Ryan’s Mastermemes in the VP Debate

Bellicose: Martial Law

Two dominant Ryan word clusters emerged from the VP debate. (Wordclouds of each are based on the frequency of each word).  The first portion of the debate, centered on the Benghazi assault, brought the extreme bellicosity of the Romney-Ryan foreign policy to the fore. This is the word family clustered around “peace through strength”,  “no apology”, “projecting weakness”, “American Exceptionalism”, and “emboldening our enemies”. It is well and truly Roveian (that is, inherently two-faced by turning everything into its opposite)  insofar as it claims that its aim is peace (For example, Ryan saying “We want to prevent war,” when he was directly asked if he wanted a war), but the emotional weight and entire subtext is what can be characterized as the material and psychological martial law enforced by America, the world’s sheriff.

In the alchemy of this rhetorical compound, ordinarily neutral terms such as “values” and “credibility” are appropriated into the discourse of dominance. The rest of the world–the subservient Other–has no credibility and doesn’t share “our” values.

Because this position is inherently unstable and subject to threat, it’s  always working to seem invulnerable. It’s the mastermeme that sanctions an unending “war on terror,” a state of velvet but perpetual martial law. It is eternally vigilant, always defending whatever means it uses (waterboarding, drone strikes, military invasions) to justify the end.

This paranoid sense of threat explains Ryan’s obsession with “credibility” and with not “projecting weakness”.  The projection is all. There’s absolutely no rhetorical space for irony or tragedy. It can never, ever “apologize”. It is hubris personified.

“Social Darwinism” is a second major Ryan meme, domestic cousin of the “martial law” meme:

Social Darwinism

This cluster (again, based on the number of times Ryan used each term in the debate)  stresses “self sufficiency”, “responsibility” and “making the tough choices”. It is a winner-take-all mentality, a Hobbesian materialism that is the diametrical opposite of Christian caritas. It eschews all dependencies–on the government, on foreign energy suppliers, on labor. It privileges the super-rich, rechristened and valorized as “job creators”. It is the only possible definition of “success“, so all else is, by implication, failure.

A taint of failure and thus scorn is rhetorically attached to anyone in opposition to any aspect of it. At best, dissenters from this orthodoxy are either dismissed as “special interests” (yet another neutral term that Roveianism appropriates, along with “values” “responsibility”, and even, astonishingly, “bi-partisaniship”) or as selfish “class warfare” crusaders hypocritically posing as humanitarians. The “heroes” of this meme are either Ayn-Rand titans of industry or “entrepreneurs” and “small businesses”. (Anyone but the workers themselvesof course). Although Ryan didn’t use the term “redistribution” in the debate, it is also part of the “failure” meme.

Both of these memes are deceptive and two-faced in their very DNA. They’re like deadly viruses, and Obama and Biden are running out of time to develop an antidote.

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