Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, September 14, 2009

9/11, Service and the New McCarthyism

Another 9/11 has come and gone. I've done remembrances and reflections in years past. There was nothing good about 9/11 itself, but there was much that was admirable in the reaction to it from average citizens. This year, responding to a citizen campaign, President Obama designated 9/11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance, which seemed like a simple, good and relatively innocuous idea.

You can guess where we're going. Back in August, some right-wingers started their outrage machine over this. Sadly, No's Tintin quoted a typical (and unintentionally revealing) piece from the conservative American Spectator by Matthew Vadum titled "Obama's Plan to Desecrate 9/11":

The Obama White House is behind a cynical, coldly calculated political effort to erase the meaning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from the American psyche and convert Sept. 11 into a day of leftist celebration and statist idolatry. The president signed into law a measure in April that designated Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service, but it’s not likely many lawmakers thought this meant that day was going to be turned into a celebration of ethanol, carbon emission controls, and radical community organizing.

Yes, no irony whatsoever there on the "cynical" accusation or "desecrate." As Tintin noted:

Of course, Matthew twists the facts here by giving the wrong name for the holiday. It’s not the “National Day of Service,” but the "National Day of Service and Remembrance." But if Matthew mentioned the “and Remembrance” part, that would more or less shoot to shit his claim that under the new law, September 11 would be completely dedicated to to planting trees in the shape of a crescent facing Mecca and scouting libraries to remove copies of the 9-11 report and replacing them with copies of The Joy of Gay Sex.

Continuing from the same Vadum piece:

The plan is to turn a “day of fear” that helps Republicans into a day of activism called the National Day of Service that helps the left. In other words, nihilistic liberals are planning to drain 9/11 of all meaning.

As Tintin noted, this seems to be an accidental slip of honesty. And as the New York Times wrote, it's hard to imagine why anyone who object to a day of service. (Well, anyone sane.)

As I've written before, everyone is entitled to his or her own personal feelings about 9/11. But when those are brought into the public realm with a political aim, well, that's different.

I was rather put off by what I caught of ABC's Republican-heavy special, A Nation Remembers: The Story of the Pentagon Memorial this past Sunday. It's a nice memorial, and I blogged on it last year. But when Gary Sinise, the pro-war narrator of the special, spoke of unity and how it faded, it was hard not to think he was suggesting that going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do and what a shame it is that anyone dissented. Dick Cheney was interviewed, with no mention that he shamelessly and ruthlessly lied us into war. No one mentioned his insistence on heading up counterterrorism efforts and then refusing to meet prior to 9/11. Obviously no one said he should be on trial for war crimes for ordering and supporting torture. ABC really couldn't find other speakers? I don't expect Cheney to be called out in a mainstream memorial piece. But it would have been better to leave Cheney out of the special altogether than to perpetuate the same fantasies of the past eight years. It was a bit like having a Hurricane Katrina special that featured Michael Brown gushing about how wonderful the Bush administration's response was.

To return to Vadum, it's really impossible for one to get more "cynical" with 9/11 than to use it to start an unnecessary war of choice against a country, Iraq, that did not attack us; to constantly link that country rhetorically to 9/11 and insist there was a connection; to torture prisoners to say there was such a connection; to browbeat anyone with the basic common sense, understanding of war or bullshit detector to object to the push for war; and so on.

As Robert Parry (via MBR) writes:

On this eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s worth reflecting on how even a mildly competent U.S. President might have prevented the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and drove the United States into a spasm of revenge that has wasted untold blood and treasure.

Or as driftglass writes, about the long trail of ridiculous and vicious attacks on that centrist president, Bill Clinton:

The public record meant that every frivolous Republican witch hunt and every syllable of hate and demagoguery gleefully poured out through public megaphones and megachurch pulpits to malign and demonize the Left could potentially represent a thick bar on the cage of any future Republican president's imperial ambitions.

Because, after all, should the tables ever turn -- should there ever be a Republican President whose election really was suspect, or who really did lie to the American public and flagrantly abuse his office, and did it in ways that cost the nation trillions of dollars and thousands of lives -- after spending eight years establishing a public record in such clear and unambiguous language what the Hell could the Right possibly say?

After conspiring to bring about two of the most destructive events in modern American history -- the impeachment of a US President over trivia, and the probable theft of the subsequent Presidential election -- to what God could Republicans possibly pray that their eight years of insanity, venom and violence "might be wholly blotted out?”

On 09/11/01, their dark miracle came winging its way out of a clear, blue sky.

I would recommend reading both pieces in full.

(My most related previous pieces are probably "8-6-01: A Day That Should Live in Infamy" and "Day of Shame.")

In moments of crisis, many people revert to what is most familiar. For people in positions of power, crises tend to amplify their basic character. Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John Kennedy responded well. Bill Clinton and Al Gore likely would have responded well to 9/11, or even more likely wouldn't have let it happen. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington and the gang responded badly – with fear, bullying, dishonesty, radicalism, fanaticism, and grotesque, unconscionable exploitation. We saw the same thing from authoritarian conservatives with Watergate, Ford's pardon of Nixon and Iran-Contra – and saw the same pattern of abuse and corruption repeated in a staggering number of Bush administration crimes. These people have shown time and time again they will never stop voluntarily. Hell, they're proud of what they did.

9/11 was a tragedy, but also a deadly indicator of the gross incompetence of the Bush administration. But the American people largely forgave them – surely they must feel bad, and will be moved to act responsibly. Before all the details of their incompetence were known, this made a certain sense, and isn't necessarily cause for shame. The abdication of critical thought, and bowing to McCarthyism, is another matter altogether. When the Bush administration made the case for war with Iraq, throwing all manner of shit against the wall to see what would stick – many Americans felt, surely they wouldn't lie about a matter so important as war. When they bullied anyone who questioned them, too many Americans accepted it or even joined in. When it came out that the Bush administration spied on Americans and tortured people – some Americans – and far too many journalists - still made excuses for them. What should have been their ultimate indictment became their all-purpose get-out-of-jail free card (driftglass visualizes this well). When it comes to cleaning up the many messes of the Bush administration – most of all torture - our press corps shows little interest, not only because of their laziness and vapidity, but because of their deep complicity.

Most of the press corps are unlikely ever to own up this. The right-wingers want to keep stoking fear. But liberals, moderates, sane conservatives, all those in the reality-based community, can choose to remember 9/11 – and how it has been exploited politically – more honestly. We can also chose to confront the scoundrels, the ignoramuses, the crazies and flat-out assholes.

This year for 9/11, the "9/12" conservative wingnut crowd reacted sadly and predictably. They made up shit and blamed the media, expressed rage incoherently, voiced their support for spite and vicious fantasies, and engaged in another round of McCarthyism. Glenn Beck and his assorted authoritarian scumbags aren't just using McCarthyist tactics – they're adopting his actual specific rhetoric about dread "communists" now. Their lack of originality doesn't make them any less dangerous.

As DougJ notes, most of the Beck-driven crazies and assorted loons, are old and white. However, while there are many frightening 9/12 teabagger photos to choose from, I thought the most striking were these two from Andrew Sullivan:

No irony. Nosirree.

I've never known a time when America hasn't had its share of McCarythists around, even if their specific name varies. The Crucible and Orwell have always been relevant. There have always been authoritarian conservatives, comprised of some mix of mean, ignorant, lying bullies, rabid crazies and scoundrels - either with power or hungry to seize it. They can always be counted on to try to enforce conformity based on fear and easy condemnation, and seem most at home at a country club, on a corporate board, on a Freeper board, at a neocon think tank or in an angry mob. They are extremely dangerous in power, and it's madness to pretend otherwise given the devastation they always leave behind. Ann Coulter and other right-wingers have been trying to revise history and reform McCarthy for decades. Perhaps Pat Buchanan's efforts to reform Hitler are to make the new McCarthy movement led by Beck and the gang look tame by comparison.

Everyone can keep their personal feelings and memories of 9/11 to themselves or discuss with those they choose. But as far as the public 9/11 goes, perhaps it's best going forward to honor it as a day of service, remembrance - and fighting McCarthyism.

1 comment:

Suzan said...

What a lovely job dissecting this continuing nightmare of historical inaccuracy and its premeditated murderers you have done for us.

My sincere thanks and undying gratitude, and admiration for the plug for Driftglass' superb prose on this abortion.