Not because we’ve had too many glasses of wine, no. We are often frightened to speak with others about the serious issues that confront our world, because many people we meet live in odd fantasies, alternate histories, and we feel it is counterproductive to challenge their illusions. And it would be rude. Instead, we avoid the topics upon which we disagree. But this leaves us with double narratives, particularly concerning American Presidents. Both narratives cannot be true, but we live as though history was a matter of taste. You like chocolate labs; I like tabby cats, an irreconcilable difference.
Two Kennedys, the classic case
I met a fellow outside the Dance Palace once, though I’d met him one hundred times before, who told me President Kennedy was a great man who would have ended the Vietnam War had he the chance. I mentioned that JFK had authorized the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, that he authorized bombing of South Vietnam to, among other things, destroy crops there (“we starved some folks”), that he intended to end the war, yes, “after victory” meaning killing enough people to bend the opposition to our will, as described in detail in the Pentagon Papers. This is what we did, and is never mentioned by his worshipers. But this man I spoke with had the most perfect counter-argument I have yet heard by the Kennedy devotees, and I have endured a lifetime of listening to men and women chatter psalms of the peace on earth we would have known had only JFK lived. He told me, “Well, I knew Kennedy. And he told me he didn’t do those things.” Yes, this fellow, on the street in Point Reyes, assured me that, when he was an 18 year old soldier, he had a private conversation with President Kennedy and was given the inside scoop. He may as well have claimed to have spoken to JFK’s ghost, but that I guess would be unserious.
The Mitford defense
Let’s suppose he did have the conversation he described with JFK, that he is telling the truth. I call this the Mitford Defense. Diana Mitford married the fascist Oswald Mosley in Heidelberg in 1936 and had as guest of honor at her wedding, Der Furher. When confronted at a party toward the end of her life about whether she had gotten it all wrong; whether, you know, Hitler might have not been such a great guy after all, she replied, “Well, you never knew Hitler, did you?” Case closed.
: One Gore and what could have been
Remember Bush v Gore? It comes up sometimes when I am having coffee with the bench bunch in Tomales. I hear that if only Gore had won the election (who said he didn’t) there would be no Iraq war, and long story short, everything presently wrong in the world might be right. That is a counter-factual. We don’t know what Al Gore would have done because it didn’t happen. But what we do know is that the Supreme Court made an brazen decision to hand the presidency to Bush, that there was a very strong argument to hold a full recount in Florida, and that in sum the election may have been stolen. But no one wants to pursue these issues. They just say, Al, “could’a been somebody.” If there is a miscarriage of justice, a crime, a constitutional crisis, it requires action; it makes us responsible to act. But why pursue the crime, when you can just imagine a world in which it didn’t happen, one in which the good guy won? Like the fictional JFK, we have a fictional Gore presidency, considered in every imaginary detail.
One crucial problem of having a Democrat in the White House is the silence that falls upon his transgressions from the left media. I started reading Glenn Greenwald in 2010 when he was battling all of these journalists and public figures on the “left” who when Bush was president wrote all of these true and just and angry things about our Constitution being violated, about wars of aggression, of torture, of surveillance, the Patriot Act – and then – when Obama was elected, and these practices were continued, and the perpetrators uncharged, the same journalists formerly standing on the highest principals became the most craven apologists. They crawled on their bellies for Obama. For them, if Obama did anything wrong it was because it was beyond his control; if he did no good, it was because his enemies wouldn’t let him.
In a way, to have a broad popular discussion about the criminality of these elected officials and bureaucrats, the shredding of the constitution, etc., we will have to have a Republican president, not that I go so far as to advocate that. It would restore the spine and sanity of the Democratic rank and file. It is the only way many of my neighbors will allow themselves to see the world as it is, rather than the distortion they have lived with as they praised and defended Obama for the same behaviors that convinced them that Bush should be impeached, tried at the Hague, etc. It is a nasty and unrecognized irony.
The two Titos
It reminds me of a common Serbian conspiracy theory, I call “the two Titos.” The first Marshall Tito was the good man who, with his partisans, defended the Balkans from the Nazis. The second Tito was an impostor. You see Tito went to the USSR and was killed. The Soviets returned him with a fake, second Tito, who did all the bad attributed to him in the post war period. And typical of that culture, Number 2 was a Jew! This is the game Democrats play with Obama. On the campaign trail was Obama Number 1. It was the President, Obama Number 2, who betrayed us.
You may have heard we are going to have another election for President in 2016. Lots of people in West Marin will initially go gaga for Hillary Clinton. Then as in 2008, if the Democratic Party nominates a different person, they will tell you they always loved that candidate, too, and go gaga again. And of course none of it matters because if nominated she will win California without you, and doesn’t need your money because she will get it from Wall Street.
I have never understood the love and admiration Clintons inspired, but I think it relates to our perception of whether there is a crisis or not. And by crisis I mean our out-look on day-to-day survival. The middle class, the poor, the climate, the wars, these are all abstractions. Survival has been reduced to watching the performance of stock market indices, to watching our portfolios. Are they appreciating in value or not? Are we getting the dividend payments or not? If the stock market is rising, as it was in the Clinton 90’s, then things are good. On that basis alone I think, many people have positive memories of Bill Clinton.
By almost any other measure, he was a disaster of a President, but only insomuch as his presidency effected those abstract categories I mentioned – the poor welfare recipient, the union worker, the displaced immigrant, the victims of his bombing of Sudan, Iraq, the Balkans, aka, who? Not anyone we have to dinner, certainly. The stock market went up; therefore, Bill Clinton is a good president.
Hilary represents that undying commitment to measure success by stock market performance. Whether or not it relates to a healthy economy, just that it makes us feel good about our investments, meaning, our ability to live in that particular style we call survival.
We ought to say, honestly, we don’t care about politics or religion, in the sense of ideas whose purpose is to change society for the better. We care about money. We are groovy rich people trying to enjoy life in West Marin, and please leave us alone. But the persistent ghost of virtue haunts us; we can’t give up the pretense; we want to feel good about ourselves. And to avoid the intolerable condition of knowing, which might compel us to do something about it, we surround ourselves with people of the exact same opinions as us. And then, since there is nothing to disagree about, we can get on uninterrupted with eating all of that delicious cheese, talking about the music we like and our recent trips, our various self-expressions, writing or painting, etc., like so many doilies draped over lumpy couch cushions, and go for a hike in our National Park. Problem solved.
To play this game of the fictive double with Hillary, the good Hillary for now, the bad Hillary later, as though she was an unknown quantity, is absurd, but let me give the last word to Glenn Greenwald, justly the hero of left-wing American journalism:
“Hillary is banal, corrupted, drained of vibrancy and passion. I mean, she’s been around forever, the Clinton circle. She’s a [expletive] hawk and like a neocon, practically. She’s surrounded by all these sleazy money types who are just corrupting everything everywhere. But she’s going to be the ﬁrst female president, and women in America are going to be completely invested in her candidacy. Opposition to her is going to be depicted as misogynistic, like opposition to Obama has been depicted as racist. It’s going to be this completely symbolic messaging that’s going to overshadow the fact that she’ll do nothing but continue everything in pursuit of her own power. They’ll probably have a gay person after Hillary who’s just going to do the same thing.”
Concerning those contrary opinions, my colleague, Paul Elmore, who has pointed out the hollowing out of West Marin, tells me this makes it easier for us. He says, “Those who do not measure their politics in money, are forced to leave. And we do not have to put up with them.”