Friday, January 14, 2011

George Packer's Interesting Times

Interesting Times:
Semi-regular thoughts on foreign affairs, politics, and books, from George Packer.

Photo from King of World,
Tucson Lightening Strike

Arguing Tucson

Over a hundred comments and counting! Many are well-argued, including a lot of the dissents, and make me want to argue back. Some are nasty enough to give my original post a sort of roundabout boost. But who knew that so many conservatives read The New Yorker? I hope they stay subscribers.

I’ll group my answers and after-thoughts under several topics that come up frequently in the thread.

Marx wasn’t Hitler! I paired them, in the shorthand of blogging, as influences on Loughner (he cited “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf”) whose destructive legacies do not include the shootings in Tucson. Obviously, a philosopher of political economy and a genocidal totalitarian dictator are not remotely commensurate—I should have made that clear. But when tens of millions of people are killed under the banner of an ism that bears your name within a century of your life, you don’t get the philosopher’s free pass. Were those murders the result of a tragic distortion of Marx? Yes—and yet, at the same time, one can’t read Marx’s writings without being aware of his brutal inflexibility, his hatred of what he considered humanistic moral cant. Marx heralded the remorseless wheel of history, whatever victims it might claim.

You started it! It’s undeniable that some Americans on the left never accepted the Bush Presidency as legitimate after the Florida recount. It’s also undeniable that the left’s rhetoric over the Iraq War was often hostile, simplistic, and unfair. For commenters who don’t know my work and assume I’m a partisan hack, take a look at Chapter 11 of “The Assassins’ Gate,” my book about Iraq, for detailed criticism of just that tendency, which flourished on both sides of the war. I try to call them as I see them, and I get in trouble with both sides along the way.

But it won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he
can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

Read the rest of this blog entry HERE.

George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and the author of three nonfiction books, two novels, and a play.

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