Tuesday, September 15, 2009

While Peeling Pears

The other night, between peeling pears and evening prayers, I sat down in my wife's grandmother's old rocker and decided to watch some national news on television. This was a bad call on my part. In so doing, I witnessed much more coverage of the recent 9/12 Teabaggers March on Washington than I cared to see.

Mobs are never pretty, and this one was no exception--a bunch of pissed-off, overweight, middle-aged whiter-than-white folks in tee-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes. Their defenders will maintain that the media hones-in on only the wing-nuts in the crowd. There is undoubtedly some truth in this, but as the camera scanned the crowd, I saw no clumps of protesters that were not peppered with the crazy signs. By this I mean those signs comparing President Obama to Satan, Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Castro, the Anti-Christ and--this I don't get--Heath Ledger's Joker. [Yes, I know that Democrats drew horns on pictures of George W. Bush. The ones I remember the most were pictures of Bush as Alfred E. Neuman, the gap-toothed poster-boy for Mad Magazine. But as AEN's by-line was "What, me worry?" as disaster unfolded all around him, I didn't find this characterization of GWB far-fetched at all.] But apparently these protesters believe our President is both Socialist and Fascist, which is a nice trick, much like being a Catholic Muslim. The tough guys in the crowd carried banners proclaiming "Unarmed--This Time." Some thought the "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy" signs were particularly clever. Though there was plenty of sloganeering, the gathering was largely fact-free. Their complaints were all across the board, united by only the one thing that cannot be named.

I came across a short interview recently with Paul Gottfried, a leading American intellectual who posts periodically on the Chronicles and Taki sites. He is the author of a number of books, including Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy, After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State, and Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers. I enjoyed the article, but had not planned on posting anything about it, considering that his plain-spoken words might be misinterpreted. I no longer hold those reservations after watching the Tea Party crowd in Washington, and believe Gottfried's thoughts are timely indeed.

On populism:

I’m not much impressed with the “traditionalism” of the American heartland or (to use that ridiculous neologism “red states”). That heartland, in which I’ve spent much of my life, has supplied the teeming footsoldiers for McCain, Karl Rove, the inexpressibly stupid “W,” and loudmouths like Sean Hannity. It is the American heartland that now identifies patriotism with launching wars of choice in the name of spreading “our democracy.” Its inhabitants, moreover, suffer from the vulgar eating habits and lack of cultural literacy that their critics often impute to them. However perverse in their political judgments these critics may be, they are right about the ignorance and gullibility of heartland Americans.

In answer to the question “Do the people have the government they deserve?”

The government is far better than the one that the masses actually merit.

On populist activism:

I think the populist Right in the US vastly overestimates the virtues of the “people,” which it identifies with whatever it likes, as opposed to what the people overwhelmingly vote for. Listening to populists, one gets the impression that it was not “the people” who voted for Obama and whom big-government Republicans, leaning leftward, have been able to manipulate. The “people” only exist for their rightist admirers when they please those who are praising them. Otherwise, we are not dealing with the “people” but with Martians or interlopers. Needless to say, I am not a populist because I understand the total compatibility of the “people” with the leftist managerial regime that now rules us.

The interview in full can be found, here.

16 comments:

David A said...

This from one who lives in the "heartland" (Kansas City, no less), but also gets around... As a passionate supporter of Obama, gender equality, gay rights, an enlightened health care plan, a thinking church, and as an ab initio opponent of "W"'s Iraq incursion, I never found myself alone or lonely in my views. Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, the Daily Kos, and the Jayhawk Feminist are my daily read/listen and that of many others. Nothing could be more appalling to me than the Ugandan bishop's incursion into my formerly Episcopal parish, or the crazy and dangerous "birthers" and their ilk. As I look around, I see precious little evidence that the inhabitants of any particular region of the country have much of a current claim to avoidance of vulgar eating habits, cultural literacy, or gullibility. Including, apparently, the author of the set of observations to which this is appended. The observations are as offensive and limited as the sources he excoriates. In my humble opinion.

John said...

David,

I have read Gottfried's articles for some time now. His observations are a mixed bag--some I agree with, others I find a bit kooky. And certainly he paints with a broad brush with his comments on the heartland. I live in eastern Texas, so I am included in his criticism as well.

The poll conducted back in mid-summer asked the following question: "Do you believe Obama was born in the U.S.?" 93% of those polled in the Northeast said yes. 90% of those polled in the Midwest said yes. 87% of those polled in the West answered yes. Only 47% of those in the South replied yes. It is that sort of thing that I believe Gottfried is addressing--cultural illiteracy, ignorance and/or gullibility.

Derek Sheriff said...

Hello!

Steve Robinson recommended your blog. My theory is that he figured I might spend more time commenting on your blog and less time emailing him comments about his podcast, which in his own words, make his "..head spin!"

Your post on The Afghan Stakes, by Bret Stephens did have a very strident tone but it was a correct analysis in my opinion (you can ask Steve about my unique perspective on this issue). I look forward to more!

John said...

Hey, Derek. Yeah, Steve and I go back a ways (all the way to 2004, I think.) This post is a bit on the strident side as well. I probably need to back off (for a while) from commenting on foreign policy debacles and/or our ongoing domestic craziness. But have no fear, my sarcasm and cynicism will eventually bubble back to the surface.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I too had just read the Gottfried piece. I too think that mid-American traditionalism doesn't go far past a veneration of football and John Wayne. Which is to say that like everything else in the modern world, it is media driven. I meant really! Consider that we live in a world where the most popular female country singer (a uniquely Southern, poor folks art form) is the child of an upscale Toronto suburb. So don't despair: that happy day may come when you really can be a Catholic Muslim. Or at least you can here in the USA.

James the Thickheaded said...

Sadly, I wonder that Jimmy Carter isn't the perfect offset. To paraphrase the famous Mr. Burns comment "He couldn't find ugly at a Vassar swap"... I'm afraid Mr. Carter couldn't find an America he could instinctively like. Seems to me that Carter sadly stepped in it... again. What the rubes in the protest want is not villification, as I think that simply convinces them that they are indeed unfairly disdained.. and Obama has said as much way back when (Spring 2008). No, villification doesn't cure the problem but make it worse. So FWIW (about 1 penny) I think what they need is leadership... and an elitist wanna-be Carter provides the opportunity for Mr. Obama to play that role by coming to the defense of the average American... or less-than average American as the case may be. We may not all be Harvard graduates scoring a perfect "100" on our diversity tests, but we can appeal to the better natures of the would-be brutes and diffuse and redirect them. Somehow... like by giving folks the idea that the leaders and the followers will be treated the same... and to the same... say all in the same health plan. But nah... then... neither political party wants THAT. Egad!

Milton T. Burton said...

Once again, I am "anonymous." I don't know what the problem is.

John said...

Fr. James,
I agree about Carter--his remarks were ill-timed and intemperate, but hey, why ruin a perfect record? I do not take great issue with what he said, but rather that he said it at all, and particularly not now. I find it very counterproductive. The "Dallas Morning News"--hardly a liberal bastion--had a good editorial today, found here:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-march_0917edi.State.Edition1.281f723.html

This is how they concluded:

"The tea party movement deserves to be taken seriously. But until and unless it finds a way to police its radical fringes – and articulate its critique in a constructive, rational way that appeals to the great middle – it will not be. And must not be, except as an example of how not to win allies or influence debate."


And Milton, the one word I would never think of in regard to you is "anonymous."

Milton T. Burton said...

Gee.....

Derek Sheriff said...

David,
Fascism is a FORM of socialism. The Fascist Manifesto's initial promises included nationalization of property.If one definines socialism as any ideology that advocates a society in which the means of production are socialized, then both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were both non-Marxist socialist nations. And actually, if you use the word catholic in its pure, original sense, you COULD be a catholic Muslim :0)

James the Thickheaded said...

Hey John... you're spot on again. Only... I'm not Fr. James Early :(
and don't want him tarred with my blather.

s-p said...

Hi John, Meet Derek...I told him I think you guys can hold a conversation. Both of you make my head spin when it comes to politics. But then I have a political "bobble head" and it spins pretty easily on that topic. I'm one of those people you're glad I DON'T vote. :)

John said...

James the Thickheaded,
I knew that (I think?) Sometimes my brain either races ahead or lags far behind--causing me to write/say stupid stuff.

John said...

S-P,
I am probably at a point where I need to pull back from politics a bit (too much time spent with "Morning Joe" and "Hardball.") I find it hard to disengage from the foreign policy questions, however, particularly as these often impact our Orthodox brethren.

John said...

Derek,
Weeell, yeees--that is if you pare it down to some simple statist propositions, then Fascism and Communism (for this is what they mean when they say Socialist) could fit within the same very large box. But, that is certainly not the way they understood themselves or each other, and not the way it played out in the 20th century. Point granted on the word "catholic," but that of course was not how I used it.

Anonymous said...

Mussolini claimed Fascism could be seen either as a form of capitalism or socialism. He said, "..our path would lead inexorably into state capitalism, which is nothing more nor less than state socialism turned on its head. In either event, the result is the bureaucratization of the economic activities of the nation." He claimed Facism was the final state after socialism as opposed to marxists who held socialism who bring about communism.