Cue the off-key organ grinder monkey music. The postmodern circus has come to town, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich enrolled as the unlikely ring leaders. Step right up and watch them assert “traditional values” while twisting and bending the truth until it snaps. The political Left tries to join the circus but is no good at it, and journalists, truth’s supposed watch dogs, sleep at the door.
Postmodernism is a vague, multi-layered worldview born in the rubble of World War 2 and nurtured in the iconoclasm of the 1960’s. Many of its adherents shun labels – including “postmodernism” – before arguing that our cultural and personal biases so cloud our vision that we cannot see reality. Our concept of “logic” is tethered to a Western-centered saga, or “meta-narrative,” and is really an excuse for our quest for world domination. Objective truth, if it exists at all, is unknowable. We grope with psychological and cultural cataracts. We’re like Clint Eastwood wandering through Alice’s Wonderland while reading the script for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We can’t even interpret our interpretations – so please, let’s do away with religion’s moral absolutes. As Stanley Fish once said, “The trouble with principle is, first, it does not exist, and second, that nowadays many bad things are done in its name.”
Apparently, principled leaders like Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Desmond Tutu don’t count.
We can thank the postmodernists for dismantling some of the Enlightenment’s arrogance and applaud them for underscoring our intellectual and cultural hubris, but the baby howls as we lob the bath water: Rendering truth unknowable leaves us with nothing but pretense and posturing. Statements are not measured on their accuracy but on their marketability. We’re peddler’s pawns. The organ grinder drones as the ring leaders portray themselves as awe-shucking, wholesome, home-town boys: we loathe the clowns and lion tamers and acrobats. Trust us. We’re sincere.
Take Rick Santorum, the most unlikely living portrayal of Postmodernism’s flaw. The avid Catholic characterized President Obama as a “snob” because he supposedly wants “everybody in America to go to college.” But Obama actually said this: “Regardless of educational path after high school, all Americans should be prepared to enroll in at least one year of higher education or job training to better prepare our workforce for a 21st-century economy.” Santorum’s remedy to Obama’s “snobbery:” all should “have the opportunity to go to college or any other higher level of training skills.”
Step right up. Watch the clowns heave pies as the monkey races through the crowd: Santorum decries the president and reveals Obama’s policy as his own. That’s the dissonant truth – except truth is unknowable, so real persuasion is futile. We’ll talk past one another and ignite our “base.”
The circus roars more when we view Santorum again. He denies climate change, which puts him squarely against his own pope, who called for “a responsible and credible response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon” last year. The US Catholic bishops pointed to the overwhelming evidence for human-induced climate change in 2001 and suggested we act now.
So the conservative religious candidate collides with his leaders but still bears the aura of Catholic piety in the media’s eyes. Don’t ferret the truth – because there is no truth. There are only positions and opinions and feelings and beliefs. One opinion is just as valid as the other in the rudderless sea and the clowns have tied down the anchor.
Santorum would be easy prey for the Left if the truth played any role. Its members would research the genuine positions of the Catholic magisterium (and would discover an ally on many issues), then juxtapose them against the candidate’s. They’d even give him his due in their fact-filled reply: He’s sincere. But it’s a fact-less universe, so invoke fearsome and incongruous images: Santorum is a Catholic mullah, a prowling Taliban, a modern agent of the Knights Templar bent on resurrecting the Inquisition – and don’t forget to malign the Catholic Church, which (apparently) only cares about abortion. We’ll ignore that Santorum has made a clumsy argument for a valid point: Religion has a relevant voice in the public square. That’s all. He has not advocated theocracy.
Alienate, alienate, alienate. Make the clowns frown.
Perhaps Santorum is easy pickings because he actually is authentic (he really believes what he says), and we root for the clowns as they paste the condescending Left with pies. But Mitt Romney is the real expert. He’s been hollering “step right up” ever since he donned the conservative mask to cover up his moderate-to-liberal Republican heritage. Newt Gingrich is the faltering veteran. He’s been at it since the 1990’s. Both displayed their salesmanship when they unveiled their proposed budgets after blasting Obama as a taxing spendthrift: Analysts found deficits far worse than the president’s.
But the show must go on. The organ grinder cranks his off-key music even louder in a universe void of truth and reference points and facts. The jugglers juggle and the clowns hose down their fictional house and the lion tamers make their cats growl – and the monkey picks our pockets as we watch the performance in a hawker’s paradise.