A Graveyard Of Elephants [song]

September 15, 2010 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations, Music 

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A casual look at the Republican party might make one believe that they are completely unified, utterly in lockstep with no dissension. This view seems to be supported by both the outward-facing messaging, and by the fact that Conservatisms of all kinds tend to be quite organized, disciplined, and intolerant of dissent. The very well managed (particularly in the 1990s and 2000s) organizations and congressional voting policies (institutionalized by Gingrinch and Delay) add further support to this view. Finally, when it comes time to vote, the many factions are very dependable, despite the considerable nose-holding required to vote with the party as a whole.

Dig deeper into the policy discussions and the picture gets considerably more complex and nuanced, as one would expect from any group of sufficient size. The conflicts created by these ideological differences have pulled the US in many different directions over the past few decades, with (an upon first glance) confusing mix of policy decisions which have served to have an often deleterious effect on the country. This song attempts to touch on and summarize each major faction, of which there are four. Many more minor factions and sub-factions could be enumerated, but these four could be considered defining for "modern Republicanism", a set of ideas and policies that this song serves as a thoroughly vituperative tirade against. Each faction gets its own section. Lyrics start with a ">"  and are italicized. Full lyrics without the explanation at the bottom.

From the album "America: 25 years in review."

> Self-defeating voting patterns
> in the name of your dittohead culture war
> Still buy the lies of your fountainhead gods
> What's the matter with Kansas?

This describes the "rank and file" Republican. Motivated largely by identity, these voters have been foot soldiers of the Republican party, dutifully turning out to vote for whichever candidate their (at the time) relevant organization (at whichever level - municipal, state, etc.) have told them to. This group is typically framed (famously by Thomas Frank, who inspired the lyric for line four with his book) as being motivated almost solely by social issues, and I strongly agree with this thesis, but regard it as slightly too narrow. More than just social issues, its tied into the essence of what it means to be a Modern Republican, at least openly. You might be able to find some Republicans who support something like Liberation Theology, but it seems expressing that in public is something that would almost certainly get you ostracized, regardless of your stance on abortion or LGBT rights. Mike Huckabee tried an ultra-watered down version (even with very regressive ideas like the flat tax mixed in) of it in his 2008 campaign, and it probably sunk him. So this group not only votes against their own interests due to social issues, but, due to in-group pressure, would be forced to express support for and vote for Market Fundamentalists. On top of all that, a new hybrid ideology has emerged in recent years, and is well described by Prosperity Theology, a doctrine which helps resolve the extreme conflict between MF economic policies and many of religious ideas in the canonical material.

> Rising tide that lifts all boats
> We're drowning

These lines refer to the failed and failing economic policies supported and pushed by the Market Fundamentalists in the Republican party. This subject is discussed at length in the song "The Washington Consensus."

> What happened to no god or government?

This line is basically a jibe at Objectivists (and to a lesser extent, true-blue Libertarians), who have been holding their noses and voting against their own interests when it comes to everything from social policy to gun control.

> An insane society is a polite society

A twist on a famous NRA slogan, meant to show the strange disconnect between many our polished, polite, and very reasonable sounding politicians and pundits who stand in front of the Senate or go on TV and the Web and defend things like pre-emptive war and torture.

> It starts out all John Galt/Friedman America
> but who's the parasite now?
> Convince the rubes that you're agents of freedom
> Masters of the shining city on the hill

This section deals with the whole bloc of Republicans who have supported Market Fundamentalist policies (regardless of their particular stripe, and whether or not they are true believers or simply economic opportunists) and how, as Alan Wolfe puts it tend to become "free-marketeers fattened by pork." After actually obtaining power, many of these previously committed ideologues relish their newfound power and turn into Corporatists or Crony Capitalists (especially true of the opportunists, who didn't actually care about the freedom parts of these ideologies to start with) or leave the party and its trappings behind disgusted (often sending themselves into self-imposed third party exile.) It also applies to their many supporters in the corporate world (I'd guess to be mostly of the opportunists variety), also loudly proclaim that no matter what they do, it supports freedom because their actions are the actions of free-willed rationalists in the private sector, rather than sniveling bureaucrats suckling the public teat. The fact that many social and foreign policy issues fall off the radar with many of these people can just be ignored. Many in this group likely make the people who run the Cato Institute very, very sad.

> Maybe you didn't get the memo
> but your manual wasn't supposed to be 1984

This refers to the Neo-McCarthyist surveillance staters (and their policies) who have managed to stay in the Republican party even though they should be reviled by nearly every other faction (especially the civil libertarians) for their disregard of the 4th Amendment. This group crosses party lines of course, but deserve to be doubly ridiculed since they're in the party that can't stop bringing up the "jack-booted thugs", "black helicopters", and the coming "gulags".

> Ideas have consequences

This of refers to the famous work by Richard M. Weaver and is also a quote thrown around in politics quite a bit for obvious reasons. In this context, it refers more to the original work itself, and how many of the ideas in said work have put into practice (one way or another) and have turned out to be a failure. Though he made some good points (like commoditizing of truth, skepticism of established authority, individual atomization and its effects, lack of unity and agreement on fundamental principles), ultimately, the work espouses the essence of Conservatism: turning back and freezing time, returning to some imagined past golden age, which has failed over and over in practice.

Chorus:

> Principles given 25 years of free reign
> Relegate to the cesspool of failed ideas
> Contradicting factions tore a nation asunder
> Trash heap of history they should be consigned

A summary of the main point of the song. The abject failure and the destruction caused by 25 years of Republican ideas and policies. Those who would point to
the Clinton era as a pause from those ideas would do well to remember things like DOMA and workfare; the fact that Clinton's time is held up as a great time for progress in America show just how far expectations have fallen, the economic boom of that time notwithstanding. 

Last:

> It's called the American Dream
> and you know what this means
> That you have to be asleep to believe it

Carlin turned out to be far more prophetic than he likely ever imagined.


Just lyrics:

Self-defeating voting patterns
in the name of your dittohead culture war
Still buy the lies of your fountainhead gods
What's the matter with Kansas?

Rising tide that lifts all boats
We're drowning
What happened to no god or government?

An insane society is a polite society

It starts out all "John Galt"/Friedman America
but who's the parasite now?
Convince the rubes that you're agents of freedom
Masters of the shining city on the hill

Maybe you didn't get the memo but
your manual wasn't supposed to be "1984"

Ideas have consequences

Chorus:
Principles given 25 years of free reign
Relegate to the cesspool of failed ideas
Contradicting factions tore a nation asunder
Trash heap of history they should be consigned

Last:
It's called the American Dream and you know what this means
That you have to be asleep to believe it

Buy this song on iTunes or Amazon - Watch the video

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