December 2006 Archives

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, SADDAM

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We finally found something the Iraquis can do efficiently. Perhaps we ought to outsource our executions to them. I kept trying to talk up the idea of hanging Saddam at halftime of the Super Bowl, but somehow the idea never gained traction. I hate to say, “I told you so!” (Well, not really), but as it turned out, the Iraqui tyrant wound up sharing his final—and surely finest—hour with an unelected ex-president known primarily for his collisions with inanimate objects and a soul singing ex-con, whose gaudy, three-ceremony funeralization surely put Saddam’s low-key sendoff to shame. I thought, that the very least, they’d haul out Baghdad Bob to extol his former boss’s virtues and explain why this terribly misunderstood mass murderer was actually a totally righteous dude.
As his courtroom demeanor made clear, Saddam himself was no slouch as a posturer and poseur. This is what he was up to in my favorite photo of him, reviewing a military parade dressed in a business suit, wearing a fedora with the brim rolled up, and blamming blindly away at the heavens with a shotgun, lest others watching the parade forget who had the real firepower in Iraq. The imagery always seemed so ludicrously incongruous to me that I thought surely somebody would PhotoShop a falling duck into the picture.
Now that Saddam himself is a dead duck, with 3,000 American lives lost in the process of making him so, Iraquis are finally free of one of the bloodiest despots of the modern era, but given the rapid escalation of brutal, sectarian violence in the neighborhoods of Baghdad and elsewhere you have to wonder whether they might already be waxing nostalgic for the good old days when fear wore a single, instantly recognizable face.

Say What?

Wednesday’s Washington Post brought the news of a potential schism in the first family of American evangelical Protestantism, the Billy Graham clan. The issue, it seems, is the final resting place of the Rev. Graham and his wife, Ruth, both of whom are in bad health. Son Franklin Graham has reportedly proposed that the couple be interred on the grounds of a memorial “library” that the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, of which said Franklin is honcho, is building in Charlotte. The thing is, according to those who have visited the site, the library is actually “a large barn and silo,” supposedly reminiscent of Rev. Graham’s childhood days on a dairy farm. After passing through a gigantic glass entryway cut in the shape of across, visitors would be greeted by—I ain’t kidding, I swear—a talking mechanical cow named “Bessie.” Once they recover from the shock, they will proceed along a straw line path past an array of “multimedia exhibits” until they reach a stone walk, also laid out as a cross, which would take them to the garden where Billy and Ruth Graham could lie in perpetual repose.
Along the way, visitors will have opportunities to put their names on mailing lists, which suggests to critics, such as Ruth Graham’s biographer, the novelist Patricia Cornwell, that “the whole purpose of this evangelistic experience is fund-raising.” Not so, says Franklin Graham, who insists that he hopes that “by the time they come out of the library” every visitor would “be confronted with a decision to accept or reject Christ.” Sorry Franklin, but my guess is that Bessie symbolizes an entire operation that is essentially a ”cash cow.” The Graham library/farm/cemetery plot should actually fit nicely with the new NASCAR museum and the Carowinds amusement park as yet another enticement in Charlotte’s tourist-fleecing arsenal. Close observers have often noted the contrast between Franklin’s rather flamboyant lifestyle and the simple and humble circumstances in which his parents have lived. I may be the only one who thinks so, but I see a parallel here with the behavior of the children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. If Franklin gets his way, the King kids may even be displaced from their perch atop the tackiness charts.
While I was still trying to process the Graham burial site weirdness, I was hit beside the head with Rummy’s swearing out celebration, which apparently was held in the capital of the State of Denial. Where else, after all, could even the stone -faced Dick Cheney maintain a straight face while declaring Rumsfeld “the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had”? Likewise, where but in the ultimate fantasy kingdom could Dubya assert that under his dumped Defense Secretary “the United States military helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a watershed event in the story of freedom” ? Thanks to Franklin Graham for reminding me that fact can really be stranger than fiction and to the Bush administration for proving that, these days at least, it’s a lot scarier as well.

Liberal Stereotypes Never Die. Nor Do They Fade Away

It’s clear from reading Harold Meyerson's assertion that is now the Republicans rather than the Democrats who have a “Southern problem,” that he does not subscribe to the old political scientist’s maxim that “one election doth not a realignment make.” He does, however, show amazing loyalty to the time-worn liberal maxim that everything one finds distasteful about American life must somehow emanate from below the Mason-Dixon line.
As Myerson sees it, the Republicans got their well-deserved comeuppance last month and are now on the ropes politically because “They've become too southern -- too suffused with the knee-jerk militaristic, anti-scientific, dogmatically religious, and culturally, sexually and racially phobic attitudes of Dixie -- to win friends and influence elections outside the South. “ It’s always helpful to have “the attitudes of Dixie” laid out in such concision, although it is surprising to learn that voters in the seventeen non-southern states that went for Bush just 24 months ago are suddenly so revulsed by the narrow, regionality of the GOP’s message that they can no longer stand the thought of ever again being in the same party with those reactionary southerners.
My guess is that a lot of non-southern voters in November were not so much rejecting conservatism as a President whose misrepresentations of military purpose and failure to provide the resources to attain that purpose, along with his disdain for fiscal responsibility and individual rights proved him no conservative at all. A quick profile of the Demo winners from November doesn’t exactly suggest a widespread resurgence of Left- or Right-Coast liberalism. Certainly, the Democratic freshman class doesn’t exactly seem to be brimming with Nancy Pelosi’s and John Kerry’s in-waiting. It may be true, that Kerry “came close” to prevailing among white voters outside the South in 2004, but primarily because he carried New York and California, whose electorates, so far as I know, have not been widely cited as exemplary of broader national trends in a good while.
Maybe Myerson and others who see the Democrats on a roll toward filling in the blanks between their bi-coastal strongholds are on to something, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it just yet. One reason for my skepticism is the tendency of so many liberal pundits to fall back on comfortable categories and stereotypes that support what they believe about how things are and how they should be. Having already dismissed southern conservatives, some of whom are black, by the way, as racist , Bible-thumping morons, Meyerson doesn’t hesitate to identify Wal-mart’s low-wage, no-benefits practices with its origins in “the rural South, ” as he compares the battle between the company’s “southern low-wage labor system ” and representatives of “higher-paid workers in the North” to the recent unpleasantness that some know as the Civil War. Apparently, this latter conflict isn’t going as well for the northern side . There are currently five times more Wal-marts per capita in Connecticut than in Georgia and 2.5 times more in California . Not only is Wal-mart in every state but in 14 countries serving an estimated 176 million customers per week. Say what you will about this enterprise, if it was once distinctively “southern,” it clearly ceased to be a long time ago. Faulkner’s observation that the past is never dead or even past is always presumed to apply specifically to the South, but I have noticed that it seems to work pretty well for northern liberals too.

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