Nationalist Kitsch and the GOP

Hello, TDD readers. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the founder and editor of a liberal political blog called The Reaction. It’s a group blog that focuses mostly on the U.S., with some outstanding contributors from around North America — I’m in Toronto myself, a Canadian, though I spent many of my formative years in New Jersey and Massachusetts, where I attended Tufts University.

I’m also an assistant editor at The Moderate Voice. And now I’ll be blogging here, too. I have long been a fan of this blog, and it’s exciting to be here. I hope you enjoy my posts. I look forward to being an active member of the community.


kitsch (n.) — something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste. (

“[P]olitical movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on the fantasies, images, words, and archetypes that come together to make up this or that political kitsch… Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.”

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Watching the RNC this week, what came to mind was the phrase “nationalist kitsch,” the authoritarian kitsch of the right. From the hyper-patriotic chants of “USA! USA!” to the hyper-patriotic symbolism and iconography to the hero-worship and mythologization of McCain and the military to the gaudiness and tackiness of the clothing and sets to the self-sacrificial message “Country First,” the event’s major slogan and theme, to the speeches and spin, what dominated this past week in St. Paul and in the GOP generally was unironic and unabashed kitsch.

It was the usual political theater, but worse, a largely substance-free affair rooted in vitriol and lies. We expect this sort of thing from Republicans, but, with the country mostly against them on the issues, all they had left was McCain’s personal story, abridged for hero-worship, the excitement generated among the faithful by Palin, and the usual fictions they spin regarding the Democrats, the country, and the world beyond. Even on that last point, they weren’t able to present their worldview at all effectively. It was a pathetic display, a failed attempt to reach out both to independents and to the base, as when McCain, Thursday night, cynically presented himself as an agent of change with nothing more than Bush-style conservative policy proposals.

And, of course, they had the kitsch, the fantasies and images, words and archetypes, the package into which all of this went, the frame around which all of it is being sold.

There was anger and bitterness on display this week in St. Paul, as well as sarcasm and arrogance, bigotry and intolerance. But it all amounted to nothing but an excited base, with Palin overshadowing McCain and the party still uncertain of itself and its future.

It was all quite revolting, really, spirit-draining and soul-crushing, a kitschy show that seemed as amateurish and incapable as Palin herself.

And yet, nationalism and hero-worship have worked before and may yet work again. And if they do, if McCain and Palin and the Republicans somehow pull this off, the next stop will indeed be oblivion.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

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2 Responses to Nationalist Kitsch and the GOP

  1. DeanOR says:

    Welcome Michael. How’s this for  kitschy nationalism. The Pentagon is teaming up with Sears to start selling an ARMY-APPROVED CLOTHING line next month for “men, women, and boys”. The clothes will have official Army insignia and styles inspired by the the First Infantry Division. Recruiters are short of bodies, you know, so just dress your boy in this gear and when he is old enough to “fight our wars” for Palin’s America, he’ll know exactly what his mission in life is, especially if he can’t get a good job. The parents and boys can play army together, but no word yet on a line for girls. Blood for oil.…32821220455210/ I’m not making this up.

  2. Welcome Michael! You are starting off with a bang and a great post.