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Saturday, August 23, 2003

Phlegmatic Overachievers

Michael Wolfe wrote another one of his brilliant pieces this week, this time on the liberal cognoscenti. With the exception of Bill Clinton, (who should always be listened to --- he’s one of those freaky people who’s always riding the Zeitgeist) it turns out that the “movers and shakers” of the Democratic party are awfully flaccid and slight. Sigh.

Personally, I love these people. The thinkers, the overachievers, the rational, problem solving, liberal minded, intellectual elite. These are the people whose forbearers can take credit for much of the progress that led to our open and liberal society. (Conservatives and warriors are there, too, in different ways.) But hey, this is my tribe.

However much I love them, however, these days they seem to be living in a different dimension than the one I inhabit.

There was even the sense, for all its various problems—consolidation, Fox (everybody said Murdoch’s name with great scorn), the mess at AOL Time Warner—of the media’s being, well, safely and proudly fair-minded (despite the conservative noisiness).

Ann Moore, while she openly shuddered over the AOL merger, still thought Time Inc. did pretty fine work without corporate interference. And Michael Kinsley, who was there with his new wife, Patty Stonesifer, who runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said sanguinely, “I don’t see the problem, frankly,” and then offered a defense of big media and Bill Gates.

Indeed, nowhere at the conference, really, was there controversy. In some sense, the theme of the conference, even, was a rejection of controversy—much talk about the erosion of civic trust that came from partisanship.

Well, yes. The erosion of civic trust (partially) comes from partisanship. But, they evidently believe this “partisanship” comes from partisans on both sides equally, and that further, if everyone would just behave, then we wouldn’t have all this unpleasantness.

“Come come, people. Let’s not sink to their level. Let’s “send a positive message of bipartisanship and conviviality so the GOP can see that you get more flies with honey than you get with vinegar.”

The leadership of “overachieving” liberal America are like sheltered maiden aunts and musty Latin professors --- filled with good intentions but useless against a gang of street thugs.

They seem to think that if we can just hold on to our notions of civility and good government, politics will go back to being a more or less collegial game defined by cooperation and compromise. In other words, they think the system itself is defined by the cold war consensus and the New Deal and all this bickering is anomalous and temporary.

This is surprising coming from a group of very smart people. They, of anyone, should know that there is nothing fundamentally “balanced” in our political system and that there is nothing to stop this country from becoming a de facto one-party state, by legitimate OR illegitimate means. History is full of examples of that very thing and the United States (contrary to Prezdunt Pretzel's beliefs) is not specially blessed by God or anything else.

They certainly should be able to see that the modern Republican party has as much a chance of going back to the suprapartisan politics of Everett Dirkson as Arianna Huffington has of winning the California governorship.

Something profound is happening in America and, for some reason, liberalism’s smartest people don’t seem to realize it.

So, it looks as though any stemming of the radical Republican tide really is going to have to come from the grassroots.

Wolfe also discusses Wesley Clark’s appeal in a very interesting way, concluding that he is the wet dream candidate of the liberal intellectual elite but is possibly too “cool” for the “not-so-cool” American heartland. I would agree if he had a different biography. It doesn’t guarantee a win, but you cannot discount the martial spirit of much of the south and rural America, particularly at a time like this. Michael Lind wrote a great article on the topic that I think is more relevant than ever.

The sad fact is that being super-smart is now considered a liability for a president. It makes him a pussy.

Unless, perhaps, he is also a four star General.

As bizarre as it is, we Democrats must now nominate candidates who have images of heroism, machismo or scrappy rags to riches tales of Galtian proportions. But, we have to pretend that he isn’t one of the smartest people on the planet. That would offend the mouth breathers, apparently, who need to believe that anyone smarter than them (a door knob, for instance) is too effeminate to be president.

They can try to characterize Clark as a cold, effete, smarty pants but they have to be very careful. Clark’s only been out of the military for a couple of years. He spent his entire life in the Army --- there is absolutely no history of any counter-culture shenanigans or any issues of personal integrity. His life cannot be criticized on the basis of the culture war, a unique situation for a Democrat. (Republicans, no matter how hedonistic are, of course, exempt. Praise Jeebus.)

They’ll go after him anyway, needless to say, but it stands a good chance of backfiring. Attacking General Clark on a personal basis is akin to attacking the military itself.

It won't stop them. But, it will not help them either.