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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beyond Helter Skelter

by tristero

About a week ago or so, in a small town somewhere in America, a horrible mass murder occurred. An entire family was brutally killed in what looked like an extremely bizarre satanic ritual. It was all the over the news. You missed it? I don't know how. It was everywhere.

And did you also miss the interview about the murders with Charles Manson? You didn't see it? Odd. His opinion was so completely unexpected it was repeated at least twice in primetime every day. He astonished the country by saying that he thought the murderers went much too far, that their bizarre deeds were, and I'm quoting Manson directly here, "out of bounds."

"Out of bounds" even for Charles Manson! That must mean those sickos did some major-league perverted stuff.

I guess you also missed the op-eds about the tragedy that name-checked Charley. Today, for example, a well-known, well-respected columnist for the New York Times:
When even the relentless pursuer of Helter Skelter is moved to call a ritualistic mass slaying “out of bounds,” as Manson did in this case, that’s a fairly good indicator that it’s way off in crazyland.
Hold it right there, dear reader.

Doesn't this strike you as all rather...odd???? Since when is Charles fucking Manson an arbiter of what passes for sensible or crazy behavior? Does that mean that if Charley approved of that mass murder, it might be a matter of debate as to whether those killings were a reasonable thing to do?

Of course not. Manson's thinking is so warped and distorted, who knows why he thought those murders, but not the ones he perpetrated, were "out of bounds?" For all we know, it may be that what really disturbed Charley was that the killers smashed some mint-condition Beach Boys singles and sprinkled them over the bodies. What a terrible thing to happen... to those priceless recordings!

It's silly to think that those deeds were too horrific "even for Charley Manson." If the media were truly serious about providing news and information, they'd have understood that simply because Charles Manson is a warped human being does not make him an expert on the relative perversity of others. Rather than pretend a murderous lunatic's opinion is the gold standard for what's beyond crazy behavior, you talk to genuine, and genuinely reasonable, experts on homicide, mass murder, and so on who can offer some serious insight and perspective on how awful a given heinous crime was. Put simply: A mass murderer is hardly a trustworthy source of opinion on the propriety of other mass murderers. Duh.

Or so one might think...

I like a lot of what Frank Rich writes, and I like a lot of this column , but the following trope making the rounds - Rich is hardly the only one to employ it - is totally outrageous::
Among those who have called out Keep America Safe for its indecent impugning of honorable Americans’ patriotism are Kenneth Starr, Lindsey Graham and former Bush administration lawyers in the conservative Federalist Society. When even the relentless pursuer of Monicagate is moved to call a right-wing jihad “out of bounds,” as Starr did in this case, that’s a fairly good indicator that it’s way off in crazyland.
Amazing! Why, Kenneth Starr's opinion of Liz Cheney's character assassinations - "out of bounds" - is identical to Manson's on those mass murderers...

Coincidence? No. I simply made up the murders and the Manson interview in order to make the point that Starr weighing in on Cheney/Kristol's latest outrage matters as little as Manson's would mean about a recent mass murder. It's not that Keep America Safe is too much even for conservatives like Starr. It's that Starr himself is so far out of bounds that his opinion on other extremists can't be used as a gauge to judge anything. (Am I being unfair to poor Kenneth Starr, comparing him to a maniacal control freak obsessed with sex and power? I'm so totally sorry):

To repeat. Starr is an extremist. That doesn't make him an expert on extremism who knows when others have gone "too far." If he were, he'd never have behaved the way he did during Whitewater. His opinion of Cheney and Kristol's latest stunt is no indication whatsoever that that they are somehow out there in crazyland "even for the right."Starr, too is so out there in crazy land, his opinion can hardly be considered reliable.

This is important: Starr said something that appeared - I stress the "appeared" - sensible. What we must remember is that this is the man who tried to persuade the president's ex-girlfriend to wear a wire into the Oval Office. By any rational standard, that was so beyond "out of bounds" as to make his objections to the extremism of others meaningless. Who knows why he really objects to the demonizing of the Gitmo lawyers? Maybe at least one of the lawyers was a close pal of his and he's standing up for a friend; otherwise he simply would have kept his trap shut. Makes sense to me.

Or maybe he confused Liz Cheney with Mary Cheney and thought Keep America Safe was some radical lesbian cooperative mandating contraceptive use by everyone. He's amply demonstrated his kinkiness when it comes to sex, after all.

Again, who knows? To say the least, Kenneth Starr's statements are hardly a reliable source in order to get a sense for how extreme others on the right is. Even when he appears to be making sense? Especially so: Something else must be going on.

Let me put it another way: If you think the reason Kenneth Starr spoke out against Cheney/Kristol is because he shares your disgust of McCarthyite smears, you need to read Conason's and Lyon's book. Starr demonstrated again and again that he has neither the slightest respect for boundaries and nor the slightest problem with McCarthyism. None. In objecting to Keep America Safe, he's just working the angles. Or he's misinformed. Me, I'm betting on the angles and I'm betting Cheney and Co. smeared a friend or two.

So, assuming it would actually be useful know such a thing, whose opinion might actually demonstrate that Liz Cheney and William Kristol's nasty little smear campaign "is a fairly good indicator that it’s way off in crazyland?" Well, rather than propagate Starr's worthless brain-burps, they could have interviewed Susan Herman, president of ACLU and given her opinion as much airtime as they did Starrs . But they didn't. In fact, they rarely quote someone sensible when the right goes "out of bounds." Case in point: Rich's column. We hear only from the crazies - Starr, Graham, Bush-admin lawyers - and they're complaining that other equally crazy people are crazy . That's not helpful.

It's as if somehow an extremist's condemnation proves that there's some mythical further-out-there-beyond-the-pale extremism. It doesn't. It means nothing besides this: liberal - ie. reasonable- voices are not taken seriously when objecting to the madness of the rightwing. In the mainstream media, only the rightwing are empowered to judge when they've gone too far.

This has got to stop. Kenneth Starr and his fellow creeps have nothing constructive to add to the national discourse on any subject whatsoever. As for the trope, "Well, even staunch movement conservatives like FILL IN THE BLANK think Cheney and Kristol have gone too far" that is a worthless construction. Reasonable people, not a roundup of exclusively movement conservatives, need to be heard from when movement conservatives go too far. They themselves are not intellectually or morally equipped to know when that has happened.

To recap:

Kenneth Starr calling Cheney/Kristols's actions "out of bounds" is no different than Charles Manson saying the same thing about a ritual murder. These are not sensible actors and their opinions are worthless for gaining any genuine insight into the relative extremism of genuinely insane behavior and/or dangerously bad social movements. Rather than accept the construction, "even the right thinks that is too extreme," we should strongly object to it. Why does their opinion matter at all? They've been wrong on everything.

The right has demonstrated time and again that they are neither honest nor coherent. Movement conservatives are in no position to judge the relative extremism of their allies and rivals within the movement and their motives for doing so are suspect. Kenneth Starr, of all people, is hardly capable, morally or intellectually, of defining a line beyond which McCarthyite tactics could be thought "out of bounds."