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The Stupidity of Sarah Palin, Part 32,459

May 29, 2010

So Joe McGinnis (The Selling of the President; Fatal Vision; Going to Extremes) has moved next door to Sarah Palin (“You betcha!”; “In what respect, Charlie?”; “All of them.”). And Palin’s first, instinctive, most characteristic response has been to leeringly imply the author’s temptation to pedophilia, to send hubby over to act (in McGinnis’ words) “increasingly hostile,” and then to complain as though she is being ill-used.

Note, as we still (somewhat exhaustedly) say, the irony: Palin, who shleps her children from coast to coast to display them to her slavering public like what’s-his-name in The Dead Zone brandishing a toddler as a human shield, is suddenly protective of their privacy. Palin, who quit the only job she’d ever had that might have given her credibility as a national political figure, in order to dance the Tea Party hootchie-cootchie on saloon tables and trade association daises across the land (for money), is now bitching about her privacy. Palin, a good Christian woman whose religious tenets literally include the admonition to “love thy neighbor,” sends hubby over to crack his knuckles menacingly.

All of this, plus radio frother Mark Levin announcing McGinnis’s email address, prompting 5,000 of Sarah’s Sheeple to swamp the author’s account–it’s all great/appalling theater, yes. But what’s really striking is not the hypocrisy. People like Sarah Palin live in hypocrisy like a fish lives in water; it’s the essential element of their survival, without which life itself is unimaginable.

No, the really noteworthy thing is (as we also exhaustedly say) the stupidity, stupid.

Anyone who has read a minimum number of spy novels or seen a basic survey course’s syllabus of thrillers knows that you can do one of two things when you realize your office has been bugged, your transmissions are being monitored, or your computer has been hacked. You can tear out the bugs and cease the transmissions. This will, of course, inform your adversary that you’re wise to his snooping, prompting him, presumably, to quit.

And that’s how the Palins have responded–by suggesting that somehow they’re being spied upon and revealing to the “spy” that they know what, supposedly, he is up to. It’s the obvious, emotional, impulsive, and childish way to react, and it may have been too much to expect Palin, who like all cult figures alternates between preening grandiosity and indignant claims of victimization, to do otherwise.

But there’s a better way, and it doesn’t take a tactical genius to realize it. You leave the bugs and mics in place and exploit the situation for your own advantage. You–and this may be a step too sophisticated for McGinnis’s neighbors–pretend that all is well. You then proceed to spread disinformation, deceit, lies, mis-directions, and all manner of false “intel,” knowing full well that they’re listening and taking it seriously at the other end.

That’s what Sarah Palin should have done, if she had been a sharp operator instead of a knee-jerk demagogue. She’d not only have hand-delivered a plate of cookies to McGinnis herself, she’d have graciously welcomed him to the neighborhood and wished him good luck in his journalistic endeavors.

And then she’d have made sure he witnessed what she wanted him to witness: Sarah, not as avaricious provincial ignoramus-grifter, but as caring mom. Tod, not as snow-machining bodyguard who once joined a club dedicated to Alaska’s secession from the union, but as super dad. The kids as happy, courteous little ladies and gentlemen. The dog (assuming there is one) as well-trained and fluent in three languages. The garden as a model of horticultural accomplishment and embodying a deep, deep love of “the land.” And everyone, God bless us, everyone skilled in the baking of cookies.

That, and all the rest of the phony-baloney bullshit you want someone to see who’s writing a book about you.

But we are talking, here, about the same woman who didn’t have the wit to tell Katie Couric, “What newspapers and magazines do I read? Oh, fuck, Katie, I read the New York Times and the local Alaska papers, okay?” So instead McGinnis gets, and we get to watch, Sarah the Nasty. “By being here, I have learned things,” McGinnis told the Washington Post. “And I’ve gotten an insight into her character, into her ability to incite hatred, that before I only knew about in the abstract.”

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Joe.


The Papoose-Driven Life

May 14, 2010

What’s the expression? “In the kingdom of the psychotic, the merely crazy man is king.” Something like that. Or maybe, “…the merely crazy man is relatively sane, although still arguably out of his fucking mind.”

One is given to such thoughts–profane thoughts, yes–when one is exposed to the latest Tweet from Pastor Rick Warren. Here it is. Let’s listen:

KIDS WIN in Recession! In 2009 a MILLION more moms (vs 1986) stayed home with small kids instead of hiring daycare.

Kids Win! It’s like a headline in The New York Daily News or Variety. KIDS BOFFO IN ECON SLUMP. Resesh Job-Hunt Downturn Means More Moms Home With Less Bux, More Woes!

This is the kind of thing that gives foaming religious zealotry a bad name. It takes a deliberate act of mental weight lifting to remember that “Pastor Rick” is the reasonable one, the who’s not Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, or Torquemada. He is, one thought in one’s naivete, the thinking man’s evangelist.

Who knew that while the thinking man was busy thinking, the non-thinking man was reading Rick Warren’s tweets and thinking, “Moms spending more time at home with their kids, regardless of the reasons they’re at home, regardless of the increased stress and pressures they must be experiencing while (and because) they’re at home, and regardless of how those stresses affect the kids and the moms and the dads–WOW. WIN!”

But–because everything is connected in what I call “society”–there’s more. Guess who else wins during recession. If you said, “Oboists, phrenologists, and manufacturers of durable goods,” you’d be wrong. But if you said, “Police departments, emergency rooms, Family Services agencies, and child trauma psychologists,” you’d be right! They all get more business, because domestic violence increases during a recession, too.

Too good to be true? Too much WIN! ? Cf. here:

(Divorce, as it happens, goes down. Is it because battling couples decide that they love each other more during a recession? No. It’s because people can’t afford to divorce. Couples terminally opposed to living together but forced by economic circumstances to endure, resent, provoke, ignore, or attack each other with, yes, the kids in the middle: WIN!)

As a statement ostensibly about the unexpected benefits of a recession, Warren’s tweet is merely a dopey exercise in disingenuous, and therefore dishonest, optimism. He puts a gun to your back and frog-marches you down the sunny side of the street, and then wants you to tell him it’s fun.

But note the not-quite-hidden agenda. If moms-stay-at-home is Win, then moms-go-to-work is Lose. Warren, professional Christian that he is, wants moms to stay at home. Or so his tweet implies. In the nonstop state of delirium that characterizes the mind of the cultural right, women who “abandon” the kids to daycare are selfish monsters of feminism except for famous ones like Phyllis Schlafly and Sarah Palin, who are “leaders.” Those who abandon the kids for a job, because they need the money, are…well, let’s just say they’re poor victims of “secular culture” who–bless their hearts–mean well but still cause their kids, in the end, to lose.

This represents a view of kids (and adults) that makes the characters in Dennis the Menace seem like artfully rounded figures out of Chekhov. Warren may tell himself (and certainly others) that his main concern is “the children,” but it’s as though he’s never actually met any families other than those on their best behavior at church.

Which I don’t really think is the case. He’s not stupid. But he is, in his mild-mannered way, a religious fanatic, which leads to the same result.

How much effort would it have taken Rick Warren to look at that tweet and think, “Wait. I’m saying the recession is good because women who want to work, or have to work, are unable to. I’m saying a mother in the home is an unalloyed good, regardless of why she’s there and how her being there affects her and those around her. Am I nuts?” Apparently too much.

It’s all well and good to look on the sunny side and draw attention to it and cheer its bright, sunshiny glory. But what if it’s night?

Tea Party Animals

April 25, 2010

In 2004, you’ll recall, I jumped up and down and railed about how “stupid” people were who couldn’t see George W. Bush for the lying, snickering warmonger and enabler of cronyism and incompetence he so obviously, obviously was. Then, in 2008, who could forget the sight of me jumping up and down and decrying the “stupidity” of people unable to see Sarah Palin for the lying, ignorant grifter-demagogue she so obviously was (and is)?

It was all jolly good fun, and semi-aerobically beneficial to my cardio-pulmonary systems, what with the jumping and the yelling.

Now I have, as a public service, subjected myself to this –that nice young man from New Left Media interviewing Tea Party demonstrators at the Washington Monument this past Tax Day. And, again, I find myself jumping up and down and railing about the sheer, radiant, diamond-hard stupidity of the people on display.

True, it’s easy to interview anyone and, through the magic of perfidious editing, make them look ill-informed and inarticulate. But I don’t think that’s what on view here. I think what’s on view here is world-class, A-game stupid.

When asked, “What are your concerns with the present administration?” a woman answers, “Uh…socialist agenda. Tyranny.” This is the conversation of a Speak & Spell.

“They’re trying to get control of the country, so that they can run every business and every person in this country, and tell them what they can do and when they can do it,” says a sweet, no-nonsense, all-nonsense-all-the-time old lady. “We’re senior citizens, and now they’re telling us that we can’t even get medical care, ’cause they’re gonna give us a pill.” Idn at cute? The way believes every crackpot word of it, bless her heart?

Time and again we get variations on one of two themes: Indignation about things that are demonstrably not true, or open and defiant disbelief at things that demonstrably are true.
“Do you know that President Obama is considering banning fishing in America?” one woman provokingly asks, and the interviewer deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for resisting the temptation to answer, “No, but if you hum a few bars I can fake it.” (Or, better: “Know it? I wrote it!”)

As a group of my email friends ask each other every day without hope of an answer: What is wrong with people?

Plus, what’s with the costumes? Revolutionary War costumes. Captain America costumes. Betsy Ross costumes. Guys–who, it is safe to say, would with zest and enthusiasm beat up any hippie wearing the American flag as, e.g., a vest–wearing the American flag as a bandanna or a jacket.

And yet therein may lie the answer. Or, at any rate, therein lies my newest and most exciting, if wrong, theory:

The Tea Party gatherings of today are like rock concerts used to be in the Sixties. Back then, we congregated by the thousands, not only to listen to music, but to be with each other, to obtain validation from strangers that our vague perception (“adulthood as it has been represented to us is fucked up”) was correct. People came in costumes and cheered loudly for idiotic nonsense (“What’s going down with, like, the government, man, is a serious bummer and we have got to get it together“).

Actually, though, this analogy isn’t quite accurate. Because in the Sixties, a gathering of, say, ten thousand people would include many who really did have an informed political analysis, and could present a cogent argument for it. You could disagree with it, but it had some rigor and heft.

I don’t detect any of that at the Tea Parties or in their pronouncements. “Obama is a socialist” is not an analysis, it’s a playground taunt. “Taxed Enough Already” would at least constitute a political position, if it were not made risible by the wrongheaded misconceptions of the people who advance it. “No More Bailouts” is an appealing idea, but first I want to hear what its proponents think would have happened if the major financial institutions in this country had been allowed to go bankrupt. And then, how they would have dealt with it.

Which brings us to “I Want My Country Back.” Most readers are too young to remember the similar “I want my Maypo!,” (the slogan, on tv and radio commercials, for a brand of maple-flavored oatmeal), so let’s just say that this isn’t a political position. It’s a Country-Western sob story combining self-pity and the most desperate kind of nostalgia.

(And which country would that be? The one under Bush? The one of unjustified war, rampant lies, secret torture, domestic spying, tax cuts for the rich, government-by-crony, and utter economic stagnation for the middle class? You got it. Shall I wrap it or will you eat it here?)

In the end, though, perhaps it doesn’t matter what they say. It doesn’t matter to us, because it’s impossible to take it seriously. And obviously they don’t really care what they say, either.

What they care about is expressing their emotions. They’re mad, they’re frustrated, they’re anxious or frightened or depressed. And they’re entitled to be. The world most of them voted for (twice) when Bush ran for office, has collapsed. Americans are still getting killed in countries full of ingrate tribal nutbars and religious fanatics, unemployment is over ten percent, and the same rich scumbags who caused this disaster are giving each other millions in (how’s this for a galling word) “bonuses.” Then they tune into Rush or Beck or Fox News, demagogues whose sole aim is to convert their listeners’ anger, indignation, and fear into cash.

At one point in that New Left Media video, the inimitable Victoria Jackson chants, three times, “There’s a communistliving…in the White House!” Then she cries, “What are we gonna do about it!?” and, as one, the fervent crowd roars, “KWHMNR-lkhewropb…!”

They don’t know what to do about it. (Among other things, they don’t know what a Communist is.) But it doesn’t matter. Anger is, or at least feels, empowering. And so they’re outside, surrounded by people just as pissed off and inarticulate as they, and it makes them feel patriotic–which is to say, noble, brave, and important.

Just don’t ask them anything.

An Open Letter to Victoria Jackson

March 29, 2010

Dear Ms. Jackson,

I know you’ll forgive me when I say that, because of my age (I’ll be 112 years young next October), I wasn’t watching Saturday Night Live much when you were on it. But I did see you in a few sketches back then, and I thought you were terrific: cute, sexy, and faux-dumb in the classic Judy Holiday/Goldie Hawn mold.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when you re-emerged recently as a spokesperson (or should I say, a “mis-spokesperson”!) for the Tea Party, or Tea Bagger, or Tea Cosy, or whatever they are, Movement. You would be the one to pull off this absolutely brilliant piece of political theater.

You’ve nailed it perfectly. Your character (whom you cannily call “Victoria Jackson”) displays exactly the right combination of confusion, desperation, and outright stupidity.

Take your recent interview by that genial idiot, Steve Doocy, on Fox News. There you were, not only insisting that Barack Obama “is a communist,” but doing so in the persona of someone who obviously wouldn’t know a real communist if he came up and seized her means of production. Doocy, whose job it is to present to advantage cretins and psychos, wasted no time in correcting you like a 10th grade civics teacher (“Well, he isn’t a communist”) and waited–in vain, thanks to your sharp sense of timing–for you to say, “Oh, sorry, Steve, you’re right. He’s a socialist.”

Obama isn’t a socialist, either, but it’s all one to “Victoria Jackson,” and you played the scene perfectly. Of course, you’d had time to rehearse the character, both at other gatherings of frothing right-wing nutbars and on your must-see You Tube performance, where “Victoria Jackson” plays guitar, expresses herself, and acts for all the world like a person recovering from general anesthesia with minimal brain damage and maximal “heart.”

Like all first-rate performers (actors, musicians, athletes, etc.) you do something very difficult and make it look easy. Of course, the qualities we see on display at these Tea Bag rallies are anything but subtle. Still, you have a shrewd sense of how to reveal them in all their multiplicity. They include (as if you didn’t know) —

* Passion – These people, uh, experience strong emotions. They shout. They wave their fists. They yell. And, okay, sometimes they spit on people. (Because who doesn’t?) They have feelings about stuff, and they don’t care who knows it.

* Anger – And not just feelings. These folks are mad. At whom? You name it. Obama. Reid-Pelosi-Emanuel-Michelle-Sean Penn-Lady Gaga-Avatar. Democrats. Liberals. The administration. The media. Immigrants. Hippies. “Health care.” “The public option.” Saul Freaking Alinsky, as if any of them have the slightest idea of who he was and whose interests he defended.

* Self-righteousness – This is what they’re taught by Rush and Hannity: If something bad happens to you, or even if you just don’t like something (Obama winning the election; Democrats passing laws; etc.), then your “liberty” has been hijacked, your “freedom” has been stolen, and you have been forced to submit to “tyranny.” The merits, the facts, the actual history of the past ten (let alone hundred) years–that’s not their responsibility, which is to scream and then feel ennobled by it. Ask them one question about an issue, and they retreat into “I’m not an expert” and anti-intellectualist sneering about “elites.”

There are other qualities, of course, including ignorance (they don’t know what communism or socialism are any more than “Victoria Jackson” does), gullibility (they actually think that Sarah Palin, a woman who literally cannot answer a question without lying, is “a truth teller”), and sheer obliviousness of reality.

And all this comes wrapped in the shiny, red-white-and-blue gift paper of “patriotism.” This is the best (i.e., the worst) part. These people whom you so astutely lampoon use patriotism as pornography. The idea that, by attending a rally and waving a sign and screaming things that make absolutely no sense (e.g., “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”), you can feel like you have something in common with “our Founding Fathers”…well. It gets them hot and bothered and stimulated and aroused. Some of them even dress up in “Revolutionary attire,” which is their equivalent of leather and studs.

But look at me, telling you this while you obviously have a deeper grasp of it all than I ever could. You, after all, in a master-stroke of character development, have said more than once, “Glenn Beck has taught me well,” knowing (as anyone with half a brain knows) that claiming Glenn Beck as your teacher is about as wise as claiming Dr. Mengele as your primary care physician. Please, as a favor to a fan: keep that in the act. It’s priceless.

Then again, in the end it’s not funny. Even when their grievances are legitimate–because who isn’t worried about the future?–all they’re doing to address them is shouting, spitting, and cheering patent demagogues like Palin and Beck (who, it need hardly be added, are sympathizing with them all the way to the bank).

It’s hard to know what will satisfy these people. Certainly not a Republican victory in November or in 2012. It was Republicans who lay the groundwork for this mess that’s causing them to suffer. The Bush tax cuts, the unfunded wars, the de-regulation of Wall Street–disasters all, and the GOP would do it all again in an instant if they could. Then they, and Fox News, and Limbaugh, and Hannity would, as befits members of “the party of personal responsibility,” blame the next collapse on Obama.

Maybe all they need is some job security, health care they can afford, college tuition that doesn’t provoke an aneurysm, decent treatment by the banks that hold their mortgages, and some unpanicked expectation of the future.

That may be coming, although maybe not soon enough. So be careful, Ms. Jackson. You know and I know you’re just goofing on them, and no one could possibly really be as silly, oblivious, and ignorant as the character you’re portraying. But those around you aren’t in any mood for jokes. Angry mobs never, ever do good things. In fact they usually end up doing terrible things.

So get in, do your shtick, and get out. But keep up the great work!


Ross Douthat Is Mature and You’re Not

March 16, 2010

New York Times right-wing Boy Wonder Ross Douthat has a sad because The Green Zone isn’t mature enough to handle the tragedy of George W. Bush:

Americans believe in evil, but we’re uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.

Note the presumptive “we,” beloved of hacks from the beginning of time, and how from it one may assume the Wide Stance of the Expert, from which p.o.v. the writer is then able to issue further pronouncements about, uh, “us.”


This is apparent in our politics, where we’re swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It’s apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it’s most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.

Never mind that all popular culture of every society pits superheroes against supervillains, or at least good guys vs. bad guys, because that’s what makes it “popular.” The punch line here is the word “naïve.” When right-wingers have nothing substantive to say, they play the Vice-Principal card and call you “immature.”

Such, we are told, is the new Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon action film The Green Zone, which, per Douthat, “refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a ‘Bush lied, people died’ reductionism.”

And what does he mean by real tragedy? Is it the needless death of tens of thousands of children, women, babies, elders, and other non-combatants of a country that was no threat to the country that invaded it? Is it the forced exodus of a million people fleeing their homes? Is it the killing and maiming of U.S. soldiers in an action that, while ostensibly (or so we were told, by the decent, well-intentioned human beings who knew it wasn’t true) retaliating against a force that attacked us on 9-11, in fact attacked a country completely unconnected to that event? Is it how a population’s anger and fear were manipulated in order to support a military adventure it could not afford and did not need but was determined to promote regardless?

No. The very thought, Douthat suggests, is “naïve.” Here is how he describes the events of 2003:

The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.

Readers born after 2003, who today are at most six years old, may find this account plausible. The rest of us know better and can see it for the selectively incomplete, essentially false piece of historical revisionism that it is.

You had a nation that was hungry for a response, yes, and for whom the first part of that response, in Afghanistan, was thought to be adequate and well-chosen, but was abandoned by those decent, etc., people. Douthat forgets to mention it. You had, in his poignant phrase, “an inexperienced president” whose anti-intellectualism, spiteful insecurity, and provincial ignorance caused him to consciously ignore the knowledge of experts and their explicit warnings of this terrorist attack, and to focus, instead, on tax cuts for his patrons (in a time of “war”) and on vacations.

You had a defensible but non-urgent goal–the removal of Saddam Hussein, one of history’s monsters–as a pre-defined objective, to which all “fact gathering” and “deliberations” and “debates” were subordinated (and the selection of which owed much more to the vainglory of the president, and the egos of the Secretary of Defense and the Vice-President, than to any matters of national security).

You had a “casus belli” about which the president, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and sundry other decent, well-intentioned human beings, knowingly lied, catastrophizing and sowing fear for no other reason than to advance this pre-determined agenda. “We know where the weapons of mass destruction are,” quoth Donald Rumsfeld. “They’re near Tikrit.”

And, to the extent that you had a liberal intelligentsia and a general population supporting the war, it was because they had been deceived into thinking it necessary for their own safety. “Surely,” people thought, “they wouldn’t lie about that. Surely they wouldn’t falsify and manipulate the facts over something as horrible and scarring and brutalizing to all concerned as going to war.”

But to Douthat, this is the “naïve” version of events. According to his version, these were decent people trying their hardest to do right. It is refuted and demolished by a ton of documentary evidence, but never mind.

Douthat cites an essay in Washington Monthly by Chris Lehmann in 2005 about political fiction:

From Mark Twain’s “Gilded Age” and Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” to their more recent imitators, our novelists have never been terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life. Instead, Lehmann suggested, they usually cast the entire mess as “a great ethical contaminant and task their protagonists with escaping its many perils with both their lives and their moral compasses intact.”

As it happens, this is a pretty good description of the arc of “Green Zone.” But it’s a lousy recipe for real art, which is supposed to be interested in the humanity of all its subjects, not just the ones who didn’t work for Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense.

Setting aside the fact that the last thing I want to hear from a conservative columnist in The New York Times is his theory about “real art,” in fact Lehmann’s description strikes me as a pretty good recipe for real art. The proper domain of art–certainly of drama, even in a mainstream studio movie–is human subjectivity: the personality, its changes, its confrontation with the outside world. Confronting a protagonist with “a great ethical contaminant” is–talk about “tragedy”–a theme and a method that
goes back to the Greeks, if not to the earliest legends.

Douthat, young aspiring conservative that he is, cannot admit that the entire Iraq debacle was in fact a circus of ethical contamination, from the witting lies that sold it, to the Cavalcade of Amateurs sent to restore order after the fall of Saddam, to the cubic feet of cash lost, stolen, or squandered on the free-for-all that they oversaw. Some political stories do indeed deserve a nuanced dramatization in which no side has clean hands and everyone is ethically compromised. There may even be such stories to be found in the war in Iraq. But not among the Bush administration.

Finally, no column from the Times stable of right-wing pundits (Douthat, Brooks) would be complete without a bit of hypocritical, concern-troll hand-wringing over “our ongoing polarization.”

Our nation might be less divided, and our debates less poisonous, if more artists were capable of showing us the ironies, ambiguities and tragedies inherent in our politics — rather than comforting us with portraits of a world divided cleanly into good and evil.

What you mean “us,” right man?

Perhaps the youthful Douthat was himself born after 2003, and so wasn’t present during the dawn of our current age of poisonous partisanship, birthed by Richard Nixon (or do I mean Joseph McCarthy?), nurtured by Lee Atwater, and thriving even unto our present time under the ministry of Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Ann Coulter, Fox News, Jim DeMint, Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, and all the other professional liars, foaming demagogues, and clinically insane loons for whom Ross Douthat has such redeeming sympathy.

From the current disinformation campaign of Dick Cheney, to the pants-on-fire mendacity of Karl Rove’s new memoir, to the sad laments of Douthat and David Brooks and every other wingnut pundit whose paycheck depends on defending the indefensible, this is their current project: re-define the past, absolve the guilty of crimes, whitewash the lies, and profess respect for the tragedy of how decent, well-meaning people understandably made some mistakes.

They will never stop. And why should they? What else do they have to do?

My Message of Redemption for Brit Hume

January 3, 2010

Recently, former Fox “News” anchor Brit Hume expressed concern about Tiger Woods, noting, “Whether he can recover as a person I think is a very open question.” Then Hume offered this bit of heartfelt advice:

“The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger is, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

Yes, what better source (with the possible exceptions of the repellent Janet Parshall, the uber-smug John Gibson, and animatronic dominatrix Ann Coulter) of religious counsel than the former Managing Editor of Fox “News”?

At such moments, when one of the Republican Party’s chief propagandists espouses advice about the soul, you can almost hear the ghosts of Moliere and Mark Twain smacking their foreheads and laughing. You can also sense, all across Fox Nation, viewers’ heads nodding, as the faithful who used to think (and probably still do think) of George W. Bush as “a good Christian man” find their most cherished “value” confirmed.

Hume suggests, with his tired basset-hound eyes radiating wisdom and pity, that that most piously invoked and highly prized facet of one’s being (i.e., one’s “faith”) is a function of conscious will, that one can jump from religion to religion simply by deciding to, the way one might change cellular services. (“You see, Tiger, the Buddhist 3G network just doesn’t offer the kind of comprehensive coverage that you get with Christianity. With Christianity you enjoy no dropped calls to God, no dead spots in your future immortality. And our basic plan includes forgiveness and redemption! So why not switch? Operators–real operators, the kind who know how to herd the flocks of the ignorant and fleece them for all they’re worth–are standing by. You don’t even have to change your mobile number.”)

I don’t know about you, but I’m very concerned about everyone recovering as a person–and by “everyone” I mean, “mainly Brit Hume.” You kids are too young to remember, but at the start of his career, Hume was an assistant to Jack Anderson, a muckraking journalist who labored day-in and day-out to expose the crimes, frauds, lies, and other symptoms of Washington politics regardless of party. Anderson practically invented investigative journalism. And get this–he was a Mormon! Nine kids! He thought holding the powerful to account was a sacred duty. What a kook!

Go here for the interesting info that Anderson was once targeted to be poisoned by Nixon’s henchmen. Now that’s “cred,” and Hume was one of his field investigators.

But look at Hume today: morally bankrupt, unable to serve his masters in a manner to which he had become accustomed, and reduced to offering come-to-Jesus advice, on television, to celebrity golfers.

He has, in other words, arrived at a point exactly the opposite of that of Tiger Woods–who, Hume says, “will recover as a golfer” but not necessarily “as a person.” Hume, on the other hand, cannot recover as a person until he recovers professionally.

Therefore my message to Brit is, Brit, when you worked for Jack Anderson you really were doing the Lord’s work. Then, well, you went astray. You ended up–as if you need me to tell you!–shilling for warmongers, pandering to corporatists, and disseminating lies practically every darn day in the cause of death, destruction, cronyism, ignorance, corruption, and ineptitude. All of which is a fancy way of saying, you became Managing Editor of Fox “News.” And as such, you effected a complete repudiation and betrayal of your younger, more admirable self.

I don’t think dispensing religious counseling to superstar athletes offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by a full and honest break with Fox “News,” the Republican Party, and the forces of evil for which you have been so dependable a servant for so many years. I therefore conclude my message to Brit with, Brit, confess your sins for what the rest of the world (except for the partisans and the idiots) knows they were. Admit, once and for all, th–

You know what? The hell with it. Never mind. I was going to offer you a chance to make a total recovery and be a great example to the world, but it’s too late. You’ve done too much damage–to journalism, to our national politics, to the idea of truth, to the United States of America. Stick with the Christians. Those people will let you get away with anything.

“This is How Conservatives Are Made”

December 31, 2009

The Corner, as my fellow intellectual masochists know, is the daily blog of the formerly-relevant National Review. Like the Jewish resorts in the Catskills–once the site of so much vitality and schpritzaturra, now mostly mouldering ruins in appalling states of neglect–this is where you go to wander around in a haze of alternating depression and morbid fascination.

Two days ago we had a fine opportunity to undergo the latter. Here, in its entirety, is the apercu of John J. Miller–conservative, writer, and proud father:

‘They Just Took My Money’ [John J. Miller]

That’s what my 8-year-old son said about the sales tax on the ride home from Borders a few minutes ago. He had a $10 gift card from Christmas, bought a Clone Wars book for $7.99, looked at the receipt, and wondered why he still didn’t have a full $2.01 on it.

This is how conservatives are made.

Truer words were never inputted. This is indeed how conservatives are made, and this is how they come off the assembly line: whiny with victimization, pissy about money, and in full possession of an eight-year-old’s understanding of the real world.

Now, you or I would have pounced upon this “teaching moment” and used it to instruct the lad in the following manner. We would have pointed out that:

1. The “missing” money was kept by the store in the form of “sales tax.” The store pays that money to the state (and sometimes the city) government over the year. All states charge taxes on most things (although usually not on food) when you buy them. Why?

2. Because all of us, no matter what this poor child’s idiot father and his friends believe or want to believe, share certain needs and provide for each other certain benefits simply because we live in the same area. Look around, young budding conservative. What do you see? You see paved and maintained streets, and street lights, and traffic lights, and police cars and fire engines. Ask daddy to lift up a manhole cover and look inside: See? It’s an entire fucking sewage system. Who pays for all this? We all do, via that tax and other taxes.

3. Do you, o son of a smugly moronic father, benefit from such expenditures? Every day. Never mind if your house catches fire or you need to call the cops or the streets have to be cleared of snow or state universities need funding. Take a look at that Clone Wars book. How do you think it got to Borders in the first place? A nice (or a not-nice) man (or woman) drove it, and ten thousand other books, in a big truck across our nation’s fine superhighway system.

Without such roads, the book would have cost even more than $7.99. Ask your (idiot) father what “economies of scale” means. When he says, “Don’t worry about that. You’re too young to understand it,” ask him why the hell, then, he feels entitled to interpret a little pisher’s confusion as being the beginning of a socio-economic world-view. Then come back here and we’ll talk.

It takes a special kind of man to respond to a second-grader’s bafflement about finance with some shirt-poppin’, chest-swellin’ pride over the boy’s blameless, understandable, and correctable ignorance. But that’s what you’ll find at the Corner.

These are people for whom no partisan score is too petty, no lie too egregious, no tortured “observation” too contrived or invented. To them, “true” is no different from “could be true if you squint hard enough and clap loud.” When they’re not projecting onto others the qualities that only they, themselves, ever actually display (“I am ideologically, reflexively hostile to taxes, so my 8-year-old is, too!“), they’re just making shit up and hoping someone, somewhere–the American Enterprise Institute, the Club for Growths (sic), the Koch family–will pay them for it.

You wonder why the Republican Party, and the political right, are so horrendously dishonest when they’re not displaying (or pandering to) Olympian levels of plain old provincial ignorance? Now you know. They’re raised by the John J. Millers of the world. This is how conservatives are made.

Her? Oh, That’s Just Crazy Old Aunt Peg

October 12, 2009

Peggy Noonan, in defiance of all normal expectations, keeps getting more embarrassing. It’s one thing to think outside the box. When the box is your head, you get this:

It was a good thing, the Nobel Peace Prize. Every year the giving of it was a matter of note throughout the world, almost a matter of state.

Don’t you love the reflective tone of pipe-puffing wisdom in the first sentence? No, you don’t. You find it phony and insufferable. As for, “Every year the giving of it…” well, you feel (as I do) that it displays all the homespun authenticity of a Quaker Oats commercial. The bad ones, without that fun mumbly music they’ve had recently.

So much for style. What about the writer’s substance?

Briefly: Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize because he’s not Mother (“You’re so good, it’s SCARY!”) Teresa. Neither is he Nelson Mandela, Woodrow Wilson or “Ferocious Teddy Roosevelt.” Fair enough, in its whiny way. Then, alas, the crazy takes over, and Peggy “The Ophelia of the Right” comes into her nudnik own.

More deeply into the political life of the 20th Century, there were Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, and their Peace Prizes were what they were.

Can’t argue with that. Who, other than the right-wing fantasists whose divorce from reality has proven anything but amicable, would dare argue that they weren’t what they were? But get this:

It was always absurd that Ronald Reagan, whose political project led to the end of the gulag and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and who gambled his personal standing in the world for a system that would protect the common man from annihilation in a nuclear missile attack, could not win it.

This is the Republican creation myth, and so it deserves exactly as much respect, free of literal agreement or belief, that one would show a Hopi legend about the origin of the world (“So Tawa divided himself and there came Muiyinwuh, God of All Life Germs; Spider Woman also divide(d) herself so that there was Huzruiwuhti, Woman of the Hard Substances, the Goddess of all hard ornaments of wealth such as coral, turquoise, silver and shell…”).

Note, to your queasy disbelief, that the words following “Berlin Wall” refer — [in addition to Ronnie’s “personal standing,” as if that a) means anything when you’re acting as President, and b) means anything to a man decreasingly able to distinguish between life and movies — to the “Star Wars” missile defense system.

Yes, that missile defense system — the one whose components could never be shown to actually work, the one whose field tests required foreknowledge of where, when, and along what trajectory the targets were to be launched, the one that (at a cost of tens of billions) would at best have been destabilizing and would have brought anxiety to the trigger fingers in the USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and the general vicinity even though everyone would know that it didn’t work.

To sum up: Ronald Reagan deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because he failed to waste a fortune on a boondoggle that would have made the world less safe. That he failed to win it was “absurd.”

Oh, Peg, how can you possibly top that?

But nobody wept over it, and for one reason: because everyone, every sentient adult who cared to know about such things, knew that the Nobel Peace Prize is, when awarded to a political figure, a great and prestigious award given by liberals to liberals. NCNA–no conservatives need apply. This is the way of the world, and so what? Life isn’t for prizes.

Never mind the nausea lurking in the prospect of learning what Peggy Noonan thinks “life” is “for,” or that the final lines are a crabby old schoolmarm’s idea of “consolation.” What we want to know is, what about Andre Sakharov (1975)? What about those liberal scalawags, Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin (1978)? What about Lech Walesa (1983)? Why does Peggy Noonan hate freedom?

And what about Henry Kissinger? Because, as every sentient adult knows, “Along with North Vietnamese Politburo Member Le Duc Tho, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1973, for their work in negotiating the ceasefires contained in the Paris Peace Accords…”


This is an award for not being George W. Bush. This is an award for not making the world nervous. This is an award for sharing the basic political sentiments and assumptions of the members of the committee. It is for what Barack Obama may do, not what he has done. He hasn’t done anything.

Actually, dear, no. This is an award for having traveled more than any other president in the first year of a term specifically and explicitly to repair the damage done by the man and the administration you spent eight years defending and praising. This damage was done to the very possibility of world peace, to the legitimacy of diplomacy, to the idea of respecting international law, to the reputation of the United States as an honorable member of the community of nations, and to the hopes of every “common man” around the world whom people like you, Peggy Noonan, and your right-wing propagandist colleagues, take such pleasure in bleating admiration for until it comes time to hold them indefinitely, torture them, or blow them into protoplasm as “collateral damage” in wars you promote against people who are no threat to us.

Go watch the video, again, of the exultation around the world when Obama was elected. That sound you’ll hear is of the human race breathing a sigh of relief. You want the United States to be the leader of the world? Once again, finally, you’ve got it. Now choke on it.

Oh, wait. One more thing. Please, please grace us with more rants like this:

America hasn’t just helped the world, it literally lit the world with its inventions, which are the product of its freedoms. The lights under which the Peace Prize judges read, and rejected, the worthy nominations? Why, those lights were invented by an American. The emails the committee members sent to each other, sharing their banal insights on leadership? They came through the Internet. Who invented the Internet? It was a Norwegian bureaucrat with a long face and hair on his nose and little plastic geometric eyeglasses? Oh wait, it was Americans. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are healthy because they have been inoculated against diseases such as polio. Who invented the polio vaccine, an enfeebled old leftist academic in Oslo? Nah, it was a man named Jonas Salk. He was an American.

It doesn’t get any more jejune than this, from the Cowardly Lion recitation of accomplishments (“Who invented the electric light/So you can see in the dark and put your pj’s on right?/Who is the guy who invented email/For every computerized male and female?” etc.) to the teen sarcasm of “oh, wait” to the thick-as-a-brick obliviousness of the fact that, e.g., “Sir Timothy John ‘Tim’ Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREeng, FRSA (born 8 June 1955), is a British engineer and computer scientist and MIT professor credited with inventing the World Wide Web, making the first proposal for it in March 1989.”

Face it, Peg. Reagan is dead and W is in permanent, well-deserved disgrace. Join him there or, like that other Scandinavian said, Get thee to a nunnery.

The Way He Douthat Thing He Do

September 21, 2009

When Bill “I Have Been and Will Continue to Be Wrong About Everything” Kristol departed the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, a great cry was heard throughout the land.

“With whom will the Times replace him?” we wondered. “Oh, sure, we still have David Brooks. At least he’ll be around, defending conservative lies, chiding our contemporary foibles and follies with his head-firmly-up-ass sociological observations, and drawing bogus equivalencies between ‘the far left’ and ‘the far right.’ But what if we need more?”

Then our prayers were answered. Not long after Kristol packed up his wrongness and cleared out his locker, he was replaced by a screwball-throwing rightie out of The Atlantic’s farm team named Ross Douthat. And, while he’s needed a couple months to hit stride in the Bigs, Douthat weighs in today with a column of such dazzling falseness and bad faith, it’ll have us thinking “Bill ‘Deeply, Deeply Wrong About Everything’ Kristol WHO?”

Today’s homily concerns George W. Bush. You may remember him from such political events as “the presidency of the United States, 2001-2009.” I say “may,” because as far as his fellow Republicans go, Bush is The Forgotten Man. They don’t mention him. They don’t name airports or schools after him. They don’t seek his counsel. They don’t appoint him to post-presidential committees or send him on diplomatic missions. It’s like the GOP is Stalinist Russia and W has been declared an un-person. He never existed and Republicans from sea to fuckin’ sea never heard of the guy.

But Ross Douthat…well, god damn it, Ross Douthat remembers:

America has had its share of disastrous chief executives. But few have gone as far as Bush did in trying to repair their worst mistakes.

Sure, he just made up that last sentence in the hopes that no one will bother to refute it. “Few have gone as far…” Is that remotely true? Say it with me now: Who cares!? We’re off to a great start. And it gets better.

Those mistakes were the Iraq war — both the decision to invade and the conduct of the occupation — and the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble.

Yes, “the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble” was Bush’s mistake. By “yes” I mean no, that doesn’t make sense. Clearly, this youngster can bring it. Sloppy thinking? Check. Bogus generalizations? Done and done. False premise on which to then base a faulty conclusion? Ask for it by name.

Besides, which of us hasn’t made “mistakes”? Which of us hasn’t ignored urgent intelligence concerning terrorists because we were too busy promoting a tax cut for rich people (and then vacationing on our “ranch”), allowing jets to smash into the World Trade Center? Which of us hasn’t promoted, through fear-mongering, manipulation of evidence, and outright lying, a war against someone who was of no threat to us? And–come on; be honest–who hasn’t dawdled and dicked around while a major American city is allowed to drown?

Mistakes happen, and it’s all water over the levee. What matters, Douthat says, is that Bush tried to fix things.

The repairs were the surge, undertaken at a time when the political class was ready to abandon Iraq to the furies, and last fall’s unprecedented economic bailout.

Both fixes remain controversial. But for the moment, both look like the sort of disaster-averting interventions for which presidents get canonized. It’s just that in Bush’s case, the disasters he averted were created on his watch.

Never mind that the last sentence above is incoherent, since a disaster is not “averted” if it has already been “created.” Because the young man has his work cut out for him. A Times column runs around 800 words, and for a weekly column that averages out to more than 100 words a day.

What matters is that Douthat is trying (very! LOL) just as Bush tried.

It’s true that Bush didn’t personally formulate the surge, or craft the bailout. But he was, well, the decider, and if he takes the blame — rightly — for what Donald Rumsfeld wrought, then he should get credit for Gen. David Petraeus’s successes in Iraq, and for blessing the sweeping decisions that Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke made in last September’s desperate weeks.

The toner on the first printouts of history is barely dry, and already we get revisionism: Iraq was Rumsfeld’s fault. Bush “takes the blame,” yes, but only because he happened to be President at the time. And (having been entirely marginalized by his party during the election campaign of last year, his policies and decider-y achievements ignored by everyone from John McCain to Trig Palin, a duck not only lame but whose legs had been amputated) Bush is now applauded for not standing in the way of a measure that, in the end, seems mainly to have benefited his own best friends within the filthy-rich class.

And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it’s worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency — that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.

This is–talk about recombinant genetics–a straw man entirely made of baloney. It was not “the wisdom of the Washington elite” that Bush was–and is, and forever will be–insulated from. He was insulated from the truth. He was insulated from knowledge. He was insulated from the advice of experts not pre-vetted to tell him what he wanted to hear. He was insulated from CIA professionals who had actual data from the field. He was insulated from intelligent people not as committed to the cause of the Republican Party as Karl Rove preferred. He was insulated, by his own fundamental combination of resentment, insecurity, and unexamined anger, from anyone to whom he–rightly–felt inferior.

In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war’s cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody — right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street — was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.

In reality, this is worthy of Brooks himself. Yes, the Iraq invasion was “popular with the public at the time.” But when a sizable percentage of the credulous, frightened public (not to mention prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits) based that support on a falsehood (that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks), and when that and other falsehoods originated with Bush and his administration, just how valid is that popularity? Douthat, good little conservative apologist that he is, somehow overlooks that aspect of things.

This is not a blueprint that future presidents will want to follow. But the next time an Oval Office occupant sees his popularity dissolve and his ambitions turn to dust, he can take comfort from Bush’s example. It suggests that it’s possible to become a good president even — or especially — when you can no longer hope to be a great one.

And there you have it: a little parallel-universe re-telling of the facts; a self-serving and selective account of what happened; a white-washing absolution of sins and crimes to be blamed on others; and some circus clown tears over “mistakes.” Put them all together and you achieve the impossible: Bush as a “good president.” Bill “Always, Always in Error” Kristol’s position has been well and truly filled.

Welcome to The Show, kid. Now you have to work on your clichés.

Half-Assed from Whole Foods

August 14, 2009

Writing–where else?–on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods C.E.O. John Mackey presents the non-ignoramus’s argument against what he calls “ObamaCare.” This, in contrast to the all-ignoramus’s arguments lately heard at town halls/brawls/mauls across the length and br. of the land. Let’s see what he recommends.

After the usual throat-clearing about the projected deficit, Medicare and Social Security and Baby Boomers and etc., he lays on us his overall theme: “…we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction–toward less government control and more individual empowerment.”

When a C.E.O. trumpets “individual empowerment,” watch your wallet, warm up your lie detector, and keep an eye out for someone–usually a non-union “team member”–tasked with clobbering you over the head with a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Here are Mackey’s eight proposals:

Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

This sounds nice, but does that mean that Whole Foods is offering employment to those Americans–let’s use the conservative figure of 40 million–who have no insurance? Or the Christ-knows-how-many-millions who pay for their own insurance? Bragging about how Whole Foods’ “team members” have health insurance paid for by the company seems not germane to a discussion centered on the health insurance of people who have none, whose employers provide none, or who pay for their own, retail.

Equalize the tax laws so that that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

Sold. Let’s stop here! No? Oh all right…

Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

Well. As I recall David Caruso saying in the pilot of NYPD Blue, “now we’re getting into a bad area.” I foresee this as leading to insurance companies at each other’s throats (in the “conservative”ly approved manner), resulting in predatory pricing, increasing concentration, and the eventual creation of regional or national monopolies. Or, if that’s too violent and upsetting for you, arranging nice, amicable cartels. Eventually we would have a “single-payer system,” with the single payer being a private corporation beholden only to its (institutional, secretive) shareholders (if there are any), its bonus-grubbing executives, and its almost-certain-to-be-corrupt board of directors. With Grandpa’s (i.e., my, soon enough) hip replacement at stake! Because I’m not as hip as I used to be.

Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

This is hallucinatory. Does Mackey imagine that “what is insured and what is not insured” would ever be determined, in private health insurance, by “individual customer preferences”? Is he unfamiliar with the term “pre-existing conditions”?

Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

Yeah, this old wheeze. Actually Claire McCaskill (D., MO) put paid to this myth at a recent town hall. She pointed out that several states, including Texas, have indeed enacted tort reform, that medical lawsuits have indeed diminished in number and in awards in those states, and that, as a result, exactly no one’s health insurance premiums have been reduced.

Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

This is beyond hilarious. As if knowing that you are–or someone is–being charged $11 for the box of Kleenex ™ used in your hospital stay, qualifies as “transparency.” Mack seems to think that the charges and costs are valid; it’s just that we’re not being smart shoppers.

What he can solve in his next op-ed, then, is this brain teaser: Last year my daughter had to go to (the hilariously named) “urgent care” for a bad stomach ache. She saw a doc there we like and who was simpatico and attentive, but he couldn’t figure it out. He sent us to the E.R. across the street, where we spent six hours. The patient had an x-ray, an ultra-sound, an MRI, and other procedures. By the end of the day they had no idea what the problem was. They gave her a scrip for Vicodin and sent her home. (She was better the next day, thanks.)

We got a bill for $12,000. Because of stupidity on my part, I had allowed her insurance to lapse. When the hospital learned of this, they immediately cut the bill literally in half. About which I was, like, “Thanks,” and all, but here’s the puzzler: What happened to the missing $6 K? Is it how the hospital bilks the insurer? Who, in turn, raises premiums?

That’s the problem. Not assuring that we get itemized bills.

Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

Baloney. Terms like “greater patient empowerment” and “responsibility” are always, when brandished in a WSJ op-ed, code words for “stick it to the customers and defend the corporations.” Implicit in this discussion (and in his rhetorical question above, “What other goods and services do we buy…”) is the insidious assumption that “buying health care” is just one more consumer act, no different from “buying snow tires.” You read the reviews, you compare prices, you talk to the guy at Pep Boys, and you buys your chemo.

People like John Mackey should acknowledge that spending money on health care is unlike spending money on anything else in the world. You are entirely at the mercy of your medical professionals. No amount of Consumer Reports printouts or Epinions can be applied to the topic of your own–or, worse, your child’s–body. And you are not competent to judge the correctness of what you’re told. Oh, and: everything is at stake. Exercising “choice” and accepting “responsibility” are right-wing flash grenades meant to impair or halt the discussion. They’re meaningless in this context.

Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Excellent: forty million people dependant on the kindness of strangers. Spoken like a naïve Christian, an aristocratic reactionary, or a blinkered libertarian, none of which are meant to be terms of admiration.

He goes on:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care–to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.

Yes it does. It says in the Preamble to the Constitution, “Look, don’t worry. As long as you have your health, you have everything.” No, wait, I’m thinking of a different document. The Preamble says, “…in order to…promote the general welfare…” If John Mackey doesn’t think that health, food, and shelter promote the general welfare, he should go live in Soviet Union, where general welfare promotes you.

In other words, just as patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so “a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution” is the last, and sometimes first, refuge of the wing-nut. These people must be told, over and over (although they already know it; it’s not as though they’re arguing in good faith) that we can have the kind of society we choose to have.

If the Constitution permits slavery, and we decide our society shouldn’t condone it, we change the document and improve the society. If the Constitution does not allow women to vote, and we want a society in which women do vote, we change the document and create that improved society. If the majority of us agree that the basic hallmark of a civilized society is that every member of it deserves to be as healthy as possible, we can create that society.

Mackey then includes some debate-society nerd-points (“Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them.”) which beg every significant question, beginning with why forty-nine countries–including Wallis and Futuna, which I always thought were two claymation characters– have longer life expectancies than the U.S. (Source: The fucking CIA, okay? He cites some supposed-to-be-horrifying statistic (“Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor’s Business Daily.”). That’s 2.5% of the Canadian population. What are they waiting for? Elective procedures? Are there no Americans “waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment” for similar reasons?

He clouds the issue with this bit of squid ink:

At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund. Our Canadian and British employees express their benefit preferences very clearly–they want supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health-care benefit dollars if they already have an “intrinsic right to health care”? The answer is clear–no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.–or in any other country.

Does this make sense? He seems to be asking, “Why would Brit and Canadian employees want ‘supplemental health-care dollars’ they can spend anyway they like?” To which the next question is: Who wouldn’t? The answer is clear.

Then comes some summing-up lecture about obesity, diet, and a disingenuous little suggestion about “a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat.”

But enough already. If you secretly felt that you “should” really shop at Whole Foods, because they’re “whole” and they’re “foods,” you now have your reason to go elsewhere–both for food, and for arguments about health care.