Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Disillusioned Idealist

hTime magazine's Joe Klein has posted online a piece titled "Cheney's Thousand-Yard Stare" that proves mostly inane despite its aspirations of profundity. It could be better titled "Sympathy for the Cheney" as Klein compares Cheney's shock at shooting Harry Whittington to the shell shock of Vietnam vets.

Crooks and Liars and Firedoglake both have entries up on the so-called "liberal" Joe Klein. Firedoglake's entry provides a link to an entertaining piece on Klein by Charles P. Pierce in The American Prospect. More importantly, Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher offers an educational sampling of vile quotations from Klein as part one of a contest to pick his worst. So far, the competition is stiff.

Joe Klein has long struck me as yet another baby-boomer apostate. Just as there is no one more zealous than the new convert, there is no one more bitter than the jilted lover. Either because he feels elected liberals have betrayed their ideals, or more likely, to rationalize his own sell-out, Klein blasts liberals for expressing the same ideals he once believed. He is not a liberal any longer; but I suspect in his view, he did not abandon the movement, the movement failed him. In my experience, baby boomer apostates often possess a narcissistic egocentrism about virtually everything, but particularly political activism. Because having a social conscience proved ultimately just a fad for them, if others display it, it's just a fad and naiveté, not conscience. The narcissistic mindset does not allow one to admit error, or failure (witness it in the Bush admin as well). I'm not pure, therefore nobody's pure. I'm a sell-out, therefore everyone's a sell-out. (The flip side - or even corollary - can be: my intentions are good and my ideology is pure, therefore my performance doesn't matter. Regardless, I am not at fault.) Many people do grow wiser as they age, and develop different or more complex views on things. But in my experience, the truly wise do not express the venom of the apostate, whose aim is to dismiss, not discuss, the views of others.

Baby boomer apostates often still brag about hip they were (or are), how many Stones concerts they saw in the 60s, and so on. But justifying their present lives to their former selves requires denouncing and ridiculing their own youthful idealism. In practical terms, this means they will always be harsher towards, and enforce a higher standard for, the political party that was their first love.

I suspect some of this fuels the false equivalency so rampant in most media coverage. Republicans are implicated in the Abramoff scandal, but everyone does it, so the Democrats must be guilty too, and equally so. (The appeal of an easy storyline and the desire to avoid charges of partisanship play stronger roles, though, I think.) The truth is that there will always be plenty of public officials of every political stripe who are worthy of ridicule and who necessitate scrutiny. But the apostate, like the holy warrior, tends to see the fight in reductive or partisan terms versus the real battle of truth versus distortion, and accountability versus irresponsibility.

Finally, there's the ever-present need of many a pundit to prove I-Am-Smarter-Than-You-Are, thus justifying their status as a member of the professional chattering class. Klein's piece shows he clearly feels he's smarter than his brethren in the media. Meanwhile, many liberal blogs currently feature great entries on the self-elevating revisionism of the liberal war hawks. Among other things, you'll hear the liberal war hawks claim, incorrectly, that everyone was convinced by Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. and that there was a healthy, vigorous and open debate about going to war in Iraq and why. Slate's Jacob Weisberg has deservedly come under fire for such revisionism. The subtext of what's most often heard is roughly:

1) I am smart.
2) I was duped by the Bush admin regarding the need to go to war in Iraq.
3) Therefore, all smart people were duped.
4) Therefore, all people who were not duped must not really be smart. They must have arrived at their views through irrational means only.
5) Whew! I am still smarter than they. I wasn't wrong, really. I can't be faulted for blowing it.

The logic completely breaks down, but a pundit will never challenge the inviolate, sacrosant #1. I have much more tolerance for someone like Weisberg than someone like Klein, but sadly, it's unlikely that Weisberg will ever admit that he was just wrong any more than Klein will admit he's full of crap.

(I'll be updating and revising this entry later, with some more links).

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