Life in These Untied States

Posted April 16, 2009 by barbel
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So, to sum up:

1. People who make far less than 250K per year, whose tax rates will be cut, spent yesterday out in public demanding that Obama stop increasing their taxes. They proudly marched and defiantly yelled and etc., etc., insisting with waved signs and shaken fists on their opposition to something that is not the case. They have made it their business to prevent something from happening that was never going to happen in the first place–and they mean it!

2. These same people, whose economic and physical well-being are a matter of supreme indifference to the richest families in America, have been persuaded to insist on policies that will only benefit the richest families in America. There is a term for these people, and it isn’t “right-wing” or “conservative” or “patriotic” or even “Republicans.” The term is “sucker.” These people are suckers. They have been tricked and manipulated into working against their own interests and for the interests of people who could literally not care less about them. Their patron saint isn’t Barry Goldwater or Thomas Paine or Ronald Reagan or Jesus H. Christ. It’s P.T. Barnum.

3. People who would be forced into bankruptcy by an attack of appendicitis, who have no idea what “socialism” is or how it differs from “communism” or “fascism,” were to be seen yesterday out in force, self-righteously pissed off and calling Obama a socialist, a communist, and a fascist, often interchangeably. And what are their ideas about how to deal with the worst economic crisis in eighty years? “Let them go bankrupt!” Ignorance and indignation: it doesn’t get any more American than that. Each of them–proud, free, unafraid to speak stupidity to power–is like a homeowner whose house is on fire and yet who refuses to let the fire fighters turn a hose on the flames because “it’ll get my stuff all wet.” And when the fire chief ventures the suggestion that the fire is a) going to destroy their stuff anyway, and then b) spread to other homes, he gets shut down with such wised-up, common-man arguments as, “I pay your salary!”

4. Glenn Beck–a prancing, sobbing, gibbering buffoon who will say literally anything to keep his audience’s attention–has become the new spokesperson for the right. Yes, just when you thought Sean Hannity was, not only as bad as it got, but as bad as it could get, here comes the next level in televised right-wing demagoguery. Glenn Beck–whom Dickens himself would delete from a novel as being “too obvious”–is a star. As a consequence of this…

5. Rush Limbaugh has become the “de facto leader” of the right. Think about it–if you dare! Glenn Beck has accomplished the impossible. This is science fact, not science fiction: He’s somehow managed to make the country’s most famous sex-tourist drug-addict saloon-loudmouth hate-mongering hypocrite seem dignified and thoughtful. Glenn Beck has succeeded in bestowing gravitas on Rush Limbaugh. Still, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. When the spotlight is grabbed by the dancing monkey, the rhinoceros in the background starts to look downright serious and thoughtful.

6. Fox News, a factory of propaganda and lies on the best of days, has decided “the hell with it” and become an outright partisan fomenter of “revolution.” While formerly (as a study showed during the Bush years), watching Fox News actually made one stupider, now watching it (as a follow-up will surely prove) makes one insane. During Bush, Fox News merely promulgated falsehoods. Now, during Obama, its function is to corrode its viewers’ very understanding of reality itself. But what else can it do, since…

7. The devolution of the Republican Party (for which Fox News serves as Pravda) proceeds apace. The GOP, fifty years ago the Cotillion Party, is now the Toga Party Party. Newt Gingrich–hippie-dippy marital history, ethics charges and all–is newly converted to Catholicism and plotting his return. (Who said there are no third–or is it fourth?–acts in American lives?) The governor of Texas threatens to secede. (Memo to Gov. Perry: Here’s your Stetson; what’s your hurry? Just leave us Austin as your going-away present to us.) A senator openly talks about advising his wife to hurry down to the ATM and withdraw all their money, suggesting what in the good old days we used to call “a run on the bank.” Libertarians (which is a fancy poli-sci term for “adolescents with firm political opinions about an imaginary society”) threaten to “go Galt” but then somehow can’t follow through. Whither the courage of the Randroids? And no one in the party of Wm. F. Buckley and Norman Podhoretz seems to know that the term “tea-bag” refers to dangling a man’s genitals into someone’s mouth.

This is not “the loyal opposition.” This is Animal House. Every week brings a new hit single from the demonstrably unhinged Michelle Bachmann. And talk about legislation–what do these frat rats do? They release–get this–a budget with no numbers. What a goof!

8. The right-wing blogs, from the most crayon-on-paper-bags illiterate to the airy summit of the National Review, from obscure typists like Pastor Grant Swank (Google it; you’ll be amazed) to the preening elite like Jonah Goldberg and Michele Malkin, have heard that funky jungle beat and formed a great writhing conga line of lunacy: having turned their brains inside-out defending the indefensible Bush (never mind Cheney) for eight years, now they say anything that comes to their fevered minds just to keep the gig and not actually have to work for a living. “Where is Obama’s birth certificate?” “The Navy shot those pirates but Obama had nothing to do with it.” “This tea-bag revolution–” (well-documented as having been conceived, directed, funded, and scripted by right-wing foundations) “–is a marvel of spontaneous grass-roots populist grass-rootsy spontaneity!”

What does it all mean? I’m asking, reader. Is this widespread madness fun? Is it business and politics as usual? Should we derive from it nothing more than good old fashioned schadenfreude, and just pass the popcorn while watching the people who created and supported the catastrophes of the past eight years as they now wallow in their impotence and irrelevance? Or is all this manipulated, phony “grass-roots” outrage fated to lead to some serious danger to innocent people? For every thousand citizens who gather in public to scream idiotic slogans and proudly flaunt their ignorance, how many more are laboring away in basements and garages, building bombs or assembling arsenals? How many does it take to lead to disaster?

The anger and fear of these people are real and, probably in most cases, justified, however much they misidentify their causes. That’s what the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Becks depend on exploiting in order to make themselves rich and famous. But this entire cycle (rage; exploitation; more rage) seems to me worse than usual, as does its manipulation by the wealthy and their servants. Is it? Or is all this just more publicized than it used to be? Doesn’t publicizing it make it grow, and therefore make it worse? Or is it a relatively minor, if lurid, sideshow?

Should I be worried, indifferent, or vastly amused? What does it all mean?

Going Galt A-Go-Go

Posted March 5, 2009 by barbel
Categories: Uncategorized

The right-wing, who have no trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality because they ignore reality completely, have an adorable new daydream. They’re going “go Galt.”

You will recall (having read, if nothing else, this) that the reference is to the character John Galt, from the beloved-by-idiots masterpiece of third-rate science fiction, Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, a one-time movie extra who possessed all the novelistic skills for which that profession is known. Rand (nee Alysa Rosenbaum–shanda fer de Goyyim!) used every inch of more than a thousand pages to tell the mind- and soul-crushing story of Dagny Taggart, the beautiful and willful railroad heiress who blah blah blah never mind.

Central to the novel’s amusing conceit, apart from that of its literary quality and intellectual merit, is that, at some time in our near future, society’s “productive” members, its “creative” “achievers,” go on strike. They withdraw their genius from the corrupted, quasi-socialized world (“The People’s State of France,” “The People’s State of Norway,” etc.) that Rand, in her keen-eyed, visionary lunacy, saw coming.

Monstrous? Unthinkable? Unthink again. They stop producing and creatively achieving, yes–but only for us. Instead, led by lean, implacable John Galt, a man who cannot light a cigarette without smiling cruelly and lecturing for twenty pages on reality (“Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists…” *) they retreat to some mountains in Colorado, where they mint their own coins and coin their own mints and create a Special Person’s utopian community that any unfairly punished twelve-year-old, brooding in his bedroom, would be happy to call his own.

Yes, it’s all good silly, operatically pretentious, proudly immoral and turgidly unreadable fun–or is it? Apparently not. Because, ever since Obama’s victory, wing nuts of various specs have been openly musing about actually doing it.

Go Google “going Galt” and read, with continually-dropping jaw, the blog posts in which the squawking heads of the right fantasize about deliberately reducing their income so as to stick it to The Man. Then read the even-more-courageously-and-proudly-cretinous comments in the Comments. Or don’t bother. Instead, just get a load of what an actual Congressman has to say on the matter.

From the Washington Independent, in a piece by David Weigel:

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), who gives his departing interns copies of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” told me today that the response to President Obama’s economic policies reminded him of what happened in the 51-year-old novel.

“People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in ‘Atlas Shrugged,'” said Campbell. “The achievers, the people who create all the things that benefit rest of us, are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs, the people who create wealth, who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them.”

There are three appropriate responses to this (apart from “Oh my god, those poor interns”), so take your pick:

APPROPRIATE RESPONSE NUMBER ONE: Baloney. You’re not seeing any such thing, at either a small level or a large level. The “achievers” you cite are, like most Republicans who honor principle by foisting it on anyone but themselves and then announcing “other priorities,” all talk. You’re making this up and assuming or hoping that it’s true. As is the case with other conservatives, reading Atlas Shrugged has destroyed the segment of your brain that deals with ethics, morality, and good taste in literature.

APPROPRIATE RESPONSE NUMBER TWO: Isn’t that just like a Republican? To promote policies and laws that lead to disaster, and then run and hide, leaving it to the liberals to clean up your mess? And feeling–or trying to feel, pretending to feel–superior about it. What a pathetic excuse for a political party which bleats constantly about “ideas” and “values” and “responsibility.” No wonder your candidates are a joke, your rank and file among the most ignorant people in the U.S. of A., and your spokespeople so repellent.

APPROPRIATE RESPONSE NUMBER THREE: Do it! Take your most creative achievers and achieving creators and go live in a valley somewhere and refuse to gift us with the gift of your intellectual and artistic gifts! For once in your hypocritical lives, live in accordance with your announced values! Or at least have Rush Limbaugh command his seething horde of zombies, undeads, and orcs to voluntarily make less money. He won’t, of course, but maybe they will! Please?

But you know what? You won’t. Because you don’t have the stones. You don’t have the guts. You don’t have the cojones. You don’t have the balls. You don’t have the jelly beans. You don’t have the Titleists. You don’t have the little clicky things that Humphrey Bogart rolls in his hand in The Caine Mutiny. You don’t have the Malted Milk Whoppers ™. You don’t have the gulab jamun. You don’t have the (other things suggesting testicles). You don’t have the intellectual honesty. You don’t have the personal integrity. So just sit down, and keep your hands to yourself, and let people with some basic, adult sense of what a decent, modern “society” is try to bail your sorry asses out again. Believe me, we’re not doing it for you. We’re doing it for ourselves, and our children, and our children’s selves. Isn’t that what you admire? “Selfishness”? Then just bugger off and objectively, rationally shut up.

(Can you tell which one I prefer?)

We conclude with a vision of a possible future:

In Rand’s novel, creative people (the “Atlases” of the title) are hounded and punished for their labor by an oppressive, socialistic state. In response, they retreat from society to a hidden enclave where they watch civilization’s slow collapse. How far, I asked Campbell, are we from the final chapters of the novel? “We’re still a ways away,” he said. “That will happen when people expect that there ought to be a recovery going on, and it isn’t going on.”

So speaks a man who, out of all the books in all of history, foists upon our impressionable young people one of the worst things ever published. Congressman, why do you hate America?

* Actually, this is not correct. I’m no philosopher–well, not professionally–but I would suggest that existence does not exist. Existence is the ontological condition of everything else–things, ideas, persons, animals, the hilariousness of Ayn Rand’s reputation as a “thinker,” etc.–that exists. Saying “existence exists” is like saying “blue is colored blue.” This assertion, by John Galt, is part of an extended diatribe (delivered over the radio) that runs, uninterrupted (“The mind is impotent, you say?”), for fifty-six pages. And no, John, no one says the mind is impotent. Rand made that up, too.

GOP Squad ’09!

Posted March 1, 2009 by barbel
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They’re young. They’re hip. They’re “bad.” They’ve got conservative vibes and a with-it vocabulary full of talking points and “buzz words” and they really know what’s happening, baby. They can bum out the seniors with some hairy entitlement alarmism, and then hang loose with the Jesus Freaks by coming on all traditional-values and stuff. And they can rap with the kids, too, tweeting their wiki down the google tubes and blogging their browsers in high-def in your facebook, luv. They work for The Man and even sometimes for The Woman. They function within the System, because they do their own thing, and the System is their thing.

If it feels good, they tell you not to do it and then they do it. If it sounds good, they say it. If it polls good, they support it–or they say they do, or they say they did whether they did or not and hey: If it doesn’t add up, make sense, or prove true; if the scene goes bad or the vibe gets bummed, that’s your hang-up. They’re not “escaping Reality.” They’re building their own Reality. And they’ve been brought together by one man who believes they can get down, get funky, and get votes all at the same time.

They call themselves the GOP Squad. Check out their happening thing:

SARAH!–She’s young. She’s fine. She’s a mom and a governor and a rising star of the far right and a stone cold double-talking wolf-shooting fox. Her old man’s a hunk who used to want to secede from the Union, ’cause Alaska is outta sight. You know Sarah’s hip to the environment, ’cause she’s got a dead crab on her coffee table the size of a schnauzer. She blows off global warming, too, because it snowed somewhere last week and the chick is cool. Brains? She’s reads so many newspapers she can’t remember any of them.

And feature this: the lady lobbies for scratch (for a bridge to, like, Nowhere, man) and then she hears it’s not groovy? She says she didn’t want it from Jump Street. And then cops it anyway! That’s ’cause she doesn’t dig the whole Socialism thing, and every time she lays some bread on her constituents via their annual share of the income realized from investing the royalty revenue from the oil companies’ exploitation of the Prudhoe Bay oil reserves, she hips them to it, and it’s beautiful. She talks the talk even when she’s too busy laying the groundwork for the 2012 campaign to walk the walk. So ask her anything. She’ll be lip-flappin’ and jive-talkin’ ’til you wig out bad, baby.

MIKE!–What if they gave a Republican Party and everybody came? That’s Mike, Chairman-With-No-Hair-Man of the GOP. But hey. Never you mind that chrome dome, Jerome–Mike is five freaking months younger than Dem Chair Tim Kaine and that, in essence, is what-it-is. He’s black, you understand, so the brother possesses what most people can agree is a reasonable quantity of soul. The cat knows how The Machine works ’cause he was part of it–in state Government, that whole trip. Now he’s laying down some righteous riffs.

Says government jobs aren’t jobs, they’re “work.” Says the Party needs to let the sunshine out with a boss and groovy Hip-Hop-type packaging approach of marketing and “branding” and so forth. Says the way to bring power to the People is to let Republicans lead ’em out of the Big Economic Muddy they got us into because they got us into it. Says jobs that go away “come back.”

You tell him: Hey, man. But that’s like a cop-out. Big banks are crashing and don’t know how to value their assets from a hole in the ground, and the Dow is barely more than half of what it was, and this bad trip is global. What does Mike say? He says, “Small businesses will get us out of this.” You say: Oh wow. The small businesses that are going bankrupt? The ones that need credit and can’t get it? The ones that only exist thanks to contracts with big businesses, as GM goes belly-up and CitiCorp gets nationalized? He says, There it is.

That’s Mike’s bag. It’s a backwards-upside down-trickle up-psychedelic freakout. It’ll do a number on your head ’cause it’s got levels. Because everything is everything and This Is It. Far fucking out.

BOBBY!–He’s young. He’s smooth. His ancestors were Indian and he looks kinda black and his parents were Hindu–like Ghandi. But there is no need to flip out or become up-tight. When Bobby speaks he sounds more like Mister Rogers than Mister Nehru, and he converted to Catholicism. Which is cool, and fab, and very, very gear, our-Judeo-Christian-heritage-wise. Meanwhile, are you interested in heavy? Bobby took part in an actual, somewhat documented, super-tuff exorcism. Not only can he talk to political conservatives, and to religious conservatives, he can talk to demons, okay?

But that’s not the limit of the extent to which he is with-it. Bobby is an Intelligent Design head. The cat is a Rhodes Scholar and has a degree in Bio from Brown, so he can get down with the brainiacs. But folks who think the Earth is 6,000 years old and that God produced the beetles dig him, too. Accident? Hang in there, baby–it’s politics. There are no accidents. Contradiction? There are no contradictions, although sometimes there are. Schizophrenic? Yes and no. When it comes to irreducible complexity, Bobby’s as irreducible and complex as they come.

Like Sarah, he can tell a story: Said he was there, when Katrina went down, in a sheriff’s office as the fuzz got righteously P.O.’d at a Fed bureaucrat for withholding boats to rescue folks from their flood-imperiled pads. Then it turned out he wasn’t there, only heard the pig yakkity-yakking about it on the phone days later.

Like Mike, he has a mantra: “Americans can do anything.” It’s “Om mani padme hum” Looziana-style. Say it long enough and it changes the universe. Or at least folks think it does. Or at least Bobby thinks folks think it does. Because it’s all in your head.

CAPTAIN RUSH: A gentle giant who’s only giant horizontally and is anything but gentle. Irascible-but-lovable-but-obnoxious-but-loud, with a crusty exterior concealing a heart of soft, warm hate, he’s the one in charge, the grown-up, the boss. This was his idea, to bring together these three non-conformist rebel-hot-heads-patriots-symbols-of-conservative-resurgence-with-racial-ethnic-and-gender-crossover-appeal. Of course he can’t do it alone. He’s got help. That’s where Joe “My Name Isn’t Joe And I’m Not a Plumber” The Plumber fits in.

Rush knows that war is not unhealthy for defense contractors and other Republican things. He knows that reality is for people who can’t face drugs–and he faces drugs every day. He knows that if Obama fails to solve the problems created by Republican policies, then they weren’t created by Republican policies–and if he does solve them, then they weren’t problems. Like the I Ching says, you’re either on the bus or off the bus; well, dig–Rush is the bus. And he wants to throw America under it every day, in the name of “conservative principles.”

If Sarah’s finances look hinky, Rush is there to blame everything on Clinton. If Mike goes off-message, Rush is there to call Harry Reid a socialist. If Bobby’s speech is a turn-off and a bring-down, with a come-on like a come-down you can put down as a put-on, Rush is there to dub him “the next Ronald Reagan.”

The GOP Squad: Three misfits of gender and color, ready to take it to the streets and make the Party happening again. With Michele Bachmann as “Michele, The Embarrassing Secretary” and Mitch McConnell as “The Crypt-keeper.”

Can you dig it? Peace out.

Steele Crazy After All This Year

Posted February 8, 2009 by barbel
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First they came for me, because I had made fun of Sarah Palin. And they said, “Well, yeah, she’s a congenital liar who can’t give a coherent answer to a simple question even with the aid of a TelePrompter and a ventriloquist–but she’s not representative of the new era of Republican leadership.”

And then I said, “Oh, yeah? Well, how about Michael Steele, the new GOP chairman, who believes that ‘work’ for the government isn’t ‘a job’ (even though it rewards labor with wages, which are spent by the worker on food, clothing, shelter, and health, which payments go back out into the private economy and provide income for fooders, clothers, shelterers, and healthers), plus this clown Steele says that, while government contracts are temporary, private sector jobs (for some magical reason) aren’t.”

And they said, “Oh, yeah? Well who is more likely to pay taxes: a private business owner, or the government?”

And I said, “Oh, yeah? Well who is more likely to be in business a year from now: most new private business owners, or the government?”

And they said, “Shut up.”

Then they came for me because I reminded them that this Michael Steele, who proves you don’t have to be a rich white man to be an idiot Republican, said, “a job is something a business-owner creates, it’s going to be long-term,” but when told that private sector jobs have disappeared in the millions, replied “But they come back, though, George. That’s the point. They’ve gone away before, but they come back!” (Exclamation point added.)

And they said, “What’s wrong with coming back? Jesus is going to come back. And when he does he’ll be a small business owner, a one-(Son of) Man entrepreneur employing himself as Messiah looking to grow his business and thrive the economy and flourish the righteous.”

So I said, “Okay, but wait. That’s when the private sector jobs are going to come back? With the Second Coming, as thoroughly described in a highly amusing manner here? What if he never comes? And even if he does, eventually, what if The American People can’t wait that long?”

And they said, “He’ll come. He has to come, and he’ll bring those jobs back with him. This is a Judeo-Christian nation. The Founding Fathers were all Judeo-Christians and the Founding Mothers were all virgins before they were married. The American People will wait as long as the Republican Party tells them they have to.”

Watch Steele’s interview with George Stephanopoulos, from which one emerges as from a dream, with two questions:

1. What’s with George’s hair? Is he auditioning to be Treat Williams’ stand-in? (You Want: Kurt Russell. You’ll Take: Treat Williams. You Get: George Stephanopoulos.)

2. That’s it? That’s the wisdom of the new (and black!) leader of the GOP? Some yakkity-yak double-talk about “work” vs. “jobs,” and a plea–as though this were 1993–to eliminate rules which “have hindered and frustrated the banking process”? When everyone, from Judeos to Christians, agrees that the banking process hasn’t been hindered and frustrated enough, that it’s been the lack of rules (or of their enforcement) that led us to the edge of this economic cliff?

And then I asked them, “Hey. Where does Michael Steele think the Interstate Highway System, the TVA, NASA, and the beloved sex education film Where The Girls Are: VD in Southeast Asia came from? Didn’t the poor shmucks who built, engineered, key-gripped and associate-produced those projects have ‘jobs’?”

And they said, “Shut up” again and left me alone. For now.

We are witnessing, not so much the collapse of the Republican Party, as its slide into insanity. Granted, some (like my wife) believe it’s already collapsed. Now that the Democrats have stopped shooting themselves in their various feet, it’s the Republicans’ turn, and they’re going after all pedal extremities with every available sidearm–as exemplified by the appointment of Steele, for whom a chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sitting there, but chair is not a house, and a house is not a home, and “work” is not “a job.”

Collapse, or craziness? I have my personal opinion. For truly: What was the GOP’s great accomplishment last week, about which they openly admitted they felt good? A show of “unity” enough to block the first stimulus package. That’s what put a spring back in their step: obstructing a desperately-needed solution to a problem rooted in their political philosophy. “Yes, we helped cover your house with gasoline, and we paid private contractors to shoot flaming arrows at it, yes. But we don’t believe in Socialism, so we got the gang together–which wasn’t easy!–and had everyone stand in the street to keep the fire trucks away. Yay us! We feel good!”

There are now articles seriously discussing whether–or even why–Rush “America’s Favorite Saloon Loudmouth” Limbaugh is the most influential Republican gracing us with his wisdom (“I hope Obama fails”) here in Freedom’s land. Meanwhile, back at the turkey ranch, “a majority (55%) of Republicans and a plurality (46%) of unaffiliated voters think the GOP should follow Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future.” (Cf., to your disbelief, here. )

What can that mean, apart from reading “all” newspapers, shoving $160,000 worth of couture into garbage bags, and looking to Joe The Plumber, whose name isn’t Joe and who isn’t a plumber, for advice? We don’t know. We can’t know. For all of our personal and political failings, we are still blessed with half a brain, ten percent of which we proudly use on a daily basis. We simply cannot conceive of what the world looks like to whomever is left still calling themselves a Republican.

Sadly, if hilariously, it may be that the usual modalities–psychoanalysis; pharmaceuticals; electro-convulsive therapy; imprisonment in the public stockade subject to shaming, shunning, and the throwing of vegetables–will prove to be of only partial efficacy. In the end, or by this Wednesday, the Republican Party may very well have become an out-and-out cult: self-fulfillingly isolated in its delusions; self-defeatingly exclusive in its narrow insistence on ideological purity; increasingly cut off from the most generous conceptions of reality; and swellingly fervid in its members’ imagined threats and grandiose in their fantasy accomplishments. Don’t believe me? Read their blogs. Can we bear to witness such a metamorphosis?

You bet. With popcorn. And when even Michael Steele is purged as not being krazee enough for the Sarah-Palinized party, and returns to government employment in the state of Maryland, we’ll have just one piece of advice for him: “Dude–enough with the work. Get a job.”

Our Mister Brooks Reduks: The Rich Are, etc.

Posted February 3, 2009 by barbel
Categories: Uncategorized

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to reading–okay; skimming–David Brooks (and just when I was despairing over Bill Kristol’s exit from the New York Times, feeling bereft of a dependable source of right-wing dishonesty), the man known in our house as “that idiot” delivers one more piece of semi-knowing, para-amusing, pseudo-droll drek offering more proof, as if any were needed, that he still, when he grows up, wants to be Tom Wolfe.

It arrives in the form of today’s offering, “Ward Three Morality,” in which, tongue planted firmly in cheek and head stuffed tightly up ass, Brooks takes issue with how the standards and values of D.C.’s Ward Three (“…a section of Northwest Washington, D.C., where many Democratic staffers, regulators, journalists, lawyers, Obama aides and senior civil servants live.”) are being foisted upon the nation’s “rich people.”

First, there were those auto executives who didn’t realize that it is no longer socially acceptable to use private jets for lobbying trips to Washington. Then there was John Thain, who was humiliated because it is no longer acceptable to spend $35,000 on a commode for a Merrill Lynch washroom.

You see where this is going: “didn’t realize,” “socially acceptable,” “humiliating.” Brooks is pretending (or he actually believes) that public condemnation of corporate extravagance, when practiced by executives the effects of whose bungling, ineptitude, greed, and malfeasance are being ameliorated by public money, is–entertainingly, faux-tragically–simply a matter of changing fashion.

The essence of the problem is this: Rich people used to set their own norms. For example, if one rich person wanted to use the company helicopter to aerate the ponds on his properties, and the other rich people on his board of directors thought this a sensible thing to do, then he could go ahead and do it without any serious repercussions.

But now, after the TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus package, the Fed rescue packages and various other federal interventions, rich people no longer get to set their own rules. Now lifestyle standards for the privileged class are set by people who live in Ward Three.

“Rich people no longer get to set their own rules.” Oh, David, you wag! This is like saying that, having been sentenced to a twenty-year bounce upstate for armed robbery, I find myself forced to endure the “lifestyle standards” set–arbitrarily, in my view–by some so-called “warden.”

You have to wonder: Does it go on like this? Does it get worse? Yes. It goes on like this and it gets worse:

Thanks to recent and coming bailouts and interventions, the people in Ward Three run the banks and many major industries. Through this power, they get to insert themselves into the intricacies of upscale life, influencing when private jets can be flown, when friends can lend each other their limousines and at what golf resorts corporate learning retreats can be held.

“Corporate learning retreats”–stop, you’re killing me. Brooks thinks he’s being amusing and, to the legions of right-wing sycophants, libertarian nitwits, daddy-worshipers, authority-catamites, Randroids, wing-nuts, and orc-conservative who embrace Social Darwinism but shun actual Darwinism, he may be. (One of these–go pretend to be surprised–is Jonah Goldberg, to whom Brooks’ piece is “a great column with some real insights.”) The rest of us wait, with saintly patience, for him come off it and admit that he has no real intention of devoting an entire column to a display of massive disingenuousness in order to pretend to be Christopher Lasch. Instead, we get this:

On any given Saturday, half the people in Ward Three are arranging panel discussions for the other half to participate in. They live in modest homes with recently renovated kitchens and Nordic Track machines crammed into the kids’ play areas downstairs (for some reason, people in Ward Three are only interested in toning the muscles in the lower halves of their bodies).

Brooks probably knows one family with a Nordic Track in the basement, and that’s good enough for him. (What? No Sub-Zero PRO 48 in the “renovated kitchen”? How hard can it be to do what I did–Google “Sub-Zero” and there’s your telling detail.) But the brand-name hi-jinx is for the punters. The meat of the piece is, as always, in the psychological analysis:

In the first place, many people in Ward Three suffer from Sublimated Liquidity Rage. As lawyers, TV producers and senior civil servants, they make decent salaries, but 60 percent of their disposable income goes to private school tuition and study abroad trips. They have little left over to spend on themselves, which generates deep and unacknowledged self-pity.

Second, they suffer from what has been called Status-Income Disequilibrium. At work they are flattered and feared. But they still have to go home and clean out the gutters because they can’t afford full-time household help.

Third, they suffer the status rivalries endemic to the upper-middle class. As law school grads, they resent B-school grads. As Washingtonians, they resent New Yorkers. As policy wonks, they resent people with good bone structure.

In short, people in Ward Three disdain three things: cleavage, hunting and dumb people who are richer than they are. Rich people have to learn to adapt to the new power structure if they hope to survive.

How “bone structure” leads to “cleavage” is best left for a future discussion of conservative pathologies. Meanwhile, like the interminable set of a bad standup, it goes on and on in the same vein. As usual with Brooks, we get sober, nicely-crafted sentences conveying a message of stunning dishonesty. His point is that the “morality” of the jealous, bitter, self-pitying bureaucrats is being shoved down the throats of their well-meaning, if now temporarily incapacitated, betters. And, as with everything Brooks writes, it’s half true. It is a moral issue.

In fact, we note with amusement, it’s the inverse of Ronald Reagan’s legendary, and probably apocryphal, “Welfare Queen,” that stupid broad who supposedly used food stamps to buy booze, and in so doing embodied the moral turpitude of a) the welfare state; b) some, or really many, or really most, or probably all, poor people; and c) Democrats.

Here, see, it’s the other way around: Rich people being bailed out by the government should–morally–still be allowed to indulge in whatever they want. It’s their lifestyle, you see.

David Brooks is the sort of conservative pundit, discredited by the last eight years but who still has to make a living, who can write this:

People in Ward Three have nationalized extravagance and privatized Puritanism. Under their rule, the federal government is permitted to throw hundreds of billions of dollars around on a misguided bank bailout, but if a banker like John Thain spends $1,500 on a wastepaper basket then all hell breaks loose.

Got that? It’s “Puritan” to think $1,500 for a trash can (or $35,000 for a toilet) is excessive, but “extravagant” to try to forestall a depression. Then again, maybe Brooks truly believes all the above. Of course, it’s likely that at this point he doesn’t know what he believes, but still: Maybe some shortcoming, either in his moral education or in the wiring of his brain, prevents him from seeing that, when your failures are being mitigated by other people’s money, you owe it–to your benefactors, out of respect to their sense of what is appropriate–to modulate the indulging of your desire for luxury. That’s what makes it “luxury” in the first place.

Of course it’s all relative. Of course one person’s idea of living it up is another’s idea of barely getting by. But unless the exex under discush are complete sociopaths–and they might be–they know full well what’s being asserted by the critics Brooks sneers at. Or does John Thain think he’d mind if, having loaned a niece or nephew ten grand, the child spent it on crack? “But Uncle John, I need it.” How’d that be? Welcome back, David. It’s nice to know that, even in the era of Obama, you and your kind will still be there to inform, to instruct, and to provide me with something to write about.

Still Cracked: Kristol

Posted January 19, 2009 by barbel
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COWARDLY LION: What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ‘ape’ in apricot? Whatta they all got that I ain’t got?

DOROTHY, TIN WOODSMAN, SCARECROW: Courage.

C. L.: Ya can say that again…

Poor us! We’re just about to bid a fond good riddance to George W. Bush and we believed, in our simple hearts, that William “I’m Wrong About Everything” Kristol would have the decency, or be compelled, to exit the op-ed acreage of the New York Times. But now look! He’s still at it.

At least a/o today, Mon., 1/19/09. Because there he goes again, combining as only he can the pseudo-sympathy of the concern troll, the selective vision of the knee-jerk partisan, the wingnut welfare recipient’s dutiful endorsement of monsters, and the wrong-about-everything wrongness, about everything, of Bill “Yes, Wrong. About Everything” Kristol.

Thus, about the near-departed, this:

…I don’t think keeping us safe has been Bush’s most impressive achievement. That was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership.

Bill Kristol may be the only remaining human on earth, counting Laura, who believes George W. Bush capable of “personal courage.” As even the Cowardly Lion knew, courage consists of the ability to do something you don’t want to do, at some risk of harm to yourself, or your loved ones, or your football team, or at least somebody or something you care about. Bush, whose every public action up to and during his presidency has consisted of not-displaying courage, similarly did not display it in promoting “the surge.”

What did Bush have to lose? The “political capital” he claimed was his after the election of 2004? His various fantasies (“Reforming Social Security–Now Not As Social And With Less Security”) had been repudiated in 2005. The loss by Republicans of their majority in Congress after the election of 2006 had further devalued that (minimal, largely imaginary) nest egg of influence. By the time of the surge in January of 2007, no one could speak of Bush’s political capital with a straight face, and almost no one except B. “I.W.A.E.” K. wanted to.

His “popularity”? Please. Bush, the structural integrity of whose personality depends on ignoring the outside world, has never had any problem converting the raw ore of others’ disdain, however merited, into the refined gold of self-aggrandizing martyrdom. Being unpopular proves he’s right. After all, those who disagree with him are “the elite.” He–born rich, son of a president and grandson of a Senator, private school, Yale, Harvard, “ranch,” etc.–is a cowboy who lives by his “gut.”

You saw it in his final press conference. The over-burdened military, the botched action in Afghanistan (the Taliban resurgent, relations with Pakistan a mess, Bin Laden still releasing product), Israeli-Palestinian relations as poisoned as ever, the economy in ruins, plus New Orleans still a national disgrace, the obscenely expensive and bungled “liberation” of Iraq, the widespread corruption of K Street, torture and Gitmo and that whole nightmare, and national debts and deficits requiring mainframes to calculate: these are “setbacks” that happened to him. And yet–cocky, smug, and blind to every reality outside his ever-simmering resentments–he has the gall to assure us that, when all is said and done, the “burdens” of the office are “overrated.”

Well, they are if you ignore them, yes.

Kristol tells us, in hushed tones, that Bush (“a man who normally keeps to schedule”) recently spent, not the allotted two hours, but over four hours with the families of the fallen, offering consolation. I’m sure he did, and that he loved every second of it–not because he enjoys seeing others suffer (although he does, if they’re the right others), but because temporarily adopting the avatar of the Deeply Moved Commander is part of his Live Action Role-Playing Game of Wartime President, and nothing moves him as deeply as when, being deeply moved by others, he finds himself deeply moved.

God forbid that, rather than sympathize with widows and bereft parents (after concealing every reality of what killed their husbands and sons from the public eye, prosecuting the war that killed them on the cheap, and dummying up the pretext for the horror that brought this all about), he should have looked past his grandiose, quasi-religious ambitions and Dad-besting fantasies, and not bothered foisting upon us this unnecessary catastrophe in the first place.

What Bush showed in the surge was not personal courage. It was stubbornness. And it was perfectly in character. It was the obstinacy of the proudly self-ignorant aristocrat who knows that Daddy will bail out his business failures, Mommy will yell at him but not require that he grow up, and the world–his world, consisting of his kind of people and their courtiers and sycophants–will always paper over his most egregious failures with a gentleman’s C, regardless of whoever else is killed, maimed, left homeless or terrified, bankrupted, imprisoned, or tortured.

Why shouldn’t Bill “I Am In Error Regarding All Phenomena” Kristol find that praiseworthy? He’s Bill Kristol, and he’s wrong about everything.

On Atlas Shrugged as a Guide to Our Times

Posted January 12, 2009 by barbel
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A Mr. Stephen Moore writes, regarding the bulky paper doorstop Atlas Shrugged, “If only ‘Atlas’ were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I’m confident that we’d get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.”

Of course he is. But then, Moore is “senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page.” The more he reads bad fiction, the more confident his economic forecasts become.

Atlas Shrugged, for those of you lucky enough to have never read it, was written by the annoyingly-pseudonymed Ayn Rand and published in 1957 and, for reasons that require a deep trek into the heart of American political pathology to unearth, became a huge best-seller. It is to novels as the four heads on Mount Rushmore are to sculpture. In fact–get this–both took fourteen years to create, and both weigh approximately 62,000 tons.

The story concerns railroad heiress Dagny Taggart (beautiful, slim, etc.), and her efforts to keep Taggart Transcontinental in business in the face of government redistributionist perfidy, corruption, and wrongheaded, prosperity-sapping niceness. Meanwhile, tycoons across the land are quitting their enterprises and mysteriously disappearing. Dagny, tormented by a triangular relationship with handsome, hard-charging, married Hank Rearden (steel, miracle alloy “Rearden Metal”), and handsome, childhood friend, and seemingly-feckless-playboy Francisco d’Anconia (Chilean copper mines), eventually discovers where those vanishing entrepreneurs went, as she learns the answer to the repeated question, “Who is John Galt?”

(Spoiler Alert: In fact, they’ve repaired to a valley in the Colorado mountains, where they go on strike against “society” and, under the leadership of the demi-god John Galt, create their own idyllic community, where they mint their own gold coins and manufacture their own cigarettes stamped with dollar signs. What? You haven’t read it and now it’s “spoiled”? Tough. You should thank me.)

For this deeply adolescent piece of social science fiction one must read over 1,000 pages of tiny type, most of which are covered with blocks of print into which the reader’s consciousness slams as though into a brick wall. Characters lecture each other in a stilted, faux-heroic tone about such matters as “the human spirit” and “intelligence” and “ownership” and “the meaning of money” and “rationality.” It’s every bit as good as it sounds, a thousand pages of this:

“Don’t ask me to tell you now what trail I’ve followed, trying to trace that motor and to find its inventor. That’s not of any importance, even my life and work are not of any importance to me right now, nothing is of any importance; except I must find him.”

Don’t you love that semi-colon? Me, too. The heroes are all handsome or beautiful except for Ragnar Danneskjold, a pirate–really–who is handsome and “beautiful.” The villains are all detestable weaklings. Everyone else–i.e., the population of the United States of America–is a loathsome, freeloading nobody. Everyone looks at everyone else “with contempt.” Paradoxically, although characters repeatedly “chuckle” and address each other in terms described by variants of “mock” (with mockery, mockingly, in a mocking tone, etc.), no one has a sense of humor. The whole vast saga is a mind-numbing forced march through a swamp of comic book profundity, an interminable one-night three-way between Friedrich Nietzsche, L. Ron Hubbard, and Judith Kranz.

In short, Atlas Shrugged is one of the worst books ever written–and, in the words of Gore Vidal, “nearly perfect in its immorality.” Still, Moore proudly notes that “…as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated ‘Atlas’ as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.”

But of course. People naïve, ignorant, demented, or desperate enough to be primarily influenced by the Bible would be influenced by A.S. The books have much in common: vast stretches of unbearable tedium, one-dimensional characters with no resemblance to actual human beings, hectoring speeches full of indignation and moralizing, and discreetly implied sex. Both are works of fiction. The Bible took hundreds of years to compile, and Atlas Shrugged takes hundreds of years to read.

And, just as true believers find confirmation of Scriptural predictions in cherry-picked semi-coincidences in real life, so does Moore–former Cato Institute man, presumably a Libertarian, and what people smarter and funnier than I call a “Randroid”–discover that events of today (the bailouts, the economic stimulus packages, etc.) are proving Rand prescient. “…(O)ur current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ parodied in 1957.”

Are they? Let’s see.

In the novel, stick-figure industrialists and businessmen find their noble, courageous, avowedly “selfish” efforts stymied and undone by stick-figure cowards, weaklings, and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Piece by piece, in Rand’s depiction of governmental overreach, capitalism is dismantled. Moore lists several of the more egregious examples from the book: “the ‘Anti-Greed Act’ to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel’s promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the ‘Equalization of Opportunity Act’ to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the ‘Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act,’ aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies.”

Moore then goes on, “These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion ‘Emergency Economic Stabilization Act’ and the ‘Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act.’ Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.’ This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion — in roughly his first 100 days in office.”

To draw an equivalence between these two sets of laws is to be, at best, stupid, and at worst, mendacious. The “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Act” has no counterpart or equivalent in what the rest of us know to be real life. It’s the creation of a petulant teenager throwing a tantrum about “society.” Other edicts are just as contrived and equally silly: No worker, anywhere, is allowed to be fired. No owner is allowed to quit or retire. All patents and copyrights become property of the state. No new products are allowed to be produced. No one is allowed to spend any more or less money on anything than they did in the previous year.

What, here, is being “parodied”? Not American society, either today or in 1957; not the ways in which government and legislation interacts with capitalism; and not even any reasonable depiction of the left. In fact, what’s being parodied (if that’s the word) is the Soviet Union, from which Rand (nee Alice Rosenbaum) emigrated when she was 21. Yes, in her magnum opus, her “moral defense of capitalism,” Ayn Rand dresses the U.S. in Soviet drag, and then watches in triumph as her soap opera heroes beat it up.

The putative reasons presented for these society-crippling regulations–“fairness,” “to give others a chance,” “because the group is more important than the individual”–are ascribed to the cartoon villains with the implication that they are commonly found out in the world. “This is what the looters and the moochers believe,” Rand says. “They hate individual genius and entrepreneurial initiative. They hate rationality. They want to drag all of society down into the depths of mediocrity in which they dwell. These are the laws and regulations they would pass if only they could.”

It’s an outrage! Or it would be, if it were remotely true. But it isn’t. No leftist calls for a ban on new products or campaigns for a law forbidding executives to quit. No liberal calls for a legal limitation on what you can spend in a year. Even in the age of the Internet, when some believe that “information wants to be free” and debate the abolition of copyrights, no one demands that copyrights be ceded to the state. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

She made it all up. The bad guys are straw men, serving a straw government, empowered by a straw civilization. The whole thing is a mug’s game, a poker hand dealt from a stacked deck, a self-subverting and ultimately ludicrous grand opera of bad faith.

Still, the mystery of Atlas Shrugged isn’t, why is it so bad? Many books are this bad and some are even worse. No, the mystery is, why does anyone who made it out of eighth grade take it seriously?

Yet, obviously, people do. Individuals capable of dressing themselves apparently love this, one of the most turgid, contrived, pompous, and comically over-written books ever published in English. Why?

Because they believe. For Randroids, “glibertarians,” “conservatives” (whatever that means at this point) and Republicans in general, politics has become a matter of faith.

Never mind that studies show that the economy prospers more under Democratic than Republican administrations. Never mind that the first six years of the Bush administration provided the right with every resource it needed and asked for, from “a war footing” to majorities in Congress to a supine, spineless media, and the results were unalloyed catastrophe (for us, yes, but for them, too). Never mind that the Republican “big tent” is in tatters due to calamities they themselves created, as sideshow barker Limbaugh now tries to con the rubes into coughing up an extra buck to watch Ann the Six-Foot Blonde say rude things about Michelle Obama, while Ring Master Bush sulks in his trailer and thinks the problem was his “rhetoric.”

Faith not only requires you to ignore what happens in the world, it praises you for it. The more unsubstantiated, untenable, or preposterous the belief, the more virtuous the believer. So Stephen Moore’s solution to global recession is to wave around one of the most unreadable books ever written as though it were holy writ. For him, and for the right, politics is now religion.

And, as with any mythology, believers want to emulate their heroes. Cable traffic on the wing-nut sites after the last election featured many writers and commenters musing about “going John Galt,” withdrawing their genius and talents from the rest of us and leaving us to our own moocherly devices. To which all one can reply is, Please do. Knock yourselves out. And take this hideous book with you.

My New Year’s Resolutions

Posted December 30, 2008 by barbel
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Be It Resolved:

1. That George W. Bush experience at least five (5) seconds of true, unfiltered, undefended, unmediated insight into his own character and the consequences of his actions. And that, once that period passes, its effects remain and haunt him for the rest of his life, impervious to his escalating (and futile) pursuit of drink, drugs, and Jesus.

2. That Dick Cheney, on or before March 1, 2009, become lost on a duck hunting expedition, be last seen wandering deeper into an uncharted swamp, and never be heard from again. And that no ducks be harmed in the enactment of this resolution.

3. That David Addington and John Yoo be kidnapped and water-boarded for video distribution on You Tube, and then released unharmed. Still dripping wet.

4. That Rush Limbaugh be the featured personality of one of those hideous conservative cruises. And that the ship be blown off course, founder, and sink. And that everyone–passengers, crew, Limbaugh–be washed ashore on an uncharted island. And that, after help fails to arrive and death by hunger threatens, everyone realize that, by banding together, they can overcome and consume Limbaugh. And that, while they are doing so, Limbaugh accuse them with his dying breath of “implementing socialism.” And that this act enable them to survive until help arrives an hour later. And that all survivors, newly appreciative of the power of group co-operation, return to the U.S. and become the kernel of a new American Social Democratic Party.

5. That Alan Colmes run into Sean Hannity at a party. And that Hannity utter provocative and disrespectful things to Colmes. And that Colmes, possibly but not necessarily drunk, pop Hannity in the kisser, precipitating a fistfight in which Colmes mops the floor with Hannity to the amusement and applause of all present. And that Hannity spend the rest of his life trying to convince others, and himself, that the results were otherwise, that he “took a dive,” that he “felt sorry for Alan,” etc., even as everyone–interlocutors, family members, the crew of his television show, and so on–laugh openly.

6. That Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and Dennis Prager be abducted by aliens, examined (non-invasively) on the alien mother ship, be deemed (to echoing rounds of the alien equivalent of derisive laughter) undesirable as specimens, and returned to Earth. And that they each spend the rest of their (vastly abbreviated) careers proclaiming to all who will listen that “this really happened.”

7. That Karl Rove be indicted on some pretext, and assured of a token sentence in a minimum-security facility in exchange for his plea of “guilty.” That he so plead. And then that there occur “some foul-up” resulting in his incarceration among the general population of a state prison, for years, while continually being reassured that it will all be straightened out any day now, which it never be.

8. That Rachel Maddow decide that she might be bi-sexual after all, and come live with me and my wife.

9. That everyone–Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, non-voters, children, and household pets–get what they deserve.

10. That, failing all the above, you and yours and me and mine have a Happy damn New Year, at least. NB: I have never known whether “Happy New Year” means that the entire year be happy, or just the arrival of January 1st be a happy occasion. You decide.

Huckabee: Bleatin’ Good in the Neighborhood

Posted December 1, 2008 by barbel
Categories: Uncategorized

Lately I’d begun to worry that the victory of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party would bring an end to the sort of right-wing rhetorical shamelessness we’ve come to depend on for amusement and diversion.

I feared–silly me–that the thought-buffoons of the right would either skulk back into the shadows from which they had emerged, never to be heard from again, for a while; or, alternatively, admit their error, make suitable acts of contrition, and go forth to display unbelievable intellectual dishonesty no more. Our national discourse would be healthier, yes, but our national laugh-life would suffer.

How wrong we can be. Here, from barely a week ago, is Mike Huckabee (universally lauded as “America’s Relatively Sane Religious Nut”) claiming to fellow-blowhard William “The Gambler” Bennett that California’s Proposition 8 “did not ban gay marriage.”

To something like that, the usual rejoinders (“Nonsense!” “Sophistry!” “Bullshit!”) just won’t do. As the Think Progress site which hosts the clip shows, the ballot text itself denominates the measure with the not-that-ambiguous words “ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.”

But the Huckster has his own take on it. “I refuse to use the term, ‘ban same-sex marriage,'” he announces in tones of sturdy defiance–the same ones that many of our top Republicans use to ward off reality. “That’s not what those efforts did. They affirmed what is. They did not prohibit something. They simply affirmed that which already has and forever has existed.”

Will you be shocked to learn that Bill Bennett can be heard chirping what sounds like approval and agreement? Me, neither.

Parody-wise, this kind of fingers-in-ears/nyah-nyah/I’m-not-listening makes its own gravy. Still, it’s worth a try. Thus, when Huckabee says that a law that explicitly prohibits X does not prohibit X, but instead “affirms” anti-X, it’s like saying that the Volstead Act affirmed traditional standards of sobriety, or that the proscription against murder (from the world-famous Ten Commandments) does not so much ban killing as it affirms traditional modes of being alive.

This “affirmation” scam is not only technically inaccurate (given the title of the measure), but it’s logically dishonest and therefore morally debased. It is one thing to affirm that marriage “has and forever has been” between a man and a woman. No one would argue with that. And, having agreed with it, those in favor of gay marriage would add, “…although this state of affairs has and forever has been unfair and discriminatory. This is something we now propose to remedy. We want to expand the possibilities of marriage to include other members of society.”

But Huckabee and others who oppose gay marriage aren’t interested in historical observations of customary behaviors. (And you don’t need a state constitutional amendment to take note of them.) The good, decent folks who voted Yes on Eight do in fact want to institute a ban. How do we know? Because the law says so, in so many words.

One wonders why Huckabee bothers, then, with this silly and easily-refuted claim. Why not tell the world that traditional Christianity is openly hostile to homosexuals and adamantly opposes their right to marry?

For the same reason that prompted the first half of Huckabee’s (likewise bogus) quote, the one that goes, “The very people who voted for Barack Obama in California…also voted to sustain traditional marriage.” (Yes, “sustain.” As though gays getting married would, through some unexplained Bad Gay Juju, “destroy” traditional marriage. This idea doesn’t really stand up to rational consideration, but then, neither does much else about traditional religion. So let’s not “go there.”)

It seems to make superficial sense: Obama won, Prop 8 won, so they both must have been supported by the same people. Huckabee would have us believe that it’s Democratic and even liberal to ban gay marriage, although of course it’s not a question of “banning” so much as affirming that not-having-it is traditional, and so not-having-it should be enshrined in the state’s constitution.

Except that his reading of the Yes on Eight votes is wrong. As wunderkind poll star Nate Silver says at fivethirtyeight.com:

Certainly, the No on 8 folks might have done a better job of outreach to California’s black and Latino communities. But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters — the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) — voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.

So: blatantly dishonest on “ban,” and a font of disinformation on the voters, to Bill Bennett on the radio. Why?

Huckabee, we recall fondly, ran for President. We are led to believe that he intends to run again. He must surely be wondering, Why look for trouble? Why risk alienating voters when you don’t have to? Why be all negative-y and bigot-ish and against something, when you can just as easily be for its absence?

O those Republican pols: they’ve still Got It. From Kristol to Noonan to Brooks, from Romney to Giuliani to Huckabee: they will always be with us, and so will their deadpan disingenuousness, their cheery demagoguery, their pseudo-expert revisionism, their special pleading, their myths, their p.r., their fantasies, their lies.

Obama hasn’t even been inaugurated, and the campaign for 2012 has begun. As Dominick Dunne said when O.J. Simpson announced that he would spend the rest of his life searching for his wife’s real killer: Let’s watch!


The Shock of the Newt

Posted November 18, 2008 by barbel
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Newt Gingrich–nothing if not opportunistic, and never one to decline an invitation to pontificate–gives Bill O’Reilly a serious warning. Can you guess the danger about which Gingrich is so desperately concerned?

GINGRICH: Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact. And, frank — for that matter, if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that these secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they’re the opposite, of what you’re taught in Sunday school.

This, remember, is in response to O’Reilly’s recitation of a string of unspeakable, or maybe semi-speakable, atrocities: a woman “getting a cross smashed out of her hand,” a church “invaded” by gay activists, a man being fired. If you had Bill O’Reilly’s delicate sensibility you’d think it presaged the collapse of civilization, too.

So Newt bravely sounds the alarm. What is it, about which these “secular extremists” are “prepared to use violence” to attain? What is it that they are “prepared to use the government” to impose on the Sunday-school-going rest of us? Forced socialization of the means of production? Universal imposition of atheism? Criminalization of Judeo-Islamo-Christian forms of monotheistic worship?

They want to get married.

And not even to us (which would be awkward, embarrassing, and in many cases bigamous, however much of an opportunity it would offer to…you know…those types to plan a wedding, “help” the caterer, and pick out flower arrangements). They want to get married to each other.

There are several things to behold with wonder in this quote from the man whom The Saturday Evening Post, if it existed, would call “either out of his mind or a calculating liar.” One is the explicit encouragement it offers, to religious bigots and other troglodytes, to regard “secular” (i.e., real world) society as its enemy and as a threat to its existence.

Yes, Newt “I’m A Teacher” Gingrich is saying, the fact that gays and lesbians want to get married to each other means that they want to destroy everybody else’s marriages, beliefs, institutions, and lives.

At least, this quote seems to suggest that. It’s hard to be sure. When Gingrich says, “If you believe in historic Christianity,” what–in his quasi-professorial, semi-erudite, pompous-nudnik way–is he saying? What does “historic Christianity” mean? Is he alluding to a belief in Christianity’s existence, as one does or doesn’t believe in Santa Claus as existing historically?

Same with “If you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism.” How are we to pass the quiz if the lecture is so unclear?

These questions have a two-part answer:

ONE: It doesn’t matter what he means. He’s the same intellectually vain gasbag he was back when Clinton was in office.

TWO: He really does (probably) mean, If you’re a Christian, or a Moslem, or a Jew. But he tacks the words “the historic version” onto it to remind Bill-O and the rest of us that he, Prof. Gingrich, is a professor. Or whatever he is.

So much for the messenger’s semantics. What about the message?

The message is beneath contempt, and is a sort of demagoguery-lite intended to keep the Newtmeister’s stock as high as he can manage among the foamingly self-righteous and the devoutly, proudly stupid. If he really believes that gays campaigning for the right to marry are “a very dangerous threat” to straight society, then either he doesn’t know any gays, or he doesn’t know any straight people.

If he really perceives gays and lesbians as a monolithic, radical political force bent on the destruction of all the “values” he and his credulous followers hold dear; and if he thinks that no gay or lesbian is a practicing Christian, Moslem, or Jew, then he’s every bit as provincial and ignorant as the people he purports to instruct.

But I don’t think he believes those things. I think he’s just peddling the same hard-right “culture war” baloney he’s been selling since he arrived, with Whoopie Cushions blaring, on the national scene back in whenever-it-was.

After all, what else does he have to get excited about? His president, his party, his pals, and his policies have been beaten with the strap and sent to their room. Appeals to the twelve sane, intelligent Republicans across the land went unheeded. Ten of them voted for Obama and the other two stayed home and, like sensible conservatives, drank heavily.

So Newt pushes “I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country.” Never mind what “fascism” really means, or that conflating “gay” and “secular” is at best sloppy and at worst dishonest. Never mind that the implicit content of this little aria is, as he knows full well, a signal to the army of the pious, that “the fags are out to destroy you. Better get ’em first.”

Oh, and never, ever mind the fact that it’s that constituency, the religious right, who for years (read: centuries) has sought, with maximum self-righteousness, to impose their “series of values” on everyone else. From the Inquisition to the Salem witch trials, from Prohibition to the “pro-life” clinic bombings, from the 2004 platform of the Texas Republican Party (“The Republican Party of Texas affirms the United States of America is a Christian Nation …”) to the Mormons’ financial onslaught in favor of California’s Proposition 8: when you’re looking for a group of good, decent folk that wants to “impose its will on the rest of us,” look nor further than the corner church.

Of course, it’s possible that Newt Gingrich really does believe the proposition that the more gays are able to marry, the less straight people will want to do so. How’s that for comedy gold? “I do love you. And I do want to get married. But two guys in Encino did last week, so forget it.”

Memo to Gingrich: How about walking the walk, bro? They just legalized gay marriage in Connecticut. When are you going to file for divorce? On principle.