Thomas Paine, the ideological father of the United States of America, viewed this country with what is known as horizontal imagination. Horizontal imagination sees America in terms of equality and justice and for all; rather, that is, horizontal imagination sees equality and justice for all as more than just words. Much to the detriment of all who would become Americans, the Founding Fathers eschewed Mr. Paine’s horizontal imagination in favor of the vertical imagination posited by the military father of his country, Gen. George Washington. Equality begins at the top and travels downward rather than outward in the vertical imagination. And so General Washington allows Thomas Paine to rot in a French jail as the actual creator of America attempted to introduce liberty and equality to the sons of Danton during their own revolution. The song of American sung by Mr. Paine has ever since been corrupted by the annoying hiss of rampant conservatism that apparently has as its prime directive the inhibition of progress at every turn.
The radical notions of equality of sexes and races posited by the extremist views on democracy of its real father has since been an Oedipal nightmare in which the offspring engineered a shell of what it could have been. Since General Washington turned his back on the ideas of equality and genuine democracy, and the composers of the Declaration of Independence allowed conservative southern popinjays to gut the very essence of that document to the point where it became an impotent shell of what it could have been had it been written by Paine, America has been run by committee in which the path of least progressive resistance is brought to fore and passed off the quintessence of intent. The deepest shame of the corruption of America’s song is that the composers were not those original explorers who brought their disparate and widespread wealth of European consciousness that most often acted in the name of King or Queen and sometimes acted in the name of heavenly providence, but rather the antagonistic individual who defied rule and law and even God if necessary to carve from the wilderness a dream deferred.
This point is vital because hidden deeply within the taming of the ravages of wilderness existing in physical form and in theoretical form is the quite controversial characteristic of American history too often repeated: the continuing necessity to find or, if absolutely necessary, create a villain that threatens to corrupt the American way of life. The unseen irony is that it is this very search for a villain around which we can all wrap ourselves in the glorious flag that shall never be burned in anger that is itself the corruption of America’s greatest song. Today the villain, depending on which oracle of outdated and outmoded conservative thought is worshiped at, can be the homosexuals, or the Muslims, or the immigrants, or the non-existent liberal media. The conservative bulwark against progress will always find a villain even when the villain is utterly powerless to enact any real damage against the sublime stranglehold they have always contained in the political arena of this country. Is there anyone out there who honestly believes I have the power to destroy their ridiculously misplaced concept of what America was really intended to be any more than a collection of Mexican immigrants living out of a truck and being paid less than a fifth what they should be earning by unscrupulous and inhuman business owners?
The underlying factor is that while certain individuals who fit the stereotype of the latest common enemy to the American way of life are undoubtedly reprehensible and worthy of the obsessive insanity engendered by Bush and Cheney and swallowed hook, line and sinker by not only the liberal media but 80% of America, taken as a whole these groups are almost never worthy of the reception of vitriol and hatred that is engendered toward them. The wide variety of groups that have been turned into metaphorical boogeymen lurking behind every bush and around every corner just waiting to destroy America’s freedom have been populated overwhelmingly by average people with their own problems to worry about. The history of conservatism in American has been one constantly inspired to conflate the individual with the larger society, which raises questions about prejudice and racism that, far from ever being answered, are simply shunted aside whenever the villain of the moment has worn out his welcome; never fear, kids, another boogeyman is always lurking behind the hedges. Or, at the very least, conservatism as an ideologically bent political tool is capable of convincing not just the gullible, but the apathetic and therein lies their inexplicable power and influence.
Security has long been a dominant trope in the story of the evolution of America. From the early settlers to contemporary society the protection of freedoms has been as important as the extension of more freedoms. What is usually meant, often implicitly, by the term American way of life is civilization. Americans have long regarded their radical experiment in democracy as a testament to their superiority. Superiority can only exist within the structure of Gen. Washington’s vertical imagination; there is no such concept within the horizontal. The hiss of the tape grows louder; if you cannot hear it, and you believe that America’s song is pure and beautiful, then you may potentially be incapable of imagining within the horizontal. Too bad; perhaps you should consider Catholicism rather than patriotism; it is the ultimate in western vertical imagination. The song of America tells us a story often repeated about the necessity for violating certain established codes of conduct in the pursuit of civilizing the country and, by extension, the world. It is an essential part of the thematic construction of the America that no great leap forward in this country has ever been engineered by a military officer, a moderate, or, obviously, a conservative.
The spirit of rebellion is always extolled in America, but in a great many cases the singular rebel himself is cast away because he still represents danger even after achieving glory. Throughout American history the great figures that have temporarily stopped the hiss that corrupts the song resemble not General Washington, but Thomas Paine. Paine was not a moderate rebel (if such a thing is authentically possible) like Jefferson or Washington, he was a radical who called for abolishing slavery and granting equality to women. He did not screw his black slaves and he did not let his former friends rot in jail like the stone heroes in the Dakotas. Was it the conservatives, especially those in the southern colonies, that came rushing to transform Paine’s inert beliefs into the defining statement of the creation of this new experimental country and government? No. Of course not. Equality is, once again, part of the great horizontal imagination; conservatism is not just the essence of vertical thought; it is vertical thought in action and belief. Once his fiery, rebellious words in Common Sense and The Crisis had served their purpose of inflaming the rebellious spirit inside the colonists and soldiers, he was cast aside because he then represented a danger to the civilization of that untamed spirit of rebellion.
Until quite recently, the beautiful strains of the American song that could were not tainted by the hiss were expressed in the fact that country did not attack unless it was warranted. America is a reactive nation when it comes to explicitly violent encounters with its enemies, but once the attack has been completed the entire nation is encouraged to stand as one against the enemy. More importantly, the nation is encouraged to see the enemy as a united front in which every member must be either assimilated or exterminated. The decades-long need to enact genocidal revenge against the indigenous tribes speaks loudly to the American vision of seeking vengeance against the enemy. Bush and Cheney were not the first paragons of backward conservative thought to successfully coerce and fool American citizens into viewing all who obstruct their path as fellow travelers in the company of the enemy. This is THE American obsession; all things even remotely and in some cases not at all connected with communist ideology during the Cold War, and especially during the 1950’s, were not just seen as threats to the American way of life, but also had certain rights and freedoms stripped from them.
The Hollywood Blacklist is but one concrete example of reality that compares similarly to the way that LBJ convinced Americans to castigate the Vietnamese and Bush convinced Americans to view with suspicion Muslims and even those who dared to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, there exists in this world those who practice the Islamic faith who aren’t intent on flying planes into our centers of trade. It is, in the infamous words of a recent President, a case of either being with us or with them. It is not true, of course; it never has been and it never will be, yet you can count on it being successful again and again in the future; perhaps that future is closer than you dare to fear. Ladies and gents, I give you Bush and Obama Meet Frankenstein: Afghanistan Banana Stand. We can blow it up and it won’t be rebuilt; promises will be made. Promises will be broken.
The conservative hiss represented not just by the mindless drones of a Boehner and Palin, but Pelosi and Reid and, yes, we have to admit it, Prince Obama himself, are simply the latest in a long line of merry pranksters who continue to seek a way to sustain the westward progression and fulfill Manifest Destiny past the calm blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Nothing is allowed to stand in their way, but this becomes increasingly less true as the search continues. Conservatism is an ideology committed to following through to the bitter end regardless of what awaits it. There is a damning possessiveness heard in this hiss that is imbued with the hidden truth behind America’s development. While the men who oh so brilliantly stare with their dead eyes at us from our currency or have been carved into stone in the Black Hills are upheld as the beacons who guided freedom into the world, it was the rugged individualists who eschewed the finer comforts of home and security and compromise that really created America. The path westward was fraught with many dangers that confronted these trailblazers and it was only by occasionally, and perhaps often, turning their backs on laws and certain rules of convention in order to attain what the politicians wanted that eventually, mostly by accident, any progress has ever been made in America. The genius of the thought that guided the revolution may have been lost forever not in the blood that was shed in the war, but the strangely bloodless compromise of nearly everything that that blood was shed for by a group of men whose eagerness to trade radical reform for conservative safety almost boggles the mind.
That song you can barely hear over the hiss is a thing of beauty; it is a rollicking ska version of any song you ever loved and it tells of a dream unfulfilled. The only Dolby noise reduction left to us is, unfortunately, ideological genocide. Until conservatives no longer have a say in the way in which America moves forward, this country cannot move forward. Your dreams of a savior brought to us shortly after the Day of the Dead 2008 will become another nightmare until the genocide is completed. It won’t be. The dream remains deferred. One has only the hope of two centuries that it has not been denied.