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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fever dreams

So my virus just keeps getting worse and worse.  Last night I coughed myself awake at 3 and decided, sagely, to continue coughing myself awake until about 10.  By that point, everything in my body hurt.  I then cancelled my class (I think the last time I cancelled a seminar was the day Jamie was born), made a doctor’s appointment at 2, and came home with Prednisone and Allegra-D and Augmentin and Nasacort and Tussionex with codeine.  Woo hoo!  It’s the health-care cliché—a boatload of meds!

Over the past few nights I’ve been having weird fever dreams about one of the books I assigned for this week in the Disability Studies seminar: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals.  I may be the first person in the world other than MacIntyre himself to dream about the book.  But that’s what happens when you have a fever and you’re preparing a seminar.  At one point on Monday, when I came upon this passage—

We therefore have to distinguish between what it is that makes certain goods goods and goods to be valued for their own sake from what it is that makes it good for this particular individual or this particular society in this particular situation to make them objects of her or his or their effective practical regard

-- I imagined, before I dropped off to sleep, that MacIntyre was driving an enormous RV into a highway rest stop, whereupon he saw that Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Richard Rorty were walking their dogs in the picnic area, and decided to turn the RV around and get back on the highway.  (This actually makes some kind of sense, since neither Smith nor Rorty would accept the category of “goods to be valued for their own sake,” insisting instead that the value of all goods, even those of the Aristotelian virtues, is contingent on the pragmatic ends they serve.  But why an RV?) Last night I fell asleep thinking that MacIntyre’s overwhelming emphasis on the development of independent practical reason (thanks to which we can provide justifications for the goals we seek and the means by which we seek them) leads him to (a) construe disability too narrowly as something that, above all, challenges the development of independent practical reasoners, as if blind people or paraplegics can’t be every bit as rationally self-critical about their goods and their goals as anyone else (cognitive disability is quite another matter), and (b) introduce the problematic of disability too late in the analysis, just at the point at which he needs it as the foundation of his (admirable) ethic of just generosity.  These are not entirely fair criticisms, by the way; my mind has been pretty cloudy of late.  But thought (a) really does appear plausible on page 75 of MacIntyre’s book, and thought (b) made me dream—before I woke myself coughing—that the question at issue was whether MacIntyre would have dinner on the table for Jamie by 8 pm.

But none of that was as weird as the fever dream I had about Newt Gingrich.  Late this morning, as I slipped in and out of consciousness, I dreamt that I read, on the Time.com website, a love letter to Newt that opened by praising his iconoclastic take on Hurricane Katrina. 

“How many of you have ever used an automatic bank machine overseas?” Newt Gingrich asks, and since this is a pretty affluent New Hampshire audience, a fair number of people raise their hand. “Do you get impatient waiting for the money? You’re 4,674 miles from home, in a foreign banking system, and there’s your money, in 11 seconds on average. Now, say you’re a small-business owner wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. How long does it take the Federal Government to respond to your emergency loan application? More than 11 weeks, on average . . . Katrina was a decisive moment for our country. It proved that our government is broken. We need real change, and here’s my new slogan: Real change means real change. Your experiences dealing with the government need to be more like the experiences in the rest of your life—more like using an automated bank machine.”

It’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich when he’s on a tear. And he’s almost always on a tear of some sort.

Even in my addled state, I can understand a syllogism when I see one: if Gingrich is almost always on a tear, and it’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich when he’s on a tear, then it’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich!  Like when he blamed Susan Smith’s murder of her two sons on Democrats! That was teh joy.

But you know when Mia Farrow sits bolt upright in Rosemary’s Baby during the ceremony in which she is impregnated by Richard Perle Satan, and screams, “This is no dream?” Guess what?  This is no dream!  It’s a real column by Time magazine’s resident liberal, Joe Klein!

No, you say. Michael, you’re hallucinating.  But I’m not!  It’s real, I tell you!

Look at it this way. Newt Gingrich, more than anyone, was the man who put into practice Loveable Furry Old Grover Norquist’s plan to shrink the federal government to the size at which it could be drowned in the bathtub.  Behind the failure of Katrina lies not only the usual stupefying Bush Administration incompetence and cronyism, but the entire philosophy of “shut the government down” Gingrichism. And now the Gingrich behind Gingrichism appears in front of a bunch of affluent conservative New Hampshireans to tell them that Katrina proved that our government is broken? The man who helped to hobble government is going around the country crowing, “see, told you, government doesn’t work?” I think of Luke Menand’s review of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, where Menand suggested that D’Souza decrying campus intolerance is a bit like having the guy who poisoned the well show up as the water inspector.

And let’s not even bother with the other half of this little vignette, the ATM.  The human mind cannot yet imagine what a Bush Administration ATM would be like.  It would eat your card and charge you $250 billion for Iraq and charge your children five to ten times that to pay for crony-capitalist tax cuts, that much is sure.  But it would do even more.  It would somehow manage to identify certain ATM users as candidates for torture or extraordinary rendition.  Don’t ask me how.  Only John Yoo can say.

The point is that Gingrich’s remarks are simply obscene.  In fact, they are so obscene that they make me want to qualify “obscene” with an adjectival bad word, but I will not do that, because the Washington Post might find out and label me a member of the Angry Left.  So I must not say bad words.

And to have this obscenity celebrated by a fatuous ass like Klein is obscene-upon-obscene.  First, we have a man who gets up and says—not in an unguarded drunken moment, mind you, but as a calculated piece of public speech—that Katrina proved our government is broken, after having devoted his energies as a Congressman to breaking the government.  A decent society would shun such a man and give his children looks of pity in the town square.  A somewhat more vengeful society would have him tarred and feathered.  But Joe Klein hears this claptrap and is seized by paroxysms of happy, happy, joy, joy.

In a way, Gingrich and Klein are made for each other.  The one embodies everything that is wrong with American politics, the other everything that is wrong with American “liberal” media.  But it’s not merely that Klein has fallen for a right-wing talking point on Katrina that is only a half-step less offensive than “Katrina proved that black people are lazy and criminal.” There’s something else at work here as well.  You know, you keep hoping that the “liberal” media would have learned something about the incompetents they’ve been covering for the past six years.  But perhaps, as the example of Klein demonstrates, that’s a bit too much to hope.  Not because the “liberal” media are uniformly suckers for right-wing talking points; sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.  But because these people—who are, after all, the people who will cover the election of 2008—have not learned anything about the juvenile priorities they bring to what they think of as “political” coverage.

In other words, Klein hearts Gingrich not merely because one fatuous ass often finds much to admire in another fatuous ass, but because our Beltway press corps just loves to be entertained.  And on a certain level, Gingrich is definitely entertaining.  He proposes a “rhio wiki”!  He has an idea about guest workers!  And—get this—he doesn’t endorse the teaching of Intelligent Design in science courses!  (Talk about defining iconoclasm down: compared to craven ideologues like William Kristol, a man who wants to be considered an intellectual but will not rule out the possibility that science courses should be based on supernatural beliefs, Gingrich is now an “intellectually honest policy work,” in Klein’s words.  This is what we have come to. News Flash: Republican Accepts Evolution.) Or as Klein says: “Gingrich was certainly wild with ideas last week, flicking them off at warp speed, like a dog shaking himself clean after romping through a pond.” Yes, well, I imagine that he was very like a wet dog.  At warp speed, too!  One wonders if Gingrich travels with an aide whose job it is to remark on the blazing speed of Gingrich’s ideas while speaking in a Highlands brogue: “Cap’n Gingrich, ye can’t keep it up!  The main idea generrrator’s about to bloo!” It would make a certain kind of sense, since so many of Gingrich’s “ideas,” back in the day, consisted precisely of warmed-over Alvin Toffler- George Gilderisms.  “Look,” Newt would say to an adoring press gaggle, “if we could just harness the power of the mind in a controlled fusion experiment, we could travel into the future at the speed of thought, which is even faster than the speed of light and wouldn’t involve us gaining all that nasty extra mass as we approach c.  That way we could eliminate the estate tax right into the 23rd century and start investing the proceeds today.” “Sigh,” replied the gaggle, “he’s so dreamy.  And intellectual, too.”

That’s the way your “political” media work, basically.  Gingrich, McCain: Fun!  Joy!  Actual policy wonks who know what they’re talking about and appoint competent people to FEMA: bo-ring.

I’ll be back tomorrow with something on the hockey playoffs.  I will not say very much about the Rangers’ last five games, because I must not say bad words.

Posted by Michael on 04/19 at 09:54 PM
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