory causes members to lose interest and energy for the cause. This is a natural phenomenon noted by people who study such things, and it’s why groups like the Parents Television Council (PTC) and the religious right MUST keep reaching further and further “out” in order to sustain the movement. The Schiavo case is such a cause. And the more distant the movement attempts to pull people, the more they run into that most natural of mid-course correctors, common sense. Despite what you may think, people aren’t stupid. It may take awhile, but sooner or later, they’ll get things right, if given the opportunity.

The split in the Republican party sensed by bloggers today is a part of this process. The end result will be cracks in the foundation of the surety with which people pursued the movement, and that, too, will slow it down. I also think the new FCC Chairman and his relationship with the PTC will generate more public squabbles about the far right’s control of the Republican party, which will further cause people to examine their own role in the conservative movement.

And then there’s our friend, the Internet. Another important factor is that the architecture and nature of the Web force people into the postmodern practice of deconstruction. It does this without any announcement or hype. If I read something about George Bush, I can find the source material that the writer used and come to my own conclusion. I have the ability to challenge what’s being said about anything or anybody, and the Web services that challenge quite nicely. I can easily “de-construct” any “construct,” and that is something new in the world. Humankind has always been curious, but we’ve never had a tool such as this to help satisfy our curiosity. And the usual loser through deconstruction is authority and hierarchy, cornerstones of conservatism.

This is pertinent to the Schiavo case in two ways. It’s allowing people to make decisions on their own and, therefore, blurring the line between the lock-step positions of the right and left.

I have a friend who was able to do her own research on the case. She found doctor statements and even Ms. Schiavo’s brain scans online and used the information to come to her own conclusion. This is a postmodern exercise in deconstruction, and it’s very real, as Peter Lurie wrote in his eloquent essay, Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left:

Like reading or breathing, web browsing itself is agnostic with respect to politics and culture. Unlike reading or breathing, however, surfing mimics a postmodern, deconstructionist perspective by undermining the authority of texts. Anyone who has spent a lot of time online, particularly the very young, will find themselves thinking about content — articles, texts, pictures — in ways that would be familiar to any deconstructionist critic. And a community of citizens who think like Jacques Derrida will not be a particularly conservative one.
The Terri Schiavo case produces a very visceral reaction, regardless of your position, and that is advancing the desire to research and find out on our own.

So I believe that the shift has begun, and to my friends on the left, I offer this observation. If you ignore or overlook that which energized the conservative movement in the first place, you’ll slow the shift by decades. Can you move to the center to be more attractive to the disenfranchised? I doubt it. What we really need in this country is a new party, one that comfortably accommodates the middle.

Coincidentally, on the NBC program “West Wing,” the Democratic administration of Jed Bartlett is coming to an end, and the story line is about who will take over. It’s Jimmy Smits, a thoughtful and passionate liberal with conservative positions on some issues, versus Alan Alda, a pro-choice, environmentalist Republican. Wishful thinking, but great for the story line. If Hollywood can create characters capable of independent thinking — and make them likable — why can’t we find them in real life?

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