Thursday, May 18, 2006

Vietnam Now, Vietnam Tomorrow, Vietnam Forever: John McCain's Demons

There were moments during his speech to the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, 2004, when John McCain sounded possessed. His demons weren’t the Democrats; they never have been—“I’m fortunate to call many of them my friends,” he assured us—but a fixation of a slightly greater order of magnitude: the itch for payback dating back to his POW days at the Hanoi Hilton. It happened moments into his speech when he first referred to the war on terror: “Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war. Like all wars, this one will have its ups and downs. But we must fight. We must.” The cadence as he delivered it in those three words, we must fight, had an undertone I can only describe as a Nabokovian obsession, and an obsession no less lust-ridden, no less perverse, than the cadenced play of Lolita’s name on Humbert Humbert’s tongue at the opening of the novel: “My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Or in McCain’s case, Tet.

His war has never ended. His loss, embedded in America’s, has never abandoned him. It has encrusted itself in him like his bitter and by now regressively infantile fondness for the word gook. The repeat of the words we must (two of eight times he used the word must) had nothing of the rational about it. The words were for McCain an echo of his tendency not only to repeat fighting words, metaphorically and literally, but to revel in the repetition. At the convention what came through, besides the hostility of his heart’s biometrics, was his compulsive need for a fight, and the kind of fight that made two things clear: First, Democrats were not up to the task—not to fight the war on terror, but to fight Republicans, so they were not worthy of McCain’s contempt. He proved to be right. Second, al-Qaeda could not possibly be the worthy enemy he was looking for. Read the rest...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Illiberal Tradition: Anti-Immigrant Racism Then and Now

Liberals especially, their tumescent sensibilities offended, bridle at the suggestion that there could be anything racist about opposing amnesty and requiring illegals to get in line like everyone else. But of course it’s racist. The attitude hides behind what, instinctively, rings of truth: laws must be respected. You can’t just have open borders. The future must be safeguarded. Citizenship is not an entitlement. But every one of these claims is pile of chaff fit for straw men by the horde, though every claim has a long and ignoble tradition in America’s immigration debates, which are — the proudly American dependence on amnesia notwithstanding — as old as the colonies. Even Roger Williams, the Puritan pastor who had the good sense to be exiled from Plymouth in 1635, and who subsequently founded the city of Providence with the sort of tolerant open arms that liberals today euphemize as “diversity,” had his issues with the very Jews he accepted into Providence, but didn’t quite welcome. The emphases are his: “I am not without thoughts of many Objections, and cannot without horror think of the Jews killing of the Lord Jesus, of their cursing themselves and their posterity; of the wrath of God upon them,” and so on. But that’s looking back too far.

Here’s Calvin Coolidge, 30th president, writing about the necessary limits on immigration: “There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.” And if the present day wasn’t so dire, as 1921 wasn’t, immigration-wise, there was always the children: “We must remember that we have not only the present but the future to safeguard; our obligations extend even to generations yet unborn.” Aren’t we hearing the very same words these days? The title of Coolidge’s piece, incidentally, was a question mark in the shape of its own blinkered answer: “Whose Country Is This?” The piece was published, of all places, in Good Housekeeping, and it was still on the newsstands when Coolidge took his oath of office as Harding’s vice president. Read the rest...

Holland's Hirsi Ali Immigration Case: “Voltaire and Erasmus Are Spinning in their Graves”

Henryk Broder/Der Spiegel, May 17, 2006

Holland's most famous immigrant -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- has been stripped of her citizenship overnight following television revelations about news that's long been publich: she lied a little on her application for asylum years ago. The country's controversial immigration minister's decision has sparked outrage, and many are calling it a dark day for Dutch democracy. Read the full article...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Uniform Defeat: Little Big Bush

Salvador Dali was the surrealist painter to whom distortion was means, ends and art all in one. These are Dali times, minus the art. George W. Bush is the surrealist president to whom distortion is means, ends and crime. Dali’s dalliance with fascism was the harmless product of a man infatuated with schlock. Bush’s dalliance with fascism is the by-product of a man who thinks being on a mission from God is not just a line in “The Blues Brothers,” but an executive order from a gospel of his own discovery. Dali would have appreciated the gall of a president still pushing the hallucinogens of 9/11, especially this month, when the American death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed that of Ground Zero. Bush is just glad a third of the nation and most of Congress are still inhaling.

A quick example. On the inhaling side, there’s the $70 billion in tax cut extensions for the rich (those who profit from capital gains and stock dividends) that the Senate just approved. On the exhaling side, it’s exactly the amount Bush is requesting in his latest “supplemental” bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supplementals are the accounting deceptions that hide how the United States spends more on its $600 billion military than all other nations combined. The latest supplemental will bring the cumulative cost of Iraq and Afghanistan to $438 billion by midyear, and past the half-trillion dollar mark by the time American deaths in Iraq alone are likely to exceed all those of 9/11, in time for Christmas. Read the full column ...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday's Best Ink

The Two-Star Rebel: John Batiste's Defection
Greg Jaffe/Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2006

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Six days after he called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to leave his post, retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste faced a crushing moment of doubt.Earlier that morning, Mr. Rumsfeld had brushed off Gen. Batiste and other critics as inflexible bureaucrats, uncomfortable with change. A few hours later, President Bush vowed to stand by his secretary. Read the rest…

Heart of Darkness: Where Is Guantánamo?
Amy Kaplan/American Quarterly, September 2005

In January 2002, the first shackled and hooded men from Afghanistan were incarcerated behind barbed wire at the U.S. Naval Station, Guantónamo Bay, Cuba. In April 2004, when the case challenging the legality of their detention was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, Guantánamo still appeared to many as a strange aberration, as an "animal," with "no other like it," as Justice Ginsburg stated. Descriptions of Guantánamo as a lawless zone enhanced this image of its exceptional status: a legal black hole, a legal limbo, a prison beyond the law, a "permanent United States penal colony floating in another world." Read the rest…

MSM S&M: Stephen Colbert's Snipers
James Wood/The New Republic, May 22, 2006

Was Stephen Colbert funny? No, he was not being funny. He was being ironic, satirical, brutal. Don't you get it? These issues are just too painful for humor. Since Colbert's 20-minute routine at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner two weeks ago, the question has been asked and answered thus in the blogosphere, that underground realm of steaming ressentiment not exactly famous for the refinement of its irony, where the president is the "chimp," Laura is "his bitch wife," and the press is "the MSM." Read the rest…