Friday, December 14, 2007
This is Why We're Screwed, Part 2
Too many stare, not enough see Not enough stand, too many flee Too many slave, not enough free Who let the goon squad in? - Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, "Goon Squad" It disturbs me that I keep seeing attempts to turn Joe McCarthy in to some sort of tragic, misunderstood American hero. I already brought it up here once. Still, I think it bears repeating, especially since the first context was in an article on the loony and marginal World Net Daily. This time, though, it comes up because of M. Stanton Evans' new book Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies. The issue at hand is one of presentation. I think even the most hardened opponent of McCarthy would have to admit that he had some worthwhile success. The question, however, is at what cost? Was rooting out one or two actual Communist spies worth accusing a vast swath of the country of being Communists and creating an atmosphere of fear? Can we really lionize someone who did excessive harm in the name of a dubious good? Should we really make a hero out of a fear monger? It is, I suppose, the same question we face now with the Bush Administration. Just as we cannot, apparently, discuss Iraq without digging up Vietnam and beating it like a dead horse, we can't seem to discuss terrorism without invoking the Red Scare. I have argued, and will continue to argue, that the United States was not in any danger of falling to Communism in the 1950s. It's not in any danger now, either. We're not going to fall to terrorists, either. There's tons of historical precedent here. Look at London or Belfast during the height of the IRA bombings. Look at Israel right now. Hell, take a look at the greatest campaign of terrorist bombings in history: WWII. Whether its a suicide bomber getting on a bus with a vest full of TNT or a flight of bombers dropping incendiaries on Dresden, London, or Tokyo, historical precedent indicates that people just get on with their lives. Since the American Revolution itself life in America has never become so intolerable that a critical mass of the population has sought an armed resurrection. Furthermore, I'm absolutely certain that life in the United States would have gotten back to normal post-9/11 without too much difficulty. Attacks on civilian targets in the United States have come from garden-variety crazies like the Virginia Tech shooter and that guy in Omaha. None of them have come from Al Qaeda or some other terrorism group. We gain nothing by living in fear of a terrorist attack that occurred more than six years ago. In fact, we've lost a great deal. A half-century ago Joe McCarthy managed to successfully divide parts of the country and feed on the phantoms of the Red Scare in order to push his own agenda. The Cold War accusations of being "soft on Communism" have now switched over to being "soft on terrorism" and the familiar idea that those who do not support position X are not true Americans is once again dividing the nation. Nowhere is it more obvious than on Fox News. This is an old item from January, but right as Barack Obama was setting up his run for the Presidency, John Gibson on Fox News accused Obama of being an unfit candidate because of his "dirty little secret." Namely, he's a smoker. Now, if that's a dirty little secret, then we're all in trouble, since it was fairly well-known that Obama smoked back in 2004 and earlier. Oh, and on my list of things that would keep me from voting someone in to office, "smoker" isn't really one of the check boxes. But, see, it's a less than subtle attempt to say, "Well, he keeps this secret. So what other secrets could he keep?" It's not that far away from an accusation of Communism. This was followed by comments from one John McWhorter who accused Obama of being a "mammy," basically a slave who was happy to be one. This I don't entirely understand, since McWhorter seems like he's more credible than the average commentator on Fox News and should probably have been aware of the extensive hypocrisy of going on Fox News and accusing another black man of being a "mammy." And, yes, this is old news. Fortunately I'm a pretend internet historian, so I can get away with that. The reason I bring it up is to illustrate a point. Evans' book is published by Crown Forum, a Random House imprint specifically tailored to a "conservative" audience. I put conservative in quotes there because it's really tailored to a Neocon audience. See, a politically "conservative" ideology generally used to indicate someone who thought that the government is best which governs least. Now conservative seems to indicate someone who thinks that the government is best which spends the most time possible intruding on the lives of people to make sure they're properly "American." Oh, and I think there's something in there about marginalizing people and, in general, being really mean spirited (on a completely unrelated note, Crown Forum also publishes Ann Coulter's book If Democrats had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans. I actually wish that was a joke). So what does this have to do with us being screwed? Market segmentation is probably a good thing if you're selling widgets. I want a small car, someone else wants an SUV. I want a Zen Vision:M, someone else wants an iPod. We both win. It's far less of a good thing when we're talking about how news, politics, and history are disseminated. I'm not saying that there isn't room for a difference of opinion. I'm also not saying that there's one side that's objectively right and one side that's objectively wrong. However, someone who only reads books published by Crown Forum and only watches Fox News is going to get a skewed view of the world. That is an objectively bad thing. Joseph McCarthy was not a misunderstood American hero. He wasn't the Devil incarnate, by any stretch of the imagination, either. His actions and attitudes, however, were bad for America. Perhaps he had good intentions, but that shouldn't excuse him. Barack Obama's smoking habits weren't a secret. And even if they were, they offer absolutely no evidence of further duplicity. The last 11 months have proven that his smoking isn't an issue at all with the voting public. Oh, and on the flip side, saying, for instance, "I'm not going to read Ann Coulter, I'll only read Al Franken," is just as bad. As the Vorlons said on Babylon 5, "Understanding is a three-edged sword: my side, your side, and the truth." It's a good thing to remember. And if we forget, we're screwed.