Monday, March 5, 2007

The Right Kind of Anger

By Kevin Baker of The Guardian [Photos Added]:

The American right is angry again. Ever since it narrowly lost control of Congress last November, American conservatives have taken to lashing out in all directions.

Within weeks of the election, rightwing publications were vilifying the authors of the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq as "surrender monkeys" and Israel-bashers. New books by movement intellectuals such as Dinesh D'Souza and Bruce Bawer blame jihadist successes on, respectively, American popular culture and European appeasers. No less an authority than William F Buckley Jr, the longtime dean of the modern conservative movement, fulminates against "Defeatocrats" and "Vertebrate-challenged Europeans". And then there was Ann Coulter's tirade at this weekend's CPAC conference: "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards," Coulter said towards the end of her speech. "But it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot', so I - so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards."

What is going on? The right used to be able to take a punch. Its exemplar was Ronald Reagan, who shrugged off two failed runs for the presidency and made it to the White House by inventing conservatism with a smiley face. That aw-shucks grin could stretch wide enough to cover up everything - from contra death squads to the world's largest banking scandal. Reagan fundamentally altered the way the right presented itself to the world, transforming the clench-jawed negativity of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace into a sunny, optimistic faith in rugged individualism.

Reagan's cheerful chiding of liberals morphed into a vulgar but spirited style of political taunting under the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. Their brand of ridicule was originally so over the top that it often seemed to be satirizing itself, like professional wrestling, while still getting its core message across - a brilliantly effective way of taking down ponderous liberals in an America of all irony.

So why has the right reverted to its old, perpetually angry style of politics? I suspect the creeping disgruntlement has to do with the fact that conservatives have at last been confronted with the realities of their policies in Iraq.

Consider: For more than sixty years now, or ever since the start of the Cold War, the right has insisted that every major international dilemma could be solved merely by the application of American might and will. The Chinese Communists were to be vanquished by "unleashing" Chiang Kai-shek from the island of Formosa; the Korean War could be won by General MacArthur's suggestion to create "a belt of radioactive cobalt" between China and North Korea by dropping some fifty atomic bombs there. The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was to be "rolled back". Castro should have been removed by an American invasion, but failing that President Kennedy should have followed the advice of several of his Joint Chiefs of Staff and used the "opportunity" of the Cuban Missile Crisis to hit both the Soviets and the Chinese with a surprise, atomic attack. Vietnam should have been reduced to the proverbial "parking lot" or at least, according to Goldwater in the 1964 campaign, had its Ho Chi Minh trails cut with nuclear devices. Iran is once again being subjected to George W Bush's scabbard-rattling, and on and on.

Always and forever the right's response to a problem, anywhere in the world, has been to hit it with a two-by-four. This may have once been mere campaign foaming, but somewhere along the way American conservatives made the always fatal mistake of believing their own rhetoric. Under Bush, the right had the opportunity to act on its long-stated worldview for the first time, unfettered by any effective opposition. The results lie broken all around it, in the bloody chaos that is today's Iraq.

This is the end of the line for the right's free ride, for its long insistence on the application of military might, first, last, and always, without having to worry about the aftermath. As a result, the right has drifted into confusion, baffled about how to react to a world that does not, after all, respond to its bidding. In its childlike regression to the movement's early years, conservatives have once again decided simply to throw a tantrum and rail against their ever-expanding list of enemies, at home and abroad. And why not? We have all disappointed them terribly.

1 comment:

libhom said...

The Cheney cartoon reminds me of the history of the elephant as a symbol of the GOP. It originally wasn't the cute elephant that the Republicans use on their graphics, but a rogue elephant on a rampage.