Tuesday, January 3

The Other Sixties Mythology

Paul "The Iron Mike Collins of Powerline" Mirengoff: "Forever Young"

I took advantage of the January Thaw this morning to repair part of the garage and the multiple trellises whose partial fall had caused the damage last summer when there was too much growing around it to attempt repairs. I had a horrible earworm which I'm not even going to mention lest some unfortunate among you remember it, but it came about because it had been used in an SCTV skit I'd watched the night before, and for some reason, working in the yard, it came back on me like stuffed peppers. And naturally I was trying to get it out before I had to quit using power tools. So I was thinking about something to write about and the Peggy Noonan post came back to me, and it suddenly dawned on me that she'd attributed the Katrina quotient of Bush's miserable year to "bad luck". And reading through it the first time I thought yeah, you wish the response was bad luck and not bad government, but this time I thought, wait, when things are going well for him, isn't it because Jesus is on his side? How does this work, exactly? When you're cruising along and everything purring it's a mark of your proper religious understanding, but if you pick up a nail and a tire goes flat we're back to Greek mythology.

This, of course, is no original insight, but it's rather obvious that it works for Noonan and her ilk on the political plane as well, and that was still on my mind when I sat down at my desk this evening, though thankfully the song had vanished.

I was closing down some browser windows, which I tend to accumulate, and I came to the Powerline boys still up from the final Ultimate Wingnut balloting at World O' Crap, and just for the hell of it I updated the page. And the first post was Paul "Zeppo" Mirengoff sort of congratulating himself for the response to a post entitled "Forever Young", which apparently dealt with "the danger posed by those who hadn't learned anything since 1974", but which some readers had found insufficiently incendiary, in the Napalm sense:
I take the point. It's difficult to defeat those who are out to destroy us when an influential political and cultural bloc sees those Americans who stand against political and social collectivsim and moral anarchy as the greatest threat to our country.

I couldn't clink the link to the original fast enough after that:
Vietnam and Watergate are seminal events for almost all liberals my age. Vietnam taught them to distrust the use of force by our military, and to despise leaders who aggressively use military force in the name of the national interest. Watergate confirmed that a leader who projects military force overseas for that purpose can be expected to usurp power at home.

Let's begin our response where I always like to: Mirengoff is a 1971 graduate of Dartmouth College. I do wish birthdates googled up as easily as graduation dates for the semi-obscure, but this is enough for our purposes. Intelligent guy, probably graduated from high school around 1967.

So first up, how is it that he comes to imagine Vietnam and Watergate are seminal events (no cracks, now. I've avoided them. You do the same.) ? I'll gladly admit Vietnam--though didn't its seed spill on both sides of the fence?--but Watergate is a curious running mate. If you came of age in the Sixties, and you presumably know enough liberals to make pronouncements about almost all of them, how, exactly, does the battle over civil rights slip your memory? Or the bright lost promise of John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps, the threat of nuclear annihilation? Are we maybe stacking the deck just a teensy bit here? Watergate as the Lava Lamp of politics?

Well, yes, of course we are, but let's start at the top. I'm about five years younger, so the public awareness of our role in Vietnam rose pretty much right alongside my own increasing awareness of politics. It did not teach me "to distrust the use of force by our military". It did teach me that our military and political leaders lie, boldly and outright, in the service of cryptic aims, and that the commonly accepted narrative of the times is very often bunkum. But that's because they do and it was, and is, and I'd have figured that out for myself as soon as I escaped from my high school history lessons. That "distrust military force" canard is just an argument over Iraq in wolf's clothing. Vietnam was a ghastly mistake, politically, militarily, and spiritually, and it's not going to be redeemed by wrapping it in the Flag, the War on Terror, or the Lava Lamping of history. Supposing we want to make some grand statement of Vietnam's seminal influence, a more accurate one would concern a distrust of politicians sending Americans to die to no good purpose under the camouflage of the sort of Good vs. Evil crusades a political bloc which claims to be defending against political and social collectivism and moral anarchy is so fond of, so long as it has a law school deferment. And if you don't believe most Americans agree with that you need to answer for the curious omission of conscription as part of the War on Terror. The real sorrow here is that so many people didn't learn the real lesson and have been able to cling to a wholly fictive war for thirty-five years.

Watergate, on the other hand--what does Watergate have to do with Liberalism? McGovern had already lost; you could look that up, Mr. Mirengoff, but I'm reasonably sure it made the papers in Palo Alto at the time. And that "confirmed that a leader who projects military force overseas for that purpose can be expected to usurp power at home"? Please. Who's stuck in 1974 now? Watergate was precisely what it was, or at least that part of the iceberg we got to see. Nixon was using the power of the Presidency to spy on political opponents, and he got caught at it. Then, as now, there were some people whose allegiance is to their political viewpoint, not the fundamental rule of law, who apologized for it. In fact, they're often the same people. And the simple answer is, if you want to defeat that mistaken impression then you don't act in precisely that way. It isn't just liberals who are concerned about civil rights, but it is just a certain segment of the nit-witted Right which is willing to toss them on the trash heap so long as it's in their interests.
These "lessons" were rejected by most baby-boomers even at the time of Vietnam and Watergate. And despite the dominance of Vietnam and Watergate-obsessed boomers in academia, subsequent generations have found the lessons even less worth learning....

Many liberals seem not to dispute this. In fact, they acknowledge the "failure" of most Americans to embrace "harsh truths," and see this as further evidence that something is wrong with our country ("what's wrong with Kansas?").

Sure, because your "lessons" are just so much horseshit. Frankly, I've encountered very few Americans who dispute the lessons of Vietnam who have even an inkling of what went on there. But what's the cost of the public amnesia about Vietnam, or the struggle, ever since, to rewrite its history and demonize those who would look at the "harsh truths" of their own country just as we're encouraged to look at the Pure Evil in others? On whose say-so is US international adventurism a sacred trust? Who has exempted it from taking responsibility for its mistakes or paying the price for its miscalculation? You? Forgive me, but a self-serving view of history doesn't win the argument, and the idea that truth is amenable to ballot-box stuffing is just a recipe for further disaster, as it has now proven to be. Woodrow Wilson backhanded Ho Chi Minh at the end of WWI; Truman did it after WWII. Had we upheld what we used to proclaim as our abiding love of freedom and democratic principles then, all those "liberals" who learned your phony lessons wouldn't have seen them as current events. And if we hadn't been propping up the decayed remnants of 19th century Imperialism in the name of those who stand against political and social collectivism, maybe 57,000 Americans who didn't support the war from the comfort of their college libraries wouldn't have died so young.


Anonymous said...

It's difficult to defeat those who are out to destroy us when an influential political and cultural bloc sees those Americans who stand against political and social collectivsim and moral anarchy as the greatest threat to our country.

Is this guy for real?
It's probably equally difficult, pal, when the *ruling* political and cultural bloc sees those Americans who stand up for civil liberties and civil rights, including just off the top of my head the right of all human beings not to be tortured, as the greatest threat to our country.

Jesus. Talk about missing obvious lessons.
I think, Doghouse, that that in a nutshell explains why he doesn't consider the civil rights movement to have been "seminal".
He's one of those who thinks the hippies were mean to Nixon, I'm guessing. Bet he threw around the "traitor" label then, too.

Anonymous said...

The right wing's Vietnam myths are widespread and horrible. I got a look at them today.

There's a "10 Worst Americans" meme that's mostly on the right side of the blogosphere, although I found it via Lawyers, Guns and Money. LG&M sent me over to comments at All Things Beautiful. Any comment that includes "Vietnam" comes from topsy-turvy-land, where LBJ is evil for failing to win in Vietnam, Nixon is bad for losing Vietnam, and John Kerry is bad for making Congress abandon Vietnam. Oh, and there is the obligatory mention of Jane Fonda.

The only lesson these idiots learned from Vietnam is something like, "We lost when we were militarily superior, ergo because of Traitors At Home."