Bush deep in denial

2 07 2007

WaPo’s evocative headline says a lot: President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease.

Seems that Bush has been secretly seeking advice vindication from all sorts of people. Perhaps his colossal failures are starting to eat at his conscience. But if you thought that he was inwardly agonising, you’d be wrong:

Bush has virtually given up on winning converts while in office and instead is counting on vindication after he is dead. “He almost has . . . a sense of fatalism,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who recently spent a day traveling with Bush. “All he can do is do his best, and 100 years from now people will decide if he was right or wrong. It doesn’t seem to be a false, macho pride or living in your own world. I find him to be amazingly calm.”

That sounds to me like the calm before the storm. Is he going to crack?

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Democracy back in the fight

24 03 2007

With the passing of a bill in the US House that would set a date for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, amazing things are beginning to happen in US democracy. It’s going to be a long fight for progressivism, but for the first time in a long time, there’s reason to be optimistic.

World domination through the back door

14 03 2007

back doorGreat article in TNR from Andrew Sullivan, “The Global Moral Majority”. He talks about Dinesh D’Souza’s latest screed, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, in which the one-time agent provocateur of the university set attempts to lay the blame for 9/11 solidly at the feet of U.S. liberals.

Yup, that’s right. Liberals caused 9/11. Because, according to D’Souza, they led America to worship individualism and hold consumerism and ego satisfaction above all else—not to mention their contempt for religion.

A lot has already been written about The Enemy at Home, all of it by people a lot smarter than me, but this latest piece is notable for coming from a writer who in the days following the terrorist strikes on the Twin Towers, gave a chummy shout-out—and a not-so-veiled warning—to everybody’s favourite America-haters:

The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead – and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.

So if anyone should know about how U.S. citizens are stymieing the War on Terror, it’s Andrew Sullivan. Of course, Sullivan would later strongly veer left on the war, due largely to his principled opposition to the U.S.’s handling of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

What’s also important about this new piece is that, as Sullivan points out, D’Souza is nakedly (and refreshingly, as far as Sullivan is concerned) stating what his true aim is:

The sole merit of Dinesh D’Souza’s new book is that it acknowledges this intellectual collapse, even as it is itself a document of that collapse; and it proposes a new way forward. Whatever else may be said about The Enemy at Home–and the maledictions from left and right have been ferocious–it has at least the courage to pursue the logic of Bush-era conservatism all the way to its end. In this sense, it is a mainstream conservative book, in its own way even a visionary one, expanding on the direction that American conservatism has taken and daring it to continue aggressively on that very path.

What is that path? At its core is a deepening rejection of cultural and philosophical modernity. D’Souza believes that the defining new distinction in American politics is no longer between the economic right and the economic left. The size of government and its role as a guardian of the public welfare are increasingly dead issues, or issues where no vital energy crackles. D’Souza rightly holds that the real divide in the new century is between authority and autonomy, between faith-based politics and individual freedom. And in this struggle at the level of first principles, D’Souza chooses his own side. He is at war with the modern West. If forced to choose between a theocratic order that upheld traditional morality and a secular order that saw such morality marginalized, D’Souza is with the former. He puts it more graphically himself: “Yes, I would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Michael Moore than with the grand mufti of Egypt. But when it comes to core beliefs, I’d have to confess that I’m closer to the dignified fellow in the long robe and prayer beads than to the slovenly fellow with the baseball cap.”

That pretty much says it all (but I encourage you to read the whole thing).

I remember being in an honours year literature course when our lecturer, a handle-bar moustachioed Canadian who identified as a conservative and once read out his poems naked at an arts festival in Edinburgh (though that’s neither here nor there), had us debate one of D’Souza’s earlier books, a tirade against affirmative action. I don’t remember much about the book or the debate except to say that the lecturer was a very smart cookie who had us all on the ropes.

Back then, he encouraged us impressionable young students to think outside the liberal box, and to see D’Souza as a principled conservative. I wonder what he thinks of him now.

[image by destinelee, at Flickr]

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Into the abyss

13 03 2007

What is the Matrix?

[What is the matrix? by t-mix at Flickr under Creative Commons licence.]

Great article by Gary Kamiya at Salon (click through the ad for a day pass). Gary’s one of my favourite writers (when he focuses on communicating ideas rather than jetting off on rhetorical flourishes), and in this piece he looks at what the U.S. right’s embrace of Ann Coulter really means.

If you’re not a connoisseur of the increasingly unhinged political discourse in America, here’s the basic story: Coulter, one of the right’s shriller firebrands, set off a media storm when she called Democratic Presidential nominee John Edwards a “faggot”. And she didn’t say it just anywhere. This family moment came at the annual meeting of the American Conservative Union’s Political Action Conference, the largest gathering of core conservatives on the U.S. right’s calendar.

In the aftermath, she was loudly denounced by liberals and some conservatives. Some right wingers even launched a petition to put pressure on conservative and university organisations to stop inviting her to deliver speeches (h/t Tim F. at Balloon Juice).

But, as many liberal commentators and bloggers have pointed out, the right can no more easily disentangle itself from Coulter than conjoined twins can wish themselves separated. As Kamiya says, the hatred that Coulter represents and which is her only talent, is the very reason the modern right has embraced her:

[T]his isn’t really about Coulter at all. This is about a pact the American right made with the devil, a pact the devil is now coming to collect on. American conservatism sold its soul to the Coulters and Limbaughs of the world to gain power, and now that its ideology has been exposed as empty and its leadership incompetent and corrupt, free-floating hatred is the only thing it has to offer. The problem, for the GOP, is that this isn’t a winning political strategy anymore — but they’re stuck with it. They’re trapped. They need the bigoted and reactionary base they helped create, but the very fanaticism that made the True Believers such potent shock troops will prevent the Republicans from achieving Karl Rove’s dream of long-term GOP domination.

Kamiya goes on to link this to the right’s Quixotic culture war. He makes a couple of great points about how the extremism now leading the Republicans (and, might I add, the media!) by the nose is far from conducive to sustained electoral success. While 9/11 was a stab of adrenalin into the right-wing bloodstream, allowing them to foist an incipient authoritarianism on the country, the moderates that comprise the bulk of the body politic are beginning to turn away in droves.

Then he makes a great point.

Yet despite their supposed beliefs, a kind of nihilism,an intellectual sterility, emanates from the Coulters and Limbaughs of the world. This is in part due to the fact that they are, at bottom, entertainers, stand-up comedians of resentment. Their riffs are so facile and endless that they devour whatever actual beliefs supposedly stand behind them. Incapable of compromise or nuance, lashing out robotically, never finding common ground or examining their own ideas, they are shills of negativity, forever battling cartoonish monsters in a lurid, increasingly unrecognizable world. [Emphasis added]

My summary hardly does the article justice; read the whole thing.

The interesting thing for me from a Kiwi perspective is that we’ve started to see this brand of authoritarianism being imported to New Zealand. I’m still sorting out my ideas about this and will post my thoughts when they’re more solidified. For now, let this, from Investigate Magazine‘s blog, TBR.cc, whet your appetite. It’s about a recent study finding that polar bear numbers in an area of Canada are on the rise despite concerns about declining numbers in the wider Arctic.

Momma polar bear with her two cubs is pretty cute huh?

A perfect icon for urban liberals to fret over as the sup their Starbucks.

She might not be so cute close up though. She might well think an urban liberal or two would make a tasty change from seals to feed to her cubs.


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Even the great ones can fall to teh wingnuttery

11 03 2007


Interesting article at AlterNet about “300”, the largely CGI movie based on Frank Miller’s book of the epic Spartan stand at Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held their ground against unimaginable numbers of Persians.

If you’ve kept up with Miller’s decline into a black-and-white understanding of human complexities, you won’t be surprised to learn that

300 will likely be a masturbatory experience for the Ann Coulter crowd.
Cruel, militaristic Sparta is the ideal; weak, artsy Athens is mocked,
particularly in a scene where Athenian soldiers are revealed to be
potters, sculptors, poets. Brave men who leave what they love to defend
their country? Bah! Weaklings, according to this flick. As a tribute to
a particular world view, 300 could play on a double bill with Leni
Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.

It’s actually pretty sad for me, since I used to be a big fan of Frank Miller. I loved The Dark Knight Returns because it was so edgy, and really breathed life into the Batman myth at a time when Batman spent at least a dozen panels per comic getting in touch with his inner child (or sobbing, I forget which). Jim Aparo (aarrgh!) was drawing Batman with only two facial expressions: shocked and shocked to the core. Compare Aparo’s paint-by-numbers art with the range and gritty realism of Miller’s pencils, and the choice is clear. And Miller’s razor-sharp dialogue brought the noir into superhero comics.

But over the years he’s slowly but surely revealed himself for the misanthrope he is. All his characters are Manichean and stiff, and Sin City the movie was the worse for it. I shudder to think of what 300 is like.

Update: It turns out Miller has been veering hard right since 9/11. Check out this post (1/07) on Little Green Footballs.

The culture war never ends

6 03 2007

Those guys at tbr.cc (which is always a barrel of laughs) link to a Dinesh D’Souza article about how the real lesson that Muslims took from Abu Ghraib wasn’t about how the US tortures and therefore torture is bad, but that the US is sexually deviant therefore sexual deviancy is terrible. As D’Souza puts it:

Abu Ghraib did not reflect the shared values of America, it reflected
the sexual immodesty of liberal America. Lynndie England and Charles
Graner were two wretched individuals from Red America who were trying
to act out the fantasies of Blue America. Casting aside all traditional
notions of decency, propriety and morality, they simply lived by the
code of self-fulfilment. If it feels good, it must be right. This was
bohemianism, West Virginia-style.

At first blush, this seems to make at least some sense. I’m probably going to put my foot in it, not being an Arabic scholar of any note, but I seem to recall a lot of Al-Qaida’s rhetoric drawing upon just this sort of culture war argument. Not for nothing have people been drawing links between the right-wing authoritarianism of extremist groups in the Muslim and Western worlds. (Note, by the by, that Blue America is painted as living by the creed of “self-fulfilment”.)

However, D’Souza then shows his hand in the very next paragraph.

At some level, the cultural left recognized this, which is why most of
its comments about Abu Ghraib assiduously avoided the issue of sexual
deviancy. The left’s embarrassment on this matter seems to have drawn
on class prejudice. For some liberals, soldiers like Graner and England
were poor white trash getting into trouble again. Of course if Graner
and England were professors at an elite liberal arts college, their
videotaped orgies might easily have become the envy of academia. If
they were artists staging these pictures in a loft in Soho they could
have been hailed as pioneers and encouraged by leftist admirers to
apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

That’s plain ridiculous on its face, and a blatant sign either of D’Souza’s bad faith or his bottomless ability to imagine liberals as any kind of straw man to fit the purpose at hand. This is not an argument so much as an opportunity to get in yet another dig at those pagan hedonists that are American liberals.

On a related note: A commenter to in the tbr.cc thread points out that Muslims are motivated not by hatred of western culture but by specific US policies and actions in the Middle East. Ian Wishart says no, it’s “b-all to do with territory and policies, and everything to do with culture wars.”

I’m not going to make an arse of myself and lump myself in one or the other camp, but can’t it be both?

Moreover, leaving aside the question of what the motives of AQ really are, it’s interesting to note that the two ways of interpreting these motives lead to very different policy implications.

If you subscribe to the idea that AQ is stoking regional resentment about discrete US geopolitical actions, then the solution would be to engage in aggressive diplomacy, with carrots and sticks. The whole shebang.

But if you subscribe to D’Souza’s culture war thesis, then you need to criminalise abortion, put a stop to all that free love, and shut down Hollywood (or at least transmogrify it into a giant Disney studio sound lot).

Good luck with that.

Which makes me realise that one thing right-wing authoritarians love (both in the Western and Muslim worlds) is the culture war. It taps into inexhaustible reservoirs of outrage (which can be used to enrich the lifestyles of its leaders, who may or may not be true believers), and it never ends. And everyone knows it can never end, but they never say so, meaning they tolerate a great deal of vagueness about the end goals of the culture war.

Is the Iraq war the military version of the culture war?

Nasty bloggers

5 03 2007

Much as I love reading blogs—especially those from the left in the US—I get the feeling that American lefties have been in the minority for so long that some will sink to troubling levels to get in a ‘gotcha’ moment. Max Blumenthal is one such person, and Mark Kleiman rightly takes him to task for it.

[W]hen Blumenthal asked Coulter “why, as an exponent of the sanctity of
marriage, you’ve had three broken engagements and never been married,”
he set himself up for a perfect comeback: “Thank you for respecting my
right to privacy.”

One thing a lot of bloggers (especially on the right, but also on the left) don’t do is the simple switcheroo—they don’t ask themselves, what if our positions were switched, would I see my position as ludicrous? Just as Bill Clinton’s sex life shouldn’t be anybody’s business but his (and Hillary’s), so Ann Coulter’s sex life is her own affair. Sure, those wingnuts who adore her are certainly guilty of some, er, selective priorities. But just because they’re being hypocritical doesn’t mean we can do the same (Just this once, please, and only because it’s to take down the bad woman? Sorry, no).

Not enough people on the left understand this in the US.

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