History as bunk Archives

June 21, 2006

The good old days

Justin writes:
As crestfallen as I feel when I see people like Coulter/Limbaugh/etc. saying things that should make them untouchable pariahs in a decent society, I feel ten times worse when I read/hear a "liberal" going on in these absurd constructs.

E.G. Iraq is a disaster because the people in charge didn't do it right. They should have done it like Kosovo.


Everything was great in the U.S. until Bush took office, we need to return to that.


Our country's rich tradition of liberty, truth, and freedom for all has been unbelievably compromised by Bush and it is unprecedented and disastrous and I am going to explode in indignation. (Not counting Latin America, Vietnam, Cointelpro, civil rights, slavery, Indians, womens rights, etc.)

Over and out.

October 13, 2006

Heads we win, tails we win too

Went trawling for intellectual comedy at Daily Kos just now and quickly found it:
Why I Am Not Pessimistic About CT-Sen
by Big Tent Democrat
Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 08:51:10 AM PDT

It is certainly true that the polling puts Lamont behind. It is certainly true that Lamont's general election campaign has not been sharp. It is certainly true that Lamont is likely to lose at this juncture.

But I am not pessimistic. Why? Because this is one campaign that we can be proud of fighting for to the last person. Everything about this campaign was the right thing to do. Lieberman has been a cancer in the Democratic Party. He has been cut out. He SAYS he will caucus with Dems if he wins, so we have no qualms about having threatened a GOP majority.

It's a little difficult to follow Big Tent's thinking here, but he seems to be saying that if Lamont had won, that would be great, but it's OK if he doesn't, because Lieberman will "caucus" with the donks, even though "we" have "cut him out" -- can anybody make head or tail of this?

Such a highly cultivated capacity not to learn from experience cannot be easy to acquire, but a surprising number of Kosniks seem to have mastered it -- a vast, Elgarian choir of highly-trained, full-throated stultitude. Bottom line: no matter what happens, it's vital for everybody to keep right on doing exactly the same thing.

November 27, 2007

History: I guess it really is bunk

Stop the presses. A group of "prominent historians" have endorsed the world-historical Barack Obama. A friend of mine, whose unenviable job it is to keep his finger on the psychic pulse of Academe, sent me this item from Inside Higher Education (and thank God I'm now outside it):
... [A] group of prominent historians on Monday issued a joint endorsement of Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. The endorsement, released through the History News Network, was organized by Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University, and Ralph E. Luker....The scholars who signed included... other A-list scholars in the field....

[Obama] has raised far more money from academics than have other candidates and he has plenty of academic connections himself — he taught at the University of Chicago law school and his wife, Michelle, held a series of positions at the University of Chicago Hospitals ....

One professor who was approached and who did not sign on is Maurice Isserman.... “Edwards is the most appealing candidate at the moment,” Isserman wrote. “It’s not just the vacuous ‘new generation’ rhetoric emanating from the Obama camp that disturbs me — worse is his flirtation with the notion of a ‘Social Security crisis.’ Let’s leave the Republican talking points to the Republicans for a change. Of course, I’d take him in a heartbeat over Hillary, just as (I suspect) I will be taking Hillary The Inevitable in a nano-second over whichever scary guy the Republicans finally go with.”

Another historian who passed, Casey N. Blake of Columbia University, said... “While I am likely to vote for Obama in the New York primary, I am reluctant to endorse any candidate in my professional capacity as a historian.”

I think we all owe Professor Casey a huge debt of gratitude for sparing us the crushing weight of his "professional capacity as a historian," as we grope our benighted, uncredentialled way toward the voting booth. On the other hand, Isserman's banal lesser-evillism tends to diminish the prestige of even a "prominent" historian's opinion.

Candor obliges me to add that Obama's connections with the University Of Chicago would certainly suffice to make him anathema to me, if he hadn't already been anathema to me.

If you're a mean-spirited person, you'll want to read the "prominent historians'" Obamaphile manifesto:

... [A] president can alter the mood of the nation, making changes possible that once seemed improbable. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and kept the nation united; Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Americans to embrace Social Security and more democratic workplaces; John F. Kennedy advanced civil rights and an anti-poverty program.
JFK did all that, guys? Funny, I thought that was LBJ. But that's the difference between an amateur, like me, and a "prominent" historian, I guess. Their Prominences continue:
Barack Obama has the potential to be that kind of president....
... meaning, of course, a JFK kind of president. Man, that's all we need, isn't it? Another fuckin' JFK: He of the "missile gap," the Bay of Pigs, and, last but certainly not least, Vietnam.

Michael Kazin, the point man for this claque of academic Obama groupies, has quite a history himself. I have his life of W J Bryan on a shelf somewhere -- tried reading it, and found it so platitudinous and snoozeworthy that I put it on the list of books to be read only while suffering from the most desperate insomnia. But I kinda thought I remembered him, back in '03, playing a very equivocal role in the runup to the Big 'Raq Attack, and a wee bit of Googling told me my memory isn't completely shot:

[In a Washington Post op-ed] Kazin inexplicably makes some broad generalizations about the left that exist only in the fantasies of Bill O'Reilly and his fans. Sadly, in recent months, we've grown accustomed to Kazin's crowd creating straw men on the left so that they can easily knock them down and look reasonable in the eyes of the major media.

Early in his article, Kazin, who sits on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, says "no one in the current peace movement has put forth a moral vision that might unite and sustain it beyond the precipice of war."

Alas, the Post piece seems to have fallen into the Memory Hole; at an rate I can't find it.

Kazin is perhaps best known for trashing Howard Zinn. I never found Zinn's work terribly compelling myself, but after reading Kazin's jeremiad against him, I'm ready to swear an oath of blood-brotherhood with the man. This is from Dissent magazine, subject of a famous Woody Allen joke:

... most Populists cheered Bryan and voted for him because he shared their enemies and their vision of a producers' republic. Unlike Zinn, they grasped the dilemma of third parties in the American electoral system, which Richard Hofstadter likened to honeybees, "once they have stung, they die." And to bewail the fact that liberal Democrats saw an advantage to supporting rights for unions and minorities is a stunning feat of historical naiveté. Short of revolution, a strategic alliance with one element of "the Establishment" is the only way social movements ever make lasting changes in law and public policy.

Zinn's conception of American elites is akin to the medieval church's image of the Devil.

I'm working on a theory that any time a liberal like Kazin accuses you of having found a substitute for religion, then you're on the right track. But more of that anon.

December 30, 2007


A couple of days ago our pal Mike Flugennock passed along, with comment, a burbly column from Sam Smith (no realtion, as far as I know) arguing that an Edwards victory in Iowa (Iowa!) would be "the most significant progressive primary win since Eugene McCarthy got 41% of the vote in New Hampshire in 1968."

Y'know, that could even be true. And so what?

"Progressive" primary wins happen all the time. There was that chappie last year in Connecticut, for example -- what was his name? Cranston? Something like that?

Primaries really are the Grand Illusion of contemporary American politics. Somebody should write a critical history of this fiendish idea, a classic of political manipulation masquerading as democracy. (Of course we owe this bizarre scheme to the original Progressives, those goo-goo bureaucrats who absorbed and neutralized the last dying spasms of Populism, and used the impetus so gained to build a Chinese wall against any further recrudescence of the Populist impulse).

Primary elections are really runoff elections -- and in the case of Presidential primaries, an interminable series of runoff elections, one after the other, draining the process of any real meaning through sheer, numbing monotony, quite apart from the predictable institutional consequences. ("Lather, rinse, repeat until desired effect is achieved.")

Let's hop in the wayback machine and revisit... that snowy winter of 1968, in New Hampshire. McCarthy got the nod, LBJ bowed out -- which was, of course, delightful at the time -- and that little rat Bobby Kennedy moved in but was unexpectedly taken off the board by a wild-card intervention.

Then, of course, Hubert Humphrey got the nomination, on a somewhat Clintonesque "War? What war?" platform. And Nixon became our next President.

[Voice from the gallery]: So what's your point, Smith?

I guess it's something like this: Democratic primaries are a snare and a delusion. Once you start caring about them, it shows you've drunk the Kool-Aid. Mors in olla, vir Dei!

December 29, 2010

The only thing we learn from history...

... is, notoriously, that we don't learn from history.

A salmagundi of items passed along from various email correspondents landed in my inbox today, and suggests reflections more numerous than I can corral into coherence.

First, from the pen of the loathesome Fouad Ajami, some choice remarks from the loathesome Barack Obama:

In May of this year, President Obama brought together a group of presidential historians for what was supposed to be the first of many meetings. By available accounts, he was curious about the rise of the tea party, curious as to whether there had been precedents for this sort of backlash against the established order....

"Ghosts," he said in one meeting when the late Richard Holbrooke... tried to draw parallels between Lyndon Johnson's dilemmas in Vietnam and the current American engagement in Afghanistan.... [Obama] was 13 in 1975, he said, when South Vietnam fell: "So I grew up with none of the baggage that arose out of the dispute of the Vietnam war. I also had a lot of confidence."

Fouad's own orotund ruminations about this ahistorical insouciance on Obie's part need not detain us, of course.

Then there was this, from the loathesome David Ignatius, sucking his loathesome thumb about the loathesome David Petraeus:

If briefings could win wars, Gen. David Petraeus would already be finished in Afghanistan. Here's what his masterful presentation looked like in Kabul this month - and then some hard questions for him to answer.

The general's aides come in first, carrying six wooden easels as if they're setting up an art display. Next come the charts, displaying an array of information as densely woven as a spider's web.

The Afghanistan campaign plan comes at the problem from every direction: It's top-down, in building the Afghan army, and bottom-up, in training tribal militias known as Afghan Local Police. It's about military power, especially the deadly night raids by U.S. Special Operations Forces, and it's also about making governance work in this corrupt and feeble country....

Like any war, this one is ultimately about willpower.... [But] history shows that three variables are crucial in countering an insurgency...

So here are a few questions for Petraeus to ponder at year-end.

I'll spare you Ignatius' "variables" and questions. They're all quite technical, in the original sense of the term; like an engineer -- in Ignatius' case, of course, an armchair engineer -- with a machine to design, weighing the choice between solenoids and pneumatic cylinders.

History, it seems, is a very useless thing. Petraeus and Obama despise it; Ajami and Ignatius think they can read its entrails; and it's hard to decide which of the four is most contemptible.

But it's easy enough to know which two are most dangerous, anyway. Ajami and Ignatius might bore you to death, but that's the only way they'll ever kill anybody. Whereas Obama and Petraeus have a practical infinity of death-dealing instrumentalities at their disposal, and seem very eager to leave none unused. This difference is probably just circumstantial, though; who would trust Ignatius or Ajami with even one Predator drone?

There's something all four have in common: an outlook we might call Problematism -- the notion that life consists of problem-solving exercises, like the Scholastic Aptitude Test, where a number of purported solutions are offered, and you have to pick the right one.

What distinguishes Petrocephalus and Obie, on the one hand, from the haruspices of capital-H History, Ignatz and Fubar, on the other, is a tactical difference in their approach to the exam. The former consider themselves the smartest guys in the room and are quite sure they can do well without studying much, whereas the latter are swots, for whom History is Kaplan, Inc., writ large.

Maybe that's why the latter are just scribblers, whereas the former get to play with rockets and stuff. Confidence will take you a long way in life.

September 13, 2011

Narcissus, and poor Echo

Normally I'm a huge fan of Counterpunch, and defend it and its proprietors as vigorously as I can manage against the moralistic ankle-bitings of Louis Proyect and such, but I have to take strong exception to a recent piece there, from Michael Brenner:

Barack Obama’s betrayal will resonate in history long after he has become just another name on the over-priced celebrity speaker circuit. It is a betrayal of far more than the youthful idealists and loyal progressives who put him in the White House. Obama has unmoored the Democratic Party from its foundations – philosophical and electoral. No longer is it expression of the programs and ideas that crystallized with the New Deal and which dominated the country’s politics for sixty years.
Huh? The Democratic Party started trying to roll back the New Deal as soon as Franklin Roosevelt was in his grave -- even before, actually. And they were quite good at it. This is all historical record; where does this nutty mythology about 'sixty years' of New Deal ideology come from?

Admittedly, after black folks started tearing up the pea-patch in the 60s -- and even white folks, or young ones at least, were showing a certain mutinous spirit -- there was a brief spate of pushback from the bloody-minded public. Since the Dems happened to be running the show at the time, they get the credit for a program of modest retrenchment and mild concessions on the part of our rulers. But much as I like and admire Lyndon Johnson, it's just absurd to imagine him coming to the Oval Office with a militant "New Deal" agenda, though once it was forced upon him he decided to lie back and enjoy it, which is one of the nice things you can say about him.

After that of course it was back to business as usual with Carter and Clinton, both quite committed to rolling back the 60s and then the 40s. So this phantasy that Obie has 'betrayed' the Democratic Party -- which you hear all the time -- can only be maintained in defiance of easily available facts. Far from betraying the Democratic Party, Obie is perhaps the type specimen -- the Democrat's Democrat, you might say; the only person who can stomach him is a person utterly abandoned to the institutional depravity that is the Democratic Party.

Brenner does have an interesting angle:

What are the most salient ingredients in [Obie's] private-public persona? Most striking is a behavior pattern that resembles closely the narcissistic syndrome – even if he is not a clinical narcissist. ... A complementary narcissistic trait is an ease with blurring the line between virtual reality and actual reality. Narcissists believe everything they say – at the moment they say it.... Narcissists take as given that they never dissemble or lie...
This is fun stuff, but all wrong. It does Obie too much justice, and too little. Too little, because in fact he never lied to us; we -- or at least those of us who heard the music, which I'm glad to say I did not -- we lied to ourselves. In fact he was quite candid about his project; but his besotted maenads of both sexes couldn't or wouldn't hear what he was actually saying -- and, as important, not saying. They put their own words into his mouth, and they have no one but themselves to blame for their disappointment now.

In another way, though, Brenner's theory gives Obie too much credit. He's not mentally ill. It's disrespectful to real high-functioning crazy people -- like, say, Richard Nixon -- to mention Obie in the same breath. His is not really a personality even that interesting. He's a cross between a bureaucrat and a schoolmaster, with a vestigial whiff of BMOC coolth. You meet people like him in every executive washroom. A very commonplace character; and psychoanalyzing him is a waste of couch space.

About History as bunk

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in the History as bunk category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Heart of darkness is the previous category.

Hope springs eternal is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31