December 1st, 2005

ho ho ho

Plen-T-Plaint Weekly Update

The backlash strategy of the modern Republican party depends on a bizarre sort of victim mentality, the exaggeration of workaday irritants into grotesque injustices. In other words, rather than pointing their constituency towards real problems which could be solved politically (they have no access to healthcare, they are unable to provide quality education to their children, they can't afford to retire), the G.O.P. directs them towards meaningless trivia which is generally as insoluble as it is irrelevant (homosexuality is everywhere, standards about acceptable social discourse are changing, there is filth on the TV).

There's a perfectly good reason for this: most of the social problems which affect the middle and working classes are economic in nature, and the Republican right-wing only exacerbates them by creating endless legislation that favors the rich. So they can't very well channel red-state rage to where it legitimately belongs; the fury of the holy middle at East Coast elites, Wall Street meddlers, and media smutmongers would suddenly become a liability if it was widely advertised that the leaders of their beloved party are Ivy-educated, heavily invested top-out-of-sighters who own virtually every media outlet in existence and let the content of same be dictated not by any lofty moral quality, but by what puts money in their stock portfolios.

This is not a new observation, of course. The brilliant Tom Frank, in his book What's the Matter with Kansas?, spells out the playbook with perfect clarity. The only surprising thing is that it manifests itself in some new way every season. One year, it's P.C. thugs smothering free expression on campus; another, it's the godless atheists forcing the doctrine of evolution on our kids; another, the hedonistic homos strutting their sodomite stuff down the thoroughfares and main streets of the cities; and the next, it's meddling leftists trying to obliterate our nation's history by removing public displays of the Confederate flag. Keep in mind that all these crusades are designed to fail: the architects and disseminaters of this ludicrous propaganda know that evolution will continue to be taught, gays will continue to have a higher public profile, sewage will continue to spill out of the box, and French wine will continue to be sipped. These manifestations of what Frank calls the plen-T-plaint are born to lose. They're designed to keep the target audience in a state of continual rage at these menial frustrations, a state which will lead them to re-elect the Republican right again and again. (Of course, the people they elect, after campaigning on what has been laughably called "values", will immediately forget all about smut, fags, and atheist scientists upon taking office and get back to the G.O.P.'s real agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and the dismantling of economic progressivism, until the next election cycle.)

The latest manifestation, as we've seen, is the "liberals want to outlaw Christmas" idea. According to this horseshit theory, liberals and leftists and snobby coastal types have taken it into their heads to ban Christmas -- it's never explained why, leaving one to assume that it's because they'e just evil and want to ruin everything for everybody. It's often couched in a conception of religious persecution; liberals hate religion, so they've replaced "Christmas" with "holiday" as part of their monstrous effort to eradicate faith from our lives. (When it is pointed out that Eid, Hannukah and Kwanzaa are often included in holiday culture, the narrative is altered: it's not religion liberals hate, it's Christianity.) Bill O'Reilly flogs this liberals-want-to-outlaw-Christmas meme for all it's worth; it's also all over Town Hall, with one of their bigwigs having recently gone as far as to pen a "Declaration of Christmas Rights", which spell out exactly what your legal rights are to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as if anyone was impinging on them. (One of the "Christmas rights" is to opt out of any holiday celebration in which you do not wish to participate; this is exactly the motivation behind minimizing the Christmas part of the holidays in the first place. It's called political correctness, and apparently, it's perfectly fine except when used by non-whites, non-Christians, non-Europeans, or non-conservatives.)

Of course, this is a completely ridiculous idea, like most backlash complaints. No American who does not live without electricity in a shack hundreds of miles from the nearest town can possibly make it from late October to mid-January without being reminded dozens of times that it's Christmas. It's scarcely worth even refuting, but remarkably easy to do: searching the TV listings on national broadcast & cable networks for the next 14 days -- which, notably, still puts you 11 days away from Dec. 25th -- yields almost 250 programs with "Christmas" in the title, excluding religious programming. Christmas decorations are everywhere. Christmas sales are in every store. Christmas decorations are on every street, and a lot selling Christmas trees is on every corner. The establishment clause has been interpreted to mean that local governments cannot feature a creche, an angel, or a wise man, but no laws restrict their displays in private homes or churches, and even here in heathen liberal Chicago, you can't walk down any street without being explicity reminded of what put the Christ in Christmas. And despite all the claims of multi-cultural tyranny, one would be hard-pressed to find one American in five who can tell you exactly what Hannukah, Kwanzaa or Eid are, but pretty much anyone -- even non-Christian immigrants or atheist snobs like me -- can tell you what Christmas is.

So, lacking any legitimate leg on which to stand this fatuous argument, O'Reilly and the rest of the plent-T-plainters bolster it by saying that in department stores, no one is allowed to say "Christmas" anymore, being ordered instead to use the generic, non-denominational "holiday". It's almost needless to say that this isn't true. The last time I was at Target was in November, and even then Christmas was everywhere -- written, spoken, and expressed in symbolism. If you go to the websites of national department store chains, some (including Kohl's, Target, Ross, and Marshall's) do indeed eschew the word "Christmas" in deference to "holiday", but others (including Beall's, KMart, Dillard's, and Marshall Field's) explicit plaster the C-word all over the place. (Interestingly, Wal-Mart -- always cited by right-wing culture warriors as the God-fearing, people-pleasing store of choice for the red-blooded red-stater, and owned by the ultra-right, ultra-Christian Walton family, no friends of political correctness -- uses "holiday" on their website, while both Bloomingdale's and Macy's -- headquartered in the elite, snooty, royal-blue, multi-culti, un-American metropolis of New York -- use the word "Christmas" six times on the front pages of theirs.)

But even if this was true, even if department stores all over the country were forbidding their minions to utter the word "Christmas", placing the blame on liberals is typical backlash bullshit in that it points the finger in exactly the wrong direction. Liberals do not own or operate department store chains, and those chains' boards, marketing departments and stockholders are not beholden to the delicate sensibilities of Utne or Mother Jones. They are owned by wealthy, profit-driven capitalists, and a majority of them, if not all of them, are Republicans. If they have ordered their people to use "holiday" instead of "Christmas", it is because they recognize that not all of their paying customers are Christians, and they would happily put a priapic statue of Pan in their front windows if it meant a better margin at the end of the fiscal quarter. If red-staters are looking for someone to blame for this largely imaginary and certainly miniscule complaint, they should look no further than the big donors and supporters of their own beloved Republican party. And yet, the story continues: everything bad is the fault of liberals, because, well, they're liberal. And liberals want to wreck everything for everyone, out of sheer meanness.

Merry Christmas, everybody!
blowhard

Oh, by the way

Also in Town Hall today, Ann Coulter, who I think it is safe to say is a horrible human being, implies that Congressman John Murtha is a goldbricking liar. Murtha, who had the temerity to suggest that the Iraq occupation is a disaster which is best ended sooner than later, will not release his medical records, you see, which calls into question the legitimacy of his two Purple Hearts.

This is about the most repulsive thing to come out of the new wave of G.O.P. smear campaigning. It's exactly the same thing they pulled on Kerry during the 2004 election. If your ideology is impure -- if you even slightly call into question the wisdom of the current administration -- you are a traitor, and fair game for any sort of slander, no matter how groundless. There is, of course, already a mechanism for determining the legitimacy of a Purple Heart; it's called the United States military, and it decided over 30 years ago that Murtha deserved to be decorated.

The most sickening thing about this isn't the Stalinesque quest for ideological purity, or the willingness to shit all over anyone who gets in their way; it's the raw, stinking hypocrisy. The right just loves to claim that liberals don't support our troops, that they spit on our veterans, that they have no respect for the brave men and women who fight to defend freedom. But let one of those veterans say something that the right doesn't agree with, and quick as you blink, the attack dogs are loosed to savage those brave men and women regardless of the level of their sacrifice. They impugned Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam; they impugned John Kerry, a decorated war hero who saved the lives of his fellow fighters; and they're impugning, from the safety of their keyboards, John Murtha, who twice almost lost his life fighting communists.

What's the lesson here? The right likes to talk about how criticizing the war subverts morale in our soldiers, but what saps the will to fight more than the certain knowledge that if, at any point for the rest of your life, you criticize the power structure, you'll get nuked by the establishment's slimers, no matter how hard you fought for your country? Is the sacrifice, pain, and heroism of everyone who fought in every war to be subject to Swift-Boat-Veterans-For-Truth-style retconning if they dare speak out against the party of Karl Rove? It's one of the central pillars of backlash cultural warfare that liberals spit all over returning Vietnam veterans, shaming and degrading them for their heroic sacrifice. But now, it's shameless fucks like Ann Coulter who are spitting on Vietnam vets -- not because they killed babies, or fought in an immoral war, but because they came home and decided to think for themselves. These people don't want soldiers. They want zombies. Fuck you, soldiers; fuck you, sailors; fuck you, pilots and marines. You're useful to us only as a club with which to bash leftists; if you ever dare speak your own mind, we'll call you a traitor and disrespect you in a way that would make the most dedicated '60s anti-war activist blush.
banana

Boy, those were a couple of depressing posts. Have a poll.

Since I'll be on the road most of Friday...

Poll #624265 Thor's Day!

Do you think a cannibal can tell the difference between people of different races by the flavor?

Yes
8(13.1%)
No
16(26.2%)
Maybe
23(37.7%)
This is the most offensive question you've ever posted
4(6.6%)
This question is not so much offensive as it is really stupid
10(16.4%)

Coffee?

No thanks
11(18.0%)
Black
11(18.0%)
Cream
11(18.0%)
Sugar
4(6.6%)
Cream and sugar
10(16.4%)
Mocha
2(3.3%)
Latte
0(0.0%)
Tea, please
6(9.8%)
Heroin
5(8.2%)
Me
1(1.6%)

What foreign languages do you speak or pretend to speak?

French
11(20.4%)
Spanish
6(11.1%)
Italian
0(0.0%)
German
1(1.9%)
Russian
0(0.0%)
Japanese
0(0.0%)
Chinese
0(0.0%)
Arabic
0(0.0%)
Canadian
2(3.7%)
Interlac
1(1.9%)
Klingon
0(0.0%)
Esperanto
0(0.0%)
Latin
1(1.9%)
other (see comments)
1(1.9%)
English is a foreign language to me, you elitist fuck
1(1.9%)

What aspect of the Fat Boys' "Jailhouse Rap" do you find most difficult to believe?

That Prince Markie Dee can't find a pizza place in New York that open at midnight
7(11.7%)
That Prince Markie Dee needs a shotgun to break into an empty restaurant
0(0.0%)
That a closed pizza place is filled with already-made pizzas
5(8.3%)
That Prince Markie Dee would perpetrate an armed break-in just to get pizza but nonetheless eats it off of a plate
3(5.0%)
That Kool Rock Ski describes his stomach as "growling like a hungry fox"
0(0.0%)
That Kool Rock Ski goes to the only Burger King in the world where you get the bill after you get the food
6(10.0%)
That Kool Rock Ski is so unfamiliar with the concept of restaurants that he is shocked at being asked to pay for his purchases
2(3.3%)
That you can go to state prison for refusing to pay for a Whopper
3(5.0%)
That both Prince Markie Dee and Kool Rock Ski are sent to the only prison in America where they still break rocks with a hammer
0(0.0%)
That the song suddenly becomes really sad and poignant at the end
3(5.0%)
That even though these two stuffed their faces with stolen burgers and pizza all day, it was Buff the Human Beat Box who died of congestive heart failure
1(1.7%)
That you have been obsessed with this idiotic novelty song for over 20 years
7(11.7%)
I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about
7(11.7%)
All aspects of the song are equally absurd
7(11.7%)
Did you know that Mike Nesmith's mom invented liquid paper?
9(15.0%)

Do you think I need professional help? If so, of what sort(s)?