Friday, October 3, 2008

The Lost Generation

“Hel-loooooo! Helloooooooo In There! Any body Home?”

I grew up as did our blogfather Steve, a child of to-the-rest-of-the-world “Horrible” Harlem, NYC... reading the journalistic likes of Tom Wicker and R.W. Apple. Jack Anderson and Murray Kempton. I read Gay Talese and the great Jimmy Breslin, (who probably won't remember me doing so, but I nuked a taped segment of his briefly shown ABC show when he did a man-on-the-street segment showing how Americans didn't know their politicians—and I immediately knew who the pictured Tip O'Neill and Caspar Weinberger were. They turned the camera off) as well as Mike Royko, Pete Hamill, and Sydney Schanberg.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who I met two nights ago in Manhattan at a large specialty store) were names in my family household before “All The President's Men”. I mean Goddamn, sportswriters? I'd read about Grantland Rice and his renowned “Four Horsemen” piece in a book on early 20th century American History. I followed the dugout and sideline talk of the creepy Dick Young, the brassy Jerry Izenberg, Beantown's Bob Ryan and the thoughtful Dick Schaap. I even read the execrable Mike Lupica for shits and giggles.

I'm that same nobody who grew up in Harlem and Hollis, going to almost all-Black schools that weren't supposed to teach me a Goddamned thing. Places where I learned about fabled court cases like Brown vs. Board of Education (and Thurgood Marshall's huge role in it), and Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Dred Scott (vs. Sandford) case. The name Felix Frankfurter stayed with me for years just out of curiosity. Abe Fortas and Earl Warren were names attached to one of the first D.C. feeding frenzy scandals I remember seeing unfold. Warren Burger? Watergate, baby. How could I forget that drama.

Yeah. I'm that same nobody who grew the hell up in Horrible Harlem and Hip-Hop Hollis, going to those no 'count second-rate, damn near all-Black schools.

So tell me how in the flying fuck through a rolling donut did I manage to read more newspapers, and end up knowing more about American jurisprudence and current events in my lifetime than the almost brain-dead Republican candidate for Vice President in 2008? “What newspapers do you read?”, and she couldn't even say GRIT? Not even fucking GRIT?

No, this is really no longer a joke—how is it that a person who is one of the four people presently most likely to have a turn at running the most powerful nation in the world when asked about what newspapers she reads can give an aneurysm-inducing response like this:

And then, laughing that train wreck off, answer like this to a question about the Supreme Court of The United States? (via TPM) go swig down a couple of tablespoons of fish oil to replenish the brain cells you just Manson-ed watching the above video blights, and I'll give you the answer. (Hopefully your language center survived and you can still read the letter “_”. You can still read _he le__ er “T” can't you? Good! Whew! You had me scared for a second there!

The problem is that there is a generation of Republican politicians for whom the very idea of broader knowledge is anathema. For whom a discerning, analytical brain is seen as a hinderance . For whom smart is dumb, and dumb is smart. Give the devil that is Richard M. Nixon and his generation their due—for all their perfidy and damage, you can't say that they weren't at the very least...intelligent.

Not just shrewd, but actually smart, learned people.

Republicans gave up on the valuing of intelligence with the ultra-marketing and eventual ushering in of the proudly, giddily dim Ronald Wilson Reagan. But Reagan, thanks to decades worth of Hollywood experience was artfully dumb. It looked nice on camera. Or, to paraphrase Will Smith's line in “Men In Black”, 'He made that shit look good.' His wizened acting chops—boiled down to simple soap-opera/ TV movie shorthand worked perfectly in a just post-Charlie's Angels era America. It was the beginning of “The Idiocracy” and he was Highfather Megalord of that new faith, his smiling visage everywhere, all Bryllcreem™, ten-gallon hats, and the best B-movie production design gloss his backers and Michael Deaver could afford.

The political children he would spawn in the “sea change” GOP wave in the 1994 elections were mere bit players and chorus girls bereft of what presentational chops Ronnie had. They were all emotion and NO smarts at all, but luckily managed to ride that boiling wave of hate and fear to an election victory. But they have NOT worn well. The stupid shows through now, clearly.

You see, reading position papers and reciting blast-faxed talking points is all fine and good when nobody asks you real questions. You don't get to cup your hand to your ear and do a bullshit “Whatdjasay” as you stroll majestically to your waiting copter of escape like Reagan did. This is a different world in 2008. It's harder to hide your shit. The twenty-four hour news cycle and alternate reportage (on the net and through the blogosphere) makes it much more difficult. And thus, you get exposed like Palin has. Or how poor Eric Cantor did a week-and-a-half ago. Or GOP shill Kevin James this past May.

I'm reminded about Allan Bloom's “seminal” (at least to conservatiives) tome from the late eighties, “The Closing Of The American Mind”, and just what a transference-crammed mind-fuck that book was. Bloom's “premise” was that the country's collective intelligence—nay, it's very future!—was at risk due to the expansion of the so-called recognized canon of accepted literature and general culture in our schools and culture. Conservatives hopped on this leaky hulled failboat of reason, using it to smack down Ethnic and Gender Studies departments in colleges, claiming that this augmenting and for them, diminishing of the long-held standards of intellectual greatness would surely lead America to ruin.

It seemed so silly then, Bloom's caterwauling...but now I, and I'm sure you see it for the dodge that it was. Just look who the fucking idiots turned out to be in the end. It was used as an excuse by dippy wingnuts to get away from dealing with smarts altogether. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater entiirely. It would beget the likes of the Cro Mag-browed and brained Sean Hannity, the reason-challenged spittle launching of a Rush Limbaugh, the happily simple George W. Bush, and now...the frightfully un-learned Palin. There was actually something of a balance between the raw emotion and the obvious intelligence of a jerk like the aforementioned President Nixon. But that balance of emotion and brainpower that fed awful things like the “Southern Strategy” as well as his canny signing off on major elements of civil rights legislation (to keep a lid on things in the powderkeg of early seventies America) is gone now, totally subsumed by all the silly ass emotion his intellectually lesser descendants could muster. Newt Gingrich is a child of that Nixonian blend of intelligence and venality. And even he realized not long after the '94 “sea change” that the staircase-full of idiots he stood with when he signed the “Contract with America” was a reason-and-intellect challenged bunch who knew only zealotry. Which meant that pragmatism and even the occasional bit of “give” necessary to get a larger thing done was utterly lost on them. These political “savages” did not get it at all—and their hubris and anger could NOT be tamed.

Newt was gone before you knew it as their “leader” / shepherd—inasmuch as one could ever hope to “herd” a pack of rabid, feral cats, one would suppose.

This gang was a “Lost Generation” for whom stupid was the air they breathed, the blood that coursed through them, and the quicksanded earth they trod—with knuckle-drag lines bracketing the footprints within.

There was a time when there were “a couple” of patently stupid people on the right you could point and hoot at...but post 1994, the numbers are too great to chalk up as “a couple”. We have been governed and legislated by fools like Senator “Box Turtle” John Cornyn, and Rick Santorum. Represented by the likes of daft “Mean” Jean Schmidt and Ted “a series of tubes” Stevens. Preznidented over by George W. (as in “What the fuck is the answer to two-plus-two?”) Bush, misdiagnosed by Senator “She's NOT brain-dead, Jim” Bill Frist, and judged by his Daddy Bush's dusky dolt on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, who famously, like Ol' Man Rver, “Don't know nuttin” and “Don't say nuttin” in sessions with his fellow Supremes. (And conversely, we saw actual intellects like Al Gore openly mocked and pilloried for basically “daring NOT to drool” by his haters on the right.)

There are others I could spend an hour mocking the single brain cells of, but you get the point. And Palin is but the natural evolutionary result of this post-Reagan process. Yes, I know she believes humans and Dinosaurs existed at the same time, and that Fred, her great-grandpa ten-thousand times removed, tragically met his end when his foot-powered car tipped over due to a giant slab of bronto ribs being placed haphazardly on the driver's side window sash, but that evolutionary process in republican politics is real, and she is the iteration we have now. But as the GOP has de-volved, the world about it has e-volved with instantaneous fact-checking and alternative media to the one-time “Ghosts In The Machine” that was the mainstream media of a mere ten-to-fifteen years ago.

And the likes of Palin and her fellow travelers, skipping down the road of stupid like Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow...not in quest of heart, home, courage and yes...brain, but power instead—represent the core of what passes for leadership on the right. There is NO brilliant—but wittily evil mind on their side like Bill Buckley's any more. His generation is dead and gone, and he was at least entertaining in a thought-provokingly maddening sort of way. No. What we have is a cloud of dumb-assery, raining grating “Dontchas”, “Betchas”, “Hear-yas”, and “Back-to-yas!” upon us to where we stand knee-deep in in a sludge of bullshit and stupid.

There remains only a vestigial brain—just sophisticated enough to walk, breathe, chew gum and hate with.

Gone is their “Capital Gang”. Say hello the enfeebled “Capital Ganglia”. the best they can do. In their slaughter of the middle class, the military and our prestige on the world stage, their point-blank blunderbuss of “duh” has also managed to kill even irony's ass. Stone. Cold. Dead.

My God. You'd think this crew just fell off the rubber-chicken banquet delivery truck. It's as if...they'd “only been at this like what? Five weeks?”


And five weeks from now until election day. Here's to the “two smartest mother-fuckers in the room” effectively ending the reign of the “I'm With Stupid” brigade.

So, to you Sarah? As even the functionally illiterate “Krusty The Klown” inspiringly said to the millions of kids watching his he held a weighty tome upside-down...

“Give a hoot! Read a book!”


Picking up the ball in comments, Stormcrow and Doc Bopper plumb history's depths to note:

Stormcrow: This is not a creation of the 1980s

This has been with us since before the Revolutionary War..

And it's been growing. Decade by decade. Like a cancer, ever since America and the Industrial Revolution first crossed paths.

Google on "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life". Please.

That book was first published back when Ronald Reagan was still an actor.

This was part of my own education. Though it wasn't in any syllabus. It was, I guess, part of my first "incident post-mortem".

Undertaken more than two decades before I learned to use the word "incident" to refer to something other people would call a "catastrophe".

drbopperthp: Stormie is absolutely right. The vein of anti-intellectualism that runs long and deep through the bedrock of American culture has been tapped into and vigorously mined by the enemies of true democracy in this country for 400 years. Mix in a little dollop of -ism schism and inject the plague viruses of ignorance and stupidity and look watcha got.

And they are right. Sometimes, when you “Readers Digest” a issue, that little bit of extra depth excluded can gloss over an important point. One which I made down in comments and will re-iterate here:

...Like a cancer, there is a tipping point—where things metastasize and the cancer touches bone and then...'s everywhere.

Reagan was the metastization point and we pretty much went terminal from there.

The idea of this proud stupidity does go back well past a century—into pre-Emancipation America in “Gangs of New York” New York where:

The origin of the "Know Nothing" term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, "I know nothing."

The moniker would go on as a pejorative in the early 20th century to define xenophobic haters of influence playing to the lowest common denominator.

Familiar? You betcha'!

As called out in the all-knowing Wiki, even William Kristol, the son of one of conservative America's last evil thinkers (The Star Wars “Emperor”-esque Irving):

In 2006, an editorial in the neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard by William Kristol attacked populist Republicans for not recognizing the danger of “turning the GOP into an anti-immigration, Know-Nothing party.”

And of course...there is Paul Krugman from just two months ago:.

[K]now-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”

Yah got that right!


And thanks to Tata in comments for capping it all off perfectly with this video link: