Friday, September 29, 2006
It's Getting Hot In Here
Many thanks to tristero for voicing the frustration and outrage so many of us are feeling about events of this week. I remember writing a piece sometime back about the danger presented by the constant drumbeat of cruel and violent rhetoric that bubbles up from the right wing into the national conversation and becomes more and more acceptable. (David Neiwert, as you know, has written about this extensively.) Civilized taboos are being broken everywhere, especially the most important taboos, the big ones, the ones that put untrammelled power in the hands of unaccountable authority. I wrote in that post called "Flame On High"
Seeing Ann Coulter feted on the cover of Time magazine as a mainstream political figure instead of the deranged, murderous extremist she actually is was quite a shock. And then a friend sent me the links to the Free Republic thread discussing the death of Marla Ruzicka, which made me so nauseous that I had to shut down for a while.
It has become clear to me that we are frogs being slowly boiled to death. And the media are enjoying the hot tub party so much that they are helping to turn up the heat.
Ann Coulter is not, as Howie Kurtz asserts today, the equivalent of Michael Moore. Michael Moore is is not advocating the murder of conservatives. He just isn't. For instance, he doesn't say that Eric Rudolph should be killed so that other conservatives will learn that they can be killed too. He doesn't say that he wishes that Tim McVeigh had blown up the Washington Times Bldg. He doesn't say that conservatives routinely commit the capital offense of treason. He certainly doesn't put up pictures of the fucking snoopy dance because one of his political opponents was killed. He doesn't, in other words, issue calls for violence and repression against his political enemies. That is what Ann Coulter does, in the most coarse, vulgar, reprehensible way possible.
Moore says conservatives are liars and they are corrupt and they are wrong. But he is not saying that they should die. There is a distinction. And it's a distinction that Time magazine and Howard Kurtz apparently cannot see.
I have long felt that it was important not to minimize the impact of this sick shit. For years my friends and others in the online communities would say that it was a waste of time to worry about Rush because there are real issues to worry about. Likewise Coulter. Everytime I write something about her there is always someone chastizing me for wasting their time. Yet, here she is, being given the impramatur of a mainstream publication of record in a whitwash of epic proportions. Slowly, slowly the water is heating up.
The idea was that the rise in heated, violent rhetoric in our culture was leading to serious concerns about the eliminationist impulse on the right. Just this week we see a disgusting anthrax "joke" played on Keith Olbermann because he has had the temerity to speak out against the president --- and a right wing newspaper laughs about it.
But why should that surprise us? We also saw more than half of our elected representatives explictly endorse torture and the repeal of habeas corpus (although they lied right to our faces and said they didn't.)
That shouldn't have surprised us either. CJR has an interesting article this month on how the press covered torture called A Failure of Imagination. It's not pretty:
There is a final factor that has shaped torture coverage, one that is hard to capture. In most big scandals, such as Watergate, the core question is whether the allegations of illegal behavior are true. Here, the ultimate issue isn’t whether the allegations are true, but whether they’re significant, whether they should really be considered a scandal.
Though the administration has decided not to defend publicly the need for “coercive” interrogations, others have. Their argument is that the policy of abusive interrogations is not only acceptable but necessary to protect the United States. At the same time, polls on torture are notoriously sensitive to phrasing. It’s the mixed results themselves, though, that may be telling. Americans appear to be ambivalent about the occasional need for torture. And with ambivalence, perhaps, comes a preference for not wanting to know.
Within this context, any article, no matter how straightforward or truthful, that treats abuse as a potential scandal — even by simply putting allegations on the front page — is itself making a political statement that “we think this is important,” and, implicitly, wrong. To make such a statement takes chutzpah. Between the invasion of Afghanistan in fall 2001 and the revelations about Abu Ghraib in spring 2004, chutzpah was in particularly short supply.
And it still does, apparently. While there has been ample coverage of Bush's torture and indefinite detention regime it has never assumed the level of "scandal." Even Abu Ghraib, where there were pictures of abuses, never really touched the administration. And what happened to the culture?
You'll recall what the most popular radio host in the world had to say about it:
LIMBAUGH: ...this is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?
And you'll recall what leading Republicans said about the criticism he received for that:
Rush's angry, frustrated critics discount how hard it is to make an outrageous charge against him stick. But, we listeners have spent years with him, we know him, and trust him. Rush is one of those rare acquaintances who can be defended against an assault challenging his character without ever knowing the "facts." We trust his good judgment, his unerring decency, and his fierce loyalty to the country he loves and to the courageous young Americans who defend her.
In the days after 9/11 the panic and hysteria were so thick in the air that people were saying a lot of crazy things. I remember writing a blistering post some time back about Jonathan Alter, who is a good guy, but who lost his mind for a bit after 9/11 and entertained this torture concept in his column. We all remember Alan Dershowitz going on the record early with an argument to make torture legal. I was quite stunned at the time, but I assumed that once the smoke cleared the nation would realize, with some chagrin, that many of the things they felt and believed while the rubble was still fresh was no longer acceptable.
The opposite happened. Our culture, debased by years of ugly rightwing eliminationist rhetoric has gotten worse. It is so much worse that it has abandoned the taboo against torture. There is no other way to read the results of this week.
Some of our leadership did speak out against the abuse of prisoners. Hillary Clinton, in particular, addressed the humane treatment of the captured enemy in explicit terms of fundamental American values. Others did as well. But overall, I think it's pretty clear that speaking out against torture is still something that requires chutzpah --- which means that approving of torture is now the norm. We need to recognize that and form our strategy based on that recognition. We are no longer the country I grew up in.
I feel I should point out that the old frog in boiling water thing is incorrect. When a frog feels the water heating up he jumps out. His survival instinct is strong. Humans, on the other hand, are much more complex creatures. It's not that we don't have a surivial instinct --- it's that we have the ability to rationalize and make ourselves believe that boiling water can't kill us --- it only kills frogs. But primitive lizard brain instincts are important in warning us when something is terribly wrong --- and we fail to heed them at our peril.
This country is very swiftly retreating to an uncivilized state. It's not because of gay people getting married or women aborting blastocysts. It's because a vicious, violent ugly faction took over the political discourse and normalized the idea of a powerful enemy within and without America that must be stopped by any means possible.
And the government is giving these people tours of the prison at Guantanamo and they come back and report that it is beautiful resort and the residents are fat and lazy. (Literally. It couldn't be more soviet.)
Of course, the very same person who said that wrote this in 2003:
"In a year's time, Iraq will be, at a bare minimum, the least badly governed state in the Arab world and, at best, pleasant, civilised and thriving. In short: not a bad three weeks' work."
That would be amusing except for the fact that he is no more deluded than the people who run the most powerful country in the world. This water is starting to bubble.
digby 9/29/2006 04:29:00 PM