Wednesday, May 26

Jesus Wept

Matt Bai, "Why Our Politics About Shit I Care Nothing About and Know Even Less, Explained". May 26

SHORTER "Doghouse" Riley, the man who can't even write a Shorter without adding "for once", for once:

"Nothing on earth quite matches reading analysis from someone who claims to have believed that Candidate Obama had banished The Evil Sixties from our political lexicon forever."

"Doghouse" Riley responds: "Unless you can get a bet down that his version of history will come pre-filtered through his own intestines."
Mr. Blumenthal, the Democratic attorney general of Connecticut, is a respected, if somewhat colorless career public servant. Mr. Paul, a Kentucky eye doctor and a Republican, is a doctrinaire libertarian like his father, Ron Paul, the onetime presidential candidate. But last week, both men found themselves unexpectedly sucked into the vortex that pulls us inexorably back to the 1960s.

Y'know, sir, you're forty-one fucking years old. I'm not really sure how you managed it, and I'm metaphysically certain there is no possible explanation for you having done so while still holding that point of view. It's not many people who reach the Big 4-0 without some contemplation of fleeting Youth, of the possibility that they've traversed the healthier half, or more, of their lifespan; without feeling the full force of the Tidal Wave of History pick them up and toss them around like a pop bottle, or without the glance over the shoulder at the young hotshot eyeing their jobs, the one who doesn't know half the shit he should. For that matter, few English speakers make it that far without knowing one, and only one, line of Santayana. I had it here somewhere.

So let's rephrase the question: Why is even the most incidental public mention of the whole panoply of "Sixties" events grounds for the Matt Bais of the typing pool to moan about how "trapped" our politics are? Especially when it's their own profession which is largely responsible, and their own paper which ginned up the Outrage over Richard Blumenthal? (Said outrage would have been equal had he been a non-heroic non-veteran of Iraq War I, Iraq War II, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or a two-day wait for the new iPhone, though, presumably, this would have rendered the argument satisfyingly Contemporary.)
This wrinkle in the political space-time continuum was supposed to have been smoothed out, of course. Barack Obama based his presidential campaign on the notion that the nation needed to step past the cultural chasm of an earlier era, and younger Americans, in particular, endorsed that vision.

And, of course, this had made for smooth political sailing ever since; I'll never forget how Wise Younger Voters came to the rescue of healthcare reform back in Aught Nine.
In both cases, the trite and simplistic debate seems mismatched to the more complex conversations that most Americans are actually trying to have.

Damn! What conversations? Where? We Seniors are always the last to find out about such things.

Listen, the goddam blogosphere erupted about both, and none of us Golden Agers can find the switch that turns the damned thing on.
[T]he controversy, stoked by his Republican opponent, has as much to do with all the 40-year-old emotions around draft boards and deferrals, the lingering bitterness among those who served and the torturous guilt among those who did not, as it does with the straight-up issue of veracity.

Bullshit. The only connection the Blumenthal story has to Vietnam, apart from the coincidence of its historical setting , and the willingness of the Press to lie about it until it's too late, is that the outraged patriotism of so many right-wing combat veterans (who just happen to be stateside while we fight two wars for the future of Civilization Herself) is itself a ginned-up artifact of losing in Vietnam being blamed on spitting Hippies and Walter Cronkite. Of which "torturous guilt among those who did not [serve]" is a sparkling example.
This is all well-trod ground for voters who can easily recall the allegations over Bill Clinton and his draft letter, John Kerry and his Swift boat, George W. Bush and his missing time in the National Guard. But in a country where no one under 50 has ever seen a draft notice, it is increasingly irrelevant; to those Americans, we might as well be having an argument over who sunk the Maine.

No one, evidently; it appears to've blown up accidentally, after which we blamed Spain, declared war (there's a quaint custom for you kids!), and seized a global empire under the pretext. So you're right; I can't understand why anyone would imagine there are any lessons we could learn from that today.

Let's try it this way, Sonny: way back before you were born, and, hence, care, at the end of WWII (just curious: do we care about that one, or not?), the United States (Motto: E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for "A Great Place to collect a paycheck, buy consumer electronics, and contemplate your navel in print, provided you don't get drafted") and the Soviet Union, late allies in the war against Hitler, began to distrust each other. And with good reason. This led to something called The Cold War, which is a more efficient way of saying "spending untold trillions of dollars on weapons of mass extinction"; it also led to hotter wars in Korea (in which we backed a wretched despot on the grounds that he was anti-Communist, and lost), and Vietnam (in which we backed a series of wretched colonial mandarins and homicidal military strongmen on the grounds that they were anti-Communist, and lost). I'm sorry, could you snore a little more quietly? We also backed a number of proxy wars generally backing authoritarian strongmen on the grounds that the Commies had cornered the National Liberation market, which, anyway, tended to be too anti-Coca-Cola for our tastes. And lost. A lot of this took place in Africa, Asia, and South America. Which are continents, and located elsewhere. You don't have to worry about them.

So why worry about Vietnam? In the first place, and rather obviously, because you've swallowed a load of bilge water about it over the last thirty years, and that bilge didn't get in your sippy cup by accident. It got there because the people who wasted the lives of 60,000 American dead have done their damnedest to cover it up since. And because they're still at it today, and because the twin disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of their handiwork (or are those Old News now, too?) Because otherwise you might recall that, absent a draft, we didn't have enough troops to do either job, let alone both.

Old news, kiddo? Are taxes, or deficits, part of the serious discussion you'd rather be having? Even the G admits to spending 40% of its take on Defense, which is an anodyne way of saying "a gizmo-loaded military larger than the next fifty armies combined". And that's because they subsume things like veterans' benefits and the interest on the debt for past military impulse purchases under "Other".

And they do this year-in, year-out, so you, and your children, and their children, can keep paying for it. While exercising your God-given right as Americans to remain butt-ignorant of the history, and cosseted in the dryer-warm blankie of phony General Consensus.
Why then, to quote the ubiquitous Bono,

Okay, I take it back. Make it "unless you can get down a bet that sooner or later he'll reference one or more of his Aging Cultural Touchstones in the middle of excoriating other people for being stuck in their own time zone."
is our political debate so stuck in a moment it cannot get out of?
….this all probably has as much to do with our basic human tendency toward moral clarity. As much as conservatives may view the decade as the crucible of moral relativism and the beginning of a breakdown in established social order, there remains something powerfully attractive about the binary, simplistic nature of it all, the idea that one could easily distinguish whether he was for war or against, in favor of equality or opposed.

How interesting it is that "conservatives" are never the ones being instructed to give up their own post-sell-by date attachment to The Evil Sixties, which constitutes, what? 95% of their platform? How interesting that Ronald Reagan, a man whose entire political career was an anti-Sixties diatribe with a grin, remains as fresh today as, well, Bono.
By contrast, war today seems more a question of degrees and limits,

Like "the limits of our pocketbooks, and the degree to which the most high-tech military on earth will be flummoxed by boring old WWI explosives".
while equality seems less about the laws of the land than about disparities in economic and educational opportunities that are subtler and harder to address. The choices of our moment are not nearly so neat or so satisfying as they were a generation ago, which makes them less useful as a basis for one’s political identity, and harder to encapsulate in some 30-second spot or prime-time rant.

Bosh. This stuff is only simplistic because your view is cursory at best. The Pentagon Papers run to 7000 pages. Taylor Branch's History of America in the King Years runs to three volumes. There wasn't anything easy about deciding the government was lying to you, and assembling the case to back it up. And the suggestion that it was some moral snap to toss two-hundred years of racism out on its ear--simple, indeed, compared to the painful ratiocination required today to think about affirmative action while surfing for porn--is odious at best. People went to prison, were beaten, and died for the sake of that easy moral clarity.

Y'know, Mr. Bai, the more I hear this shit the more convinced I become that the real problem is a massive intellectual indolence, and the more I prefer ideological gridlock to trendy and facile disinterest.


MR Bill said...

Maybe what's going on here is the use of the '60s as a sort of empty symbol for 'bad stuff'.
Complete with pictures of drugged out hippies and uppity negroes...

And the Blumenthal stuff is of a piece with the NYTimes and the Kool Kids sandbagging of Al Gore:
to read what might just be a weary politician giving the same speech over and over again's contraction of "my VietNam era service" to "my Vietnam service" and the silliness whether or not he was on the swim team as somehow proof the man is less than integral, just like "Al Gore says he invented the internet/wears brown/is a phony".
Given the career of his opponent Mrs. McMahon ('Whut? you mean wrasslin' is fake? and they use steroids??")this is an odd sort of
search of integrity...

Anonymous said...

A bit late saying it (I've been busy), but:

Bravo, Doghouse, bravissimo. Excellent post.

It's funny how having any kind of personal historical perspective makes one cranky.

Li'l Innocent

CMike said... also led to hotter wars in Korea (in which we backed a wretched despot on the grounds that he was anti-Communist, and lost)...

If we lost that one, what's North Korea still so pissed about? In fact, how come the winners are living inside North Korea?