Friday, May 11

Do What?

THIS via Roy has been bothering me for two days. As usual Roy and his other commenters had pretty much taken care of it while I combed the ashtrays looking for butts with a tell-tale shade of lipstick. Douthat is talking through his hat, which was established, but I was propelled tangentially by his list of Presidents. That's a clue, kids. See how many mistakes you can spot:
Loyalty, stubbornness, a sense of mission - all of these can be positive attributes in the right circumstances, and even Bush's incuriosity could have proven a better quality in a wartime President than, say, Bill Clinton's obsessive-compulsive intellectualism. That these traits worked out badly for the country is apparent, but only now, just as the only way to know for sure how Rudy Giuliani's various personality traits will affect his Presidency would be to elect him President and see what happens. Sure, his psychodramas might engulf the country, as Bill Clinton's often did - but electing Presidents without obvious inner demons gave us Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, while a morbid, moody depressive was arguably our greatest Chief Executive. The pressures of high office work in different ways on different temperaments - alcoholics and philanderers sometimes rise to the occasion and sometimes don't, and the same seems to go for tee-totalling, uxorious, psychologically well-balanced types. At certain junctures, a self-consciously normal guy like Gerald Ford is the man you want; at others, you want a hard-drinking romantic like Winston Churchill. It's just tough to know what sort of character will suit the times until the times are over.

Okay, pencils down. Did everyone get "Difficult as it sometimes is to believe, Winston Churchill was never President of the United States"? Very good.

Yes, Billy, Douthat never claims Sir Winnie was President, but his every other "Archetype" was. No, Susie, that wouldn't preclude him from using Churchill, or Clemenceau or Bismarck or Sir Charles Tupper. What's interesting about the choice of Churchill is that the United States of America had, at that very same time, a wartime leader of great stature who was, unlike Churchill, also a great peacetime leader, and whose "character" basically consisted of competence, intelligence, sound decision making, and owning a dog. Freddy something, his name was.

Yes, Parker? Okay, it is indeed possible that Douthat chose Churchill because he couldn't find a "hard-drinking, romantic" President. Nixon, maybe, but he wasn't all that romantic. Just ask Pat. Have your parents explain that joke to you. Douthat probably should have capitalized that "R".

It's also possible that we've now reached the third generation of right-wingers who can't utter the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt without wanting to gargle.

Hey, I'm no Churchill scholar by any means. There's no question that his stature as the bulldog face of British defiance of Hitler is deserved. But the worshipful tones coming from the American Right are a little disingenuous. Recall the use of the handy blow-up version of his predecessor and all the sneering about Appeasement that met opposition to the GWOT just a few years ago. That transparent crock turned out to be, well, a transparent crock. Churchill's face is painted on the reverse. He's celebrated by the Right for his stalwart anti-totalitarianism. But his idée fixe was the inherent superiority of the Englishman. Churchill all but backed the Fascists in Spain, on the grounds that the Communists had it coming. As Prime Minister he sought to make a separate peace with the Nazis. British intelligence knew in 1940 that Hitler would drop the Battle of Britain to focus on the Soviet Union, but he kept that information from FDR while continuing to lobby for US entry into the war. At war's end he was more than willing to shed American blood in an effort to regain the British Empire in East Asia.

In fact it's damned near impossible to learn anything about the Second World War beyond high school propaganda--in English, at least--without understanding just how fundamentally the two sides differed and how often--from the American point of view--that involved British demands that Americans die to further British, rather than Allied, goals.

I suppose it's possible that Churchill's comic caricature of a public persona makes him the right choice over Roosevelt's quiet competence--especially when the intent is to make a buffoonish Cowboy look like someone you might have backed with a reasonable expectation of unexpectedly satisfactory results. But then 1) Why do our last two Democratic presidents get the barb? 2) What the hell is "obsessive-compulsive intellectualism?" and 3) How does Carter maintain his place as Co-Worst President in the depths of the George W. Bush Decade O' Debacle? It takes little more than a cursory glance at--I dunno, Recorded History?--to recognize that humankind has been propelled backwards, forwards, and sideways by a succession of Saints and Scofflaws, and generally a combination of the two. And a moment's thought tells us that anyone reducing history to Black and White might as well go one step further, if not shut up altogether.


Anonymous said...

I like Churchill, I've read all I can on him. From what I can tell, everyone who writes about Churchill sees only what they want to see. In my humble opinion:
Churchill fought Nazi Germany because it was his last chance to be Prime Minister.
Churchill's demons drove him to support the creation of the modern socialist state that is the former British Empire.
Churchill supported taxing the wealth of the aristocracy away because he knew from personal experience that they were wastrels.
Calling Churchill a hard drinking romantic is most likely projection.

Anonymous said...

WHO is "while a morbid, moody depressive was arguably our greatest Chief Executive"

Kathy in Sparks

D. Sidhe said...

I'm still choking over the notion that GWB was "without obvious inner demons". Would that be because no one the fuck ever ASKED why he wanted the fucking job? Because he wouldn't have been able to offer an answer that came without screaming Oedipal overtones, and that should have been enough to scare us all the hell away from him.

Julia said...

2) What the hell is "obsessive-compulsive intellectualism?"

I'm going with "persists in being smarter than I am"

Anonymous said...

WHO is "while a morbid, moody depressive was arguably our greatest Chief Executive"

That'd be Lincoln, I believe.

heydave said...

Touche' to all the obviously clever and insightful, and may I add, entertaining, comments.

Anyone have a recommended biography of Churchill?

Anonymous said...

William Manchester's The Last Lion is my favorite Churchill biography. Be warned that Manchester approaches Churchill from a hero worshipping viewpoint. Although he doesn't overlook Churchill's imperialism (thus the title) you won't see an informed critique of empire. On the other hand, you will marvel at how neocons could admire a man whose domestic policies were to the left of any American Democratic politician save Teddy Kennedy. Sadly, Manchester passed away before he could complete the triology and despite what Wikopedia (12-05-2007)says the second volume ends at 1939.

Morgan P. said...

D. Sidhe: I love your comment. Perfect.

Doghouse, you continue to be my favorite blogger out there. I can only tolerate reading the news for about an hour at a time anymore due to the bouts of depression that inevitably follow, but your commmentary turns the lemons into lemonade. I've been lurking for about a year now but am going to try to start participating. Keep it up!

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