Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It Rang Like It Meant Something

A Dialogue on Bush's Inauguration Speech

GLEN: What the hell is Peggy Noonan’s problem?

SOCRATES: Could you be more specific?

GLEN: What is this ditzy blonde-blither about George Bush’s speech being “over the top” and full of “mission inebriation”? And what is this crap about fur coats at the inauguration? Are there not enough protein-starved vegan halfwits in the world without her pitching in to help?

SOCRATES: Let us examine your first question. I’m surprised by your objection to Noonan’s cautionary note about the pitfalls of utopian thinking, and the tendency of power to corrupt good intentions. As someone who’s been smoking conservative theory like crack for as long as you have, I would think that this familiar tune would make you play the air-guitar.

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY: Yes. One might say, for example, that Bush is attempting to immanentize the Eschaton. One mustn’t immanentize the Eschaton. And one must also remember Lord Acton’s seminal observation …

GLEN: Who the hell was talking to you?

SOCRATES: See what I mean? I think that Noonan has struck a guilty nerve in your conservative conscience, such as it is. She is correct to point out that the Kingdom of Heaven is not of this earth. Human nature is human nature, and we live in a human world – an all too human world, as Nietzsche would say. You can’t just build yourself a new planet out of rhetoric and unrealistic expectations. You have to live in the real world, Glen.

GLEN: Don’t talk to me about the real world. Every pig thinks that his own particular sty is the real world. The world of ideas and imagination is real, too.

SOCRATES: Yes, especially the ideas you agree with, right? You pay small heed to the ones you don’t like. And don’t tell me you don’t recognize the hypocrisy of expecting those political leaders whom you disagree with to be ignored, while everybody is supposed to drop everything and follow your favorite crusaders. It was your contempt for such a double standard that once prompted you to hurl an empty Jim Beam bottle at the celebrated American historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

GLEN: I didn’t throw a bottle at Arthur Schlesinger.

SOCRATES: Well, at his image on the television device, I mean.

GLEN: It was Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I missed.

SOCRATES: Which proves the salient points of my argument all the more. First of all, you couldn’t hit an elephant in the ass with a shotgun to save your life; secondly, you’ve had an irrational problem with blond women ever since one of them threw up on you, and thirdly, your conservative instincts go to sleep when George Bush starts raving about democracy and freedom.

GLEN: That is such a lie. You’re describing a shallow and outmoded idea of conservatism. And not all idealistic expression is empty rhetoric – some people mean what they say, and some people don’t. And some people can do, not just talk. Now, Ronald Reagan ---

SOCRATES: Oh, here we go with the Ronald Reagan business again. Ronald Reagan said this, Ronald Reagan said that …

GLEN: Ronald Reagan ---

SOCRATES: I suppose if Ronald Reagan swallowed a bowling ball, Glen would have to swallow a bowling ball, too.

GLEN: Ronald Reagan was a conservative who spoke to the future, not to the past. And he could do more than talk. He understood that it’s fundamentally about principles, not politics. Standing by principles may put you in a different relationship to society at different times – depending on the context, it may make you a conservative, a liberal, a radical, or even a conformist. Sticking by your guns might make you all of those things in a single lifetime. But being a “liberal” or a “conservative” in that sense is not what’s important, and being in the minority or the majority is not important. Truth, reason, and the recognition of possibility are what count, not the habitual mid-sets and superficial attitudes of petty politics.

SOCRATES: When you mention the future and “the recognition of possibility”, I think I see where some of your so-called idealism comes from. It’s your scientific utopianism …

GLEN: Optimism, not utopianism.

SOCRATES: … which is mostly derived from cheesy science fiction stories about race car drivers who build rocket ships (out of scrap iron and good old American know-how) and fly to Mars.

GLEN: Carson Napier went to Venus, not Mars.

SOCRATES: But you’ll remember that he intended to go to Mars, and wound up going in the opposite direction by mistake. I think you’ve missed the significance of that lesson, by the way. But I shouldn’t speak ill of a man who compensated you for your inadequate childhood by killing a hundred million alien Nazis and having sex with a snotty princess. I just don’t think the real world owes you any additional gratification.

GLEN: I’ll tell you who owes who. The “real world” – the world that people like us have built out of our theories and our prejudices and our idiotic politics – owes the human race.

SOCRATES: Owes the human race what?

GLEN: Owes it the recognition that nations belong to the people that live in them, not to the governments that rule over them, and not to the sick ideologies that have oppressed and massacred them in record numbers over the past hundred years. The real world has to give up its cynical self-justifications, and admit that every slob on earth has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – within the broad context of lawful conduct and peaceful regard for the rights of others. That’s not utopianism, it’s a fact.

SOCRATES: Says who? You? God? The 82nd Airborne Division?

GLEN: Yes. And a couple of other people, too.

SOCRATES: I’ve always regarded democracy as an unsightly mess, so I’ll admit that your desire to inflict your mess on the entire universe is not “utopian” in that sense. Most utopians promise good things, not a world full of George Bushes and Barbara Boxers. But surely you realize that the hope of achieving your ignoble goals is utopian, and the means of doing so – if such means even exist – are fraught with danger. Look at the disastrous results of the idealism of the American Sixties.

GLEN: Sixties idealism was not a failure, it was a success.

SOCRATES: Really? This is going to be good, coming from the likes of you. Anyway, what do you know about the Sixties? You spent the Sixties trying to eat your crib toys.

GLEN: Yeah, especially that big yellow thing, whatever the hell that was. I wish to God some other people had followed my excellent example.

SOCRATES: So you admit that it was all a waste of time, a waste of American lives, and ultimately the ruin of American political and intellectual culture. Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon squandered American moral capital and earned your country the hatred of the entire world. George Bush is already well down the same road, and you want to jump down Peggy Noonan’s throat just because she has the courage to say so.

GLEN: It was the bogus idealism of the Sixties that failed. Mindless rebellion, anarchism, drug abuse, self-pity, defeatism, isolationism and solipsism – that’s not idealism, it’s the opposite. Superficial, cynical, and petty. The true idealism, which advanced Civil Rights, expanded into space, and planted a flag in opposition to Communist tyranny – that was a success. We made some awful mistakes and we lost a lot of battles, but we won the war. It’s our nihilist opponents who are now going down the same road to defeat, not us.

SOCRATES: Everybody in the world hates you.

GLEN: That’s good, because it makes things more challenging.

SOCRATES: You’re insane … you’re out of your freaking mind.

GLEN: That’s good, too, because it makes thinking more challenging.

SOCRATES: I suppose, as Noonan noted, your gang wants to colonize Mars, too. In your spare time, when you’re not spreading your democratic disease all over the place.

GLEN: I know what John F. Kennedy would say if he were here.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: America, let’s grab our balls and go!

GLEN: So there.