Monday, March 15, 2010

Chunky Bobo, and Friends

When I saw the opening blurb to Douthat's column today, I knew it would be another exercise in stupidity. It was ...
Daniel Larison (Am. Cons.):
We Wouldn’t Want To Be Simplistic And Naive, Now, Would We?

Ross:

Our nation might be less divided, and our debates less poisonous, if more artists were capable of showing us the ironies, ambiguities and tragedies inherent in our politics — rather than comforting us with portraits of a world divided cleanly into good and evil.

Yes, the problem might be that we do not have artists capable of rendering contemporary architects of a war of aggression that was based on shoddy intelligence, ideological fervor and deceit in a sufficiently subtle, even-handed manner. If only Hollywood were better at portraying the depth and complexity of people who unleashed hell on a nation of 24 million people out of an absurd fear of a non-existent threat! Life is so unfair to warmongers, is it not? Then again, the reason our debates are so poisonous and our nation so divided might have something to do with the existence of utterly unaccountable members of the political class that can launch such a war, suffer no real consequences, and then reliably expect to be defended as “decent” and “well-intentioned” people who made understandable mistakes. The unfortunate truth of our existence is that villains do not have to come out of central casting for comic book movies. They are ordinary, “decent” people who commit grave errors and terrible crimes for any number of reasons. Many great evils have found their origins in a group’s belief that they were doing the right thing and were therefore entitled and permitted to use extraordinary means.

That said, I do agree that we should have a greater appreciation for ambiguity and complexity. Would that we had had more of this when the President was railing against an “axis of evil,” administration supporters were authoring absurdly-titled works called An End to Evil, and advocates of invasion were routinely claiming that anyone opposed to the war did not understand that evil existed in the world. Where was this discomfort with sharp “Manichean” divisons then? Where were the complaints against simplistic and naive “reductionism” of complex realities?

Perhaps more of a tragic sensibility would have held some of the delusions of war supporters in check. Perhaps they would have been less enthusiastic to start a war that did not have to happen. After all, the Iraq war was nothing if not a product of a comforting, false vision of a world cleanly divided into good and evil, in which “we” were liberators and “they” were villains, pure and simple. When “they” possess a weapon, it is a dire threat to all of mankind, but when “we” possess the weapon it is no problem at all. “Their” aggression is proof that they must be destroyed, while “our” aggression is evidence of our noble intentions. Of course, when opponents of the invasion attempted to hold our government to the same moral and legal standards the government invoked against Hussein, we were told that this was to engage in “moral equivalency” and “relativism.” There is nothing quite like the relativism of universal moral standards!

Perhaps one reason there is not much interest in exploring the tragic side of our politics is that Nemesis is ever-elusive. The ambition and pride of political leaders may lead to disaster, but the men whose ambition and pride fueled the calamity escape relatively unscathed. We have an abundance of hubris in our politics, and there are more than enough sins that invite punishment, but unlike the famous figures of tragedy our leaders never answer for what they have done. It is always “History” that is supposed to judge them. In the meantime, they walk away, and often enough they head off to a comfortable retirement. They remain unaccountable and surrounded by a small army of revisionists just waiting to rehabilitate their reputations in a few years’ time.

When that changes, perhaps we will have more complicated storytelling that does not simply vilify the people responsible for a great crime. However, since there will apparently be no accountability for our leaders in the real world, we may have to settle for the inadequate stories we have now.

  • mistermix adds:
    Interesting to see one of the sanest and most civil bloggers around driven to complete frustration by Douthat’s mealy-mouthed horseshit. His whole response is worth a read.
  • DemFromCT adds:
    Don't blame Hollywood, Ross. Blame Bush and Glen Beck and Fox News. Until you confront the truth, your column will continue to be one dimensional.
  • Betty Cracker adds:

    That Chunky Bobo piece made me see red too. I seem to recall a conspicuous lack of nuance on the part of Bush and his neocon enablers during the run-up to the war.

    “You’re either with us or against us,” for example, and labeling anti-war liberals “objectively pro-terrorist” and similar nonsense. Not much fooking nuance then, but now that the war has been revealed as the giant cock-up we said it would be, well gosh, let’s not be too judgmental.

  • beltane adds:
    The neocons lack the complexity of character required by a top-notch Shakespearean villain. Sorry, but Dick Cheney is no Richard III, and he is way too one-dimensional to be the subject of an interesting monologue. These are more comic book style villains, and Hollywood is very well equipped to portray them.

Benen: ENSIGN 'UNDER SIEGE,' BUT NOT FROM MEDIA

Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) humiliating sex scandal -- involving personal, legal, and ethical transgressions -- grew more serious last week with reports of incriminating emails. Politico reports this morning that the scandal "has Ensign under siege."

Embattled Republican John Ensign is showing no signs of giving up his Senate seat, but the persistent drip of information about his sex scandal has some colleagues and top Republican aides asking quietly whether he can serve effectively.

The Nevada Republican admitted in June that he'd had an affair with an aide. But rather than putting the problem behind him, the admission was just the first in a long series of damaging revelations that have left other senators wary of working too closely with him -- a significant problem in a clubby body in which success depends on building relationships with other members.

"Like Vitter, Ensign doesn't get invited to a lot of press conferences because no one wants their boss in a photo op with them," said one top GOP aide, referring to Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter, who was identified in 2007 as a client of an alleged prostitution ring.

When senators are afraid to be seen with one of their scandal-plagued colleagues, it's generally a bad sign. Indeed, lawmakers are their most effective when they can partner with colleagues to advance legislation, but his Ensign's GOP colleagues don't want to return his phone calls. Under normal circumstances, it's the kind of dynamic that forces a senator to resign in disgrace.

But if Ensign can survive this, he'll have to send thank-you notes to major news outlets that just don't seem interested in this controversy.

Despite new revelations pointing to possible illegalities, the Washington Post, for example, hasn't run a single article about Ensign's scandal in months. (The Post ran a piece two weeks ago that mentioned the Ensign controversy in passing. The headline: "Democrats' ethical lapses could threaten hold on power.")

What about the Sunday shows? Despite damaging new evidence published this week, the total number of references yesterday to Ensign on the five major Sunday morning shows -- "Meet the Press," "This Week," "Face the Nation," "State of the Union," and "Fox News Sunday" -- was zero. Literally, none.

Three of the five, however, found time for the Eric Massa controversy.

I don't know what political reporters are waiting for here. In general, the media loves political sex scandals. This one involves a shameless hypocrite, who ran on a "family-values" platform, committing adultery with one of his own aides, who happens to be married to another aide. The controversy features the immediate affair, plus alleged ethics violations, hush money, and official corruption.

And yet, no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign's home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace. The Washington Post and the Sunday shows are pretending the story doesn't even exist, even after the DNC launched a pretty hard hitting ad on the subject.

"Liberal media"? I don't think so.

digby: Missing The Real Story

This point by Jamison Foser can't be stressed enough:

The hand-wringing at the Post and the Times about being insufficiently attuned to conservative arguments should ring false to any fair-minded person who remembers the role those papers played in the relentless hyping of Clinton-era non-scandals, their heavily slanted coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign, or their disastrously inadequate coverage of the Bush administration's march to war. (Alexander and the Post editors have ducked requests that they reconcile the paper's coverage of those events with their statements that the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives.)

But even worse than the myopic view of their treatment of conservatives over the years was the misguided premise that the media should pay attention to certain people simply because they are ideologically conservative -- as if a person's ideology, rather than the accuracy and honesty and importance of his claims, determines whether he should be taken seriously.

That's dangerously wrong. It's the kind of thinking that leads the media to grant equal weight to scientists who say the Earth is warming and politicians who respond by pointing out the continued existence of snow.

And, indeed, the conservative media have spent the last several months proving again and again that they simply do not deserve to be taken seriously.

[...]

And yet The New York Times and The Washington Post think they should pay extra attention to claims that come from the right-wing media; that they should be quicker to repeat the nonsense churned out every day by this pack of professional liars, simply because they are conservatives. But the decades-long track record suggests the opposite: The fact that Fox News or The Weekly Standard is promoting some story is pretty good reason to assume it isn't newsworthy.
Furthermore, this track record suggests that these stories are also a pretty good reason to assume it is propaganda and seek out the motivations and strategy behind them. There is a story in all this, it's just not the one the right wing media are spinning.

Read Foser's whole column for a thorough rundown of just the lies these conservative rags have been telling in the past few months. It's astonishing to see it in one place.

These conservatives the mainstream press feels so compelled to take seriously

Yglesias: Goldberg: The Middle East Is Complicated and It’s All the Arabs’ Fault

The latest twists and turns in the Israeli-Arab conflict have left me depressed, and I don’t really want to think or write about it. I do, however, like making fun of Jeffrey Goldberg so let’s raise a cheer to this nice catch from Spencer Ackerman. Goldberg, very upset at Andrew Sullivan, ends one paragraph with the observation that “All that happens today flows from the original Arab decision to reject totally the idea that Jews are deserving of a state in part of their historic homeland.” And then the very next sentence he writes is this:

I dont know why Andrew refuses to admit that Middle East history is complicated.

I don’t know either!

For the record, it is complicated. It does today seem like if you could go back in time and persuade the Arabs to accept the original UN partition plan, that contemporary Palestinians would be much better off. But what’s the cash value of this with regard to a humanitarian crisis in the contemporary Gaza Strip? And of course once you’re just constructing pure counterfactuals, all kinds of ways to postulate a better outcome become plausible. What if a Jewish homeland had been created in the former German territory in and around K√∂nigsberg rather than it having been turned into a Russian exclave? What about Sitka? I think these are interesting questions, but they don’t tell us much about what to do today.



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