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April 20, 2005

Flyover country

Posted by Phil on April 20, 2005 10:25 AM

So two Fridays ago I taped the National Press Club panel with Ana Marie Cox, Guckert/Gannon, Matt Yglesias, and others. Of course the elephant in the room was only hinted at, which, shameful or not, was the only reason I saw to tune in.

Jim Guckert as Jeff Gannon was teflonic as ever. Watching him, it's very difficult to accept him as a person rather than an elaborate construct--only part of the reason being that so much of him is apparently constructed. He is a remarkable if not an amazing piece of work. Either his 15 minutes are up--everyone absorbed the initial hit of his existence, and he survived--or he is setting out a template for others to follow. "Admit nothing" is the new black. Ana Marie took a couple stabs at treating him with the appropriate disdain and mockery, and some audience members at the very end had clearly been awaiting their chance to lob some barbed questions, but by then "Gannon" was ensconced and merely took the 5th.

Tags would occasionally appear as a panelist talked, and Cindy said, "He's just Jeff Gannon of JeffGannon-dot-com? So anybody could be on there?" and I said, "Yeah, well, that's kinda the whole point of this." Except it wasn't, really: The issue was never, "Are bloggers journalists?" (You might as well ask, "Are golfers dentists?") The issue is whether White House officials can allow a partisan activist--even a very naughty one--to use blogging to beard his limited journalism credentials and gain White House access at the exclusion of persons with more legitimate claims to be objectively serving a broader group of citizens.

But the issue of him has been folded into the larger, bogus one of "blogging v. journalism," I guess so "real" journalists can avoid the political accusations, the icky tabloid stuff, and the rare exacta of being tagged a liberal and a homophobe. The implication is that he is not worth the consideration of serious people; I think the reality is that he was just too much to unpack.

But how about him, anyway? What in the hell is his deal? There are naked pictures of him on the Internet illegally peddling his tail (OK, I'll link it again), and after getting fingered in the White House he's on a panel (OK, a B-list panel, but still) at the National Press Club?! And we're just supposed to behave like little ladies and gentlemen? What manner of farce is this? Yet there he is, pretending to seriousness, answering only to his pretend name, declaring implicitly and without shame that it be no farce, that your eyes have deceived you, that he will not discuss the other him. And somehow, even in this scandal-addled culture, decorum dictates that everyone bite their tongues.

Which is how They have been getting away with it all along. Witch-hunt moralists in high collars and high dudgeon can rain down judgments and Old Testament fury, but anyone who calls a liar by her name is a dreadful transgressor on the public discourse--not to mention an old stick in the mud. Lies, torture, graft, corruption, deficits, robber-barony: Admit nothing. Dare them to press the attack. They won't! Liberals hate to be impolite, and relativists hate to seem self-righteous.

And now they're pressing beyond the frontier. There's Tom DeLay, first using the Schiavo thing to avoid ethics questions, then sticking with subsequent attacks on judges so far beyond its political advisability that he, Sen. John Cornyn, and Bill Frist are clearly tacking into a whole new latitude of inverse political strategery. The polling arguing against each action appears to only fuel hotter attacks on the judiciary and more open alliance with religious extremists. They are tilting at windmills and hoping everyone notices: They don't care how "unpopular" it is, they will do this for their Values. It is a Sacrifice they're willing to make, because it is Right.

This makes sense given their penchant for playing heroic martyrs and victims, and it's the only thing that makes sense politically. ("They want to lose these battles, and they need to lose them.") Their base will fan themselves in ecstasy, and those not totally alienated will begrudgingly respect their "commitment to their beliefs"--as well as waver on the whole "err on the side of righteousness" thing, because, really, who knows what awaits us in the Hereafter? Sure would hate to guess wrong and burn for eternity.

Polarization is working for them. They don't give half a damn about the half of the country who won't ever vote for them. They don't care about empowering America, only themselves. (The world, of course, can go fuck itself yesterday.) They are in a constant End Times endgame, and in this media phase, there appears to be almost nothing the Democrats can do except wait for the country to come down to earth--which it will, and we can only hope it's with a thud and not a crash.

Obstructionism isn't a platform, but sometimes it's the only practical response: It would be better to do nothing than the new bad things Republicans keep coming up with. How can we react when the reactionaries are running away with the agenda? Measured warnings about the future from careful stewards of the public interest? Pah! We want reckless action and holy self-immolation!

I'm sure I've wronged heartland folks in one rant or another. Their sturdy resistance to seeing Republican morality for the shuck that it is is a source of endless frustration, but calling them stupid won't help. Neither, apparently, do Democratic efforts to pander to them. Ironically, it appears as though Democrats are going to have to wait a bit for the middle-working classes to feel pinched enough to vote in their own self-interest: unlike those of corporate and inherited wealth, the flatlanders do vote Republican as a selfless expression of their ideals. Except for the ones who get off on all the macho horseshit, it is to the credit, I suppose, of the rest of what used to be the classic Democratic coalition of working people that they are simply not in the mood to feel disenfranchised or self-pitying. To them, there's a war on, and it's proven very difficult to tell them otherwise: that this war isn't quite what they think.

I take some comfort in the fact that I believe Bush merely heads a cult of personality with a sizable swath of voters, and he has no ideological heirs who will present as attractively as he has. He may be impatient or hot-tempered, but he doesn't seem mean. He pretends to righteousness, but everybody knows he's got a bad-boy streak. He may be maladroit and ill-spoken, but that only takes the shine off his life of elite privilege--which is what gives him the balls to blithely do whatever the fuck he wants. He's been a perfect vessel for this political moment, able to contain whatever his bundle of coalitions needed--and even he only won once, and barely. I can't think of anyone who'll take the baton as effectively. Bill Frist? Come on. Rick Santorum? Please.

It's possible the damage done in the next three-four years will be enough to guarantee something like a revolution--or maybe just a slow fade into the second tier, like England. Wouldn't that be nice? But I don't see that happening here. And with this new boogerman of reaching the oil peak, all bets would be off, anyway. Although these years of Bush II will have been wasted, it will hardly matter in the face of that reality.