Lee R. Haven
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 115 in 2008.
I’d bet that caller didn’t think Rush Limbaugh was talking about one “phony soldier.” He was hopping mad that the mainstream media always found those “soldiers that come up out of the blue” (as in rare but certainly there) to criticize Bush or the war or the military. Rush tossed in the infamous appellation in a fit of solidarity and reciprocity (by making soldiers plural too).
Limbaugh and his right-wing ilk loudly accuse the mainstream media of misconstruing what they stand for and say. It really doesn’t matter whether Rush, on that day, meant the one soldier ABC had outted for lying about his service to give weight to his criticism of the war or whether he was referring to all military personnel who disapprove. The accusations he abhors are consistent with what the right-wing faithful feel free enough to share with their more celebrated comrades in anger. They, like Rush’s caller, don’t do nuance.
The intensity of the right-wing’s protestations notwithstanding, the mainstream media are the frontline defenders--either by pretending the fake rationale is normal or by downplaying or ridiculing the few real questions allowed in the debate-- of the nonsensical. It was they who accepted Bush’s “They hate our freedoms” as a legitimate answer to why 9-11 happened. One would have thought that American or Israeli behavior in the Middle East would have come up. And later, they didn’t ask either why again are we bombing Iraqis when they didn’t participate in the attacks; or whether, when Bush changed the reason for the invasion, if this democracy that’s to be built will be allowed if it’s anti-American; or what’s up with all those permanent U.S. military bases if you’re going to leave Iraq to the Iraqis; and if it’s not about oil, who controls the oil now?
The right-wingers call out from the rear to let the mainstream know when they slip and broach anything approximating journalism and free speech. These are the very people who conservative pundits assert are in bed with America’s alleged enemies, but they’re actually—albeit frequent warring--partners in this venture.
The right-winger talking heads exaggerate when they complain that the mainstream press (and the mainstream left--the left we see on mainstream media) hit them a lot. Not really, at least directly. However, they are actually correct when they charge that their counterparts mainly ignore them. They’d rather not deal with this crew publicly. They could be tossed out of the white boys’ club.
White males run this country. It’s been a long party. In the friction between the left and right over who is the better white boy to preside over the bash, there is little argument over premise in policy. Among the more salient positions: America is a noble enterprise, whose armies throughout the world defend democracy, not secure resources to feed its economic system; so, then, the issue is whether the surge is “working,” not that America’s committing atrocities in a once sovereign land; and Israeli suppression of Arabs in Palestine is justified because Hitler savaged Jews years ago, way over in Germany. The right-wingers have one-upped the opposition by declaring themselves the purer of the two. They’re the ones who are super-military, super capitalists, super defenders of Israel, super border protection or super-anything that protects what white men have built, or, in the case of slavery and economic exploitation, directed to be constructed. I call them the Last of the White Boys (LOT-WB), and anyone tampering with their ideology, even one iota, puts America, indeed Western civilization--not to mention their own reputations--at peril. Especially when the country is at war, even an illegal one they helped create.
We black nationalists had our equivalents in the sixties and early seventies when fighting over who was the blackest (LOT-BBs?), or most militant. The strength of those on the ideological edge is that the lesser committed, or less loud, can usually agree with the more hyper on the big picture. More significantly, if something goes down, these are the folks likely to have their backs.
The LOT-WB hate former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for being too nonwhite boy chummy with the “others,” minorities in this country and mostly darker populations in foreign lands, and women--groups the right-wing fear could, if treated equally, literally change the face of power. Clinton spent his presidency, as his wife is spending her current presidential campaign, balancing being progressive and cooling out these guys--or cooling out everyone else while keeping their membership, however shaky, intact. On the other hand, Carter appears as if he doesn’t care about being banished. Maybe that’s because he’s getting on in years and wants to set some things right before he dies.
It’s not a coincidence that a Democratically-controlled Congress has not closed down this war even though enough voters sent them to D.C. to do just that. Can’t override vetoes? What about stalling in committee those bills funding the war? Was not Kerry the calmest Democrat in the U.S. after that contentious election? That display with David Petraeus was nothing more than the right-wing shrieking that no one had a right to question the veracity of a white guy with all those medals, even though the general is an employee of the man war critics can agree lied the country into a war. Notice that it worked. Notice too that the debate over Rush’s “phony soldiers” was framed by how much each side supported those carrying out policies much of the international community sees as outlaw, and how top Democratic Senator Harry Reid changed his tone after Limbaugh auctioned on E-Bay the letter Reid led-Democrats wrote to condemn the remarks. CNN felt obligated to run a pro-Rush piece after that too, emphasizing that the two million raised was going to a charity for children of slain American soldiers and police officers. California Congressman Pete Stark recently apologized for saying--in a fit of…clarity?--that Bush loves to implement policies resulting in bomb-induced decapitations. Sure, they’d rather win, but they also risk being ostracized from the society from which many have benefited—and here I also mean emotionally-- if they push too far.
The main job of the LOT-WB, and hands down most difficult, is to shill, without making it seem that way, for the economic elite, the closest thing to a white boys club you can find. They have to convince their followers, many of whom are working class, to distrust bottom-line-threatening “left” positions that may even improve their lives, like universal health care, or taming global warming. More important, they must make it appear that to denounce one of their initiatives is to betray all. Hence, there’s a straight line running through supporting the war, the pro-life and anti-environment movements, and--oh yeah--private enterprise--the more unfettered, the better, of course.
A man who called screaming right-winger Mark Levine’s radio show emphasized that he was white and poor, but that he’d rather continue eking by on his low income than go to a government program that could help him. (And speaking of avoiding confrontation with these guys, I’ve yet to hear the mainstream even refer to Levine, perhaps the most outrageous and who says he has millions of listeners.)
Women and “the others” can serve as adjuncts and useful tools. Not long ago, I heard a woman caller assure Rush that she’s not voting for any woman for president. Black callers attack black people for being un-ambitious and lazy. Hispanics announce they’re embarrassed by protesting immigrants. This behavior has plenty of historical precedent. On a more social, at least a less political, level, I see it as tantamount to those outsiders in high school who do anything to join the “in” crowd that despises them.
But something’s happening in America that’s scaring the bejesus out of (assuming there was deity in there to begin with) the right-wingers, and their enablers. In two words, the Internet. Specifically, the blogs, which have been unprecedented in enhancing the visibility of the opposition. Even those sites that started out in the political box--and that to a large degree still remain there, like Arianna Huffington’s-- feature writers like Jane Smiley telling the real story. Many responding to the truth-tellers are equally fearless. Both groups are not afraid of words like “imperialism,” “capitalism,” “Zionism,” “racism,” and, yes, “war criminals.” Even the timid mainstream media has to cover some of what they say if not exactly what they say. They’re out there, and they’re watching.
More scarily for the right-wingers, growing numbers of the recalcitrant are themselves white boys. Several have always been there, dissatisfied, but ignored into virtual non-existence by the mainstream. Thanks to cyberspace, the new and powerful collective force of the grumbling forced the Democrats’ hand to do something about Limbaugh. Indeed, some white males are so angry at how the world sees this country, and how they’re now forced to see themselves, that they have teamed up with folks they may have even had disagreements six years ago, to trade in a white male for a different model of American leadership. I suspect this is Bush’s main failing, as far as the right-wing is concerned: the hate he engenders among all those potential allies. Several, I suspect, also want to keep white males running things. (I’ve read a couple of sites that are so blatantly anti-Semitic that they blame the Jews if it rains too hard in Cincinnati.) It’s hard to deny too that what many say is-- as the right-wingers have accused them of, although they mean menacingly--anti-American.
And their ranks--and prominence--are growing.
On top of everything else, black people, the nation’s natural progressives because they have received the brunt of a philosophy that deifies people of the opposite color, have been getting busy too, after years of suppressing any sustained, or at least, demonstrative resentments. Interacting in chat rooms and blogs as a follow up to the calls of black radio to demonstrate and boycott against the criminal justice system in Jena and other American cities, as well as petitioning on sites such as the colorofchange.com for better government response to tragedies like Katrina, is-- trust me--only the beginning.
So all these right-wingers have left is to scream and smear and indulge in the irrelevant. That’s why Rush can’t stop yelling about that letter, or why Bill O’Reilly--he of the LOT-WB television “news” network-- can’t stop insulting the people he says deliberately misunderstood his comments about his experience in that black restaurant.
People who are rarely hit, and especially for all to see, usually cry out in disproportion when they are. They usually fall when what they stand on is slowly, but steadily, collapsing.