I was outside Sunday morning, pretending that Spring might get here before Daylight Savings Time, and chewing on this some (which reminds me: two things which have disappeared since my youth, and aren't my hair, are time to read books and hobbies/pastimes which take my mind off everything else. The one exception to the latter being playing guitar and singing. I'm not sure if the first two are common or idiosyncratic, but I suspect that Song is the warm bath of the mind, which is why I believe we should issue every child a harmonica at birth). This teleported me to 1979, my Poor Wife and I riding in the back seat of a vehicle driven by her father, while her sixteen-year-old…cousin, yeah, that's it…rode shotgun. I've got no idea where we were going, or where the rest of the clan was, but I remember the news coming on the radio, and this being the early days of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the two were synonymous. And somewhere along the line her baby…nephew…says something like, "We should just grab 400 of them and say we're gonna kill 'em unless ours are released."
Now, the sentiment itself was not particularly surprising, in the family car no more so than out: both of us are products of a Goldwaterite upbringing, although mine was more Religious Hypocrite and hers Divine Right of Property Holdings. As I've mentioned before, every family gathering for our first twenty years or so included the First To Make Eye Contact Game, where we vied to catch the other in mid-head-swivel as he recognized the first entirely gratuitous racial comment of the festivities had been unwrapped, uncorked, or replaced the angel on the top of the tree. The game didn't so much end as finally just depress the hell out of both of us. But before that point there was a solid four-five year run during the Reagan administration when it would be one of my Poor Wife's innocent answers to the question "How's school?"--recounting, as one does, some some recent episode of teenage pillage which had dominated her psychic workspace that week--which set things running: "Oh, we had a big fight in the cafeteria Tuesday" or "Oh, I separated two girls having a hair-pulling contest" or "We had three seniors flunk off the team" would inevitably cause the questioner, or someone nearby, to ask "Were they black?" It didn't matter which family, any more than it mattered that at the time she taught in an exoburban district where the odds of unfortunate pigmentation in any particular student were about 98.753 to 1, nor that she coached swimming. We finally had to make a formal exemption for direct replies, since the requirement of keeping a straight face under the circumstances was too much for her, and the torque they generated gave her whiplash one Thanksgiving.
So it wasn't like the paramilitary bloodlust of his comments came out of left field, or shocked my delicate liberal sensibilities. It wasn't even the fact that this boy had to that point evinced no discernible interest in politics, history, current events, or anything else generally subsumed under the broad heading of Knowledge, or, it probably goes without saying, interest in the sort of Infantry career which would have afforded him a personal opportunity to respond, however military-judiciously, to Towel Heads and Camel Jockeys (my recollection is that, in the event, he settled for the more prudent course of purchasing a copyright-infringing jersey depicting Mickey Mouse flipping Iran the bird, which must've wowed 'em at the Mall). No; what startled me was the fact that to this point his primary contribution to the Republic he now rose to defend was in wrapping its second-hand vehicle reserves around local trees or street lights while blitzed on Quaaludes, keeping insurance adjusters, body-shop mechanics, and court reporters busy in the depths of the Carter economy.
This is, come to think of it, the genesis of my interest in Reagantots, the generationlet which came of age at the Dawn of Morning in America and accepted the attendant hoopla as evidence to support its facile wingnuttery, hopeless nerdism, principled rejection of shag carpeting, and/or collection of Rush albums. Nothing particularly wrong with this, of course, except the remarkable refusal to grow out of it, or reconsider unquestioned tenets in light of the twenty years of total disaster that followed.
And even that might be excused as political gamesmanship (by someone more generous than I), but what explains this?
Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.
Who says that sorta thing in middle age? Who still believes it? And who still believes it even after everything that "conservatism" has wrought over his entire adult lifetime? From "liberal" Brooks seeing the Light at a Milton Friedman concert there's a direct line to the flotsam of the Bush administration--moving through, by the way, a Reagan administration which not only looks so much worse in retrospect that the blowhole moving to put him on the fifty is reduced to saying he "transformed our Nation's political and economic thinking", as though those two triumphs belong to the Ages, but one which looked increasingly dismal, let alone criminal, as its eight years went on--yet Brooks remains convinced that an idea which (supposedly) suddenly hit him at 21 is still as theologically valid as the day it struck him blind. When do "moderate" "conservatives" moderate their conservatism? It's not just that Brooks never owns up; it's that no one ever forces him to. His is a free-floating "conservatism" which is allowed to proclaim itself the only defender of Civilization, to claim an intellectual heritage based on its devotion to a couple of dead writers it agrees with, and let others do the bare-knuckle work. He's been consoling himself--in public--with the idea that he's the adult for his entire adult life. And still, when the chips are down, he takes a swing at Hippies.
And, at the bottom there's this: faux-bashing Tea Baggers is the the easiest thing in the fucking world. It's a Free Pass. It's one of those phony Libertarians railing against tax "seizure" while driving down the highway accessing the internet, and using the GPS to find the shortest route from Mom's house to the doctor who'll charge Medicare for her visit. It's the self-aggrandizing backwoods teevee preacher crying damnation over teevee or internet porn before he and half his congregation that still has blood in its veins go home to watch some. Brooks may not like the Tea Baggers, nor they him, but they're not going to be toting around Brooks=Hitler signs. And they'll both be voting Republican in November. That they do so for slightly different reasons might be of interest if we were charged with making the seating arrangements for some soirée; in politics, in a party which's marched in lockstep since 1964, it makes absolutely no difference. It's just an easy way for Brooks to play moderate. Me, I'd rather spend four years of President Palin than four years of Mitch Daniels' Big Brain doing precisely the same things while dreaming up more "moderate" excuses for them. Not that the results would be any more palatable; not that Exaulted Stupidity hasn't lost its novelty; not that Palin, or the Teabaggers, are any more honest, or any less devious, than Brooks and his ilk; not that any of these liars will own up to the disaster that follows, any more than they did Reagan's or Bush's. It's just that I'll enjoy the three weeks between Brooks' final hope for one of his own getting the nomination and his sudden admiration for Palin's "style" and her "new command" of "substantive issues". The fade-out after looks the same, regardless.