In a perfectly awful way, today was the perfect day.
At the John Wayne Homestead Museum.
Being endorsed by John Wayne’s descendants.
And then collecting the support of Sarah Palin.
It was the ideal display of something that MSNBC contributor Joy Reid calls “Entertainment Conservatism.” When I heard her say that, a bell rang in my head and a light bulb lit up above me.
John Wayne, the man brilliantly described by T Bone Burnett as the impostor, the “cowboy with no cattle, warrior with no war.”
Sarah Palin, supposedly a real Tea Partier, until today a staunch backer of Ted Cruz, aligning herself with Donald Trump.
Of course. Because she is, at heart, not an archconservative — she is an Entertainment Conservative.
In a fundamental way, this is the real heart of the conservative movement.
You can trace it back to, well, to John Wayne himself. And then to Ronald Reagan, the margarine to John Wayne’s butter, the Tang to John Wayne’s orange juice.
And to the fundamentalist TV preachers, who know damn well they have to keep the eyeballs glued to the screen, keep those phones ringing and those checks rolling in. They’re playing to the crowd, not to any Biblical vision of pure Christianity. Purity mattered no more to Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker than it does to Donald Trump or Sarah Palin.
And then to the radio screechers, the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Savages and Ann Coulters and Mark Levins, whose business is not promoting a policy agenda or even electing Republicans — it’s keeping those numbers up and those advertising and syndication dollars flowing.
And to George W. Bush, the wannabe Reagan who was a wannabe John Wayne who was a wannabe warrior, a Hollywood Cowboy.
And on to the various pretenders to W’s throne: Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina. And to Newt Gingrich and Ben Carson, who combined campaigning with book tours and paid speaking engagements. And to all the conservative politicos eagerly hopscotching between campaigns and cushy spots on Fox News.
Deep in their hearts, the most conservative of voters know this. That’s why so many are eager to back the longtime New York City centrist Trump over the more conservative but less entertaining likes of Scott Walker or Marco Rubio. It doesn’t matter whether Trump is consistent or not, or really whether he believes the stuff he’s saying (he doesn’t); it matters that he captures their attention and sends that faintly illicit shiver up their spines and down their pants.
Policy doesn’t matter. Coherence doesn’t matter. Logic? A net negative. Experience? Please.
Welcome to the conservative Thunderdome. Check your brains at the door.
Postscript. For those unfamiliar, I highly recommend T Bone Burnett’s album “The True False Identity.” It’s one of my faves, and it’s a perfect House Of Mirrors reflection of Bush-era America. Another line from the album:
If we were to pass an Eleventh Commandment, in twenty years people would be shocked to learn that there had once been only ten, and wouldn’t care that there had been.