Nov. 5, 2004

Laments from the HBM (Has-Been Media)

Katie Couric wore black. Dan Rather blew out his remaining neurons and synapses. Peter Jennings and George Stephanopoulos wondered at this strange concern called “moral values.” And these were the people who took George W. Bush’s victory graciously.

Now, check out some of the sore losers.

Here’s Paul Krugman with a tangy morsel of sour grapes:

“President Bush isn’t a conservative. He’s a radical – the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part wants to break down the barriers between church and state. And thanks to a heavy turnout by evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush has four more years to advance that radical agenda.”

Note the definition of America “as it is.” Paul Krugman’s America is a place that defines itself not by homes or schools or neighborhoods with trees and grassy lawns. His definition of Real America is an agency headquartered in Washington -- a dispensary of money in the form of Social Security and Medicare.

To determine whether these things constitute the vital core of American life, permit me to pose a question: In the hours after September 11, when each of us clung to our most tender memories of a nation under siege, did you stop and ask yourself: “What will happen if somebody hits the Department of Health and Human Services? How will I survive if the goons blow up the Social Security Administration??”

Of course not! Marbled buildings in Washington do not constitute “America as it is.” They form the foundation of the government delusion – the naïve faith that wise people in the nation’s capital solve our problems by formulating plans and creating agencies. As for me, my thoughts about the real America drift in other directions. I think about sitting on the couch each evening with my wife, catching up on the day’s events. I ponder the best way to teach my son how to dribble with his left hand and get his homework done on time. I wonder why jazz is so hard to learn.

But I digress. Krugman closes by identifying the bogeyman: “evangelical Christians” — fiends who take scripture seriously rather than as poetry to recite when one wants to evade responsibility for one’s hypocrisies and misdeeds. The radical agenda is this: They believe that individuals can and should chart their destinies, without aid to or obeisance for, Uncle Sam. If that’s radical, count me in!

Here’s Tom Frank talking about the “conservative rebellion” in America:

“It is an uprising of the common people whose long-term economic effect has been to shower riches upon the already wealthy and degrade the lives of the very people who are rising up. It is a reaction against mass culture that refuses to call into question the basic institutions of corporate America that make mass culture what it is. It is a revolution that plans to overthrow the aristocrats by cutting their taxes.”

This sort of speaks for itself: Socialist cant, not even warmed over.

Here’s E.J. Dionne:

“Let's be honest: We are aghast at the success of a campaign based on vicious personal attacks, the exploitation of strong religious feelings and an effort to create the appearance of strong leadership that would do Hollywood proud. We are alarmed that so many of our fellow citizens could look the other way and not hold Bush accountable for utter incompetence in Iraq and for untruths spoken in defense of the war. We are amazed that a majority was not concerned about heaping a huge debt burden on our children just to give large tax breaks to the rich.

“And we are disgusted that an effort consciously designed to divide the country did exactly that -- and won.”

Say what?!? The “vicious personal attacks” on John Kerry involved skepticism about his Vietnam record and rage about his betrayal of veterans upon his return from combat. George W. Bush, in contrast, had to put up with Fahrenheit 911, the rantings of every known rock star and most Hollywood celebs, bogus stories about his National Guard record, “lost” munitions, human-rights abuses, etc. The only conclusions one can draw here are that E.J. hasn’t read his own side’s rantings.

Meanwhile, the fear of “strong religious feelings” captures THE major theme in the after-action weeping. The president stands accused of whipping up religious fervor. So here’s a question: How did he do it? What did he say? Name one statement.

Fact is, John Kerry talked more often about “faith” on the stump than the president did. He’s the one who pelted us with altar-boy remembrances and confessions that he had grown beyond the boundaries of the Magisterium. The president kept his mouth shut.

Here’s the dirty little secret: Much of the left, apparently including devoutly religious folks like E.J., seem to view biblical writ as a nuisance at best and an active danger in fact. The left long ago killed God and replaced Him with an assemblage of bureaucratic gnomes – clerks, check-cutters, and form dispensers who claim godlike powers to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, console those in mourning and – at least in John Edwards’ calculation – raise the dead and let quadriplegics leap to their feet and join the cast of Riverdance.

The myth of government compassion arises from the belief that one can outsource love for one’s fellow man: Let somebody else handle the gritty business of dealing with the downtrodden. When reminded that the Good Book recommends actual effort on behalf of the less fortunate, members of the compassionaucracy screech about the dangers of breaching the wall of separation between church and state. Chances are they’re concerned primarily with maintaining the barrier that separates them from the wretched of the earth.

There is another key issue: Conservatism is the doctrine that absolute truth exists. This is true in science, but also in the moral sphere. Moral laws come not from our imaginations or merely from experience, but from Divine origin. Our Creator endowed us with inalienable rights – and more, including senses of right and wrong, good and evil, freedom and obligation. We struggle to peer through the fog thrown up by our vanity and sin, but we are not the architects of virtue: We merely strive to discover the path it lays before us. We don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to do that work for us.

As for the claim that George Bush “created the appearance of strong leadership:” Wrong. The president practiced strong leadership – and that was John Kerry’s chief complaint against him. The president stood up to a dissolute and corrupt United Nations, including a Security Council pockmarked by nations that willingly accepted bribes from Saddam Hussein. He took on the conventional wisdom in the Arab world by standing up to an Iraqi dictatorship and moving aggressively against terrorist organizations underwritten by the region’s monarchies and autocracies. In failing the “global test,” he passed the test of leadership.

And finally, here’s Jane Smiley with one of the most heartbreakingly bitter pieces I have ever read. The gist is that everybody who disagrees with Jane is an ignoramus, and therefore a threat to the safety and well-being of all.

First comes this attack on her own blood relations: “(T)he good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine. But 58 million have not. (Well, my relatives are not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority.)”

Then comes the insight that Republicans are butchers: “Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. There used to be a kind of hand-to-hand fight on the frontier called a ‘knock-down-drag-out,’ where any kind of gouging, biting or maiming was considered fair. The ancestors of today’s red-state voters used to stand around cheering and betting on these fights…. The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America.”

And finally, a peroration on faith:

“Here’s how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you – if you don’t believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell…. Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent…. Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor…”

“The reason Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulation that were protecting those whom they considered their rightful prey – workers and consumers. The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, and we see the outcome now – Cheney is the capitalist arm and Bush is the religious arm.”

Smiley’s essay, by the way, appears on Slate, a website underwritten by the most successful capitalist of the last century, Bill Gates.

These essays offer just a taste of the howling that has accompanied Tuesday’s election result. It also provides positive proof that the press and its intellectual tributaries long ago veered from the mainstream. Hence, the new designation (write it down so you don’t forget): The Has-Been Media.

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