August 18th, 2005

flavored with age


Well, the Chicago White Sox, you were fun while you lasted. I genuinely did enjoy rooting for the best team in baseball for much of the season. I do appreciate you collapsing this early on, so that I don't get my hopes up too much; if it was already late September when you suddenly realize that you don't know how to score runs or beat teams that you might have to face in the playoffs, I might be a lot more pissed off.

I look forward to watching you stumble through the rest of the season, secure and comfortable in the knowledge that you aren't going to do anything crazy and unexpected like advance in the playoffs.

Being right-wing means never having to say you're sorry

As many people smarter than I have observed, the greatest triumph of the conservative spin machine is what might be termed a radical forgetting: a Ministry-of-Information-style ability to eradicate the past and instantly move on from their own missteps, however egregious, to whatever new cultural outrage they want people to pay attention to today.

I hardly need provide a comprehensive list here: the radical forgetting (so pervasive in today's G.O.P. that there's a website called "The Memory Hole" dedicated exclusively to documenting the endless backtracks, denials, and retconning of the majority party) is everywhere, from the continually revised justification for the Iraq war to the desirability or not of a balanced budget to trying to keep track of who, exactly, our allies are these days. But the most interesting thing is, it seems to have infected the rank and file.

Okay, I understand why the G.O.P. engages in this wholesale destruction of the past: it's because they're a bunch of lying, cynical opportunists whose political fortunes would be dashed if everyone remembered the bullshit they've peddled in the past. I even understand why the pundits, columnists, and talking heads do it: that's how they make their living. What I don't understand is why the rank and file -- the voters, the bloggers, the non-professional opinion-havers -- are buying into it as well. When your career, your power, your livelihood depend on selling people a forever-in-revision ideological worldview, I get why you'd start to excel at it; but from amatuers, it seems only to promulgate a lack of perspective, an unwillingness to be wrong, and a perception of apology as weakness, which are not particularly good habits to develop.

Two recent news events have driven this tendency home in spades. When a Brazilian electrician was gunned down by police in the London subway on suspicion of being a terrorist, a lot of people – myself included – cut the cops a lot of slack. After all, the guy looked and acted suspiciously; and the whole city was on a razor’s edge in light of recent deadly suicide bombings. It was understandable and forgivable if the cops made a deadly mistake if they had good cause to think they might be preventing dozens of fatalities.

Of course, as they must, the never-wrongs had to take it to far: even after the police chief himself apologized, saying they’d made a terrible mistake and killed an innocent man, plenty of right-wing observers implied the guy had it coming, being all foreign and dark-skinned and suspicious and all,, and besides, who lives in London for three years and doesn’t learn English? (Of course, it later came out that the guy did speak English rather well, but that would hardly be the first error for which no one would apologize.)

Now, it turns out, the police were considerably more full of it than they let on. Eyewitness reports and video footage gathered by ITV illustrate that not only did the London cops make a mistake, they lied about it to cover their own asses. The Brazilian wasn’t, as frequently reported, wearing a heavy (and presumably bomb-concealing) overcoat; he was wearing a light denim jacket. He didn’t run from police; he was shot – repeatedly, in the face – while sitting down, in fact being held down, by the cops on the train. He strolled, not ran, onto the platform, running only when the train started to pull away, just like a bunch of other people did who didn’t get shot. He didn’t resist arrest, he didn’t flee the scene, he did respond to the identification of the officers, and he wasn’t killed while trying to escape. He was, in short, completely and totally blameless – exactly the kind of innocent man the police are supposed to be defending from terrorists. The police killing him is still forgivable, in these nervous times; less forgivable is the police deliberately misrepresenting the circumstances under which they did so. Unforgivable is the deafening silence from the hysterical right in light of the now-disproven lies they told about an innocent victim.

Moving down the globe a bit, the Israelis are finally ending their occupation of Gaza. Whether or not this will prove to be a good thing, either in conception or execution, remains to be seen, but there’s been an interesting reaction to it from the rabid right, particularly the knee-jerk pro-Israel Little Green Footballs crowd, for whom no Israeli is less than a saint and no Palestinian is more than a cockroach. A lot of the Israelis being forced to leave Gaza are, understandably, none too happy about it, and some of them have reacted violently. After the first few incidents, and most specifically an off-duty Israeli soldier gunning down five innocent Palestinians last week, the response from the right-wingers was the same as the response from the Israeli government: (for lack of a better term) politically correct condemnation, a complete and utter repudiation of this terrible violence. Terrorism is never justified, went the refrain, no matter who the perpetrator. More than one commentator noted the moral rectitude of this immediate and universal condemnation, in telling contrast (it was made explicit) to the lack thereof by Arabs to acts of terror by their fellowmen.

As the withdrawal dragged on, though, and the acts of violence got more frequent – riots, assaults on the police, arson, destruction of property, and several more fatal attacks on Palestinians – the government of Israel remained condemnatory, but the response of the American right began to take on a bizarrely conciliatory, sympathetic tone. How can you blame the settlers, after all, for their acts of violence? These people are being oppressed! They’re being kept down by their own government, in what’s supposed to be a democracy! They’re being forcibly removed from the only homes they’ve ever known! It’s entirely understandable that a few of them might resort to seemingly extreme actions to defend what they rightfully think of as their own.

Of course, I can’t in the least bit argue with that: the only rational response can be “welcome to the last 60 years of life in Palestine from the perspective of an Arab”. For some reason, though, the lesson only appears to apply to Israelis. I don’t see any apologies for decades of nonexistent empathy for the Palestinian cause forthcoming at LGF, any more than I can see anyone passing up a chance to call critics of Israeli government policy anti-Semitic (unless, of course, they’re criticizing the Israeli government’s decision to pull out of Gaza and ruin the lives of all those settlers).

What we learn: we never learn.