“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Thursday, March 29, 2007

your dad is the Vice President / rich as the Duke of Earl /yeah you're for me punk rock girl

From comments to Let's Check the Facts -- Again, below:

good post George and a perfect example of why I tire of correcting wingnut misconceptions. You'll correct 10 people in a row and the next one will repeat all the tired arguments.

What's lame about the Globe-Republican editorials is that they're pre-debunked. The Republican spin had been addressed days before that issue was printed. I think we should start responding to Globe-Republican editorials before they show up.

Sometimes you look back on a single historical moment and suddenly everything makes sense. In the second presidential debate of the general election in 1980, President Jimmy Carter was trying to make a substantive point about Ronald Reagan's record concerning Medicare. Perhaps he suffered from the naive belief that voters can be convinced by appealing intelligently to the issues. We've all been there.

Reagan's response to Carter's criticism will never be forgotten by political history. He shook his head, grinned that amiable grin, and said "There you go again." He didn't need to respond in kind. He didn't need to know a damn thing about the issues. He only had to smile a goofy smile and remember the four words that George Will had coached him to say after Will had stolen Carter's debate preparation materials.

The subtext was that liberal Democrats were effete eggheads who went on and on about issues ordinary Americans didn't care about, and the comment was the model for everything that has happened since: nearly thirty years now of sound-bites, parodic mischaracterizations of liberals, and anti-intellectualism. Reagan-- or Will-- or somebody-- had stumbled on to the keys to the kingdom. As in cartoons, dollar signs must have flashed in young Lee Atwater's and young Karl Rove's eyes when they watched that moment.

In college, and throughout the 1990s, I regularly flew into an Irish rage when contending with conservatives my age. They inevitably adopted a snotty 'tude that channeled George Will multiplied by Johnny Rotten. In those days you couldn't even count on the reams of regurgitated talking points that they cut-and-paste into comments sections on blogs today. They would just snort like the prematurely ancient elephants they were and mumble something about Clinton and sex. There they went again. Their noses would curl as if they were driving through Hereford, their voices would go all low and nasal, and they'd say something like "didn't inhale". There they went again.

I didn't understand how young people could be so crotchety and codgerish. I also didn't understand how musicians I admired-- like Johnny Ramone-- could be such wingnuts, but here's the thing: Reagan/Goldwater conservatives were punk rock. At least the theories behind the two movements were strikingly similar. By midcentury-- Reagan/Goldwater dogma ran-- government had become an unwieldy bureaucratic mess of bloated New Deal and Great Society programs. We used to be FDR democrats, many of them announced plaintively. But it's gotten too bi-iii-ig. It takes too much of your mo-ooo-ney. It needs to be drowned in a ba-aaa-thtub. The punk rock ethic, all D.I.Y., all stripped-down, all "three chords and the truth" was much the same. Bloated dinosaur groups, controlled by Washington, D.C. the record labels-- had added too much virtuosity, guitar solos, and prog rock orchestration to the music. The layers needed to be stripped away to get back to what rock-and-roll was really all about.

Sounded good. But the stripped-down punk rock ethic didn't turn out that way and never really existed. There were the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and a few others in the 70s. After that, kids got bored with stripped-down songs with the same three chords. The layers started getting added back in. By the mid-80s, bands like The Police and the Talking Heads-- that had come out of CBGBs and the D.I.Y. ethic-- were well on their way to re-establishing virtuosity and orchestration.

Of course, you still had-- still have-- half a dozen bands in every city with the same pounding thump-thump-thump and the same screaming singer. But here's where both punk rock and the conservatives lied to us: you don't expand freedom by limiting options.

Punk counterbalanced its limitations with the creativity inherent in the D.I.Y. ethic and thus wrote the end to its own story. Conservatives chose another path. They kept the stripped-down style and ditched any ethics behind it. They used "there you go again" and its rhetorical descendants to usher in an era of government spending and centralized control that was almost beyond imagination.

Glenn Greenwald explains the philosophical shift well in the column blogarillo links to below. But I wonder if it was really a shift at all. Reagan spent a hella lotta money, too, after all. Did even Reagan believe in less government? Did the Pistols and the Ramones really want every band to sound exactly the same? Did any of them even think about the natural consequences of what they claimed to be espousing? Maybe for both conservatives and punkers, stripping things down was never more than a rhetorical device, a means to wrest power away from an entrenched structure and seize it for themselves.

Sheena, empowered in the Ramones song, only wanted to break away, to go to New York City and become a punk rocker. The conservatives, of course, had something more sinister in mind.