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On this day in 1989, once everyone stopped patting themselves on the back for bringing down the Berlin Wall, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney lamented what East German freedom would do to defense contractors in the pages of the Wall Street Journal:
G.D. pointed out the latest Gladwell article to me, and now that I’ve read it, I’m at a loss for words: rarely in the history of long-form journalism has the pitch been more obvious or the product more strained. Gladwell decided to write an article on violence in the National Football Leauge, went to his editor with his Vick-topical article and was told to run with it. The problem, of course, is that the entire article boils down to this question:
Is [football] dogfighting or is it stock-car racing?
And that question, I think we can agree, makes little sense for the simple reason that its analogy isn’t analogous. I know that blunt counterintuitive statements are a hallmark of literary journalism, but they need to be founded on something more substantial than this:
[I]s the kind of [tau deposit-induced dementia] being uncovered by McKee and Omalu [in former NFL players] incidental to the game of football or inherent in it? Part of what makes dogfighting so repulsive is the understanding that violence and injury cannot be removed from the sport. It’s a feature of the sport that dogs almost always get hurt. Something like stock-car racing, by contrast, is dangerous, but not unavoidably so.
The relevant analogy is right there—preventable injuries in Nascar versus the NFL—but had Gladwell went with that, he would have to ditch the dogfighting angle.* The problem, then, is that the once venerable New Yorker would rather be clever and topical than deeply informative. Consider, for example, the career of the go-to literary journalist for me and Ari [thanks ben and Rick, my shame will only endure until Homer stops nodding], John McPhee. His first book was about A Sense of Where You Are, was about the professional basketball player, long-tenured Senator and former Presidential candidate Bill Bradley, but was written before Bradley graduated from Princeton. McPhee did a superlative job outlining what would make Bradley successful, but he didn’t write about him because the New Yorker wanted an article about the Senatorial or Presidential candidate.
Similarly, after Katrina the magazine saw fit to print McPhee’s brilliant (and to my students, hilariously unpronounceable) essay “Atchafalaya,” which was first published in in 1987, long before most people outside of Louisiana cared about the state of the levees. My point, as you probably guessed, is that the odds of the New Yorker dipping into their archives and pulling out a Gladwell essay on the strength of its reporting or the depth of its intelligence decrease with every superficially clever, patently topical article they allow him to write and consent to publish. This isn’t to say that Gladwell is incapable of strong reportage or intellectual depth—only that that people can’t seem to convince him to slow down and write something with heft enough to be as relevant twenty years down the line as it is this week.
*I have nothing against clever analogies when they actually, you know, work. My friend Barry Siegel combined a thrilling narrative of a crashing B29 and a legal case that led to . . . something else both topical and relevant which I won’t spoil. (If you want spoilers, consult Ira Glass.)
Should you ever be interviewed by The History Channel in your office, it would be best not to have the Wikipedia entry for the topic about which they are interviewing you clearly visible on your monitor. Have a little faith in your expertise or dignity enough to close that damn tab.*
*Shamelessly stolen from my own Facebook note of a couple days past, but posted here because some member of the increasingly Duggar-esque family of The History Channel networks repeated the episode of Mega Movers in which I first noticed it . . . and because it’s sound advice.
It may have taken awhile, but thanks to Patrick Courrielche’s exposé at, of all places, Big Hollywood, conservatives are positively fuming over the Bush Administration‘s decision to funnel $2.2 billion through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives into programs that specifically support the President’s ideological and policy commitments, like the Abstinence Education Program, designed to “enable states to provide abstinence education and mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity.”
Conservatives are rightly upset with a speech Bush delivered at the 2004 White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, in which he said “[i]t’s hard to be a faith-based program if you can’t practice faith [and] the message to you is, we’re changing the culture here in America.”
“It’s hard to read his comments as anything but a call for groups to engage in a partisan campaign on behalf of the Bush Administration’s policy agenda,” argued John Hinderaker. Nick Gillespie agreed, saying that “[i]f you’ve ever wondered—and worried—about where government support of the arts leads, look no further than the full transcript of an August 10, 2009 telecon[ference call] between an official at the National Endowment for the Arts and a group of ‘independent artists from around the country.’”
Wait wait wait—I thought conservatives were upset because the White House created an office, installed it five federal agencies, then used them to fund a clearly partisan policy agenda to the tune of $2.2 billion. You mean to tell me all those links are about an August 10th conference call that tried to wrangle up support for the current President’s National Day of Service—a call in which not one cent of the NEA’s $155 million budget was dispensed or even offered?
It seems Mr. Ed Morrissey caught President Obama fibbing again. See, Michelle Obama said this:
I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong. So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and same something’s wrong. We didn’t know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. So we were terrified. He said, get to the emergency room right away.
Which the New York Times reported thus:
In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare.
So far, so consistent: something was wrong with Sasha Obama; she was brought to a pediatrician; the pediatrician told her parents she could have meningitis and advised them to take her to the hospital. But Morrissey is suspicious because
[i]n a speech to nurses just eight days earlier, Barack Obama told the story quite a bit differently (emphasis mine):
When our youngest daughter, Sasha, was diagnosed with meningitis when she was just three months old, it was one of the scariest moments of my life. And we had to have a spinal tap administered and she ended up being in the hospital for three or four days. And it was touch and go, we didn’t know whether she’d be permanently affected by it. It was the nurses who walked us through what was happening and made sure that Sasha was okay.
Well, she wasn’t diagnosed with meningitis. How hard is it to get the facts straight so that both Obamas tell the same story?
I know what you’re thinking: this is the kind of close-reading I advocate doing in posts like this. Let it be known, however, that I do not believe paying close attention to language is enough: the conclusions drawn from that analysis abide by the basic rules of logic and the English language. So let me help Mr. Morrissey out:
For purely academic reasons, I’ve never understood the argument that we should ignore Rush Limbaugh because he’s simply an entertainer who says outrageous things that millions of people are merely entertained by. I didn’t read the complete works of Silas Weir Mitchell because they were good—they are almost uniformly awful—I read them because they were popular. I was interested not in the content of his thought—it is almost uniformly mediocre—but in why his contemporaries found it so wildly appealing. If you want to learn which ideas and ideologies literate Americans in 1900 found comforting, you do not consult Henry James: you turn to the inartistic novels that parroted their prejudices back to them in a language they already understood. So when people say that we should dismiss Limbaugh on the grounds that he only says outrageous things to sell his product, I’m never quite sure why they’re more concerned with Limbaugh’s motivations than the fact that millions of Americans are buying what he’s selling.
Ignoring whatever millions of Americans are buying distorts your understanding of the American political scene whether it be 2009 or 1909. If you work on popular culture in 1909, you are limited to tracking the flight of a given idea—but if you track a given idea in 2009, your work can actually change its trajectory. You might not know exactly where exactly that idea will land yet, but you can do the political calculus required to figure out where it came from and where it’s likely to strike. If it feels like you’re tilting window fans at cannon balls from half a continent away, remember what they say about rare Chinese butterflies flapping their wings: they are less likely to be minuten-pinned by mad lepidopterists—which is beside the point. The point, as one prominent Beatles apologist recently argued, is that cultural studies can be an important fan so long as we aim it at the right cannonball.
In this case, the important issue is not that Limbaugh is a racist who makes racist statements, but that those statements resonate with his audience so powerfully. Consider, for example, that he feels no compulsion to qualify his sarcastic call for segregated busing:
(Up to the dating: The stupid, it along the lines of burns!)
Via someone named “davenoon,” I learn that someone named Dan Riehl recently encountered some black people who “were technically thugs.” What did these “technically thug[gish]” black people do? “There was no confrontation,” Riehl informs his readers, but “there were maybe ten or so” of them in the bus, which is about nine or so more than is required to trigger a flight-or-flight response in folks like Riehl. Somehow, he managed to keep it together long enough to hear what these “pretty young, not that big” black “kids” were saying, which he transcribed for the sensitive ears of his readers thusly:
Without resorting to the poor diction it was along the lines of, these are the people who think Obama is the anti-Christ.
Why these “pretty young, not that big [black kids who] were technically thugs” resorted along the lines of the poor diction Riehl employs is, I confess, a bit confusing. Along the lines of this confusing is also why Riehl admits, mid-sentence, that he believes these black kids are “the people who think Obama is the anti-Christ.” I could see along the lines of Riehl resorting to the transparent racism of equating Obama with the anti-Christ, but I can’t understand why he would attribute that belief to the “pretty young, not that big [black kids who] were technically thugs.”
I believe the problem is that Riehl believes they are “technically thugs,” when clearly the problem is that they are only “technically thugs,” meaning that they’re not thugs at all, but well-dressed young black conservatives on their way to celebrate Glenn Beck Day along with the likes of Dan Riehl. But that is just me resorting to the good hypothesis about the poor diction without seeing what exactly what they said was along the lines of, which was this:
That McCain he wasn’t chit.
It seems Riehl needs glasses, because it sounds like he was seated in front of ten or so terrible caricatures of Latino gangstas or, given how poor his ear for dialogue is along the lines of, possibly the Clay Davis family reunion. Fortunately for all involved, these kids who were only “technically thugs” behaved as kids who are only “technically thugs” do:
It went on but not really to a level that was so loud, or so confrontational that it needed to be addressed.
By “it,” Riehl means “they,” but don’t chalk that “it” up to poor diction: for Riehl and those like him, all black kids, even when they’re “pretty young [and] not that big,” are “technically thugs” and, as such, are undeserving of a pronoun that refers along the lines of people instead of things.
In the comments to Eric’s post about underrated historical novels, I pointed out that there is a problem with talking about the “historical novel” as a self-evident genre. I did not, however, go into much detail as to why, because I covered the topic on my qualifying exams and the less said about that experience the better. But since Eric asked so nicely, I will oblige and show you why this discussion’s so painfully tangled.
Short version: Its knots all sport thorns.
Long pedantic version:
Only they aren’t: they’re critical.
The word “skeptical” functions as a subject complement in this clause. The particular complement here is a predicate adjective: the adjective “skeptical” describes an attribute of the subject “critics.” But hidden beneath that grammatical nicety is an utter falsehood.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “critic” is “one who pronounces judgment on any thing or person; esp. one who passes severe or unfavorable judgment; a censurer, fault-finder, caviller.” Someone who is “skeptical,” however, is “inclined or imbued with [an] attitude of doubt or incredulity as to the truth of some assertion or supposed fact.” Because a critic has already pronounced a severe or unfavorable judgment, he can no longer be considered an honest skeptic because he has ceased doubting by acting upon truths not in evidence.
Dishonest skeptics, then, would be those who act upon their doubts because there exists no fact powerful enough to compel them to shuck their skeptical posturing. They are critics for whom skepticism is a convenient prop employed in the service of their criticism; and because they only doubt those truths uttered by those they criticize, their skepticism is not dispositive but tactical. They are not “disposed” to doubt so much as they doubt all statements of a political nature made by those they oppose irrespective of the truth or falsity of their claims. So:
“Critics are skeptical of the President’s claim that it is raining.”
That won’t be heard because the content of the statement is apolitcal, so dishonest skeptics will accept it on its face. However:
“Critics are skeptical of the President’s claim that it has rained more this year than last.”
This statement will compel dishonest skeptics to disbelieve its content, not because it is true or false, but because it could be implicated in a larger political discussion about global warming or the progress of stimulus-aided improvement to the capital grounds. However, had that second statement been made by someone who is himself a dishonest skeptic, his fellows in skeptical dishonesty would concur because, even if it were implicated in a larger political discussion, it would be speaking on behalf of their agenda.
These dishonest skeptics are not skeptical: they are unabashedly and unashamedly critical. By predicating an attribute to them that they do not actually possess, news organizations mask ideological rigidity behind a scrim of cautious deliberation.
All of which is only to say that if I don’t stop watching the news in the morning, these papers will never be graded, that cover letter will never be written, this writing sample will never be revised . . .
After I linked to his post about Ted Kennedy’s funeral, Patrick asked what I’d think were the grandchild of a hypothetical conservative to say this at the funeral:
Dear God, for what my grandpa called the causes of his life, the privatization of social security and the construction a robust missile defense shield, we pray to the Lord.
My response, as indicated by the title, is that funerals are about the lives of the deceased, and if the deceased was a Senator who devoted his life to privatizing social security and constructing a robust missile defense shield, I’d have no problem with those issues being raised at his funeral. But it would sound tacky, not because I disagree with those policy initiatives, but because this hypothetical conservative dedicated his life to wonky policy initiatives. Were those initiatives less wonky, the prayer would sound less tacky. Consider:
Dear God, for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, the eradication of hunger in Africa, we pray to the Lord.
When prayed for, big and noble causes sound big and noble. So, too, do some specific issues concerning otherwise wonky initiatives. Consider:
Dear God, for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, the preservation of the Santa Ana sucker fish habitat, we pray to the Lord.
Praying for the preservation of a land and species to which the deceased felt great affinity sounds respectable, if a bit silly, because of our reverence for outdoorsmen like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, who are themselves respectable, if a bit silly. The more wonkish the issue to which the deceased committed his life, the more likely it is that intercessionary prayers on his or her behalf will sound tacky. But as it was the deceased who chose to devote his or her life to an issue that will make for some tacky intercessionary prayers, the living can do precious little if they wish to remain respectable.
If I spent my life rewriting the tax code, and if, on my deathbed, the rewriting of the tax code was imminent, I would hope that my relatives thought enough of me to say a prayer on my behalf that represented my fondest desire at my funeral. It would sound tacky, but so what? My funeral should be about me, my life, my accomplishments, and my dreams, and if I wore a grey flannel suit, amended the tax code around the edges, and dreamt of a complete overhaul, I would hope that my friends and family would mention it, what with it having been so important to me.
Finally, to those who claim that no Republican would ever use someone’s funeral as a platform to forward their own agenda, I remind them of the law and order politicking of Nixon at J. Edgar Hoover’s funeral:
Jack Cashill, who received a Ph.D. in American Studies in 1982 then promptly forget everything he learned earning it, has returned with more evidence that my assessment of him (“an idiot of long-standing“) was correct. He accuses Michiko Kakutani of plagiarizing his 2008 blockbuster, “The Improvised Odyssey of Barack Obama,” and begins his defense of this claim as one does: by demonstrating that William Ayers is familiar with Homer’s Odyssey.
Ayers knows his Homer. In his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, for instance, he specifically identified the Odyssey’s “Cyclops” as a metaphor for the “doomed and helpless” United States. “Picture an oversized, somewhat dim-witted monster, greedy and capricious,” Ayers wrote in his uniquely patriotic way, “its eyes put out by fiery stakes and now flailing in a blind rage, smashing its way through villages and over mountains.”
If, as Cashill hopes to establish, “Ayers knows his Homer,” it would behoove him not to quote Ayers saying that Odysseus put out the eyes of the famously one-eyed monster Polyphemus. That Ayers speaks of a stereoscopic cyclops speaks ill of him; that Cashill attempts to establish both his own and Ayers’s classicist credibility via a quotation about a two-eyed cyclops only proves that neither should be trusted with Homeric parallels. (Leave that to the experts.) Then, as if he anticipated the complaint of the previous sentences, he politely offers evidence of their validity:
In Dreams, Obama confronts his own menacing one-eyed bald man, a Savak-loving Iranian.
Obama once spoke with a one-eyed man, Cashill argues, therefore this reference to a one-eyed cyclops in Dreams From My Father corresponds with Ayers’s reference to a two-eyed one in Fugitive Days. Granted, my summary of his point may be uncharitably literal, even though Obama’s one-eyed man had, to all appearances, two eyes (“an older balding man with a glass eye,” the “drift of [which] gave the Iranian a menacing look”); and even though the point of Obama telling this story is that, despite one of the man’s two eyes giving him “a menacing look,” he “was a friendly and curious” person; and even though, unlike the Odyssey, in which the curse of the one-eyed cyclops Polyphemus results in his father, Poseidon, to unleash contrary winds and furious storms, thereby extending the travels and travails of Odysseus, all that resulted from this conversation was that someone else quoted Malcolm X; even though all those parallels break down, maybe I am being uncharitably literal. Once the sentence I quoted above is inserted back into its context, the parallels between Homer’s epic and Obama’s memoir become clear:
I ignore those who insist that there’s something untoward about discussing the life’s work of a man at his own funeral—they can begin with his 1970 Health Security Act and work their way forward to the Kennedy-Dodd bill of 2009 on their own. I decline, that is, to say that had I insisted on codifying my ideological commitments in a Senate bill a month before my passing, I would have done so because those commitments were so important to me in life that I wanted them to define my death. Because, in the end, giving one’s natural death to a cherished cause differs from dying for it only by dint of circumstance and timing: to accomplish with one’s death what one fought for in life is the wish of the true believer, and there is nothing untoward in that. But, as I said, there will be none of that.
Instead, I will marvel at the stentorian stupidity of George H. Nash, who received a degree in History from Harvard in 1973 then promptly forgot everything he learned earning it. To Nash, the death of Edward Kennedy represents an opportunity to bemoan “a disconcerting historical trend: the royalization of American politics.” Strangely, he does not begin his investigations with the many powerful branches of the Adams or Walker family trees (despite the former being the most prominent and the latter being the most recent). Instead, he claims that from
Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt to the Kennedys and Camelot, American liberalism has repeatedly succumbed to this phenomenon. It begins in a cult of personality, extends to the leader’s wife and children, and then to a “court” of retainers and apologists.
The royalists, then, are not the ones descended from the state representative of Massachusetts’s 7th district—they are the descendants of the impoverished Irish immigrant that man represented from 1849 to 1851. That bears repeating: the son-in-law of William Walker, Julius Rockwell, represented Patrick Kennedy in the U.S. House of Representatives from the moment Kennedy disembarked in 1849 until Rockwell resigned 1851 and the only worrisome political royalty Nash can locate here are the Kennedys?
Granted, the family to whom he extends this cultish devotion is direct, “the leader’s wife and children,” so emphasis on the children of the Joseph Kennedy, Sr. is warranted: Joseph Jr., John, Robert and Edward are all direct descendants of a single powerful personage, as are the relatives in his other example, the pair of fifth cousins connected by a great-great-great-great-grandfather, Nicholas Van Rosenvelt, upon whose death in 1742 the family splintered into the Republican Oyster Bay and the Democratic Hyde Park Roosevelts.
Wait—now I’m confused.
Not only are the Roosevelts distant cousins instead of sons or brothers, they also belong to opposing factions of a family that’s been at political odds since before the Revolutionary War. How exactly are Republicans who voted for Theodore and Democrats who voted Franklin Delano symptomatic of American liberalism? Moreover, since Nash wants to talk about cults of personality extending to wives and children and courtiers, how could he not mention the two-term Connecticut Senator, Prescott Bush, whose son, George Herbert Walker Bush, and grandson, George Walker Bush, were both President? Does he believe the royalist inclinations of American liberalism are responsible for the Bushes?
Probably not, because this insidious royalism “starts in hero-worship and ends in nostalgia,” and beloved as both Bushes are, neither are afforded the “disturbing” and “disconcerting” treatment “that for nearly a century has afflicted American liberalism.” Anything that “starts in hero-worship and ends in nostalgia” threatens the body politic with an idiot malignance . . . as Nash himself proves when he starts the first paragraph of his essay with some hero-worship and ends it with nostalgia:
On March 30, 1981, Pres. Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated. What if he had died that day, before he had persuaded Congress to enact his signature program of tax cuts? Would his liberal opposition on Capitol Hill have given up their philosophical opposition to his agenda? Would they have stood silent if militant conservatives had tried to rush through sweeping tax-cut legislation as a monument to Reagan’s legacy?
“What if the Great Hero had died in 1981? Would the Golden Age for which I now pine have ever come to be?”
I believe he was better off pretending two of the four most recent Presidents weren’t immediate kin—at least then he made my job a wee bit difficult.
By which I mean: what specific sites/forums/IRC chat rooms do students use to find people willing to produce “original” works of scholarship? When I search for such services online, all I find is an endless sea of spam. There must be somewhere—perhaps localized at the level of individual schools—that students go to make these sorts of arrangements. Would it not be incredibly useful for instructors to know what those sites/forums/IRC chat rooms are? (And isn’t it odd that there hasn’t already been some sort of collective effort to create a list of this type?)
If you know the locations of some of these sites, I would love it if you left the address in the comment or send me an email (scotterickaufman at gmail dot com). Anonymous is fine. I want to create a sort of master list
so I can play Leverage in my spare time because I’m curious.
UPDATE 1. The answer, from my initial investigations, is that it’s not craigslist. I found a few ads there, but after a brief investigation, learned that they were all spam.
On this day in 1940, an actual Communist leader, Leon Trotsky, was stabbed in the head with an ice pick by Ramón Mercader, who was himself not only an actual Communist, but an agent of Stalin, who awarded Mercader’s mother an Order of Lenin for her part in the plot. Upon his release from prison in 1960, Mercader moved to an actual Communist country, Cuba, and then to another, the Soviet Union, whereupon his arrival he was awarded a Hero of the Soviet medal from the head of the KGB, Alexander Shelepin.
On this day in 1944, an actual Communist country, the Soviet Union, launched an offensive against a real Nazi country, Hitler’s Germany, over the fate of Romania, which would end the day either a real Nazi or actual Communist coutry, but not both, because real Nazism and actual Communism are such different beasts that Hitler’s Germany went to war against Stalin’s Soviet Union over whose distinct sytem of oppression the Romanian people will be compelled to live under. The actual Communists won the day, routing the real Nazis and installing an actual Communist government that would survive until 1989.
On this day in 1991, actual Communist tanks pulled in front of the actual Communist parliament building, the White House, in preparation for Operation Grom, a KGB-orchestrated coup against an actual Communist government led by Mikhail Gorbachev. Within two days, Gorbachev would resign his position as General Secretary of the the actual Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and by Christmas of that year, the hammer and sickle—the actual Communist flag of the Soviet Union—would be lowered from the Kremlin for the last time.
For the latest breaking news about mock communists and ersatz Nazis, keep it turned to FOXNews throughout the day.
A conservative woman, Pamela Pilger, yells “Heil Hitler!” at Samuel Blum, an Israeli immigrant, as he’s being interviewed by a local television crew. She’s unthinkingly and ignorantly odious. Even were Blum not Jewish, shouting “Heil Hitler!” at a political opponent is never an acceptable option in civil discourse. (Different standards no doubt apply at official Hitler Youth mixers.) Although she’s the one berating a former Israeli citizen while wearing an Israeli Defense Forces shirt, the more interesting party is the man to her left. There she is, with her IDF shirt on, and when the Blum mentions that he served the required three years in the IDF, the man to her left leans in and says . . .
Consider this a bookend to Ari’s post, as those are the words of Hitler according to this protester:
According to her and those like her, Hitler didn’t actively conspire to murder millions of people in the service of a racist eugenics, he passively refused to “spend the money to keep them alive.” Who are “they” here? Because she claims that “limiting Medicare expenditures in order to reduce the deficit . . . is the T-4 policy of the Hitler—of a Hitler policy in 1939,” she must be talking about those killed under the auspices of the Aktion T-4 Euthanasie: the lebensunwertes Leben, or “life unworthy of life,” i.e. the elderly, the mentally disabled and the otherwise infirm. Par for the course for those who believe in “death panels.”
However, if people like this protester possessed a perspective of more depth and extension than the Wikipedia Brand Knowledge currently bandied about conservative discussion boards and listservs, they would know, for example, that the T-4 initiative was prohibitively expensive. Its predecessor, the Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses, or “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring,” which mandated the sterilization of the physically and mentally disabled, had been scaled back because it was too expensive. That is, they stopped, not started, the ideologically-based murders of those they considered defective because it would save Germany a few million Reichsmarks.
This should go without saying: the Nazis wanted to kill these people, they simply couldn’t afford to. In fact, it was only in 1939, after they’d planted a war on both horizons, that Hitler could justify the expense required to expand the T-4 initiative into the concentration camps.
In short, whatever Obama’s policy will be, if it is, as this protester claims, designed to reduce the national deficit, it won’t resemble Aktion T-4 one whit. Moreover, the category of lebensunwertes Leben wasn’t limited to those with mental or physical handicaps as we currently understand them: opponents of Nazi policy were routinely deemed to be insane and euthanized, meaning that so long as this protester and those like her are free to berate Barney Frank with patent nonsense, Godwin’s Law is still in full effect.
All the noise from the right about Obama being a not-so-crypto-socialist or communist or Marxist has had its desired effect: Obama now seems willing to drop the public option from his health care reform package. But everyone who always saw Obama for what he is—a dogged centrist who knows how to game the system—already knew that the public option would likely be off the table during the initial rounds of reform. Thoughtful folks knews that Obama would play politics—that he would float a plan far more ambitious than he could push through Congress—that his concessions would be scripted from the start, consisting of provisions that he knew to be untenable in the present political climate but which, after becoming familiar through repetition, would sound less extreme the next time they became fodder for public discussion.
Such are the dictates of his technocratic fancy.
What makes the conservative response to his policies particularly dumbfounding is that he’s flashed his incrementalist credentials numerous times—most saliently in his treatment of the GLBT issues—and yet conservatives respond like he’s always playing for the whole pot when, in fact, all his talk of high stakes is intended to distract them from the fact that he’s penny-anteing them into poorhouse. In short, conservatives are giddy because they’ve “prevented” him from winning as big as he talks even though he’s the only one leaving the table with anything in his wallet.
Tempted as I am to expand on all the apt metaphors here—deaths accomplished by a thousand cuts that produce ghosts who proudly crow about not being beheaded, or defeated generals bragging about transitory victories in a long war—but as conservatives have provided me (and Obama) with better material, I can cut to the chase. Consider what the conservative movement currently considers a win: