Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Guttering Torch

What does Vladimir Putin have in common with Richard Nixon? (pause) Give up? Well, they caused exactly opposite reactions from American liberals, but over the same issue – or, the same general issue, historically speaking. Taking Nixon first, he earned everlasting hatred, rage, and condemnation from American liberals for his “outing” of Alger Hiss. All of the subsequent hostility – over Vietnam, Cambodia, Watergate, etc. was – albeit there were some intrinsic justifications – based on that singular event years earlier. He exposed Hiss for what he was – not only a traitor but a member of the Eastern elite Ivy League establishment... a person of privilege whose dream it was to enslave the masses and establish himself as their ruler (or one of their rulers). And if he couldn't do it here (at least not right away) he'd help the Soviets do it in Eastern Europe.

And nothing could have been more of a contrast than the smooth, elegant Hiss versus the awkward, overly-serious guy from the boonies of California with the ski nose and the five o'clock shadow that set in around noon. Culturally and in terms of pedigree, it was David vs. Goliath... and Goliath was brought down, but the damage had been done, and he became a martyr for the left right up to the present day.

Hiss did, in fact, exemplify the dream of communists of the elite or “theoretician” sort as it always has been; everything else they promote, advocate, and fight for is a means to that end – total, crushing control. And this, in turn, is based on their self-created aura of superiority and entitlement. They pretend to love “the masses” and “the people” but, in fact, they despise them and want nothing more than to thwart their ambitions, dreams, and individuality, and make them march in lock step into the brave new world. And not a small part of this is their utter alienation from normalcy and willful lack of understanding of what makes regular people tick. What they find, much to their chagrin, when -- on rare occasions -- they go slumming and wade among the unwashed masses they pretend to worship is that most people are not “idea people”. They are much more likely to be committed to the old ways and the old values – you know, things like family, religion, ethnic group, and, yes, race. They typically conform to the standards and customs of their group, but have little interest in becoming “international” or “global”. And it's this attitude that offends collectivists and totalitarians of all sorts, and it's this which they go to great lengths to stamp out – offering, in its place, contrived entertainments and bogus “diversity”, on a foundation of unrelenting propaganda churned out by the media.

Sound familiar? Well, liberals in our time are infected with the same ailment, although they may not be as obvious about it as the old-time Bolsheviks. Someone has commented that “communism is socialism with balls”, and it's absolutely true. There is not a single socialist or liberal or “progressive” program that, taken to its logical conclusion, would not be an essential part of a communist regime, past or present. The problem, over the years (and we're talking close to a century now), is that bright ideas that filter down from academia by way of political activists tend to cause a bit of pushback when they start to impinge on regular people; seek no further than the recent vote against unionization on the part of VW workers in Tennessee. Oh sure, the masses (working class, “labor”, etc.) may enjoy some of the benefits of socialism, but they eventually find out there's a price to be paid, and that's when the deal goes sour. We have in our time the disorienting (to liberals) phenomenon of regular people up in arms (figuratively – so far) about big government and all its pomps and works. These are the same people who would have been on the bandwagon during the New Deal (possibly out of sheer desperation more than being enamored of the ideas). But suddenly the working class is biting the hand that pretends to feed them – even to the extent of joining forces with the always-hated middle class, AKA bourgeoisie, in protesting against government meddling in their everyday lives. So activists (union organizers in particular) in our time are starting to feel mightily thwarted – and they're getting downright paranoid (like, it's all the Koch brothers' fault, or Fox News, etc.).

Liberals in our time cannot come out and be “pure” socialists, let alone pure communists. They have to pull their punches a bit (though not always, as witness Obama's frontal attack on Catholic institutions re: the provision of “family planning” services). But their ideals – their ultimate goals – remain as always. All one has to do is apply a bit of logic and historical perspective to any given case. The ObamaCare program, for example, clearly has as its ultimate goal the elimination of any form of private health insurance, and its takeover by the government. They won't admit this in so many words, but that's clearly what they have in mind. But this has to be accomplished in small steps – the frog in the hot water thing again – or they might encounter too much resistance. And once you eliminate private health insurance, it's only logical to eliminate private health care, and have that taken over (not merely regulated, as now) by the government as well. Nationalized, in other words – but they will avoid that term and deny that's what they have in mind. (In fact, note that there are no longer any such people as “liberals”; they are all “progressives” now. Word magic!)

Sometimes the line between regulation and nationalization is so thin and ambiguous that it might as well not be there as well – the mortgage industry and rail transportation come to mind. (And forget about the post office!) But again, these are all temporary stages; everywhere you look the squeeze is on. What it adds up to is that liberals are in a perpetually-compromised position – their ideas vs. the reality – and so it's no surprise that they seem to go around with a permanent attitude of frustration and hostility. If their ideal is total control, and their means to that end is class warfare, then it's small wonder they never seem to relax. They never have a nice day, because there's always another battle to be fought and another outrage against “fairness” to be dealt with.

Let's turn the clock back a bit and adopt a historical perspective, because this process has been going on for decades... lifetimes, in fact. But in the midst of all this struggle – this frustration – over the years, there was always at least one shining light, glimmering in the distance... one thing with which to identify and validate one's ideals... one thing to pin one's hopes on. And that thing was the Soviet Union, and the “New Soviet Man” that had been created out of the dust of the earth to engage in the perpetual struggle against ideas of race, religion, and class... and to aspire to a society that would have “fairness” as its highest value. “Fairness”, or “social justice”, is the everyman's version of “reason”, which was enshrined by the French Revolution and has been trickling down from academia and intellectuals in various forms ever since. “Science” -- especially “political science” (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one) -- has always been on the side of the greater good of man, right?

So how to create the New Soviet Man out of the fractious and skeptical working classes of America? First through propaganda, and then through some political and material gains – some short-term, some illusory, but enough to get everyone to sign onto the program in perpetuity. Witness the working-class people here in Pittsburgh who wouldn't vote Republican if their lives depended on it, because they're a “union family”, and besides, they promised their father on his deathbed – you know, the guy who fought in the Battle of Homestead. And never mind the fact that union bosses and politicans are getting fat off their hard-earned union dues, and when doubts do arise they are quickly squelched through social pressure and hypocritical appeals to loyalty. Problem is, the same people, and party, that was a “friend to labor” in the old days is now attacking their families, their values... even their church. This great schism seems to have begun, like everything else, in the 1960s – and we now have phenomena like that rarest of rare political animals, the “pro-life Democrat”. The thing is, the regular folks – the “cultural Democrats” -- simply don't have what it takes to fight in this new war, so they turn on the TV, pop another beer, and try to pretend everything's OK. And these are the people, by the way, who never wanted anything to do with the Soviet Union (especially if they came from one of its oppressed minorities, which many in this area did); that romance was left up to the union leadership.

So we had this phenomenon, starting, basically, with the Cold War, where people at the top of the cultural and intellectual totem pole were still starry-eyed in their regard for the Soviets. But the farther down said totem pole you went, the more skepticism and realism you encountered, until the guys at the bottom could hardly have cared less, except for the few oddball misfits like Woody Guthrie. But it's the cultural elite that frame the debate and write the history books, so when Tricky Dick (see, I'm finally getting back to him) came along, even though his exertions might have been applauded – possibly in secret – by the average American, the elite were appalled. In fact, now that I think about it, this might have been the very thing that set off the culture wars of the 1960s, or at least an imporant factor. The battle had been joined. Now, this culture war was fought on many fronts, but certainly far from the least was that of politics – not just the usual domestic debates but the much bigger, broader picture. What sort of country, or society, do we want to be? Apparently that question was still being asked nearly 200 years after the founding (as it still is today). We thought we had the answer during the Progressive Era, but that seemed to run out of steam after (perhaps because of) World War I. But then came the New Deal, and that was – at long last! -- the answer, or at least an answer. We found that we were on the same path as the Soviets – just a few decades behind due to cowardice, hesitation, and inertia – clinging to old-fashioned ideas. It's hard to imagine these days, but there was a time when socialism of some sort was accepted as not only the wave of the future, but really the only thing that made any sense. And we had two models to choose from – the Soviets and the Nazis. Apparently this was not a difficult choice to make, and it would be in bad taste to argue that the two systems had more similarities than differences. World War II, of course, only served to confirm the correctness of our choice, and all was well until this thing called the Cold War got started – and please remember that the American left was, by and large, on the other side all during the Cold War. They weren't all providing direct aid and comfort to the enemy, but they were certainly rooting from the sidelines, and not always sotto voce. Their efforts were muted a bit during the Korean conflict, because it wasn't crystal clear that the North Koreans enjoyed moral superiority... but there was no such hesitation when it came to China, as there had been none with regard to Russia. Now communism was the wave of the future, and we were just retarded – but a few guitar strums and folk songs would awaken the sleeping masses, surely.

Now, I know that the foregoing might seem like a rant, and terribly unfair, etc. Well, it is a rant – and didn't many of the communists and hard-core socialists have good intentions, even if they were somewhat na├»ve about human nature, etc.? I'm not saying this is impossible, but in my encounters with communists (“small c” at least) and serious socialists, I have yet to encounter any with unadulterated good intentions. Behind that humanistic mask there always lurks, on some level, a “class warfare face”... some resentment... some sense of personal hurt or affront. “Somebody did something to someone – usually me – and that's why I feel this way.” And frankly, the communists and socialists I knew in college – a veritable hatchery for political liberal activism – were, by and large, operating on a quite infantile level. They hadn't yet learned to make their viewpoints even mildly palatable, so were reduced to throwing tantrums much of the time. Hey, I can only speak from my own experience, OK?

Plus, I think what we're seeing now, in American politics, is not even some species of socialism in pure form, but a combination of cynicism and power-madness. It's enough to make one nostalgic for the likes of the recently-departed Pete Seeger. You see what a man (or woman) is truly made of, morally and politically, when they acquire some power... and when I look out across the political landscape all I see is a cynical ruling elite and the people who've sold out to them. And what this means to me is that pure socialism can neither stand the light of day nor avoid being co-opted... which means that's it's a weak, unsustainable system, and only kept alive by people's infinite capacity for delusion and wishful thinking.

(The best thing I can say about the left is that they have always had better music, posters, art, and movies. They are geniuses at packaging, in other words; what's in the package is another matter.)

OK, back to Nixon (as the fool returneth to his folly) – his great crime was that he outed Alger Hiss, and in the process exposed many of the less savory aspects of communism in general, and the American version in particular. And for this he earned the eternal reprobation of the American left, socialists, liberals, Democrats... just about everyone to the left of William Buckley, which means just about everyone. The love affair between the cultural elite and the Soviets continued, of course, but it was carried on in a somewhat more muted form, because now there was a “witch hunt” on, thanks to Nixon and Joe McCarthy... with “blacklists” and all the rest of it. (Of course, there are never witch hunts or blacklists in communist countries, oh no.) And the left, once they got rid of McCarthy, remained vigilant with regard to Nixon... ready to pounce, and when Watergate came along, pounce they did. Finally! At last, the guilty party has been hunted down and brought to justice, like some octogenarian concentration camp guard.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the people's Utopia. The Soviet Union broke up, and great was the wailing and gnashing of teeth – and the accusations directed at people like Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II that they weren't being fair... that it all would have worked if only we'd given it a chance, and not given in to “hate” and paranoia, etc. -- as if the Cold War was all in our fevered imaginings.

So there was a regime change in the now-downsized former Soviet Union, and even though the American media had treated Gorbachev like a rock star, there was a certain ambivalence, like, he just sort of let it all slip away, didn't he? Gave up without a fight. That just didn't seem right somehow. It should at least have been more spectacular, like something out of Wagner, with a funeral pyre and stuff. How could our role models have just wimped out like that? Very disturbing. And yet... this aura of the hopes of yesteryear, of having fought the good fight... clung to Russia even through its struggles with privatization, corruption, and so on – right up to the present. They were all about “hope and change” once; could they be yet again? And they were keeping up the propaganda from their side as well, occasionally referring to their former subjects as “fascists” or (following our lead) “Islamofascists”. (This is a semantic gift from World War II that just keeps on giving.) And anyone who calls anyone else a “fascist” is automatically a friend of ours, right? No questions asked. Besides, who did the left have, um, left to call their own in the world? China had long since gone down the road of communism with a capitalist face... or vice versa. Vietnam had become a trading partner. North Korea – too crazy. And that left... Cuba? Really? Nowhere else? Just Cuba, with all those cool old 1950s American cars and great music? Well OK – better than nothing, I guess. (I would include Venezuela, but you know those places, it could go back to military uniforms, gold braid, a chest full of medals, and big hats at any time.)

So Russia was a disappointment, but not enough of one to end the romance. And then came Vlady, and Ukraine, and the Crimea, and... well, what's a good socialist president to do? I mean, there was a time when Stalin could do no wrong – including that awkward treaty he made with Hitler. If you're anti-American, which so many of our politicians in Washington seem to be, don't you have to be for something? Or at least appear to be? It's no wonder there's so much nostalgia for the Cold War – and it's not just on the conservative side, or among the military. At least back then it was clear-cut, and one could take sides. So faced with Putin's antics on his southern border, the left is caught flat-footed because they've never adjusted to the way things are now. In their own way, they're just as bound by nostalgia as those on the right. Do they let Russia do its thing with impunity because Russia used to be right in the old days? Or do they decide (for the first time ever) that American conservatives are right about something? But that might call into question everything else the left has ever done in the last 70-odd years. It really is quite awkward... and, let's admit, it's great fun to see them wriggle and squirm. How they manage to resolve it, who knows? My guess, though, is that it won't have anything to do with historical perspective or principles.


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