March 15, 2008

Another Invaluable Guide to Effective Yelling, or: How To Shoot Every Fish in a Teensy Weensy Barrel and Kill Them Beasties Totally Dead

I'm still in the midst of several fairly complicated pieces. And I keep adding more headache-inducing essays to my works-in-progress list. A glutton for punishment, that's me. But tomorrow, I should be ready with at least one of the new posts, which will suggest to "Mr. Visionary" himself (one guess who is the recipient of that honorific): "Heal Thyself, Pal." That will quickly be followed by the beginning of my series of previously planned articles explaining why Obama is the complete embodiment of conventional, establishment thought and policy (the "Heal Thyself" essay is a newer addition to my growing expose of this very obviously empty suit). Proving still one more time that all the old cliches are true, most Americans appear enthusiastically willing to fall for anything, even the most intellectually threadbare and morally bankrupt notions, as long as they come wrapped in pretty ribbons. Are so many Americans, and so many commentators and bloggers, truly so shallow? Yes, indeed, brave questioner. And then there's a bunch of other posts that should be completed in pretty short order. Lots of fun to come!

Meanwhile, here's a bit of delicious entertainment from another quarter. Scott McLemee offers a NYT review of Eric Alterman's latest book. I recall that I've made my own judgment of the quality of Alterman's thought and analysis clear. See, in particular, "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules" and "The Triumph of Racism." Among other descriptors of Alterman, I included "echoes all the mindless, contentless screams of the racist conservatives," "barbarian," "like not very bright children," "elitist racism," "pathetically sickening, " and "a cramped and crabbed spirit, and an impoverished intellect." Occasionally, I can be ridiculously overgenerous and filled with honeyed sympathy. I'm not such a bad guy!

Writing about the Democratic presidential campaigns, which McLemee observes "often have had the air of revival meetings," he wonders: "Who knew that the old rhetoric of progress, of facing the future with confidence, still had such appeal?" McLemee continues:
Alas, as an old-fashioned socialist and congenital cynic — one prone to barking "No confidence in the twin capitalist parties of war and exploitation!" in my sleep, which startles my wife — I have been immune to all this fervor. Or at least I was until I read Eric Alterman’s new book, "Why We’re Liberals." The subtitle promises "A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America." For now, my faith in the possibility of reform extends at least as far as thinking the time has come to create a new regulatory agency: one ensuring that a book’s title will give the consumer an accurate idea of what is inside the covers. No doubt "A Political Handbook for Arguing With Conservative Bloggers and Talk-Show Loudmouths During the Years When George Bush Was President" would reduce the market share. But accuracy counts for something.
McLemee offers some praise for Alterman's 1998 book on foreign policy, but then notes:
At the same time, few pundits have been so tireless about blaming the people to their left for the mess of the past several years. Scourge of the Naderites, Alterman has no patience for those who doubt whether putting all eggs in the Democratic basket is a wise policy.
That's the ticket, Alterman! We must keep to the "vital center"! I hadn't thought that "vital" described a maggot-infested corpse, but I'm just a cantankerous curmudgeon. And to be sure, the Democrats don't agree at all with the corporatist - authoritarian - American global hegemony program. Oh, wait. They do! All that clever marketing confuses me now and then. Sorry!

McLemee has more details about the indispensable nature of Alterman's opus:
In the final two-thirds of "Why We’re Liberals," however, Alterman seems to relinquish a chance to shape the political agenda of the next decade in favor of settling accounts with such heavy thinkers as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. If it has never before occurred to you that conservative polemicists might sometimes be dishonest or hypocritical, then this book will offer a good remedial education: for example, a long chapter called "Why Do Liberals Hate Patriotism?" contains lists of famous liberal military veterans and equally prominent conservatives who declined to serve. Alterman debunks the idea that conservatives have some monopoly on religious belief — or on disgust with the craven and sometimes vicious nature of American pop culture, for that matter.
Obviously a must-read!

If you still are so deluded as to believe you can live another day without this book:
Alterman is, as always, a capable polemicist. He has no trouble shooting every fish in the barrel. But after a while, the whole effort begins to seem like an exercise in identity politics for an ideological minority. Self-esteem is boosted through therapeutic confrontation with bullies, followed by affirmations that liberals really are good enough — and doggone it, people ought to like them!


From a tough-minded pundit like Alterman, the reader expects some grappling with the likely shape of things to come. Instead, "Why We’re Liberals" is like a crash course in how to yell effectively at the talking heads on Fox News. Whatever progress might mean, this is not an example of it.
After everything that has gone before in his review, McLemee's use of "tough-minded" is a puzzler. Not exactly the phrase that would have occurred to me. See the examples above from my earlier articles.

Well. I think that it is quite enough of shooting all the fish in this particular, very small barrel. Back to more demanding and, I hope, more substantive, work.

But light-hearted diversion is a good thing, too. And remember, dear reader, whoever you are and whatever you think, you really are good enough and doggone it, people ought to like you! I think you're the bee's knees. Honest and cross my heart.