Friday, July 18, 2008

Rolling Stone Gathers More Than Just Moss (In Other News, Dog Bites Man)

Today I looked in my In box and found a message from a good friend, with the subject line: "FW: Excellent Article." As usual, I took a deep breath and braced for the worst. A quite intelligent fellow, whom I love like a brother (with all that that entails!), he is nonetheless camped pretty securely on the port side of the ship of state, so I have resigned myself to sifting through intermittent Progressive polemics I might otherwise scan and discard (my friends almost always get the benefit of the doubt...only fair, given how patiently they tend to listen to my dextrospheric diatribes). Generally, I find something I can identify as good [enough] sense, which at the very least forces me to unpack and revisit sets of assumptions which might otherwise go unexamined (always a healthy exercise).

Then there was this article from Rolling Stone (where I always go for hard-hitting political analysis).

It was far, far, far worse than I could possibly have imagined. And, like Han Solo, I can imagine quite a bit. By way of illustration, I present the 'satirical cartoon' which accompanied the editorial emesis in question:

Never mind the simply nauseating racial stereotyping (though I find it curious that so much of the obsession with race seems to come not from the Right but from those who are ostensibly all about transcending the bigotries of the past). Never mind the infantile caricaturing of political opponents. Never mind the dismissive and disrespectful treatment of a man's distinguished military record (which, for all the posturing about "supporting the troops" is, after all, de rigeur for so many on the Left). It's the sheer repellent callousness with which the almost unimaginable suffering which McCain experienced at the bloody hands of the North Vietnamese is tossed off as though it were a mere political wiffle-ball.

And we haven't even gotten to the text yet.

I simply lack the energy to do a proper block-quoted, point-by-point fisking of this toxic train-wreck. I would simply ask that the reader pay attention to a few key concepts as they slog through it.

Note the pervasive and pernicious elitism and condescension which permeates it like swamp gas, the repeated references to variations on the "slack-jawed yokel" motif. Try, if you will, to reconcile this with the putative populism which is supposed to underlie the Democratic message. Note also the way a snippet of an interview with some less-than-enlightened "sweet-looking old ladies" (who are not even denizens of "the darkened plains of Montana and South Dakota," or "backwoods South Carolina," or some such benighted place) is interjected apparently as a stand-in for the views of McCain supporters in general. Here's a neat trick: How about I write an article about Obama, and let interviews with this crowd (NSFW) stand in for what I will portray as the mainstream of his supporters. That would be fair, yes?

Pay attention to the number of times some racial broadside is shoe-horned into the text. Try a thought experiment: Imagine if the words "a Negro intellectual from Harvard who's never served in the military" had appeared in the pages of The National Review. Imagine the comment threads over at the Huffington Post over that one!

Notice the offhand reference to the "mean-ass hate-radio conservatism of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh." The implication here seems to be that the complacency of Liberals was instrumental in allowing those Venal Right-Wing Haters to gobble up the airwaves so they can whip up the Brownshirts against the slumbering forces of decency. Hogwash. Liberal ideas were simply unable to garner the market share on the languishing AM band by attracting listeners and sponsors the way Conservative shows were (and are) able to do (just ask Air America's accountants). Instead, those who hunger for "Progressive" voices to bring those Right-Wingers to heel have to pin their hopes on the return of the almost-laughably misnamed "Fairness Doctrine," and the Carthaginian peace it would bring to political discourse on the airwaves.

Notice how McCain is mocked for allegedly "going dumb and courting the same talk-radio demographic that used to despise him." So, then, after many years of developing a reputation for reaching across the aisle and irritating the Conservative wing of the GOP by his "Maverick" positions (a far more impressive track record of actual bipartisanship than Obama's history [such as it is] can boast...but I digress), he is reaching out to that bloc of citizens and reassuring them that he will represent their interests as well if elected. The bastard! Actually, this is one of the precious few points on which the Rolling Stone editorial is not completely nonsensical. McCain has adjusted his positions on several issues over time...and he has accounted for all of those changes:

  • On the Bush tax cuts, he saw that they had achieved what they were intended to do, galvanizing the dynamism of the US economy after the potentially catastrophic effects of 9/11 on a sluggish post-dot-com situation (but he continues to quite rightly blast the GOP for not reining in spending commensurately...which was one of his main objections to the cuts in the first place), so now he wants those tax cuts preserved, and a greater emphasis on fiscal discipline.
  • On immigration reform, he has shifted the emphasis from creating a non-amnesty path to citizenship for illegal immigrants while securing the border; to securing the border, then creating a fair path to citizenship, in response to the withering stream of the harshest criticism from Conservatives. Anyone who thinks he has caved altogether on this issue and is now in the good graces of Immigration Hawks simply has not been reading some of the stuff that is still getting written about "Juan McCain."
  • McCain has always been an opponent of abortion. Indeed, this is one aspect of his candidacy with which I have struggled most; while I find abortion to be a grisly, tragic, grotesque, and morally repulsive affair, undertaken far too lightly and frequently for the very worst of reasons...I stop well short of being able to put my libertarian tendencies far enough to the side to feel that it should actually be banned. Still, as this Jan 2000 Salon article lays out, McCain's position on abortion for at least the better part of a decade has been markedly similar to that of Bush who, after almost 8 years (six of which were spent with majorities in Congress), has still managed to not return us to the days of wire hangers and back alleys. I'm not writing this to get into a debate about abortion, though, (please!) so much as to point out the vapidity of the Rolling Stone editorial's depiction of McCain as somehow having morphed into a rabid Anti-Choicer. It is yet another instance of the gross intellectual dishonesty with which this hit piece is riddled like profanity and brilliance in a George Carlin comedy routine.
So, yes, McCain has shifted his positions on a number of issues...but he has done so for reasons which he has articulated to the electorate, and with no attempt at revisionist history. Alas, his opponent has not shown the same willingness to show his work.

I must confess that these passages confused me:

And when it comes to Obama's and his wife's America-hating, well . . . McCain really doesn't need to say anything about that. All he needs to do to remind audiences of Reverend Wright and Michelle "I'm proud of America for the first time" Obama is to offer a few bons mots in the opposite direction. "I seek the office with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me," McCain likes to say. And while he doesn't believe he was anointed by God to lead the great nation of America, he insists, "I am her servant, first, last and always."

That's it — that's the entire argument. McCain is a canny enough old goat to know that the public's insatiable appetite for traitorous enemies will do the rest. He'll wave as many flags and stand in front of as many fucking fighter jets as you like, while the other guy lectures us about why he doesn't always need to wear a flag pin in his lapel and calls a bomb-throwing Sixties terrorist "a guy who lives in my neighborhood" instead of calling for his immediate beheading.

The author appears to be saying that McCain is graciously (some say foolishly) refraining from directly attacking Michelle Obama for her belated pride in the nation in which she has been able to achieve so much, or her husband's public struggles to pin down (har-har) the symbology of his own patriotism, or the implications of his affiliation with an unrepentant terrorist, focusing instead on his own affection and gratitude for that nation. Further, the implication appears to be that McCain is placing his trust in the American people to recognize when those who wish to lead them are not doing enough to "sell" them on their pride and devotion to its ideals and their opposition to those who stand for undermining its interests. So, this is supposed to be an attack on McCain?

From this point on, the editorial simply degenerates into the same old tired, ad hominem wank-fest of long-distance psychoanalyzing (blah-blah PTSD, yadda-yadda bitter Woodstock-envy...) which is the last refuge of those who are unable to mount a coherent argument based on issues. I would say that in this part the author just embarrasses himself...but it is clear that the capacity for self-reflection and critical thinking were not priorities for him from the get-go.

So, no, this does not qualify as anything even resembling an "excellent" article (unless one's intent is to so comprehensively discredit the seriousness of McCain's opponents as to indirectly burnish his credentials to lead...if that's the goal, then it is truly Most Triumphant). What it is is a sorry, slap-dash potty-mouthed playground hack job which allows name-calling and profanity to substitute for analysis, and tries to shame people into not noticing how utterly it fails to make anything resembling a coherent argument, by making them feel that anyone who was Clever and Sophisticated enough would see its murky premises as blindingly obvious.

I am not impressed.


Mike said...

Hey Tobe, why didn't you tell me you were doing this? I'm glad to see you're writing again, and I'm sure this will be an excellent outlet for you. I'll have to read some back posts.

As for the this particular missive, I tend to agree. The article disappointed the hell out me. I've seen Taibi (sp?) on Bill Maher a couple of times and he tends to be both insightful and hysterical. This was neither. Oh, well.

Mr.Hengist said...

I'm somewhat pressed for time but I did want to comment on the portrayal in that article of the clueless old ladies as being typical McCain supporters. It's an old reporter's trick; not that it's news to you, Noocyte. I've seen this tool used since I became politically aware back in the early '80's.

It goes something like this: A reporter with an axe to grind attends a rally, protest, union strike - some gathering of people supporting a cause the reporter wants to discredit. The reporter then finds the biggest fools in the crowd. Stupidity, ignorance, incoherence, offensive speech and behavior, and embarrassing dress are all big plusses for this hack. The reporter interviews those people as being representative of the group as a whole, usually with a handholding commentary added for the particularly dimwitted readers explaining that these are, really, typical of the crowd.