I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue! – Barry Goldwater, 1964 Republican National Convention
Last night I found myself watching an old Twilight Zone re-run during that no-man’s land hour when it’s too early to go to sleep, but too late to be up. It was your typical Rod Serling fare: a man finds himself on the deck of British ocean liner and has no idea how he got there. All the man can remember is that his name is Carl Lanser and that he was born in Frankfurt. He also seems to have a preternatural understanding of u-boats and a slight German accent. It’s 1942, so the ship’s transatlantic voyage is in danger of attack from roaming wolfpacks of u-boats. Lanser somehow knows that something bad is going to happen that night. He even knows the time that it’s going to happen, but he can do nothing about it. As he screams below decks that the u-boats are coming, no one acknowledges that he’s even there. Eventually the ship is torpedoed and they show Lanser, back on the u-boat in a Captain Lieutenant’s uniform. His second in command comes in and remorsefully informs Lanser that there were women and children on the ship they just sunk and that they gave them no warning of their attack. Lanser laughs at him and calls him weak for having sympathy towards the British. At this point, the second in command begins to wonder of they shall not be judged by God for what they have done. He imagines that they will be doomed to experience the terror and anguish that they inflicted on those innocent people, but while their victims felt that pain once, they shall be forced to relive it for eternity. The final scene is the same as the first, with Lanser confused and alone on the deck of the ocean liner, about to live his hell again.
We’re all back on the deck of that ocean liner again. You can feel the ghosts of Barry Goldwater and Joe McCarthy settling over us like a thick smog while the spirits of Know-Nothings and Jim Crow are nourished and cared for. Each and every one of us now has our “American-ness” on trial and words like freedom and justice take on static definitions dictated by those who tell us they know best. The problem is that there is no objective concept of freedom or justice or liberty or any of the “patriotic” jabber that is peppered through our modern political rhetoric. Oscar Wilde once said that patriotism is the virtue of the vicious, but I would argue that it is also the hallmark of the two-dimensional. When moderation is eschewed for extremism, compromise is flattened and debate is rendered moot. That’s the whole point. You don’t get to 1984 by thinking your way there.
During his disjointed, entertaining and occasionally insightful speech last night1, Clint Eastwood hit on this sense of deja vu and needless repetition. In the middle of his bizarre, stream-of-consciousness monologue, Clint began discussing our nation’s hawkish defense policies over the past decade or so. In one of his many “dialogues” with Invisible Obama, Eastwood remarked to the POTUS that:
“I know you were against the War in Iraq and that’s okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was, was okay. I mean, you thought that was something that was worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did there for the ten years. We did it. It’s something to be thought about.”2
Essentially, what Clint is saying is why didn’t you and Dubya do your damn homework? Anyone with a library card and reading proficiency above an 8th grade level could have figured that out. The martial history of Afghanistan is simply a list of the world’s greatest powers getting their asses handed to them. Alexander the Great would die there. Atilla the Hun was disgraced outside of Kabul. The British fought three separate wars with them during the height of their empire and still couldn’t win. And, as Clint alluded to, the Soviet Union found out just how hard it was to penetrate the Hindu Kush mountains in the 1980s. Yet, here we are. It’s been eleven years since we first invaded their pocket of the fertile crescent and we’re still there. It’s the longest military engagement in US history; even longer than Vietnam. The same thing all over again.
And if you noticed, Mitt Romney did not mention Iraq or Afghanistan once during his acceptance speech. Sure, he made sure to pander to the military-electoral complex by say that he would make our armed forces stronger than they’ve ever been, but he never said to what end and he never mentioned where those men and women have been the past 11 years. That is not an accident. Neither is the fact that George W. Bush’s name has been declared anathema within Republican walls and any recollection of his presidency has been dismantled and dispersed like filings in an Etch-A-Sketch. It is also not coincidence that yesterday’s conservative darling Sarah Palin is having her RNC interviews nixed by Fox News on the night Paul Ryan tried to set the world record for most egregious falsehoods in a Vice Presidential acceptance speech. They are busy writing their history of the past 12 years and to do that they can’t be surrounded by the totems of their failures.
At the heart of all of this is central idea that facts don’t matter. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. To listen to the right wing today, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ronald Reagan was some sort of demi-god who governed with a iron fist clad in velvet and was showered with adulation wherever he went. The facts tell us that he averaged an approval rating around 50%, presided over a recession and the single biggest market crash of the 20th century, and left office with a federal budget deficit almost three times that of what he inherited. Yet, somehow this guy is the guru of free market economics based on his myth, not his record. When I was at the Barnes & Noble today, I actually saw the cover of The Weekly Standard trumpeting the “sober wisdom of Calvin Coolidge”. This is the man whose 8 years of fiscal irresponsibility in office drove us headlong into The Great Depression and suddenly he is the arbiter of sober wisdom? Behold, the beauty of not giving credence to the truth.
It is this blatant bowdlerization of history that creates these gut-churning moments of deja vu for us. We are in stuck a cycle of misremembering which seems to complete itself exponentially faster as the years pass by. What begins as genuine anger and indignation is massaged and bleached away over the decades until an alternate history can be inserted in its place. A GM plant that closes during the Bush years is suddenly Obama’s fault, as are both wars and the economic recession he inherited. Burn all the footage of Colin Powell pointing at satellite shots of trucks in front of the UN. Weapons of mass what now? I have no idea what you’re talking about. Did you say Katrina? You mean Katrina & The Waves? Great band. Can’t believe they were a one hit wonder. No…I’m not much of a waterboarder. I like using water skis more myself. Hey, have you ever seen that video with the little squiring going around on those tiny water skis? That is just a hoot. What were we talking about again?
1In case you missed it, Clint Eastwood gave possibly the most bizarre convention speech in televised history. Most notably, Clint held a prolonged discussion with an empty chair at the RNC Thursday night, acting as if President Obama were his guest on stage. He also, on numerous occasions, had Invisible Obama give him an inaudible message to Romney, to which Clint replied, “No, I can’t tell him to do that. He can’t do that to himself.” That being said, I still maintain that during his sporadic bouts of lucidity, Mr. Eastwood made more sense than anything that come out of the mouths of Romney and Ryan. In a little under 11 minutes he advocated for immediate troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, created the Romney/Ryan campaign’s best slogan/bumper sticker, “We Own This Country”, called Joe Biden, “Kind of a grin with a body behind it,” and inadvertantly created a brilliant piece of performance art. What more can you ask for in a speech?
2Quote taken from an article written on the Hit & Run Blog on Reason.com : http://reason.com/blog/2012/08/31/can-clint-eastwood-bring-the-troops-home
Categories: US Politics