Why the right keeps doing it wrong: liberal takeover almost complete.
A decade or so back, early in the 2004 presidential election season, a publisher took me to lunch and pitched me a book. She wanted me to write a John Kerry election diary. Easy gig. All I had to do was follow him around and mock him mercilessly. Well, I hemmed and hawed and eventually she got the picture and said, "Okay, what would you like to write a book about?"
And so I replied, "Well, I've got this idea for a book called The End of the World."
And there was a pause and I could feel her metaphorically backing out of the room, and shortly thereafter she literally backed out of the room. But not before telling me, somewhat wistfully, "You know when I first started reading your stuff? Impeachment. Your column about Monica Lewinsky's dress was hilarious." She motioned to the waiter. "Check, please!" And I got the distinct impression she was feeling like the great pop guru Don Kirshner when the Monkees came to him and said they were sick of doing this bubblegum stuff and they needed to grow as artists. My "Monica's dress" column appeared in Britain's Daily Telegraph in 1998, although it was, in fact, datelined two decades later--August 22, 2018:
She is older now, her once dazzling looks undeniably faded, her famous beauty worn and creased.
"Sorry about that," she says. "I was supposed to get ironed yesterday."
Yes, it's "that dress"--the dress that, 20 years ago this month, held the fate of a presidency in her lap. It has been two decades since the day she gave her dramatic testimony to the grand jury and then promptly disappeared into the federal witness protection program. Even as she recalls her brief moment in the spotlight, she looks drawn. But that's because, following extensive reconstructive surgery, she's been living quietly as a pair of curtains in Idaho.
"What do you think?" she says, saucily brushing her hem against the sill as her pleats ripple across the mullions. "It cost less than Paula Jones' nose job."
To be honest, I was lucky to get the interview. The dress was supposed to be doing the BBC--the full sob-sister treatment, Martin Bashir, the works--but, to protect her identity, they wanted to do that undercover secret-location protect-your-identity trick with the camera that makes part of the screen go all fuzzy and blurry.
"Are you crazy?" she yelled at them. "It'll look like I've still got the stain."
The Nineties were a lot of fun for a columnist. A third Clinton term and I could have retired to the Caribbean. But then came the new century and the new war, and I felt like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca when she tells Bogey, "I put that dress away. When the Germans march out, I'll wear it again." I put Monica's dress away. When the jihadists march out, I'll wear it again.
My apocalyptic tome came out in 2006 (courtesy of the publisher of the book from which this is excerpted) as America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It--jihad, demographic decline, the death of Europe, all the fun stuff. I followed it with After America: Get Ready for Armageddon--debt, doom, decadence, societal meltdown, total civilizational collapse, all the even more fun stuff. I don't know whether the Monkees in their serious-artist phase ever felt it might be nice to sing Daydream Believer occasionally, but, after a decade of apocalyptic despair, I've found myself passing the closet and eyeing Monica's dress wistfully. All jihad and no play can get to you after a while, so, in the interests of a balanced diet, what follows in my book runs the gamut from Clinton's boxer shorts to Barbie's burqa.
The old artistic trade-off--"Do you want it good or do you want it Friday?" --doesn't really apply to jobbing columnists: Your editors want it Friday. Good is an extra. But if you're lucky, a few of the columns hold up over the decades--not because you were aiming to say anything profound, but because in that snapshot of whatever was happening that particular Friday you alighted upon a small close-up that illuminates the big picture: The story of Deena Gilbey's post-9/11 torments by the federal bureaucracy that facilitated the murder of her husband is still a perfect encapsulation of the near suicidal stupidity of America's immigration regime. The coverage of the Million Mom March is a textbook case of the U.S. media's willingness to serve as the court eunuchs of the Democratic Party. The new federally-mandated street signs in Barre, Vermont, explain why this country is the Brokest Nation in History. Over the years, I've written on a lot of different subjects: I was "Musical Theatre Correspondent" for The Independent in London, and obituarist for The Atlantic over here. And I've included a bit of movie criticism, literary disquisition, musical analysis, showbiz arcana, mostly, as above, for the larger truths they exemplify.
There are politicians here, of course, although both Clinton, staggering pantless through American feminists' defense of him, and Obama, running on biography but one full of entirely invented friends and family, seem more interesting to me as cultural phenomena. Sadly, there's still no "John Kerry election diary," although not because I didn't enjoy valuable "face time" with the great man during his campaign for the White House. In 2003, I was at a campaign event in Haverhill, New Hampshire, chatting with two plaidclad old-timers:
The Senator approached and stopped in front of us. The etiquette in primary season is that the candidate defers to the cranky Granite Staters' churlish indifference to status and initiates the conversation: "Hi, I'm John Kerry. Good to see ya. Cold enough for ya? How 'bout them Sox?" Etc. Instead, Senator Kerry just stood there nose to nose, staring at us with an inscrutable Botoxicated semi-glare on his face. After an eternity, an aide stepped out from behind him and said, "The Senator needs you to move."
"Well, why couldn't he have said that?" muttered one of the old coots.
Why indeed? But then again--from another campaign stop, a year later, at the popular burger emporium Wendy's:
Teresa Heinz Kerry pointed to the picture of the bowl of chili above the clerk's head: "What's that?" she asked. He explained that it was something called "chili," and she said she'd like to try a bowl. The Senator also ordered a Frosty, a chocolate dessert. They toyed with them after a fashion and then got back on the bus ... He may not enjoy eating at Wendy's, but his faux-lunch order captures the essence of his crowd-working style: chili and Frosty. If I were the Wendy's marketing director, I'd make it the John Kerry Special from now through Election Day.
Nothing wrong with that. But I feel like Bob Hope must have felt flipping through his best Coolidge jokes during the Dukakis campaign. As I write, people keep asking me whom I favour for the nomination in 2016. Well, as a resident of a New Hampshire township with more than 37 people, I don't have to seek out presidential candidates; they're there at the inn and the general store and the diner and the Grange. And, over the period covered by this book, I've seen enough next-presidents-of-the-United-States for several lifetimes: Phil Gramm, Pete Wilson, Bob Dornan, Bob Dole, Elizabeth Dole, Orrin Hatch, Gary Bauer, Lamar Alexander, Tom Tancredo, Tommy Thompson, Alan Keyes ...
Would it have made any difference to the country had any of these fine upstanding fellows prevailed? Or would we be pretty much where we are anyway? Aside from a trade agreement here, a federal regulation there, I'd plump for the latter. You can't have conservative government in a liberal culture, and that's the position the Republican Party is in. After the last election, I said that the billion dollars spent by the Romney campaign on robocalls and TV ads and all the rest had been entirely wasted, and the Electoral College breakdown would have been pretty much what it was if they'd just tossed the dough into the Potomac and let it float out to sea. But imagine the use all that money and time could have been put to out there in the wider world.
Liberals expend tremendous effort changing the culture. Conservatives expend tremendous effort changing elected officials every other November --and then are surprised that it doesn't make much difference. Culture trumps politics--which is why, once the question's been settled culturally, conservatives are reduced to playing catch-up, twisting themselves into pretzels to explain why gay marriage is really conservative after all, or why 30-million unskilled immigrants with a majority of births out of wedlock are "natural allies" of the Republican Party.
We're told that the presidency is important because the head guy gets to appoint, if he's lucky, a couple of Supreme Court judges. But they're playing catch-up to the culture, too. In 1986, in a concurrence to a majority opinion, the Chief Justice of the United States declared that "there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy." A blink of an eye, and his successors are discovering fundamental rights to commit homosexual marriage. What happened in between? Jurisprudentially, nothing: Everything Chief Justice Burger said back in the Eighties--about Common Law, Blackstone's "crime against nature," "the legislative authority of the State"--still applies. Except it doesn't. Because the culture--from school-guidance counselors to sitcom characters to Oscar hosts--moved on, and so even America's Regency of Jurists was obliged to get with the beat. Because to say today what the Chief Justice of the United States said 28 years ago would be to render oneself unfit for public office--not merely as Chief Justice but as CEO of a private company, or host of a cable home-remodeling show, or dogcatcher in Dead Moose Junction.
What politician of left or right championed gay marriage? Bill Clinton? No, he signed the now notoriously "homophobic" Defense of Marriage Act. Barack Obama? Gay-wise, he took longer to come out than Ricky Martin. The only major politician to elbow his way to the front of the gay bandwagon was Britain's David Cameron, who used same-sex marriage as a Sister-Souljah-on-steroids moment to signal to London's chattering classes that, notwithstanding his membership of the unfortunately named "Conservative Party," on everything that mattered he was one of them.
But, in Britain as in America, the political class was simply playing catch-up to the culture. Even in the squishiest Continental "social democracy," once every four or five years you can persuade the electorate to go out and vote for a conservative party. But if you want them to vote for conservative government you have to do the hard work of shifting the culture every day, seven days a week, in the years between elections. If the culture's liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, groovy business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a guy with an "R" after his name isn't going to make a lot of difference. Nor should it. In free societies, politics is the art of the possible. In the 729 days between elections, the left is very good at making its causes so possible that in American politics almost anything of consequence is now impossible, from enforcing immigration law to controlling spending.
What will we be playing catch-up to in another 28 years? Not so long ago, I might have suggested transsexual rights. But, barely pausing to celebrate their victory on gay marriage, the identity-group enforcers have gone full steam ahead on transgender issues. Once upon a time there were but two sexes. Now Facebook offers its 1.2 billion patrons the opportunity to select their preference from dozens of "genders": "male" and "female" are still on the dropdown menu, just about, but lost amid 50 shades of gay--"androgynous," "bi-gender," "intersex," "cisfemale," "trans*man," "gender fluid" ...
Oh, you can laugh. But none of the people who matter in American culture are laughing. They take it all perfectly seriously. Supreme Intergalactic Arbiter Anthony Kennedy wields more power over Americans than George III did, but in a year or three he'll be playing catch-up and striking down laws because of their "improper animus" and wish to "demean" and "humiliate" persons of gender fluidity. Having done an impressive job of demolishing the basic societal building block of the family, the ambitious liberal is now moving on to demolishing the basic biological building block of the sexes.
Indeed, taken in tandem with the ever greater dominance of women at America's least worst colleges and, at the other end of the social scale, the bleak, dispiriting permanence of the "he-cession," in 28 years' time we may be fairly well advanced toward the de facto abolition of man, at least in the manly sense. That seems to me at least as interesting a question as whether the Republicans can take the Senate with a pick-up in this or that swing state. Culture is the long view; politics is the here and now. Yet in America, vast cultural changes occur in nothing flat, while, under our sclerotic political institutions, men elected to two-year terms of office announce ambitious plans to balance the budget a decade after their terms end. Here, again, liberals show a greater understanding of where the action is.
So, if the most hawkish of GOP deficit hawks has no plans to trim spending until well into the 2020s, why not look at what kind of country you'll be budgeting for by then? What will American obesity and heart-disease and childhood diabetes rates be by then? What about rural heroin and meth addiction? How much of the country will, with or without "comprehensive immigration reform," be socioeconomically Latin-American? And what is the likelihood of such a nation voting for small-government conservatism?
There's a useful umbrella for most of the above: The most consequential act of state ownership in the 20th-century Western world was not the nationalization of airlines or the nationalization of railways or the nationalization of health care, but the nationalization of the family. I owe that phrase to Professor R. Vaidyanathan at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. He's a bit of a chippy post-imperialist, and he's nobody's idea of a right-winger, but he's absolutely right about this. It's the defining fact about the decline of the west: Once upon a time, in Canada, Britain, Europe, and beyond, ambitious leftists nationalized industries--steel, coal, planes, cars, banks--but it was such a self-evident disaster that it's been more or less abandoned, at least by those who wish to remain electorally viable. On the other hand, the nationalization of the family proceeds apace, and America is as well advanced on that path as anywhere else. "The west has nationalized families over the last 60 years," writes Vaidyanathan. "Old age, ill health, single motherhood--everything is the responsibility of the state."
When I was a kid and watched sci-fi movies set in a futuristic dystopia where individuals are mere chattels of an unseen all-powerful government and enduring human relationships are banned and the progeny of transient sexual encounters are the property of the state, I always found the caper less interesting than the unseen backstory: How did they get there from here? From free Western societies to a bunch of glassy-eyed drones wandering around in identikit variety-show catsuits in a land where technology has advanced but liberty has retreated: How'd that happen?
I'd say "the nationalization of the family" is how it happens. That's how you get there from here.
But I see I've worked my way back to all that apocalyptic gloom I came in with at that long-ago publisher's lunch. So you'll be relieved to hear there's some lighter stuff along the way --Viagra, potpourri, Marilyn Monroe, Soviet national anthem rewrites ...
Finally, a note on what Daffy Duck, in a livelier context, called "pronoun trouble": I wound up living in New Hampshire through the classic disastrous real estate transaction. I walked into the realtor intending to buy a little ski place I could use for a couple of winter weekends and a week at Christmas, and walked out with a 200-year-old farmhouse needing 200 years of work on it. In those days, I wrote mainly on music and film and other showbizzy subjects, and gradually my editors in London and elsewhere became aware that I was doing all this showbizzy stuff from some obscure corner of America. And so they started to ask me to write on this or that political story. Most foreign correspondents in America are based in New York, Washington or Los Angeles, so I like to think I came at the subject from a different angle (see the book's postscript for more on my whereabouts).
But, as I said, it can lead to Daffy-style pronoun trouble. Writing for publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, I used to be very careful about my pronouns. Then I discovered that for the previous six months some malicious Fleet Street sub-editor at The Daily Telegraph, in my more contemptuously hectoring surveys of the London scene, had been taking out every dismissive "you snotty Brits" and replacing it with "we." A while later, I got a barrage of emails from Canadians sneering at me as a wannabe American along with even more emails from aggrieved Americans huffing at my impertinence at claiming to speak on behalf of their country. It turned out some jackanapes of a whippersnapper at The New York Sun had been removing all my "you crazy Yanks" and replacing it with "we." The same thing happened to my compatriot Michael Ignatieff, who returned to Canada from a lucrative gig at Harvard intending to become Prime Minister only to find that his opponents dredged up every New York Times column of his in which he'd used the word "we" as shorthand for "we Americans." Mr. Ignatieff led the Canadian Liberal Party to their worst defeat in history and is now back at Harvard.
When the Internet took off, someone commented that my colleague David Frum wrote for Americans as an American and for Canadians as a Canadian. And someone else responded that I'd taken it to the next level: Steyn wrote for Americans as an American, Canadians as a Canadian, and Britons as a Briton. And then a third person chipped in that, no, it was subtler than that: Steyn wrote for Britons as a Canadian, for Canadians as an American, and for Americans as a Briton . Well, I don't know about that, but throughout my time writing for The Chicago Sun-Times, the National Post, Britain's Spectator and The Australian and The Irish Times, I do think it helps sometimes to view one society through the lens of another: Two pieces here on welfare as viewed from Britain's "housing estates" and Canada's Indian reservations offer lessons for Americans, too.
And, whatever Michael Ignatieff feels about it, for my own part I generally use "we" to mean "Western civilization," which could use a few more friends on the pronoun front. Left to my own devices, I'd probably write just about music. But the Taliban banned music. And Sayyid Qutb was so disgusted by hearing Baby, It's Cold Outside at a church dance in Greeley, Colorado, that he went back to Egypt and became the intellectual driving force behind the Muslim Brotherhood.
Which is to say that even the smallest pleasures have to be earned, and defended. So ultimately, if you like Baby, It's Cold Outside or even the Monkees, you need to pitch in on this clash-of-civilizations thing, too.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
|Previous Article:||Poi Eh? Did Hawaiians settle in New Zealand?|
|Next Article:||The last frustration of Christ: why Jesus must be banging his head against the wall this Christmas.|