Perhaps the Republicans have done us all a favor by insisting that the coming presidential election is about ideology. We have heard this claim, delivered with the repetitive emphasis of an advertising slogan, from George Bush, Dan Quayle and columnist Cal Thomas. I take the GOP sense of ideology to be something akin to political viewpoint (given Quayle's grades, a reticence with respect to an academic word like "philosophy" is unsurprising).
But there is another meaning to "ideology." It involves the network of slogans, images, platitudes, and half-truths that make us accept the political and social status quo as natural. Ideology blinds us to material circumstances.
The monolithic machinery of Republican advertising has for eight years traded on calculated imagery of nationalist machismo and familial serenity to defer the public glance from the obscenities of unemployment, racism, homelessness, and a skyrocketing debt. In an era when the responsibilities of democracy had become most uncomfortable, the GOP restored an imperial presidency to history's first kingless nation. George Bush's claim to the "throne" trades on a rote recitation of the sculpted sermons of ideology: saucer-eyed children and devil-worshipping Democrats, Norman Rockwell turkey dinners and craven Commies. With this tired litany he hopes to direct our gaze from the scandal of people sleeping in the streets. This is indeed an election about ideology.