Seven Types of Pseudocracy

With a tip of the cap to William Empson’s renowned literary study, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), we list here Seven Types of Pseudocracy–“pseudocracy” being “the rule of falsehood” that corrupts our polity. (Wild Bill and I had more to say about these and other aspects of the pseudocracy in “When Did We Start Just Making Shit Up? Origins of U. S. Pseudocracy,” a paper presented to the Western Political Science Association meeting in Portland, Oregon, last week.


1. The elimination and/or suppression of facts indefinitely in political debates.

Example: One major political Party, the GOP, will not engage in serious debate about global warming. It pre-emptively dismisses the possibility that the phenomenon exists and that, were it to exist, humans have anything to do with it.

2. Extending confidence-games indefinitely.

Example: “Trickle-down economics.” Example: The Dems look out for “the little guy”: really? Example: Regulation = bad. Romney has the cheek to say this just three-to-four years after an economic meltdown that resulted, in part, from lax regulation of Wall Street. We’re now well into the third decade of the anti-regulation con.

3. Multiplying roles and erasing boundaries in professional polity.

Examples: Karl Rove and George Stephanopolous. Campaign strategists, executive-branch employees, “contributors” to Cable and Network TV, and in the case of Rove, a creator of news (he was a driving force behind Governor Walker’s election and subsequent hijinks) and commentator on news–and now a major GOP fundraiser. Possible result: the continuing decline of journalism, the continuing manipulation of media by political parties. Possible result: the obliteration of expertise: Who ISN’T “qualified” to be a “contributor” to FOX NEWS or CNN? Who ISN’T “qualified” to be a Democratic or Republican “strategist.”

4. Campaigning permanently; or, governing-as-campaigning.

The notion was formalized by a Carter operative, Pat Cadell. (See Joel Klein’s piece in TIME about “the perils of the permanent campaign”–he refers to Pat Cadell: )

Grotesque example: George W. Bush, in flight-suit, declaring “Mission Accomplished.” What percentage of citizens didn’t think, and perhaps don’t think now, that it was grotesque, however?

5. Making peripheral issues central.

Santorum and contraception. Gay marriage. Clinton going out of his way to return to Arkansas to “oversee” an execution, just to prove . . . what? Gingrich and $2.50 gasoline–at a time when demand is down to ’97 levels and supply is much greater than it was in the Bush administration; and he doesn’t mention what speculation on “futures” does to the price. It’s not so much that car-fuel is a peripheral issues; it’s that the price of car-fuel springs from dynamics over which a president has limited control, so that the issue really isn’t central to who is going to be the better president. Gingrich used the issue to pander and to distract.

6. Refusing to enter into accountable discourse.

Gingrich’s changing the subject and making the media “the enemy” when asked a simple question about his marital hijinks. Attorney General Gonzales answering, in a Congressional hearing, dozens of times, “I don’t remember.” Never, ever, beginning a debate with agreed upon facts.

7. Making points of view or differences of opinion personal and extreme.

So: instead of merely disagreeing with a policy put forward by President Obama, a GOPer is instead obligated to call him a “socialist” (as if!), or a Kenyan colonialist (whatever!), or not-an-American. Or Demo Congressman Grayson saying the GOP’s health-plan is to have you die. We have Gingrich, among others, to thank for what often seems to be a near-total absence of subtlety and of adult discourse.

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