The phenomenon of elderly people fixed with rapt and adoring attention on The Lawrence Welk Show used to totally baffle me. Everything about it seemed transparently fake – fake smiles, fake dialogue, fake music. The bubbles might have been real. It was like the glaring opposite of hip. But hip can be fake too, more like the opposite of authentic, or maybe anti-real. It’s not much of a leap from Lawrence Welk to Ronald Reagan.
My sister dragged me to a church dinner program once while visiting her in California. It was like being in the Lawrence Welk audience; corny and lame humor with everyone laughing politely as if what was said symbolized humor and the laughter symbolized rather than was actual amusement. Sort of like a high end car can represent status rather than a good car. I thought, these are the kind of folks who believe Ronald Reagan was heroic and actually voted for the guy, later approving naming airports and freeways after him, and today going on about how they miss him – if only he were around, the country’d shape up fast. I almost said “sincerely” voted for the guy. I suppose if you believe something, however deluded, you are “sincere” when you act out of those convictions. This is what the 60s intuitively rejected as some of us began to shake off our slumber. But Welk fans were there too so it was only a segment of the population who embraced criticality. And, unfortunately, it’s not a generational thing. We can’t expect superficiality to fade with the passage of time for it seems to dwell among us and to replenish itself.
I’m not sure how large the Lawrence Welk audience was. Nixon liked to pretend they were the “silent majority”. The election of he and Reagan, and Bush for that matter (both of’em), suggests he wasn’t far wrong. In any event, they represent a huge problem for any politician with a progressive agenda. They constitute a large body of theoretically easily manipulable, and easily alienated voters. All bolstered of course by a compliant, hell, complicit media.
A strange incongruity to the picture I’m painting here is that polls show a majority of the population supports diplomacy over war, single-payer healthcare over insurance company tyranny, environmental health over corporate profits. Yet the corporate stranglehold on our political system doesn’t allow candidates with these priorities to flourish. Several factors come into play: candidates need contributions to run their campaigns; and short-term shifts in attitudes can be manipulated by mis-information efforts – witness the recent defeat of GMO labeling initiatives in California and Washington. Polls showed the labeling campaign favored until Big Money turned it around. There’s also the political strategy of saying what your pollsters determine your audience wants to hear. And the establishment pressure on elected officials to do their bidding and to mask it, in patriotic rhetoric or whatever works this week.
One of the things that seems to work over and over is to associate some virtue, flag or Jesus for example, with the desired candidate or platform. Or to the negative, distracting voters with actually irrelevant, to them, but hot-wire issues like gay marriage or abortion, getting them to unknowingly vote against their own real economic and personal liberty interests.
During Bush the Younger’s administration polls showed that people believed W embraced certain values – environmental concern, violence only as last resort, standing up for the little guy etc; values that he quite obviously did not actually give two toots for.
Given this unstable demographic there is always the danger that some master manipulator will come along who can exploit it and sweep us all, once again, into the furnace of world-wide war – this time with the “firepower” to not come out of it. There is a hope, at least as likely (?) that some gifted individual might find the language to touch the authentic awareness that lies at the heart of every person not a sociopath, an enlightened person of integrity who recognizes the necessity, if we are to survive, for a shift in consciousness. Count on the sociopaths to go after this person, should they appear, offering riches and power that cannot be declined, or, turning to the Mafia creed that if you can’t buy someone, you can murder them. Meanwhile the sociopaths seem to be running things and ordinary citizens can lay the ground for such a “revolution”, call it Democracy, by resisting pathology and asserting for an environmentally sustainable, peace and justice, alternative path.