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The Undoing of America
March 24, 2005 7:03 AM   Subscribe

The Undoing of America. Gore Vidal on war for oil, politics-free elections, and the late, great U.S. Constitution. And he doesn't pull his punches either.
posted by acrobat (92 comments total)

 
You can't have a war against an abstract noun; it's like having a war against dandruff. It's meaningless.

Brilliant! the best explanation I have seen so far as to why the war on terror is BS
posted by twistedonion at 7:11 AM on March 24, 2005


Vidal: "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of proto- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself. Failing that, I'll only say that we can't have--"

Buckley: "Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."


That would've been some kinda fight to watch.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome To The Battle Of The Stuffed Shirts!! Let's get ready to rrrrumble!"
posted by jonmc at 7:17 AM on March 24, 2005


All we were doing at Abu Ghraib was export what we do to our own people in our own prisons, you know.

And to our own teenagers.
posted by inksyndicate at 7:23 AM on March 24, 2005


"There is not one human problem that could not be solved," he told an interviewer in 1972, "if people would simply do as I advise."

This was a little offputting, but after reading the rest of the article I have to admit we would do well to listen to him.
posted by orange swan at 7:34 AM on March 24, 2005


and this is why a novelist should not try to explain in a 30 minute interview what normally takes him 400 pages (and countless discarded thoughts) to say.
posted by three blind mice at 7:42 AM on March 24, 2005


Good Post.
Vidal is most convincing on media, big business and education here.
His political views were not soooo persuasive for me because he was covering a wide territory of time and many politicians and issues in a short interview - there were some sweeping statements and he voluntarily truncated the talk a couple of times after making spurious accusations.

But that's possibly more the fault of the format and interview style - there wasn't much followup, more just reading of preplanned questions without probing.

That's not to say that I disagree with the guy or his political persuasion....just my reaction. I'm sure things would be better fleshed out going through the 'pamphlets' and some of his other writings.
He is generating thinking and debate about big issues and that can only be a good thing.
posted by peacay at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2005


You know, I'm mixed on Vidal the pundit and historian (I've read none of his novles). I really like almost all of the essays in America, and several of the other books are passionately argued from a position to which I am sympathetic. His take on Timothy McVeigh (in Vanity Fair and other places) as a hero for American liberty, seems misguided. One can agree with some (some!) of McVeigh's criticisms without elevating his mission or essentially praising his actions.

I guess that I tend to appreciate his positions, but lately find him a bit too strident and paranoid.

His memoir, Palimpsest, is fabulous. I loved the line, "That was the last time I saw Capote, until one day in Venice when I mistook him for an ottoman."
posted by OmieWise at 7:58 AM on March 24, 2005


Vidal is someone I used to have genuine respect for. But I found it hard to stomach such an otherwise perceptive man opting for the drama queenish, "Bush/Cheney junta", "The war was for oil", and "the election was stolen!" remarks. I half-expected him to ask the interviewer, "When you print the article, would you mind spelling it Amerikkka?"

Perhaps the brief interview format is not ideal for him, as some have said. But dropping capricious, "provocative" soundbites has always been his MO, so who knows?

Regretfully, I'd place Vidal in the same "Great Men Who Fell Over the Waterfall" category as Walter Cronkite, who suggested Karl Rove somehow orchestrated the cross-media release of bin Laden's tape to tilt the election.

"if people would simply do as I advise."
This was a little offputting,


To put it mildly.
posted by jenleigh at 7:58 AM on March 24, 2005



Brilliant! the best explanation I have seen so far as to why the war on terror is BS


well, gosh. many have been pointing this out since 2001. terror is a tactic, not an opponent. a "war on terror" has no boundaries, no target, no metric against which to measure its progress, and allows the justification of virtually anything.
posted by quonsar at 8:08 AM on March 24, 2005


But I found it hard to stomach such an otherwise perceptive man opting for the drama queenish, "Bush/Cheney junta", "The war was for oil", and "the election was stolen!" remarks. I half-expected him to ask the interviewer, "When you print the article, would you mind spelling it Amerikkka?"

Because reducing reasoned positions from a gay man to drama queenery makes it a lot easier to discount them... and him.

Yep, lib'ruls who think for themselves really do hate Amerika.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:11 AM on March 24, 2005


Here we go again...
posted by jonmc at 8:14 AM on March 24, 2005


"if people would simply do as I advise."
This was a little offputting,

To put it mildly.


Does anyone consider that he was possibly (a) being tongue-in-cheek, or (b) making a remark calculated to be outrageous?

Try not taking everything literally, and you might better understand what people are actually trying to say.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 8:16 AM on March 24, 2005


What a Guy. 80 years old and still going strong. Lucid, informed and thoughtful. He is able to sum up briefly and coherently much of what is not right in America without getting on a political partisan bandwagon or going off on a tangent - though I did like his bit about taxing religion.
posted by adamvasco at 8:22 AM on March 24, 2005


Because reducing reasoned positions from a gay man to drama queenery

?

I wasn't referring to his sexual preference, I was referring to his tone, fwiw. "Drama queen" is a phrase my girlfriends and I use jokingly with each other five times a week, and they're not lesbians as far as I'm aware...

posted by jenleigh at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2005


reasoned positions ...AlexReynolds

Well I think that's debatable as some here have noted. Vidal is erudite and articulate but editorializes for the rhetorical effect often with little in the way of backup when it suits him (in this article at least).

On preview...yes adamvasco, the taxing religion idea is novel and has merit.
posted by peacay at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2005


Vidal is someone I used to have genuine respect for.
posted by jenleigh at 10:58 AM EST on March 24 [!]


I'm sorry, but I am going to have to ask you to prove that.

Try not taking everything literally, and you might better understand what people are actually trying to say.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 11:16 AM EST on March 24 [!]


This is an alien, unfathomable concept to rigid, me right/you wrong minds.

Look, I know the people here like their url links but you can't always get at the truth though facts. Otherwise, there would be no truth in art. Vidal is an artist. He speaks and writes like an artist, even when he is talking about what are basically factual things. Either that appeals to you or it doesn't. I think he makes a hell of a lot of sense and if he goes over the top to make his points, so be it.
posted by a_day_late at 8:44 AM on March 24, 2005


This interview contains nothing but a collection of hilarious, unproven overstatements. I can even get behind the rhetorical strategy of exagerration for effect, but Vidal's obviously playing this straight. I see how his grand pronouncements appeal to the echo chamber, but the man is clearly unhinged. Just because you say something doesn't make it true. Some particular laughers:
Well, let us say that the old American republic is well and truly dead. The institutions that we thought were eternal proved not to be. And that goes for the three departments of government, and it also goes for the Bill of Rights.

Very little information gets to the people, thanks to the corruption and/or ineptitude of the media.

There is no people's party, and you can't even use the word. "Liberal" has been demonized. A liberal is a commie who's also a pedophile. Being a communist and a pedophile, he's so busy that he hasn't got time to win an election and is odious to boot. So there is no Democratic Party.

Well, they have been transformed, by design, by corporate America, aided by the media, which belongs to corporate America. They are no longer citizens. They are hardly voters. They are consumers, and they consume those things which are advertised on television.

There's nothing the average American now believes (because he's been told it 10,000 times a day) that is true.

There is also something in the water--let us hope it was put there by the enemy--that has made Americans contemptuous of intelligence whenever they recognize it, which is not very often. And a hatred of learning, which you don't find in any other country.
btw, jenleigh, watch out, there's a long and ugly history with AR and "drama queen." Suffice it to say most reasonable people agree with you, but AR isn't likely to let it go.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:45 AM on March 24, 2005


Yeah, those are "laughers." I'm fit to bust.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2005


exagerration exaggeration.

And on review, a_day_late, that's pretty thin ice on which to support what are essentially factual claims. One man's "artist" is another man's nutjob. I'm sure conservatives can point to a host of "artists" who make outlandish statements without the facts to back them up, and I'm equally sure their arguments would rightly be dismissed as the rantings of wingnuts.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2005


Does anyone consider that he was possibly (a) being tongue-in-cheek, or (b) making a remark calculated to be outrageous?

Try not taking everything literally, and you might better understand what people are actually trying to say.


I considered it, yes. It's still off-putting.
posted by orange swan at 8:54 AM on March 24, 2005


Sure, sonofsamian, there's tons of support for the notion that Americans are "contemptuous of intelligence" -- all those parents encouraging their kids to drop out of high school. And yes, the country is no longer functioning. The Supreme Court is dead, Congress is dead. It was once alive, but it's fundamentally changed now. And Americans are just sheep (except for those like Vidal and you, who are oh-so-smart and are able to resist this allegedly irresistable force-feeding of the corporate media). And it's true, Americans get "very little information." It's simply not there (again, except for you and Vidal, who are somhow able to find this information through your secret sources). And conservatives really do believe all liberals are commies. They're just too stupid to distinguish between them, what with their contempt of intelligence (I won't even touch pedophiles -- where the fuck did that come from?) Most of all, "there's nothing the average American now believes ... that is true." Amen, brother. Preach truth to power!
posted by pardonyou? at 8:57 AM on March 24, 2005


I'm so glad that pardonyou? has finally got it. Ooops - that was sarcasm, - - -sorry.
posted by adamvasco at 9:00 AM on March 24, 2005


Sure, sonofsamian, there's tons of support for the notion that Americans are "contemptuous of intelligence"

Actually, American's like smart people just fine. We just don't like smartasses.
posted by jonmc at 9:06 AM on March 24, 2005


Well I think that's debatable as some here have noted. Vidal is erudite and articulate but editorializes for the rhetorical effect often with little in the way of backup when it suits him (in this article at least).

As do many on either side. It just happens that some "rhetoric" is more socially acceptable in MSM than others. Vidal does not fall on the right or correct side of what is politically acceptable, and so his "rhetoric" is downplayed as lib'rul ravings. We're there for oil? Lib'rul scum. Our liberties are being dismantled? Lib'rul scum. And so on.

While, on the other hand, you get another kind of rhetoric, one more calculating and manipulative, that is thrown out there to win votes in a 2008 presidential election; but there's little discussion about the consequences or motivations for that kind of rhetoric. Guess it depends whose mouth it comes out of.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:07 AM on March 24, 2005


I'm sorry, jon, what's the point there?

And adamvasco, do you care to enlighten me as to the problem with anything I said?
posted by pardonyou? at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2005


Look rhetoric is ok if it is recognized as such. The guy IS an artist and is entitled to an opinion like the rest of us. I've been siding with the poor quality of argument he (doesn't) develop(s) but I'm equally appreciative of his raising the issues.
You don't have to agree with Vidal or even his manner but his is a voice that foments debate, challenges the sullen status quo on force fed corporate media and enriches rather than stultifies the intellectual life of the world public. It's just today we've been looking at his M.O. more than the message, but that's fine too!

AR....MSM??
posted by peacay at 9:17 AM on March 24, 2005


Actually, American's like smart people just fine. We just don't like smartasses.

comedy gold.
posted by norm at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2005


I'm sorry, jon, what's the point there?

It was more or less an answer to the "contemtpuous of intelligence" remark. And that yes, Vidal is intelligent and often correct. He's also a condescending wiseass, which can get in the way of him making his points, since it's a trait that sticks in people's craw.
posted by jonmc at 9:19 AM on March 24, 2005


And on review, a_day_late, that's pretty thin ice on which to support what are essentially factual claims. One man's "artist" is another man's nutjob. I'm sure conservatives can point to a host of "artists" who make outlandish statements without the facts to back them up, and I'm equally sure their arguments would rightly be dismissed as the rantings of wingnuts.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:48 AM EST on March 24 [!]


Vidal is making observations about our society using keen intellect and eloquence. As far as I can tell, he is not trying to factually prove anything--at least not in this piece. He makes connections (say between special interest money and politics) that apply to both parties and then pontificates about why it is so and where it will lead (in his opinion). If you want say, a flow chart of donations to politicians to back it up, that is for another conversation.

I find his remarks about the role of education and culture re; the state of our country very compelling and I would hope, at the very least, that they make us all stop and think for a while.
posted by a_day_late at 9:22 AM on March 24, 2005


peacay: MSM = MainStream Media, here used ironically since it is what the right use as shorthand or code for their conspiracy-filled ideas of a lib'rul media.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2005


pardonyou?, you're better than that. Don't make up some dumbass position and attack it.

The Supreme Court is dead, Congress is dead.
There is a concerted effort to weaken the judicial branch. Congress ceded their authority to declare war in all but name. Bad precedents have been set. With any luck, they won't have much impact on the future.

it's true, Americans get "very little information."
Americans do get very little information. They're mostly too busy working at their jobs and raising their families. If it's not in the newspapers or on TV, most people don't ever hear about it, and that's a fact. The "secret sources" are books from the library and the internet, duh. If you are better informed than your peers, it's probably because you were lucky enough to be able to invest more time reading, don't you think? It is not a failure of Americans, it's a failure of the media.

conservatives really do believe all liberals are commies
My conservative friends do, except they're beginning to call Bush one now. Maybe you just travel in different circles, but the liberal/communist vs. conservative/capitalist axis seems to be a fairly prevelant paradigm to me.

Americans are "contemptuous of intelligence"
Due to funding cuts, the school district in my area is eliminating close to 200 teachers. The assigned readings are excerpts from "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul." Where people put their dollars is where their priorities lie.

Maybe Vidal overstates some stuff. I do too, sometimes, particularly when I care about what I'm talking about.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2005


It was more or less an answer to the "contemtpuous of intelligence" remark. And that yes, Vidal is intelligent and often correct. He's also a condescending wiseass, which can get in the way of him making his points, since it's a trait that sticks in people's craw.

Ah, thanks -- you and I agree. Of course, you and I are probably also guilty of being smartasses ourselves from time to time.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2005


Pardonyou, I can let you have all your points of contention since you didn't acknowledge the most important two in the article: the impingement of the Bill Of Rights and the ceding of authorization of war by Congress. The Patriot Act 's effects on the Bill Of Rights and the modern three tiered government are simply not the same as they once were.
posted by uni verse at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2005


We're there for oil? Lib'rul scum. Our liberties are being dismantled? Lib'rul scum.

Of the 20,000+ member of MeFi, I see few to none who'd call someone lib'rul scum for suggesting the war was for oil or that the election was stolen or that bush wore a wire or that Rove planted memo X or that Osama was going to be caught just prior to Election Day. I think there are some of us who'd prefer to call those things misguided & counterproductive, maybe a little childish. But not scummy.

In any case, it's apparent Vidal's rhetorical style is still interesting to some. I feel like I'm watching it get undermined over and over again by his own preening vanity, though, and for some us the performance has worn a bit thin.
posted by jenleigh at 9:36 AM on March 24, 2005


If it's not in the newspapers or on TV, most people don't ever hear about it, and that's a fact. The "secret sources" are books from the library and the internet, duh.

See, I guess this is the problem. I consider myself fairly well informed on all the theories and "facts" -- and I don't think it's remotely accurate to imply that there's this body of truth and knowledge and facts that can only be found in "books from the library and the internet," but never make it into the New York Times or the Washington Post, for example. I hear the allegation constantly, but I don't think it's true. Note I'm talking about facts, not suppositions.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:47 AM on March 24, 2005


These interviews are interesting as far as they go, but they're clearly not the place for finely argued thought. Jenleigh, have you read any of what Vidal calls his "pamphlets?" He might appear less childish and misguided, and there's also a less "preening vanity," if these things are what turn you off from hearing him out.
posted by muckster at 9:48 AM on March 24, 2005


pardonyou?: I don't know anyone who reads the New York Times or the Washington Post regularly. Seriously. Those are better papers than my local, but they don't have that heavy market penetration everywhere. Even those papers are not reporting all the news, though, just on practical grounds.

There are a huge number of facts on Abu Ghraib, Jeff Gannon, HAVA, USAPATRIOT, TIA, Diebold, the drug war, CIA infighting, PNAC, foreign politics, and other topics of interest to me that are simply not in the papers or on the news (that I've seen, mind you. Maybe I just overlooked it all.)

I have been taken in by suppositions before, but I trust my own judgement more than that of the news anchors, who have told me countless falsehoods (particularly since the beginning of the Iraq war.) I don't blame them, I'm sure they do the best they can with the tools they've been given, but it's not the best information source available to me. Our best judgement, is, well, the best we have.

I don't see how you can think there is as much access to facts on the TV and papers as the library and internet.
Even from a strictly quantitative point of view, there is a far greater amount of information in the latter set. There's more noise, too, but if there weren't more facts, we would have no need for libraries or the internet.

For instance, you are not going to get Juan Cole-level coverage and analysis of the war in the paper. There's just not enough room.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:06 AM on March 24, 2005


and for some us the performance has worn a bit thin.

as you may have noticed, the US Mainstream Media, that satanic bunch of liberals, almost never asks Vidal for a political opinion (this post links to the Minneapolis City Paper, another Vidal post linked to LAWeekly, not the New York Times or MSNBC.com).
Vidal's unsavory, shrill opinions don't exactly get as much publicity as the (obviously unshrill amd well-documented) opinions of intellectual giants (and best-selling authors) like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. hence I guess you're safe from Vidal's nefarious influence. to pretend otherwise would make you... a drama queen perhaps?
;)
posted by matteo at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2005


Vidal's unsavory, shrill opinions don't exactly get as much publicity as the (obviously unshrill amd well-documented) opinions of intellectual giants (and best-selling authors) like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

Well, putting aside the rightness or wrongness of their opinions, Limbaugh and Hannity are shrewd enough to couch their rhetoric in ways that make people listen to them. Rarely, if ever, are political positions chosen on merit. I wish it wasn't true, but it is. So, it's all in how you say it, I guess.
posted by jonmc at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2005


Actually, American's like smart people just fine. We just don't like smartasses.

jonmc: speaking for the average American since 1999.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:25 AM on March 24, 2005


it's all in how you say it, I guess

touché
posted by peacay at 10:27 AM on March 24, 2005


jonmc: speaking for the average American since 1999.

I was offering a general impression, ludwig van, not gospel truth. Do I need to put a barrage of disclaimers in front of every offhand remark I make just to please you?
posted by jonmc at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2005


Please jon, that comment was ridiculous. You meant to say "I don't like" and you said "Americans don't like." Your phrasing meant that you were speaking for me, too, and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't do that.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2005


I thought the Roosevelt "...is fear itself" to Truman's Red-baiting was an interesting connection to make.

I wish he hadn't brought up hydrogen as an alternative to oil. It's an energy medium, not an energy source, blah blah blah, and makes him a little less easy to trust on other issues. (To be fair, his comment did say "or whatever", it's just a bugaboo of mine.)
posted by Aknaton at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2005


Ok. ludwig van hates smart people and likes smartasses.
posted by jonmc at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2005


Actually, American's like smart people just fine. We just don't like smartasses.

You've misused an apostrophe there, jonster. You're welcome.
posted by Decani at 10:47 AM on March 24, 2005


pardonyou there are several problems with what you said and sonofsamian has pointed them out. I would go further
and say that if it isn't on TV most people haven't heard of it. MSM has reduced the attention span of the majority to that of a gnat. The adverts are longer than the program.
I mean how much in depth understanding can you get in 3 minute soundbites? It ends up with those who shout loudest longest winning their point and that point does not have to have a basis in fact.
Sure Vidal is theatrical and puts his take on things but he seems to have a good view of the "Big Picture" and at least he is erudite although his views might not agree with yours.
posted by adamvasco at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2005


jonmc: Personally, I wouldn't feel the need to append any kind of qualification about "smartasses." I suppose the existence of such "smartasses" is not a significant concern in my everyday life. So I'd leave it at "I like smart people." But thanks for speaking on my behalf again.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2005


You really need to lighten up, dude.

I answered a generalization ("americans are contemptuous of intelligence") with a generalization, a humorous one designed to make a minor point. Is it worth working yourself into a lather over? Or are you just upset that it came out of my mouth?
posted by jonmc at 10:57 AM on March 24, 2005


Limbaugh and Hannity are shrewd enough to couch their rhetoric in ways that make people listen to them.

seriously: what kind of people?
posted by matteo at 11:04 AM on March 24, 2005


Metafilter: are you just upset that it came out of my mouth?
posted by Cyrano at 11:08 AM on March 24, 2005


Perhaps the brief interview format is not ideal for him, as some have said. But dropping capricious, "provocative" soundbites has always been his MO, so who knows?

I think this is pretty unfair. The man has been writing extensively-- opinion pieces, essays and long novels-- for years. You may be only aware of his sound bites, but it's not fair to paint him as glib.

Regretfully, I'd place Vidal in the same "Great Men Who Fell Over the Waterfall" category as Walter Cronkite, who suggested Karl Rove somehow orchestrated the cross-media release of bin Laden's tape to tilt the election.

If you respect someone, do you agree with them completely until they prove themselves to "not be great men." ? Most people are fallible. I really can't think of many political thinkers who have been right on all issues. There's also the issue of considering other opinions.

And lastly, the view that Karl Rove has manipulated the timing of news stories, if not news stories themselves, is really not that far out of the mainstream.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 11:08 AM on March 24, 2005


While we're at it, I'd like to point out that the Americans are contemptuous of intelligence/stupid/ill-informed is hardly a new meme. In fact, if you visit the museums at colonial Williamsburg, you can see British cartoons from the 17th century lampooning "those dumb Yankee colonists". People have been saying that Americans are stupid and ill-educated before there even was an America. It's such a time-honored cliche that I'm surprised that it still bothers anyone anymore.
posted by unreason at 11:09 AM on March 24, 2005


You really need to lighten up, dude.

And my first response to it was a generalization, a humorous one designed to make a minor point. Only when you had to respond with indignance and sarcasm did I take on a blunt, but truthful, tone. I just thought that your original post was a silly and slightly obnoxious comment of the type you tend to make now and then. Someone's gotta keep you in check, right? Think of the children.

In any case, I think that's enough of that.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2005


Er, I meant to quote:

I answered a generalization ("americans are contemptuous of intelligence") with a generalization, a humorous one designed to make a minor point.

at the beginning of my last post.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2005


live from Limbaugh's own website:
Gruesome Spectacle of Left's Passion for Death Turns Morality on Its Head

"I can understand the passion for life. I don't understand the passion for killing."

From Across The Fruited Plain... Caller: "I Want The Woman to Die" It's all about hatred of religious conservatives...

Relax Animal Rights Wackos: Gator Safely Captured, But Terri Schiavo Will Still Die.

Breck Girl on Schiavo. Terri Schiavo is no Christopher Reeve in this girl's book..

Swiss Want to Wrap Glaciers in Tin Foil. These wackos just get more and more ridiculous..
ah, the shrill left. jon?
posted by matteo at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2005


pardonyou there are several problems with what you said and sonofsamian has pointed them out. I would go further and say that if it isn't on TV most people haven't heard of it. MSM has reduced the attention span of the majority to that of a gnat.

And my point back is that those are really nice theories, and they certainly make liberals believe they, and only they, know the real "truth," but are you able to provide any evidence to support those claims?

And to sos's point that the MSM doesn't present every fact (I'm sure there's an internet site that tallies how many times Bush mispronounces "nukular"), the suggestion is that there are essential, important truths that the MSM is deliberately ignoring. Not allegations (not Juan Cole-like "analysis"), but facts. I don't believe that's true.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2005


What about the long list of other topics I meantioned? Are you going to tell me that everything I have read on those topics was supposition and not fact?
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:15 AM on March 24, 2005


Limbaugh and Hannity are shrewd enough to couch their rhetoric in ways that make people listen to them.

No, it's not how they say it, it's what they say. Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and the rest of them peddle reassuring lies. Dissent is treason, America can do no wrong and you needn't listen to anyone who says otherwise because they're evil and just want to bring America down. You don't need to "couch" that rhetoric in any particular way to have it lapped up greedily by lazy bigots who just want to be reassured. Their message is "be complacent, nothing is wrong, nothing by definition can be wrong with anything we do. It's okay to stay on your ass and keep abrogating your power -- isn't that what you wanted to do anyway? Closely examining what we do in the world takes time, energy and commitment, and more troublingly, the ability to question your assumptions. Aren't there things you'd rather be doing? Well, here's why you don't have to: because the people who are telling you to think are liars, traitors and deviants. Relax. Everything's fine."
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:20 AM on March 24, 2005


There are plenty of liars, traitors and deviants on the left. If talk radio hosts can so easily render the rest of the left guilty by association with them, I'd say it's the rest of the left's fault, for failing to make the distinction clear.

This past weekend's "anti-war" protests were a great case in point. They were a veritable sewer of anti-American and anti-Semetic filth, with small bits of legitimate political criticism bobbing around, but prominent Democrats were utterly silent. They made sure not to be seen there, but they certainly didn't go around with the condemnation that was required.
posted by MattD at 11:33 AM on March 24, 2005


As a follow-up -- it's not like Democrats don't know how to do this, either. From 1946 to 1964, Democrats were able to be progressive while remaining staunchly anti-Communist and anti-criminal. Republicans could never get an edge over on them, at least until 1966, when the Democrats began to lose the courage of their convictions and couldn't create enough daylight between them and the soft on crime/soft on Communist movements. It took until Bill Clinton in 1992 for the Democrats to figure out how to neutralize this, and it looks like they're forgetting again...
posted by MattD at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2005


If talk radio hosts can so easily render the rest of the left guilty by association with them

As George_spiggot demonstrates (although it seems pretty obvious), that people will accept something that talk radio hosts say says nothing about reality. Talk radio hosts only "render the left guilty by association" in their own minds and the minds of their followers.

Democrats were able to be progressive while remaining staunchly anti-Communist and anti-criminal.

Are the Dems pro-criminal now? I guess I missed the memo.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:43 AM on March 24, 2005


matteo, I never claimed Limbaugh and Hannity weren't assholes. Just that they're shrewd about how they cultivate people. mainly by appealing to their more atavistic nature.

I'm not arguing that the left should do that. merely that being condescending (not shrill, I never claimed Vidal was shrill) dosen't seem to be working. Hell, I'm not really arguing, just thinking out loud.

Are the Dems pro-criminal now? I guess I missed the memo.

of course they aren't. But the right manipulates information and presentation to make it seem like they are. I just think we shouldn't make it easy for them.
posted by jonmc at 12:01 PM on March 24, 2005


Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and the rest of them peddle reassuring lies.

And it's the reassuring lies that Vidal consistently says are at the heart of this country's problems.

I've been on a Vidal kick lately - read all of his recent "pamphlets" - and while his assertions may at times not be backed up with solid facts, I think he gets the gist exactly right: Americans want to believe their national myths, we want to hear the "reassuring lies" because then we don't have to do anything, we're on the right track, and anyone who tries to gainsay us is a traitor, etc.

Do we really have the money to march through the Middle East as the neocons would have us do?

Is the media not almost entirely owned by corporate interests, whose interests are destined to take precedence?

Look at your own little town, where you live. Who's calling the shots? Does it happen to be the moneyed interests? Why, of course it does! Then tell yourself that whatever is happening on the national level is merely this, writ large. The institutions exist to perpetuate this, not challenge it. The Limbaughs of the world exist to buttress power. We're like a nation with blinders on, convinced that whatever happens outside our line of sight can't possibly affect us. That it will is pretty much the core of Vidal's message.
posted by kgasmart at 12:05 PM on March 24, 2005


There are plenty of liars, traitors and deviants on the left. If talk radio hosts can so easily render the rest of the left guilty by association with them, I'd say it's the rest of the left's fault, for failing to make the distinction clear.

heh. let's see:

There are plenty of liars, traitors and deviants on the right. If Vidal can so easily render the rest of the right guilty by association with them, I'd say it's the rest of the right's fault, for failing to make the distinction clear.

fuck, this is really funny, I'm loving this. bring it on!
posted by matteo at 12:09 PM on March 24, 2005


of course they aren't. But the right manipulates information and presentation to make it seem like they are. I just think we shouldn't make it easy for them.

In theory, yeah. But if we sincerely believe that harsh prison sentences is not the right response to crime (or whatever the crime-related issue is), what language do we use that will protect us from the inevitable onslaught of "soft on crime" bullshit that gets bandied about?

If our current public debate is won by whoever shouts loudest and longest, how is it possible to participate without either 1) getting smeared or 2) becoming them?
posted by Irontom at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2005


fuck, this is really funny, I'm loving this. bring it on!

matteo, my man, don't make my point about condescension for me.
posted by jonmc at 12:12 PM on March 24, 2005


prominent Democrats were utterly silent. They made sure not to be seen there, but they certainly didn't go around with the condemnation that was required.

You know, forget partisanship: this kind of wish never ever ever comes true. We don't hear enough moderate Muslims denounce terrorist jihadis, we don't hear enough moderate conservatives denounce vicious anti-abortionists, we don't hear enough moderate liberals denounce actual goddamn Maoists. GIVE UP. It's never going to happen.
posted by furiousthought at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2005


don't make my point about condescension for me

There are worse things than being condescending.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2005


...if talk radio hosts can so easily render the rest of the left guilty by association with [liars, traitors and deviants]...

Just for example, Gannon/Guckert is both a liar and a deviant, and the White House actually invited him in to peddle their message. So tell me, what is "the right" doing to distance itself from such people that the left should imitate?
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2005


There are worse things than being condescending.

True. But few so irksome.
posted by jonmc at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2005


There are worse things than being condescending.

You probably haven't yet seen enough of the world to be sure of that.
posted by orange swan at 12:36 PM on March 24, 2005


;-)
posted by orange swan at 12:36 PM on March 24, 2005


Furiousthought, my entire point was that for the first 20 years of the Cold War, Democrats did exactly that -- they were louldly and aggressively anti-Communist. Abroad, Truman putting us into Korea, Kennedy running to the right of Nixon and putting us into Vietnam, Johnson escalating Vietnam. At home, 1947 to 1953 was the critical period in which Communists and Communist sympathizers real (and, alas, imagined) were rooted out of government, academia, labor, and Hollywood -- all of which were completely dominated by Democrats who wouldn't take second seat to any Republicans in their zeal to clean up.
posted by MattD at 12:41 PM on March 24, 2005


You probably haven't yet seen enough of the world to be sure of that.

I'm not sure what to make of that, considering the wink you added, but having a minor knowledge of world history, I'm pretty certain that condescension is not, in fact, the worst thing.

My point was: let's keep our priorities straight.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:43 PM on March 24, 2005


And my point back is that those are really nice theories, and they certainly make liberals believe they, and only they, know the real "truth," but are you able to provide any evidence to support those claims?

pardonyou?: I'm not a liberal, but here's my two cents worth:

I'm taking a big career risk in saying this, but if the feds work anything like a certain state legislature I've worked extensively with, Vidal's assertions about the legislative branch being dead are right on the money. Despite the public show of floor debate, etc., all major budgetary and policy decisions are made at least six months before session starts, and the majority party's president has complete control over the entire course of debate, owing to his exclusive power to place legislation on committee and floor agendas. The sessions themselves are literally scripted. Floor debate is literally read from a script. How much more dead can a process get than becoming theater?

I don't know this because I'm a liberal (I'm actually an old-fashioned social conservative), but because my job was to analyze the system and I know the process inside and out. It's theater: Believe it.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 12:44 PM on March 24, 2005


Furiousthought, my entire point was that for the first 20 years of the Cold War, Democrats did exactly that

Yes, and a Republican freed the slaves, but I don't see any of them doing that anymore.

What does your point have to do with today's state of affairs?
posted by ludwig_van at 12:45 PM on March 24, 2005


How much more dead can a process get than becoming theater?

It could become dinner theater.
posted by jonmc at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2005


I'm not sure what to make of that, considering the wink you added

I think the wink meant that orange swan's statement was itself condescending. Kind of an ironic thing.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2005


But see, MattD, that's where you need to read Vidal's other works.

He asserts that Truman made a conscious decision to keep this country on economic war footing because there was a fear that we would slip back into depression. Which may have been a legitimate fear, in that it was only WWII that got us out of the depression. Vidal asserts that the Soviet Union was never quite the threat to our interests that we made it out to be, that "The Reds are coming!" was necessary in order to justify continued high expenditures on the military.

Whether this is actually true or not I have no real idea. But it does lead you to wonder about things such as Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" remark and how that plays into all of this.
posted by kgasmart at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2005


It could become dinner theater.

Preferably with jousting.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2005


Yes, and a Republican freed the slaves, but I don't see any of them doing that anymore.

We still have slaves?
posted by dhoyt at 12:49 PM on March 24, 2005


I think the wink meant that orange swan's statement was itself condescending.

Oh. Oops.

We still have slaves?

I was kidding. i.e., just because a Repub/Dem in the past did X doesn't mean that it applies to current Repubs/Dems.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:51 PM on March 24, 2005


Jonmc: Actually, American's like smart people just fine. We just don't like smartasses.

I think some Americans in Florida might disagree with you.
posted by Freen at 1:15 PM on March 24, 2005


I read Vidal's words and they ring true: We are a nation of sleepwalkers stumbling into history's grave, zombie-like and unaware.
Many of the people here probably never experienced the U.S. in the days of Kennedy as an adult, or even children. The same is true of Reagan. Few are aware of how this country was before Reagan's time and how much it changed for the worst: a brainwashed, ignorant population more intent on dropping out from a reality that they weren't as perfect, as advanced as they thought they were, that this nation had run it's course and really had nothing to look forward to.
No more moon landings, a landing on Mars is a pipe dream, something to re-assure the children before you feed them the Kool-Aid and put them to bed for one final time.
I do not look forward to the future our children will inherit as this country slides ever more steeply into mediocrity and irrelevance.
posted by mk1gti at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2005


for the first 20 years of the Cold War, Democrats did exactly that -- they were loudly and aggressively anti-Communist.

But - and I'd debate the justice/goodness of McCarthyism and LBJ's Vietnam policy, but that isn't relevant - the actual honest-to-goodness Communist party was not a subset of the Democratic party or widely considered to be one. Fighting the Soviet Union was not a self-purge! The modern dynamic is to say: group x = group crazy, unless group x does a big enough hoot and dance about group crazy being crazy to satisfy me. It's a silly show to expect of anybody.
posted by furiousthought at 3:07 PM on March 24, 2005


mk1gti - that's a rather dark view of it all.
I daresay that there was a substantial number of persons intent on dropping out from [a] reality in pre-Reagan generations, particularly the 60's.
It is interesting as an outsider to note through Mefi (among other input) just how polarized American society is politically - that could be construed as evidence to the contrary on the purported sleepwalking zombie front. For sure this adminstration's policies have driven a wedge into society but there are a lot of people reacting to that with passion and a hankering for greater knowledge. It's not often I would have been accused in life of rushing to the defense of America in any argument but serious challenges have confronted your nation in the past and it is a testament to the depth and variety of views and opinions that there's always been alternatives bubbling in the background. Commentators like Gore Vidal are doing their bit to ensure that the public debate continues to occur, that alternative views are given voice and that Mr + Mrs General Public are encouraged to think rather than merely accept the status quo. Not everyone of course bothers but there's always been a lot of apathy through the ages.
The tide will turn and Dem's will win back the White House/Congress/Senate somewhere along the line.
posted by peacay at 4:23 PM on March 24, 2005


I wouldn't feel so bad about this except that many prominent figures echo this view. Oddly enough for many years I thought I was one of the few who held this view until I started reading more widely. As an example, look at Walter William's book 'Reaganism and the Death of Representative Democracy'. Wonderful stuff. Totally echoes the thoughts of many. . .
posted by mk1gti at 4:29 PM on March 24, 2005


"Limbaugh and Hannity are shrewd enough to couch their rhetoric in ways that make people listen to them" - jonmc

"No, it's not how they say it, it's what they say. Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and the rest of them peddle reassuring lies." - George Spiggot

"matteo, I never claimed Limbaugh and Hannity weren't assholes. Just that they're shrewd about how they cultivate people. mainly by appealing to their more atavistic nature." - jonmc

Thank you for clarifying that, jonmc and George Spiggot. My head very nearly exploded.
posted by loquacious at 3:52 AM on March 25, 2005


There are worse things than being condescending.

Yes, and I'm sure there are sensations less pleasant than a red hot poker in the ass, but, still, I can do without it.
posted by jonmc at 7:13 AM on March 25, 2005


there are sensations less pleasant than a red hot poker in the ass

And you would know this how? :-)

Jonmc,
The righties will do well enough defending their positions without having your apologist pleadings continually buttressing their feelings of superiority. Metafilter doesn't need any Joementum.
posted by nofundy at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2005


nofundy, I think that you get my central point: that condescension alienates people from the get-go, and that thos eof us on the left should strenuously avoid it if we want to get our message across. Take it however you want. Despite what you want to believe, I am an apologist for no one. i spent tonight in a bar arguing politics with a very personable guy who described himself as "the last Republican in the Village," but I neither gave him undue shit nor hedged my own opinions. the fact that he bought around and liked the Ramones and the Clash helped. ;)
posted by jonmc at 6:53 PM on March 25, 2005


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