Harry Hope's Saloon

This blog takes it's name from the setting for O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh -- a lousy gin-mill; a smoked-out, greasy dive where the habitues have all landed, it seems, permanently. Their lives, in each case, are paralyzed by fear and laziness. Like my own.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Acts and Words

I'm a junkie for Salon.com - subscriber, read it each day, enjoy its smart liberalism, its unembarrased intellectualism, its thoughtful essays on politics and popular culture. In the days of constant Republican assualt against the upstart president Clinton, especially during the whole, surreal, Lewinsky scandal, when every major network or cable news program, every publication of any repute, seemed to be intentionally missing what should have been the real story of the era - the entrapping sting tactics of the Starr mafia, the actual creation of conditions in which Clinton would be compelled to commit impeachable perjury - Salon was an electronic oais for me. And I'm still faithful.

So I'm trying to figure out why it is I feel rather dubious about this recent article from Mary Jacoby featuring the recollections of one of W.'s old professors at Harvard Business School. When I say that I'm dubious, I don't really mean that I disbelieve the story entirely, but some of it seems a bit ... contrived.

The moral of this story, I think, is suppposed to be that a leopard doesn't change his spots. The chortling rich-boy frat-brat in the bomber jacket, slouching disdainfully in the back of the class, spitting tobacco juice into a coke can, whom the professor recalls, is the same jerk who has been giving the whole rest of the globe, and the intellectual half of his own country (if that is anywhere near an accurate fraction), one colossal noogie. I definitely get that.

And it's important to note, as the author here implies, that Bush is a fortunate son with no sense of the old noblesse oblige, either then or now, who, if in fact did support the war in Vietnam so strongly, while avoiding the fight, as I keep hearing he did, must be essentially disconnected from his countrymen, then and now, without a moral bone in his body, and probably should not be on any city council, much less installed on the throne of all the world.

Count me among the millions in the land who feel this way. It drives us crazy that our ethical sense is so radically different from that of the millions of others out there, the evangelicals, the pharisees, the hypcrites (for so we see them). The Manichean Majority which despises thought, and believes what you proclaim (and declaim) is more important than what you do. John Kerry fought in Vietnam, but said it was wrong. Bill Clinton took a draft number but openly said he did not want to fight. Never mind the reasons. To have them, and elaborate them, can be taken as treason. We believe in acts, they believe in the redemptive power of lip service. Sin all you want, just profess your faith ... and denounce.

Of course Salon is written for us. I will read it, from the choir. Millions of others will not. So I'm wondering: what is the purpose of this Jacoby article? Reinforcement?

I don't know. But so much of it seems so pat. In this paragraph, the professor - his name is Yoshi Tsurumi - remembers (pretty lucidly) his doubts about the future president's National Guard assignment ... doubts the belligerent youth does nothing, in his cavalier gall, to dispel:

"I used to chat up a number of students when we were walking back to class," Tsurumi said. "Here was Bush, wearing a Texas Guard bomber jacket, and the draft was the No. 1 topic in those days. And I said, 'George, what did you do with the draft?' He said, 'Well, I got into the Texas Air National Guard.' And I said, 'Lucky you. I understand there is a long waiting list for it. How'd you get in?' When he told me, he didn't seem ashamed or embarrassed. He thought he was entitled to all kinds of privileges and special deals. He was not the only one trying to twist all their connections to avoid Vietnam. But then, he was fanatically for the war."

I don't know, doesn't that seem too perfect somehow? Too convenient that Professor Tsurumi has got Bush II's number so thoroughly, then and now? As I say, Salon is written for us, but to me, this story seems to be written for the least thoughtful of us, and appears therefore to be a piece of (almost) shameless agitprop.

Better, I think, was this here article by Michelle Goldberg on the American Film Rennaissance festival. The AFR provides a forum for the "beleagured" right-wing artists of America to level their sights on Michael Moore and his legions of America-slandering liberals. It includes a righteous analysis of the methods and productions of The Protest Warriors, which rather reflects the complaint I was making above. I like Goldberg's way of thinking when she writes:

Being around people who are so defensive about national greatness makes one wonder what private anxieties are driving them. True pride, after all, is rarely strident and bellicose. I suspect that, just as there's no one more homophobic than a closet case, so those most enraged by criticism of America harbor some secret suspicion that it's accurate. How else to explain a documentary like "Michael Moore Hates America"?

I like this just because it is a way of thinking. It doesn't say, "here, Comrade, is another reason for you to hate Bush and/or the right-wing bully boys ..." It gives the author's own reasons for her position. Reasons that happen to dovetail nicely with my own. It's a different kind of reinforcement - reinforcement by edification. It's more a talking about the theater of politics than participation in it, and I respect that.

And Goldeberg's suspicion calls to mind for me one of the charateristics of Ur-fascism described by Umberto Eco in his little book Five Moral Pieces:

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-fascist transfers his will to power onto sexual questions. This is the origin of machismo (which implies contempt for women and an intolerant condemnation of non-conformist sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since sex is also a difficult game to play, the Ur-fascist hero plays with weapons, which are his ersatz penis: his war games are due to a permanent state of penis envy.

[In describing "Ur-fascism," Eco means to be listing several aspects, the presence of one or two of which will bring a system of interacting human beings into the family of fascism. "Ur-fascism" means eternal fascism.]

By their works ye shall know them.


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