The GOP: Our First Postmodern Party

Ted Cruz, center, talks about the mainstream media as Carly Fiorina, left, and Chris Christie look on during the CNBC Republi
Ted Cruz, center, talks about the mainstream media as Carly Fiorina, left, and Chris Christie look on during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Almost all politicians spin at least a little -- even for the honest ones, it's in the nature of the job.

But following the latest Republican debate, journalists are in something of a panic over how to deal with GOP candidates who have no problem not just spinning, but straight up lying -- and if they're called on it, crying liberal media bias.

As Brian Beutler writes in the New Republic:

They've figured out that denying documented reality and attacking the messenger can completely snow over the truth. That creates a big problem for journalists, who should view the attacks against [debate moderator John] Harwood and the others as an affront to the profession.

Reporters shouldn't be surprised, though. For many years, the GOP has been evolving into our first postmodern political party, and the transition is now pretty much complete.

What does that mean? Try this: whenever you hear Republican politicians claim up is down, think of Michel Foucault:

We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth. (Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 1972.)

In other words, truth is whatever powerful people say it is -- and you get powerful by making up the truth.

Foucault's philosophy* is usually associated with the left, though most liberals get over him once they graduate from college.

To conservatives, though Foucault has become not a philosopher, but a campaign guru. That's how it turns out that:

  • Decorated combat veteran John Kerry wasn't the war hero, it was George W. Bush, of the Air National Guard's "champagne unit."
  • It isn't affordable health care, it's "death panels."
  • Greedy fossil fuel companies aren't covering up climate change, greedy climate scientists are making up the evidence (so they can get rich from, er, climate science).

As a senior adviser to President G. W. Bush told reporter Ron Suskind, the whole facts-and-logic thing is over:

... Guys like me were in what we call "the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Ironic, isn't it? The Grand Old Party's political strategy is no longer guided by traditional conservative figureheads like Edmund Burke, or William F. Buckley, but by... radical French intellectuals.

*Foucault himself didn't call himself a postmodernist. But others often did, whether he liked it or not. Which I guess is kind of fitting.