Thursday, April 17, 2008

Demagogy, of the Very Best Sort

When I take up a person, Mr. Lyndon, he, or she, is safe. There is no question about them anymore. My friends are the best people. I don't mean they're the most virtuous, or, indeed, the least virtuous, or the cleverest, or the stupidest, richest or best born. But, the best. In a word, people about whom there is no question.
--Lord Hallam, Barry Lyndon

Prison has changed me. I understand the common man in a way I never did before. I've got to get out of here, so I can bring joy to the men back in here. But I don't want to live with them.
--Dewey Cox

She only goes out with the upper set. She leaves the lower set in a glass on the nightstand.
--Benny Hill

Too bad we the public cannot conspire, away from the calculating gaze of the political/media class, to pay no heed at all to "gaffes." To starve them once and for all of the raw material of manufactured controversy, a random bludgeon of opportunity that only serves to introduce an element of caprice into politics and further chill our already tepid national discourse. No, occasional disciplinary lapses into honesty should be encouraged and welcome for what they often are: the brief lifting of the veil of rhetorical obscurity between the people and the governing elite.

Politicians must flatter always, and being an exceptional politician our latest to mistake his mouth for a shoe flatters with exceptional skill. Flattery is the tonic of the fugue that is the Obama fantasia (it goes something like this: "America produced the wonder that is Barack Obama's candidacy; thus America is great; for America to be greater the wonder that is Barack Obama's candidacy must succeed; America produced the wonder that is Barack Obama's presidency..."). That's why venue is important here: a politician flattering his own is the closest thing we get to a public assertion of that faction's prejudices and psychoses. You don't discourage this talk. You buy the sap a drink, nod approvingly and speak just enough to keep him going.

Senator Obama said nothing he hasn't said a thousand coded times before, assuring one group its resentment of another is proof of its righteousness. There are two distinct groups he must appease with demagogy, blacks and self-styled liberals; the same bogeyman template works well for both: gun-toting, God-fearing, white. The Wonder Brother could give the Clinton in this race a lesson in triangulation.

Yes, Obama's "gaffe" is evidence of elitist disdain, but it distinguishes him in no way from his peers. Exacting a political price for it is a sort of censorship, nothing more, and only serves to sink us further into obscurity. Barack Obama said nothing he and the political class doesn't take so much for granted that occasionally they will let it slip: the conservative white middle class is another nation with conflicting interests. They are to be humored and isolated politically, wherever possible, but, rest assured, they will not upset the order and progress of things. Their concerns are the delusional product of their ignorance and mean state, born of inferiority. But we can still congratulate ourselves for the enlightened pity we feel for them.

There is even a place for them in the Democratic Party, in whatever residual economic populism is left there, provided they accept a legally and morally subordinate position assigned by race and sex, and forfeit any claim to community by, among other things, assenting to the flooding of their communities and job markets with illegally in-sourced foreign labor that is overwhelmingly minority and therefore, immediately upon taking the citizenship that the party asserts is the only just thing at this point, takes its place ahead of them in the party's hierarchy of grievance. That this process is seen as strengthening the party's hand is openly acknowledged as the reason it should be national policy (as it does for a more delusional Republican Party), despite, or perhaps in the end because of, its aggravation of everything the party affects to oppose: low wages, increasing health care costs, educational disparities, wealth stratification, environmental degradation.

This group's recourse is to be humored by the Republican Party, still peddling the myth that there has been a conservative ascent in the years since Reagan, a period of exponential growth in government and illegal immigration, liberal intervention as a tenet of foreign policy (and as a ready pretext for military aggression), of collapsing sexual mores and ballooning debt, a period in which the sense of national interest was replaced by globalist dogma; a period wherein any significant challenge to the constitutional obscenity of affirmative action has had to come from the grassroots, of the rise of a system of "civil rights" litigation that imposes legal racial inequality and drains millions from the productive economy in a continual shake-down and, finally, a disastrous and criminal war supported by a culture of militarism. But, alas, our sacred cows always die of old age. As the cinematic sociopath asks his victim just before killing him: "If the path you have chosen led you here, of what use was the path?" Good question, getter better the more it appears the fat days of low oil prices and high growth are nearly spent, rendering our self-congratulatory triumphalism hollow, shrill and dangerous. That politicians flatter us speaks worse of us than it does of them.

But the contempt of the elite isn't the thing (and isn't anything new). It's the source of that contempt--substantive political differences confounding goals. Rather than indulging in affected indignation and demanding contrition (it only leads to further embarrassment for us all; I think I saw Barack giving foot chase to a pickup truck with a rifle rack today, shouting a populist theme) we should recognize, despite, for instance, Obama's genius for exploiting divisions while pretending to negate them, that we remain a nation of factions competing for power.

So I say: emote on in splendid vacuity, Senator Obama, rouse that rabble, low and high (be they gilded garishly a-tooth or with tasteful reserve); regale us with war stories, Senator Clinton, we'll give them the same wide berth we give Grandpa's tall tales; Senator McCain, not as if any prompting is needed, but go ahead and lift your phlegmatic voice in blood-lusting song parody. Buzz the tower of our sensibilities, Maverick. Let fly the one-liners. May they proceed truer and find a gentler end than the ill-fated mounts of your youth.
Let us don our pastel sweater vests and declare that we are all in the Trust Zone; there is no disapproval here. Alas, what fun it would be.

And let's be gentle then with il principe precoce, Senator Obama, in whom we may soon be entrusting a nation in crisis (and who may very well be the best choice in a dismal field). Seeing as logic is of no use to us in understanding the inexplicable phenomenon that is Obama, a phenomenon of which the man is only a part, it is unreasonable to expect him, giving up perspective to his immersion and vanity, to understand it any better. He can't see the forest for the trees. But we should try to see those trees as he sees them.

We must try to imagine the unconditional adulation that greets him, everywhere he goes, often within the walls of intoxicating wealth and privilege. The intimacy with which people accept you, the sensual pleasure they take in subordinating themselves to you. Every woman surrendering, every man deferring. No ritual abasement enforced by kings, coming as it does under ultimate threat of violence, can rouse the vanity like the willing surrender of the American cult of celebrity.
Somehow he has to sublimate the revulsion that, if he's lucky, he's still able to muster, at the pathetic nature of the reverent, at their willful obliviousness, at the ease with which he seduces them. There must be a by-product of this perverse interaction, of the innumerable adoring the one. Something must be done with the disdain produced. It probably helps to transfer it to your political enemies. To feed that insatiable fire. This strikes me as consistent with human nature.

But it is the object of Senator Obama's disdain that stands out. Those white Midwesterners represent the hereditary line that is his true "race and inheritance", encompassing as it does his cultural as well as genetic history. This is not only lost on us, it appears to be lost on Obama. One hopes that it is. If he's going to be president I'd rather he be ignorant of such self-loathing and not struggling with it.

It is a curious thing how utterly some abandon the central liberal tenet of culture over race in the case of Barack Obama. By no liberal standard is he significantly a black American, growing up in a comfortable white environment miles from the presumed racism of the mainland. He lays claim to a genetic birthright. Things get stranger as you realize that Barack betrays a sensibility that is the product of a distinctly unappealing privileged white conceit--affected self-loathing brandished as piety and status. You'd think that all that time spent hanging around black men would have at least taught him, as Steve Sailer pointed out, that brothers don't dis their mamas. They don't dis their origins either. In other words, mighty white of you, Barry.

We must remember that no man or woman can be expected to maintain perspective in a situation such as Obama's. For nearly every single one of us, this circumstance would confirm for us the long-standing suspicion that we are singularly unique. That's not to say there aren't still those among us who would have the decency to recognize, despite the lure of an unimaginable opportunity, they have no business being president. It's just that they, and the value of modesty they represent, are irrelevant. Whatever pretense our permanent government previously made of the necessity for an experienced and capable chief executive was finally discarded in whole with the Republican Party's nomination of George W. Bush. We the people endorsed that, and we endorsed its awful consequences. Some disdain is earned. There are no heroes in this piece.

The tragedy of George W. Bush is, ultimately, the tragedy of an individual man's vanity. Not even his most fervent supporters made any pretense of expertise, experience or intellect, offering instead his impatience with these as a virtue. The greater the power the lesser the president, seems to be the trend. Ours is the tragedy of a man offered unearned power and unwilling to do the only decent thing--refuse. If he is truly unable to recognize his lack of fitness, then his vanity is all the greater and more tragic. But it's a new sort of value in modern America, the notion that ambition justifies itself. If Barack Obama becomes president and exacerbates the crisis created by his unfortunate predecessor, it will be because he too had no business being president and hadn't the decency to know it.
What's our excuse?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hazard? What Moral Hazard?

Let's twist again, like we did last summer
Let's twist again, like we did last year

--Chubby Checker, Let's Twist Again

In understanding the madness of our entanglement in Iraq I find it helps to reject out of hand everything the administration says and ignore the distorted center of polite opinion maintained by the corporate press, while continually reminding yourself that the point of the occupation is the occupation. For all of the shifting goals and serial failure, what we have, still, is less a war seeking resoultion than a committed government enterprise experiencing cost overruns.

The administration has shown admirable resourcefulness in utilizing its very failures to obscure and further, even now, its intentions. But no matter how much our might has degraded our sense of national responsibility, I suspect that to operate on the premise that regardless of everything we must remain in Iraq to prevent the consequences of our invading Iraq, while refusing to impeach those responsible for this deadly chain of causality, indeed, while so much as an apology to the people of Iraq is absolutely out of the question, a notion for marginal cranks, must come with its own unanticipated consequences.

The prospect of losing Iraq’s oil to nationalization under a hostile government allied with a strengthened Iran was no more anticipated than the need for 150,000 besieged troops five years on–-to maintain what at this point was supposed to be a fraction of that number, welcome and paid for out of Iraq’s properly developed oil reserves. Still we behave as if the failure of the administration’s designs are evidence they never existed. Where then is all this oil, some have asked straight-faced.
But its failures only reveal the administration’s Iraq project as a hopeless gambit mistaken for a sure thing. This crime, of incompetence, too goes unpunished. A nation that produces and accepts this can be described as neither just in its relations with others nor sensibly self-regarding. But the faithful denial of these things is a requirement of public office or stature in the media. We have made a religion of the evasion of responsibility.

The pretences of the war have fallen away one by one, like the insubstantial bunting they were, but our purpose in Iraq is revealed by precisely where it is we will not allow tribes to defy the government, in contrast to our arming and encouragement of Sunni insurgents elsewhere: in Basra, the prize within the prize that is Iraq’s oil. But in this our first postmodern war, the pretences just keep presenting themselves anew, failure is construed as success and the public lives at one ironic remove from reality. A war of plunder is just so obvious.

If we truly sought “political reconciliation” and mere “stability” we would, obviously, be attempting to reconcile Muktada al-Sadr, as a leader with popular legitimacy who has demonstrated political competence and even a good deal of helpful restraint, with his Shia adversaries within the government. Despite the habitual characterization of al-Sadr as a violent agent of Iran’s mullahs what actually distinguishes him from those we ally with is his categorical rejection of an American presence. If we were seeking simply reconciliation our work would be much easier, and Iran’s role would be welcome and encouraged. Our lies carry as much truth as they can bear; we seek a political accommodation alright, but it must serve our ends. We are submitting Iraq to a peculiarly American absurdity, the “conversation”; as in, we’re going to have a “conversation” until you come around to my point of view, even if it kills us (think of our recurring “national conversation about race”).

This year, like the last time General Petraeus testified before Congress, the deliberately provocative charge of American blood on Iranian hands was leveled, when Senator Lieberman’s helpful reach-around prompted General Petraeus to enthuse that, yes, Iran may be indirectly responsible for “hundreds” of US casualties. Moments later he would celebrate our erstwhile mortal enemies among the Sunni, their responsibility for thousands of American deaths, unlike the circumstances of Iran’s “proxy war”, direct and well-documented.

The assumption that, despite the grave moral error of invading and destroying Iraq, America retains objective moral legitimacy there while Iran, despite sharing a border and recent war with Iraq, categorically has none, reveals a disturbing inability to think morally or coherently about the United States abroad. That the public has gone beyond unwilling to become quite unable to recognize this grand moral contradiction and its immense consequences betray us as a people degenerating into catastrophic self-delusion.