Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford must appear in court two days after running for a vacant congressional seat to answer a complaint that he trespassed at his ex-wife’s home, according to court documents acquired by The Associated Press on Tuesday. > more ... (0 comments)
So she says. I’m amused, I must say. I’ve read a ton of Vidal over the years and I’d say I’m a fan. He’s quite a bit more witty and interesting than so many of his contemporaries who basically just wrote about male sexual neuroses with a scholarly facade (cough, cough, Updike). Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series is really a towering achievement of American literature, though sadly not quite as revered as it should be. Bachmann’s criticism is stupid, added to the fact that it’s stupid to change your politics because one person says something you don’t like. It’s true that Vidal takes the piss out of the Founding Fathers in Burr, as well as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt in Empire, and so on. But Bachmann seems to think that Vidal’s attacks on American mythology are an attack on America itself, which is not true.
It’s not a new observation to say that history and politics are very closely related. Orwell made this a theme in 1984. The Tea Party activists believe their legitimacy comes from sharing political views with the Founding Fathers, but they ignore the many differences in ideology that exist between themselves and the Fathers, the fact that the Fathers disagreed amongst themselves on many things, and that the government-centric reformist tradition began at about the same time as the libertarian one did. I’m guessing these guys don’t like Hamilton. What Vidal’s books do is to try to understand the actual people in American history as people instead of as symbols, and to try to learn about America from them. Aaron Burr represents the slighted nobility and imperial destiny of America in Vidal’s view, as well as its selfishness. Lincoln is presented as a flawed man who makes many poor decisions and has shortcomings as a person, but that just makes his strength of resolve and character so much more powerful. Sure, there are depictions of revered figures in American history that are harsh–it’s hard to imagine a more dark portrayal of Thomas Jefferson than the one in Burr, but as Vidal himself notes in the afterword, that’s mostly because Burr felt slighted by Jefferson and had reason to feel that way. And later there’s Washington, D.C., a novel that so impressively nails so much of the insanity of our politics that it feels completely contemporary after decades. (It might be the first place where Washington is referred to as a village, presaging a blog meme, and it predicts Frank Rich by having its major political opinion-maker character be a theater critic.) The series sort of sputters to a close as Vidal lets his anger sour the ending, and his ever-growing bitterness over the past few decades has left him marginalized, and perhaps rightly. And Vidal treats some historical figures a bit unfairly, like Teddy Roosevelt. But in the early books Vidal’s cynicism is merely affected: the books are driven for a love of America as it was before we slipped into the trap of empire, and a very specific sense of what we lost in the process. Its nostalgia and cultural conservatism exist alongside a generally liberal bent, so there is space for both the old right and the old left in Vidal’s vision: Herbert Hoover and Henry Wallace are both favorably treated here. Vidal possesses a singular and rich vision, and one I fully intend to revisit at some point in the future.
I think the response Bachmann had to Vidal’s work more or less vindicates his thesis. Bachmann, like most conservatives, appreciates the Founding Fathers not as people who lived, did stuff, and deserved to be praised or mocked for that stuff, but as sancrosanct symbols of American mythology that should never be criticized or spoken of in less than reverent tones. This is exactly Vidal’s point, and why he wrote the books, because this sort of hero-worship prevents anything other than the shallowest interpretation of our history. Perhaps he’s too gleeful in tearing down the old mythology while creating his new one, I might give her that. But at least in Vidal’s books, history is created by interesting people with complicated personalities and conflicting motives, credit is given to whom it is due, and much the same occurs with blame. In Bachmann’s view, the Founding Fathers did a bunch of noble stuff because they were Good Men, ’twas ever thus. How the slaves factor into her view I wouldn’t care to guess. Why she wants to keep the real people in history from having their voices heard is most likely because she doesn’t actually care about what her ancestors and her country really went through, especially if it gets in the way of her preferred narratives. Evidently, this is what passes for patriotism in this day and age.
I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of Scott Brown. I think he benefited big-time from sexism in the 2010 Senate race, and I think he would have lost to a man who ran a similar campaign as Martha Coakley. Coakley sucked, it must be admitted. But just tell me that a female candidate who had done a tasteful nude pictorial and made as many mistakes on policy as Brown did would (a) have ever been taken seriously as a politician, and instead have become an instant punchline or (b) would have defeated a man as aloof as Coakley was. I just don’t see it. Much was made of Coakley insulting Red Sox fans, but John Kerry carried Wisconsin even after referring to Lambeau Field as Lambert Field. Still, Brown hasn’t been too bad as a senator, which means this is inevitable:
Senator Scott Brown’s decision to buck his party leadership in recent days on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy and on a nuclear arms treaty has set off a new wave of anger among some of the activists who helped elect him — and renewed talk among conservatives that he might face a primary challenge. [...]
[T]he threat of a primary challenge from conservatives — as well as the potential that national Tea Party groups will withhold financial support — appears to have grown, according to the movement’s activists. Brown’s votes in the past week follow his crucial support for the overhaul of financial regulations, which remains a particular sore point with conservatives.
Steve has it right: “It’s as if the right really did think it was electing a Massachusetts version of Jim DeMint.” But it’s worth noting that if Brown had actually voted that way, he would certainly not be one of the most popular senators in the country. What’s more, this idea assumes that Republicans are motivated more by arguments on public policy than by cultural reasons, such as angry resistance to social progress. Matt Yglesias makes the connection to Delaware, but I don’t buy it. Brown’s success was that he bonded culturally with the right wing while not being of it, thanks to his denunciations of health care reform, which made no objective sense (HCR is good for Massachusetts but bad for the country because only states can handle it?) but which struck a chord with the right. Mike Castle always positioned himself as an avowed centrist aloof from the right wing. Of course, Brown’s and Castle’s policies are substantially the same, and their votes are pretty similar. But Castle was defeated by Christine “Not A Witch” O’Donnell in the primaries, while Brown still enjoys considerable prestige among Republicans. Tell me that Republicans only care about stances on public policy!
Of course, a primary challenge to Brown could weaken him for the general, and since Massachusetts is losing a congressional seat he’s going to have at least one determined opponent with nothing to lose. Plus, 2012 is a presidential year, and plenty of Republicans lost in 2008 because they couldn’t handle the crosscurrents of mollifying the right and alienating the center on the issue of supporting their national ticket (former Rep. Chris Shays comes to mind). Brown could still win, though, as he is quite popular. Incidentally, has it escaped anyone’s notice that the lame duck proposals with Brown’s support (like DADT repeal and START) wound up passing with votes to spare, while the big-ticket item he notably didn’t support (DREAM) failed? It’s not like you can make that case exclusively–Snowe and Collins voted the same as Brown in these cases–but it makes me wonder if Brown is one of the few Republicans who can legitimately said to have a following and influence among other senators on the right. If not, then he at least has impeccable timing in supporting these things right before they hit critical mass. It’s conceivable, at least, that he has pull, which I hope bodes well for his health care work with Ron Wyden.
Looking ahead, I don’t think it’s very plausible that Scott Brown would be the GOP’s 2016 candidate. Such a move would alienate pro-lifers, which is to say, practically the entirety of the Republicans’ activist corps. Without the pro-lifers on board, the GOP suddenly becomes a party with lots of money but no bodies on the ground, and my observation has been that money can rally supporters and confuse the public, but it cannot convince nor persuade, and you just can’t buy volunteers. So national office is probably not in the cards for Brown. And he doesn’t seem to have the right profile for the Massachusetts governorship. But if he sticks around, and if my theory is right, it’s not impossible that he could ascend to the Senate Republicans’ leadership, and possibly reorient the GOP along the lines of his own philosophy. Who knows? For the first time, I wonder if we could be looking at the Republicans’ Bill Clinton.
- Emily Hauser has a funny, contrarian (which is to say positive) review of Gulliver’s Travels. I haven’t seen the movie, but I sense that she’s got a lot of the critics nailed here. It often annoys me when critics judge something based on what they wanted it to be, instead of what the creators wanted it to be.
- A list of 24 songs that nearly ruin otherwise great albums. It includes “Revolution 9″ from The White Album, which I suppose is why “When I’m Sixty-Four” (i.e. the one that immediately came to my mind when I saw the title) is not there, ’cause The Beatles were already covered. But the Dylan pick (“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35″) is extremely apt. I’ve always loved Dylan and hated that song, and never understood its popularity.
- The tragedy of Green Day, in less than 140 characters.
I really love following the new statistics for how people perceive the relative prevalence of violent crime.
The FBI’s semiannual uniform crime report shows that reports of violent crime dropped 6.2 percent from January to June and property crime reports were down 2.8 percent.
The dip in reported crimes follows a three-year trend of decreasing crime rates despite a sagging economy.
According to the FBI, murders dropped 7.1 percent in the first six months of 2010 while robberies decreased by 10.7 percent. Reports of vehicle thefts also dropped by 9.7 percent.
The murder rate is now half of what it was in 1980. There have been reasonably steady increases decreases in virtually all measures of property crimes and violent crimes since 1992. Yet Gallup polls show that in every year in that period except for 2001 and 2002, the majority (and usually the overwhelming majority) of Americans believed the crime rate had gone up over the last year.
Above all other canards, the public’s continual inability to dispassionately learn the facts and come to the appropriate conclusion on this issue helps to explain a lot of what goes on in the average Fox News viewer’s mind.
It’s not just that people are too busy to learn the truth (as most of the punditocracy would have you believe).
In reality, most folks derive far too much spiritual comfort from living withing a familiar, fixed worldview that has calcified around them over time. In order to satisfy and cultivate this comfort, these people actively avoid any news, opinion, facts or studies to the contrary. Far too many people have been conditioned to derive a sick sort of pleasure from seeing themselves as wounded victims. Regardless of the root cause, this sort of sociological persecution complex all too often leads these spiritual masochists to seek out fear-peddling outlets like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck because they provide an easy channel of self-validating anxiety.
Are the New Black Panthers going to come to Podunk, USA and harass my virginal 18-year-old daughter? Of course they are.
Is our President really a secret Al-Qaeda sympathizer dedicated to the elimination of American Christianity? Of course he is.
Is the tidal wave of illegal immigration going to spill over my small town outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming and result in beheadings and kidnappings? Of course it is.
Are we experiencing the worst wave of violent crime and lawlessness in decades? Of course we are!
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