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The New Reactionaries

April 29th, 2012 - 10:58 pm

Our New Regressivism

About fifteen years ago, many liberals began to self-identify as progressives—partly because of the implosion of the Great Society and the Reagan reaction that had tarnished the liberal brand and left it as something akin to “permissive” or “naïve,” partly because “progressive” was supposedly an ideological rather than a political identification, and had included some early twentieth-century Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.

But twenty-first century progressivism is not aimed at political reform. There is no new effort at racial unity. There is not much realization that we are in a globalized, rapidly changing, high-tech economy or that race and gender are not as they were fifty years ago. Instead, progressivism has become a reactionary return to the 1960s—or even well before. The new regressivism seeks to resurrect the machine ethos of Mayor Daley, the glory green days of the Whole Earth Catalog, the union era of George Meany, Jimmy Hoffa, and Walter Reuther, the racial polarization of the old Black Panther Party and the old Al Sharpton, and a Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, or Peter Jennings reading to us each evening three slightly different versions of the Truth.

The New Old Chicago

Barack Obama is trying to turn back the way of politics to the era of the pre-reform Chicago machine. He was the first presidential candidate to renounce campaign-financing funds since the law was enacted. He opposes any effort to clamp down on voting fraud. Even his compliant media worries that the president’s current jetting from one campaign stop to another in the key swing states is a poorly disguised way to politick on the federal government’s dime. Bundlers are, as was the ancient custom, given plum honorific posts abroad. Obama has held twice as many fundraisers as the much reviled George Bush had at a similar point in his administration. Obama supporters now target large Romney givers and post their names with negative bios on websites, as if we are back to Nixon’s enemies of the people. Websites sprout up that go after administration critics in Agnew style, but without the latter’s self-caricature. The 2008 criticism about ending the revolving door, lobbyists, and pay-for-play renting out of the Lincoln bedroom was, well…just examine the career of a Peter Orszag. An embarrassed media keeps silent about the new reactionary ethics, apparently on the premise that not to would endanger four more years of the “progressive” agenda. On matters of presidential style, we are likewise retro, as Obama sets records for playing golf, and in Marie Antoinette style the First Family bounces between Vail, Aspen, Martha’s Vineyard, Vegas, and Costa del Sol, often in separate jets, as if we, the people, receive vicarious joy from catching glimpses of the Obama versions of Camelot. We have Kennedy wannabes without their own Kennedy money.

Earth Day Forever

On matters of energy, Obama has regressed to the Earth Day mindset of the 1970s, when we were reaching “peak” oil, and untried wind and solar were soon to be the new-age remedy for soon-to-be-exhausted fossil fuels. Add up the anti-empirical quotes from Obama himself, Energy Secretary Chu, and Interior Secretary Salazar (inflate your tires, “tune up” your car, look to U.S. algae reserves, let energy prices “skyrocket,” hope gas rises to European levels, don’t open federal lands even if gas reaches $10 a gallon, etc.) and, in reactionary fashion, we are time-machined back to the campus quad of the 1970s. In this  la la world of Van Jones, evil oil companies supposedly connived to stifle green energy and hook us on fossil fuels, inferior energies that have nothing to recommend them. It is as if the revolutions in horizontal drilling, fracking, and discoveries of vast new reserves never occurred, as if Exxon and Chevron dodge taxes in a manner that Google and Amazon never would, as if efficient smaller gas engines, clean gas blends, and pollution devices have not made the American car both clean-burning and economical beyond our imagination forty years ago. The Obamians, frozen in amber, really believe oil is about to run out, “tuned up” internal combustion engines powering underinflated tires pollute as they did in the 1920s, and Teapot Dome U.S. oil companies need to be “crucified”—as regional EPA director and Obama appointee Al Armendariz, in fact, boasted. So we borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize money-losing solar and wind plants, while putting federal lands rich in oil and gas off-limits to companies eager to pay royalties, hire thousands, and supply the U.S. with its own energy—and all for a regressive ideology. Few see that Solyndra really is the new Teapot Dome.

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It Was the Power, Stupid!

April 22nd, 2012 - 1:26 pm

I. Power—Always Was and Always Will Be

In my dumber days, between 2001-2008, I used to wonder why the Left relentlessly hammered the war on terror (e.g., renditions, tribunals, predators, preventative detention, Patriot Act, intercepts, wiretaps, Guantanamo Bay) when these measures had not only proven quite useful in preventing another 9/11-like attack, but had been sanctioned by both the Congress and the courts. In those ancient times, I was not as cynical as I am now. So I assumed that Harold Koh and MoveOn.org, though mistaken, were worried about civil liberties, or measures that they felt were both illegal and without utility.

But, of course, the Obama (who attacked each and every element of the war on terror as a legislator and senator) Left never had any principled objection at all. Instead, whatever Bush was for, they were in Pavlovian fashion against. I can say that without a charge of cynicism, because after January 2009, Obama embraced or expanded every Bush-Cheney protocol that he inherited. In response, the anti-war Left simply kept silent, or indeed vanished, or went to work extending the anti-terrorism agenda. Guantanamo Bay, in other words, was a national sin until the mid-morning of January 20, 2009.

II. The Year 4

We are in the year four of our lord, when darkness was made light, the seas gently receded, and the planet cooled. In the space of 24 hours in January 2009 the world was turned upside down: massive deficits were no longer “unpatriotic”; 5% (heck, even 9%) unemployment was no longer to be seen as a “jobless recovery”; $4 plus gasoline no longer would become “intolerable.” Filibusters suddenly became ossified obstructionism. Recess appointments were now quite legitimate; lecturing the media about the myth of objective fairness was salutary. Pay-for-play time with the president was consulting; attacking the “unelected” courts was progressive. Voter fraud was not thugs eyeing polling monitors with clubs, but officials asking voters to present a picture ID—and mentioning any of these inconsistencies or writing about the Trostkyzation of American life was either racism or Palinism.

Around March 2008, the Ministry of Truth had issued new edicts about campaign financing, big Wall Street money, and the supposedly pernicious role of contributions: all bad if Bush trumped Kerry, all now good if Obama trumped McCain. So when Obama became the first candidate in the history of the law to renounce public campaign financing in order to shake down $1 billion, there was silence. The Left never really worried about Big Money, but only if more Big Money went to conservatives than to themselves. (Consider the current shameless money grubbing of Jon Corzine to raise cash for Obama after Corzine’s looting of thousands of individuals’ lifetime investments, or the shrillness over Mitt Romney’s supposed mansion in La Jolla juxtaposed to the prior silence about the Kerry mansions, the multiple Gore residences, or “John’s room,” as in the huge and crass Edwards estate.) What was interesting about Hilary Rosen was not her stupid thoughts on Ann Romney, but her cursus honorum that led to hired-gun riches by parlaying political contacts into commerce.

III. Tongue-tied Presidents

We can play this Orwellian game with almost everything these days. Take presidential cosmopolitanism and the Bush-as-oaf trope. The disdain was not for an inept president, but rather a simple means to destroy an ideological opponent. Why again the cynicism? Because the Left cares little that Barack Obama has no clue where particular islands in the news are and cannot even do political correctness right when he wishes to ingratiate himself to his South American hosts by wanting to trill the “Maldives.” We have a president who can say Talêban, drop the g’s in a black patois, and trill his Spanish words in front of Latin American hosts, but is off 8,000 miles in his geography.

Ditto “corpse-man,” the Austrian language, 57 states, and all the other parochialism and gaffes that remind us not only that it is hard being a president without making gaffes, but that it is especially hard as a conservative president when each gaffe is cited as proof of ignorance.

IV. So What?

What is going on? Two things, really. One, the media believes that the noble ends justify the tawdry means. So if it is a choice between emphasizing the latest Obama embarrassment by digging into the scary Fast and Furious, the “millions of green jobs” Solyndra insider giveaways, the Secret Service decadence, the GSA buffoonery, and the work while getting food stamps con in Washington OR endangering Obamacare and by extension “the children,” or the war to eliminate autism, or the right to breath clean air–well, why would one ever wish to derail all that by weakening a landmark progressive and his enlightened agenda?

Or for you more cynical readers, why would you wish to enervate the present comfortable culture in Washington in which the press and politics are at last one? Or why undermine the first African-American president, who is a constant reminder of our progressive advancement? Or why weaken our only chance some day to have open borders or gay marriage?

Two, the Left has always operated on the theory of medieval penance. We surely must assume that Warren Buffett has never had problems with the ethics of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. or had a company he controls sued by the IRS for back taxes. Why? Because he has confessed his sins, and accepted the faith and paid his tithe to the Church. Ditto a Bill Gates or a rich celebrity like Sean Penn or Oprah. In the relativism of the left, if the one-percenters will simply confess that their class is greedy and needs to pay their fair share—even if they are entirely cynical in the manner of GE’s Jeffrey Immelt and penance is written off as the cost of doing business—then they become exempt from the wages of them/us warfare and the “you want to kill the children” rhetoric.

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Two Racial Narratives—and the Current Hysteria

Polls show that the Trayvon Martin case has split the country apart over perceptions of race and justice, in ways that may dwarf the polarities of the O.J. Simpson trial days of 1994. Or does the new friction simply reflect an ongoing erosion in relations since 2009? Or is it all hype, and things are still about as they were?

This tension was not supposed to have increased with the election of Barack Obama, who ran on “healing” and “unity,” and who was proclaimed by supporters as ushering in a new post-racial age.

Here I list a few random examples of the new racial furies and conclude with the two irreconcilable narratives.

The Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Hollywood director Spike Lee tweeted what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address, in hopes, apparently, that vigilantes might assemble there. Ex-boxer Mike Tyson called for George Zimmerman’s death; the New Black Panther Party put a “dead or alive” bounty on his head, confident that there would never be a state or federal charge of conspiracy to commit a felony lodged against them. I think all these examples were more or less open calls for violence.

Many of the publicly reported “facts” of the yet to be tried Martin case really were in error and in error by design. Indeed, George Zimmerman was not white; he really did have head injuries; he did not employ a racial epithet on tape; he did not voluntarily profile on tape Martin as a “black”; there was indeed an altercation; Mr. Martin was not a preteen, tiny, and a model student; Zimmerman did not outweigh Martin by 100 pounds.

But such constructs were all necessary for the narrative of a white Germanic-sounding vigilante, who, after uttering racial slurs, executed a little African-American boy, then lied about a fight and injuries, and got off due to a racist police department and by extension a racist America. We don’t know what happened (murder, manslaughter, self-defense?), only that the above narrative did not happen. Most agree that when one party is shot, killed, and was not armed, then the evidence must be carefully reviewed to substantiate a self-defense plea; the objection is not to the review but to the prejudging of the review and public threats.

The Race Establishment

The problem with the race establishment is not its acrimony per se, but (a) that the acrimony is frozen in amber around 1960, with no acknowledgment of some 50 years of federal action and three new generations of Americans, and (b) the inordinate time invested in blaming “them” rather than spent on introspection on how to achieve parity with a majority culture in the manner of other minorities’ successes. Or at least that is how I perceive the growing anger at the Sharpton/Jackson/Black Caucus nexus.

One day, Rev. Wright, the president’s former pastor, is once again railing against Jews and whites; while on the next, Louis Farrakhan tours the country warning of the dangers of racial intermarriage and declaring Jesus a black man. No one rebukes such overt hatred. Revs. Jackson and Sharpton, as is their wont, flew to the center of the Martin case controversy, to be photographed and to “organize.” Al Sharpton is now rebooted from the days of his involvement in the Crown Heights and Freddy’s Fashion Mart cases. No one wishes to remember his derogatory comments about homosexuals, Jews, and Mormons, much less the Tawana Brawley matter in which he lost a defamation case after falsely accusing a state prosecutor of being one of the assailants. He has a nightly MSNBC show where he reports on his earlier daytime heroics; in some sense, he has eclipsed Jesse Jackson as the black community’s premier civil rights leader. I say that without irony but based on the official praise from the country’s leading officials.

Attorney General Eric Holder lauded the defamer of state prosecutors “for your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve, and the promises we must fulfill,” and said of the ongoing Trayvon Martin case: “I know that many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages.” Holder’s “lost to the ages” quote bookends the president’s comment that Martin resembled the son he might have had. Whether those editorials will influence the jury pool in Florida no one knows, but I cannot remember a president and attorney general editorializing about a local criminal case before it has even gone to trial. If before the O.J. trial Bill Clinton had said that Nicole Simpson looked like the daughter he might have had, or had Janet Reno said Nicole was lost to the ages, well, fill in the blanks.

Holder himself almost seems to enjoy expressing his racial passions (e.g., “cowards,” “my people,” his allegations of racism against congressional overseers in the Fast and Furious inquiry, his accusations of racial profiling against the Arizona immigration law, which he confessed that he had not yet read, etc.). He chose not to prosecute the New Black Panther Party for voter intimation. Nor, apparently, has he much concern with the latter’s bounty on Zimmerman–or its radio station’s calls for a race war. If John Ashcroft had said anything similar, or had even Alberto Gonzales, proverbial hell would have broken loose.

From the Very Top

This attention to racial division is not new with this increasingly desperate administration. Before a Latino audience, President Obama blasted congressional Republicanism and soared with the following statement: “America should be a place where you can always make it if you try; a place where every child, no matter what they look like, where they come from, should have a chance to succeed.” The “look like” formula was popular and used also by First Lady Michelle Obama, who had also complained about a description of her White House infighting, written by a New York Times reporter: “That’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since, you know, the day Barack announced, that I’m some angry black woman.” None of these comments was helpful in erasing away the old “never been proud,” “raise the bar,” and “downright mean country” campaign tropes of 2008.

When Rick Perry referred to “a big black cloud that hangs over America — that debt, that is so monstrous,” charges of racism flew. Chris Matthews referred to Perry’s support of federalism with the quip “this is going to be Bull Connor with a smile.” At some point, every Republican nominee was alleged to be waging a racialist campaign, as we heard that Gingrich’s food stamp references were racist and still more about the segregationist past of Romney’s Mormon Church.

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Strangers in a Stranger Land

April 8th, 2012 - 4:00 pm


In ancient Rome, when the emperor or an especially distasteful elite died, his image on stone and in bronze was removed. And by decree there arose a damnatio memoriae, a holistic effort to erase away his entire prior existence. When Tiberius got through with the dead Sejanus, few knew that he had ever existed, such were the powers of the Roman state to create alternate realities. Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 explored the communist state’s efforts to airbrush away history. Orwell perhaps was most notably influenced by the removal of Leon Trotsky from the collective Russian memory to the point that he never existed. That force was used in these instances does not mean that something like them could not happen through collective volition; indeed, I think we are starting to see dangerous signs that a sort of groupthink is already beginning.

That Was Then, But This Is What . . . ?

In our own time there are certain growing trends, most of them media-induced, that conspire to rework our collective memory, in pursuit of a supposedly noble and just cause. In the fashion of no other recent figure, President Barack Obama has brought those forces of establishing an official truth to the fore. Last week he lectured the media that things are not just equal with two sides to a story. Instead, they have a responsibility not to fall into the trap of equivalence — the subtext being that he is not subject to the same laws of inquiry as are his earthly opponents.

Suddenly, the Supreme Court is a suspicious organization run by unelected politicos that uses capricious judicial fiat to overturn widely popular laws. The president denigrated it in a State of the Union address and now suggests that such “unelected” jurists (as opposed to electing them?) should act responsibly and thus “must” not find a popularly enacted law unconstitutional.

I am confused: I thought we were supposed to welcome such judicial audit. Was not that the charm of the Warren Court? Did not the Obama administration go to federal court to ask justices to set aside the Defense of Marriage Act that it was entrusted to enforce — seeking judicial help not to follow a law that it chose not to seek to overturn in Congress?

I also thought that a younger Barack Obama once had regretted that the Supreme Court had never addressed “redistributive change” and, per the U.S. Constitution, had confined itself only to defining negative liberties rather than demanding positive “rights” that legislatures were supposed to ensure — or else. And did ObamaCare really pass with broad majorities? I thought that it received no Republican votes in the House and only squeaked by. And it would have been filibustered in the Senate without the Ted Stevens pseudo-scandal and various sweetheart deals to swing senators. Or is that now inaccurate?

Good Little Citizens?

Is public campaign financing good or bad? I thought Obama in 2008 was the first presidential nominee since the law’s inception to have ignored it. But did anyone so note that? What happened to this once hallowed liberal reform? Was it not aimed at stopping the BPs and Goldman Sachses of the world from warping the election process with huge infusions of cash — as in the $1 billion range?

Are the one-percenters suspect and avoiding their fair share, or are they the most generous donors to the Obama campaign? Sometimes one feels bewildered in this now alternative universe: in the evil Bush year 2007, I remember that recess appointments were always to be seen as illegitimate, while filibusters were critical checks on abusive Republican legislative majorities. But then by 2011, the former was now a principled mechanism to sidestep reactionary obstructionism and the latter nihilistic ways of halting needed liberal progress. What happened, or have we lost all ability to remember?

The World Made Anew in 2009

I need to go to a re-education, or perhaps a re-memorization, camp. What happened to “unpatriotic” presidents running up $4 trillion in debt in eight years, or is trumping that in three then patriotic? Was the presidentially appointed Simpson-Bowles commission the proper bipartisan way to address deficits, or were its findings coopted by the one-percenters? In December 2010, I thought suddenly raising taxes was supposedly the wrong thing to do in tough times. Was it not by March 2011?

When did the Catholic Church declare war on women, and at what point in history did condoms or birth control pills became oppressive expenses in need of federal subsidies in a way that, say, iPhones were not? Does the crude smear “slut” by media figures threaten the world of our children or help to raise money to donate to presidential campaigns? What words, what images, what references are taboo, and what are tolerable — and why? Did the president deprecate the working classes of Pennsylvania and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and did he make vague promises to the Russians off mic — or were those just products of our imagination?

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The Rules of Outrage — Or Why the Trayvon Martin Tragedy Divides the Country

Every year hundreds of Americans are shot and killed under controversial circumstances, where the evidence is incomplete and subject to dispute, often making impossible an immediate charge of murder or manslaughter, at least until further witnesses or information come forth.

We, the public, rarely, if ever, hear of such tragedies. These certainly are not national news items. What, then, made the Trayvon Martin shooting so different?

A few unpleasant facts were assumed that explain the subsequent protests—and the growing backlash against the protests. I think they run something like this, presented here without much editorial commentary.

1. If Trayvon Martin had been white, or George Zimmerman had been black, or had both been black or both white, there would have been no outrage: 94% of murdered blacks are killed by other blacks, to almost no national outcry. Just this past Friday in Florida, fourteen were gunned down (two killed) to silence (at a funeral parlor, no less), as the protestors of the single Martin fatality went ahead with further demonstrations.

Whites are far more likely to be murdered by blacks than vice versa, despite the latter comprising only 11-12% of the population — again to no national outcry. The distinction in this case was that Martin was black. Zimmerman was not. The rule in America is apparently that only rare white on black crime — not far more common black on black, or black on white, or white on white — is symbolic of larger pathologies, both past and present. In earlier decades of American history, the reverse was more likely true: black on white crime aroused public furor in a way white on white or black on black or white on black crime did not. That fact in time was accepted as clearly symptomatic of racial bias, but the inverse of that today is said not to be.

2. If George Zimmerman had been black and not charged with a felony, there would have been no outcry — given that black assailants of other blacks often are not charged because of the occasional difficulty of obtaining eyewitnesses’ affidavits and the unwillingness of many to testify in court (especially in gang-related violence), as well as the use of the self-defense plea. If no one comes forward with enough information to arrest all those who shot up a Florida funeral parlor last Friday, wounding fourteen and killing two, no one I fear will care all that much. Again, the apparent problem in the Martin case was that the one who was not immediately charged was white — and that again made it symbolic of supposedly larger pathologies.

3. George Zimmerman allegedly used a racial slur caught on tape. I say allegedly since the recording is scratchy and unclear. Yet we know the deceased self-identified himself on his twitter account with the N-word. One problem in this case is that everyone did not realize that someone not black who may have or have not invoked a racial slur is thereby rightly suspect — whereas one who is black may use racial slurs aplenty with impunity, understood as they are as terms of intimacy or endearment. When whites, remember, use racial epithets, it is symptomatic of larger pathologies; when blacks do, it enters the realm of sociological exegesis. It does not matter that there are social implications to young black males referring to each other with the infamous N-word — from matters of proverbial self-esteem to lowering the bar for the usage of such a slur by others. It matters only that non-blacks accept that they will hear the N-word frequently in rap lyrics, in movies, on some radio, and in colloquial speech and that they nevertheless realize that the omnipresent smear has not in fact now transmogrified into mere slang.

4. George Zimmerman, we are told, had credit problems. He had brushes with the law. He apparently displayed in the past a bad temper. All that was considered to be necessary background information to understand his motives on the night of the shooting. Trayvon Martin was suspended from school three times, for allegedly possessing drug paraphernalia, defacing school property with obscene graffiti, and possessing items not his own, as well as posting on the internet some disturbing references to apparent criminal activity. All such information was announced to be irrelevant to the issue of whether Martin may have provoked a fight, broken Mr. Zimmerman’s nose, or pounded the latter’s head into the pavement. Such background information about Martin was considered character assassination — that about Zimmerman a key to his criminal psyche. Whether such distinctions were predicated on the fact that Mr. Martin was black and Zimmerman white, or, conversely, that Mr. Martin was shot in the altercation and Mr. Zimmerman shot him, is not entirely clear.

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