Dear Reader (and those of you porn-seekers who accidentally opened this “news”letter thinking it was the Morning Jolt),
I knew yesterday wasn’t going to be productive when Cosmo woke me up at 5:15 in the morning for no other discernible reason than he wanted to go downstairs and was afraid to do so in the dark. He’s no coward, he’s just getting eccentric in his old age, so I indulged him.
But first, in the spirit of Obama stimulus math, I did or saved 500 push-ups, as I do every morning (you wouldn’t believe how many push-ups I’ve saved), and went downstairs to work. After pecking at the keyboard for a bit – less than fruitfully, like a Chinatown tic-tac-toe chicken – I turned on the TV to discover that Bikini Frankenstein was on. It looked like a fascinating film, and judging from the IMDB page it is. Not only does Mary Shelley get a co-writer credit, but the plot keywords are, again according to IMDB, “Lesbianism,” “Sex,” “Female Nudity,” “Lesbian Sex,” and “Beautiful Woman.”
Note the total absence of “Existentialism,” “Extraordinary Rendition,” “Income Inequality,” and “Islamaphobia.”
No wonder it was ignored by the academy.
Un-American for Thee, but Not for Me!
Anyway, productivity wasn’t improved when I got sucked into watching the Senate inquisition of the oil-company CEOs.
The most dramatic aspect of the hearings was probably the assault on the CEO of ConocoPhillips, James Mulva (insert your own Seinfeld joke here). The company issued a press release headlined “ConocoPhillips Highlights Solid Results and Raises Concerns Over Un-American Tax Proposals at Annual Meeting of Shareholders.”
In response, Sens. Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer acted as if Mulva had personally turned them into the House Un-American Activities Committee (which was created by liberals to go after German sympathizers, by the way). The press-release headline was probably ill-advised, though given how ConocoPhillips meant it, I have no problem with the gist of what they were trying to say. Singling out certain industries for what amounts to punitive taxation, simply to pander to populist paranoia, should be considered at leastnon-American. Still, as a matter of public relations, it was dumb for the company to give these guys so much rope.
But what drove me crazy was the unbridled, sanctimonious, indignant asininity from Schumer and Menendez. Here is Menendez going on a tear about how ConocoPhillips called him, personally, “un-American,” even though nothing of the sort happened. I wish Mulva had asked Menendez whether he had condemned Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer for calling town-hall protests of Obamacare “un-American.” Or whether Schumer was going to condemn People for the American Way. Or whether anyone minded when Howard Dean flatly declared that John Ashcroft was “no patriot.”
Frankly, I wish we could use the term un-American more in our politics (which is different than saying I wish we could use it promiscuously). The French refer to things being un-French 500 times a day. And I don’t just mean things like “Oh, monsieur, the cheese must be served warm and runny and taste like – how you say? – ‘the anus of a dead badger’? To eat it any other way would not be French.” The same goes for the British, the Germans (oops not a great example), and countless others.
I think that probably points to one of the reasons the term “un-American” is so radioactive here. In a country where national identity is largely synonymous with ethnic identity and history, it’s very easy to figure out what is or isn’t “un.” But in a country where national identity is creedal, it’s problematic to suggest that someone or something – other than bland platitudes about tolerance – is un-American. That speaks well of America but, in my opinion, it’s also precisely why we should be able to talk about Americanness more openly.
A second reason it’s so taboo is that liberals think the McCarthy period was so heinous, so terrible, that even liberals born decades later or completely untouched by McCarthyism still see themselves as victims of it. Of course, they always seem to forget that a great many of those “persecuted” under McCarthyism were in fact very unpatriotic people who hated this country, spied for our enemies, and then lied about it. Instead, McCarthyism has become a 60-year excuse for liberals to claim they’re persecuted.
I still laugh whenever I put ice cream between my toes and let Cosmo lick it off. But that’s not important right now. I also laugh whenever I think about the man-on-the-street interviews the New York Times did when the GOP took back Congress in 1994. Some yutz who was three years old when McCarthy was a senator said something like, “I’m worried, but I made it through the McCarthy era, so I can make it through this.”
What a trooper!
Ultimately, I think many liberals implicitly understand that they are vulnerable to the charge that they don’t like America “as is” all that much (which is why they’re often so thin-skinned about any suggestion they’re unpatriotic). Why this should be so controversial baffles me, given that the whole point of progressivism is to change America. If you don’t want to spend (and borrow!) lots of money to change your house because you like the way it is, and your wife wants to borrow-and-spend huge amounts of money to change it, a reasonable person might assume you love your house more than your wife does. What am I missing?
What Is Patriotism?
I think I might get this padding past the suits. A few months ago, I addressed the issue of patriotism for my monthly column in the magazine. Here it is, slightly abridged:
If I said, “There’s really nothing special about my wife,” you might think not only that I’m a cad, but that I don’t particularly like my wife. If my wife said, “My daughter’s fine, but she’s really no better than any other kid,” you might think she’s lacking in the maternal-love department.
Now before I continue, let me say clearly and on the record that these are hypotheticals. My wife is very special. Indeed, this is an understatement of equal magnitude to “Breathing is popular” or “Jeffrey Dahmer would make a poor high-school guidance counselor.” And though we might eschew a bumper sticker saying so, we both think our kid is better than your kid. But I don’t want to clutter this space with too much romantic or paternal treacle.
This illustrates a truth about how love works. At some basic level, if you love something, you must find it preferable to something else, perhaps everything else. Your reasons can be subjective, or indeed impossible to identify. I put it to you that men who marry women solely because they meet a checklist (Blond hair: Check! Green Bay Packers fan: Check!) aren’t really in love. They may grow to love their spouse, but that happens only when they come to appreciate what makes her different from a mere manifestation of categorical bullet points.
I bring this up because I continue to be amazed by the bizarre obsession liberal intellectuals have with “American exceptionalism.” Deeply offended by Marco Rubio’s claim that America is the greatest country on earth, my friend Peter Beinart recently proclaimed in the Daily Beast that American exceptionalism is a “lunatic notion.” Michael Kinsley, meanwhile, was so flabbergasted by the stupidity of voters who opposed Obama that he saw fit to pen an essay for Politico titled “U.S. Is Not Greatest Country Ever.”
Now, never mind that America meets at least most of the objective criteria on my checklist for greatest country ever. Never mind that the U.S. should do pretty well on any sincere liberal’s rundown, too. Also, put aside the fact that the idea of America’s exceptional nature is a rich and deep subject of political literature going back to not only Tocqueville, but the Federalist, Edmund Burke, and even Marx and Engels.
What I find fascinating is the emotional and psychological animus against the contention that America is special. Few subjects elicit more rage and condescension than the simple, lovely idea that America is uniquely . . . American, and lovably so. Indeed, whenever conservatives talk about American exceptionalism, liberals react as if we were speaking German in the 1930s.
But these same liberals fulminate with bile whenever it is hinted or suggested that liberals are somehow lacking in patriotism. Well, if, in admittedly simplistic terms, patriotism means love of country, what else are we supposed to think when liberals pooh-pooh any suggestion that America is special? When Barack Obama says that America is no more exceptional than any other country, how is that different from me saying my wife is no more special than any other woman? Yes, such statements can be defended from the vantage points of abstraction, relativism, or some arbitrary criterion. But how can they be defended in the light of love? Indeed, Obama sometimes sounds like a managerial expert who accidentally ended up running America, when he would have been perfectly happy with an assignment elsewhere.
I am not saying that all liberals do not love America. What I am saying is that they are hopelessly confused about how to think about, and, therefore, express, their love of it. My advice: Start with baby steps. Find one nice new thing to say about America every day. It might be hard at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
And then, when the hearings were over, I got swept up in the raw sexual excitement of Mitt Romney’s health-care speech in Michigan.
Look, I feel sorry for Romney. I think he’s an eminently decent, smart, and dedicated public servant. But as the editors ably note, his defense of Romneycare just won’t fly.
I’ve gotten some grief from folks for beating up on his federalism defense: As I’ve been a champion of federalism for years, I should celebrate Romney’s claim that he was doing what was right for Massachusetts.
There are a lot of problems with this argument. But let me just focus on a couple. First, there’s nothing inherent to federalism that bars me from criticizing state-based policies if I think they’re bad. I think Vermont has every right to ban smoking, Walmart, kitty litter, and R-rated movies. But that doesn’t mean I must say they made the right call. Second, Romney’s explanation of what Romneycare did is almost interchangeable with an accurate explanation of what Obamacare does. If you believe that Obamacare’s biggest fault isn’t its tax hikes or raiding Medicare, but its transformation of the individual’s relationship with the state, then hiding behind federalism isn’t a very good defense, particularly when you’re less than honest about the similarities between your state plan and the national-level one you swear must be repealed.
Various and Sundry
My column today is on the Obama administration’s effort to exploit bin Laden’s death for his “big things” agenda. I’m weary of discussing liberalism as an extended application of William James’s notion of “the moral equivalent of war,” but every time I stop Obama does something else that proves me right.
Real-estate savings on the ice planet Hoth.
Back to pecking at the keyboard . . .