Kaus’s attempt to defend Breitbart is indeed a classic example of how speculation about motives is usually not a very productive way of proceeding. Breitbart’s reckless disregard for the truth is so pervasive that it’s hard to believe that his disgusting smear of Shirley Sherrod was done in good faith. But, for all I know, Breitbart may well have convinced himself that he had a “legit point.” The more important issue is that it doesn’t really matter. Breitbart’s smear of Shirley Sherrod was dishonest, and whether the smear was willful or just a result of not properly finding out what the facts are is beside the point. She lost her job either way.
Will Wilkinson writes about country music and, as is typical when anyone tries to connect it with politics, it’s pure projection. Bathing it in the kind of pseudo-scientific data points that prove virtually nothing except for wonky writers’ desire to be taken seriously, Wilkinson neither understands country music nor the people who listen to it. His conclusion is basically that country music provides simple upbeat messages for people who want simplicity in their lives. Wilkinson is sure to separate himself from such desires by pointing out, totally gratuitously, that he listens to country music in the car when he drives to the store to buy bok choy. Charles Murray wouldn’t approve of the food choices, but he would approve of the connections between bok choy and not real white people who country music isn’t made for.
Wilkinson goes on:
My conjecture, then, is that country music functions in part to reinforce in low-openness individuals the idea that life’s most powerful, meaningful emotional experiences are precisely those to which conservative personalities living conventional lives are most likely to have access. And it functions as a device to coordinate members of conservative-minded communities on the incomparable emotional weight of traditional milestone experiences.
And what is this country music of which he speaks? For Wilkinson at least, it’s clearly country radio. That’s fine I guess if you want to define it that narrowly.
One problem here is the connections in the minds of a lot of people between country music and rural people. And certainly the roots of country music were in rural America. But that’s long ago. During the recent period of country music history, which could probably be dated from Garth Brooks’ first album in 1989, the genre has marketed itself as suburban music for suburban people. Although the imagery of rural America is in country music videos, the prime market for modern country music is suburban women. The music itself is essentially recycled 70s butt rock with a little fiddle and a twangy voice.
This suburban country music is also reflected in the lyrics. The idea that people see country music as “upbeat” is funny to me. Has there ever been a genre of American music that so reveled in depression and sadness? I’m thinking for instance of Hank Snow’s 1964 album Songs of Tragedy or the many songs about dead soldiers released during and after World War II, most famously “Soldier’s Last Letter,” made famous by Ernest Tubb. Of course, that’s long gone. Rather, today’s country radio provides messages that fit in very well with the modern Republican voter: reinforcing what they see as traditional values based in an idealized rural setting that they see as threatened by B. Hussein Obama and his Weatherman-loving, Derrick Bell-hugging ways with his health care and such.
The conservative movement has been cannibalizing conservative art for years now, to the point where I’d say country music is far from a victory of conservative cultural or artistic success and is instead a mirror image of what conservative politics have become: easy and unthinking. No depth, all surface. Superficial and insular. Maybe I’m wrong, but building an entire genre on the back of the idea that regurgitating the same sound on top of the same basic premise over and over again hardly strikes me as a triumph of cultural conservatism.
Steph at Gang of 12 makes similar observations, noting after posting Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City”:
Basically, it’s a contrast between real experience and made up ones. The Bare song is definitely about missing home and a contrast between an idyllic (even if it wasn’t) remembered past and place that has been lost or left vs. a cold (literally) urban or changing world. In many ways it’s not so different in theme from something like the terrible Luke Bryan or Justin Moore songs that Will cites. But the Bare song reflects reality in a quite different way. It’s not some pretend idea of what the old days were or the country was like in a triumphalist “we are more American than you” kind of culture war. Nor is it pretty much entirely made by people who never experienced the kind of world they are writing about or enjoyed by people who live in suburbs but like to identify with this imagined past or real America. It’s more about the real changes and the underlying reasons why change is seen as scary or destructive to many.
This is also why references to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are effectively irrelevant in any discussion of modern country music. It’s not the same genre of music. Hauling out Cash or Willie to say that country music is not necessarily conservative obfuscates the point. Those guys are dead or old and came out of an entirely different culture and musical forms. Moreover, not only would Cash not fit into the country music business in 2012, but he didn’t fit in during the 70s either, when he was pushed aside (not that the music he was making at that time was deserving by and large) for the Barbara Mandrells of the world who were laying the groundwork for Shania Twain, et al.
While I don’t look to my musicians for political leadership (see the constantly wandering and incoherent political leanings of people like Neil Young and Merle Haggard for a couple of good reasons), there’s no question that country music, however we define it, has always more or less bent conservative, with a freak leftist like Kristofferson being the exception that proves the rule. I’m certainly not claiming otherwise. But I have a huge problem when writers who don’t even understand the musical form attempt to draw big conclusions about the culture war or American political life from a corporatized, test-marketed form of music that hasn’t had an original or interesting voice make a commercial splash in two decades.
Look, I would like to bury this, but this is just too big to be suppressed: Barack Obama made his students read Derrick Bell, the legal academy’s preeminent Critical Race Theorist.. in a course dealing with Racism and the Law! Bell had all of these crazy radical ideas like “white supremacy was deeply embedded within American law” and “the effects of centuries of legalized and informal white supremacy did not immediately vanish on January 1, 1965.” I expect the impeachment votes in both the House and Senate to be unanimous.
I especially like the “made his students read” language. I guess wingers these days are hippie types who think doing class readings should be optional, man. Fortunately, earlier this semester I “made” my students read the majority opinion in Dennis v. United States, so my anti-communist and anti-civil liberties credentials should be sufficiently established to keep David Horowitz off my back. And I’ve taught Leviathan, so I should be able to get a sweet gig working under John Yoo for the Boehner administration after Obama and Biden are removed from office.
UPDATE! BREAKING! MUST CREDIT LGM!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can reveal now that Comrade Barack Hussein Obama X made his students read the radical manifestos of Robert Bork and Lino Graglia! Impeachment, hell, he should be tried for treason.
I also infer from this reading list that Martin Luther King Jr. is no longer a conservative. This breaks with recent Republican dogma, which as Malaclypse notes holds that MLK was clearly a conservative “in the one and only speech that he gave, which was one sentence long.”
ANOTHER UPDATE!!!!!! I never thought I would say this, but these people are so stupid they might actually be dishonoring Andrew Breitbart’s memory. OMG, people who mourn civil rights heroes are allowed to be on the teevee now!
What Steve M. and Charles say about the increasingly embarrassing Michael Kinsley and his one remaining belief — that everyone is as vacuously cynical as he is. (Well, OK, there’s also his apparently sincere belief that political leaders need to meet his exacting aesthetic standards.) In addition, I would like to note how Limbaugh’s carefully considered, increasingly vicious three-day attack on Fluke becomes “some stray remark.” Although, of course, in Kinsley’s world the fact that this long series of “stray remarks” is perfectly consistent with an extensive history of misogyny actually means that you can’t really can’t be sincerely criticizing it, because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!
I also can’t resist quoting Kinsley’s B- tenth grade essay about free speech and the perfect equality of the Marketplace of Ideas:
As we all know, Limbaugh’s First Amendment rights aren’t involved here — freedom of speech means freedom from interference by the government. But the spirit of the First Amendment, which is that suppressing speech is bad, still applies. If you don’t care for something Rush Limbaugh has said, say why and say it better. If you’re on the side of truth, you have a natural advantage.
There are indeed principles of free speech that extend beyond the First Amendment; that these principles include the proposition that a wealthy, powerful talk show host is entitled to the precisely the same level of advertising revenue is…less obvious. But the follow-up thought about saying it why and saying it better — as if you have access to the same platform as Rush Limbaugh — is the kind of fake-naive nonsense Kinsley would have relentlessly made fun of 20 years ago. Just make sure you don’t criticize Rush in any way that might be effectual, because if his ratings went down that would be suppressing his free speech! Meanwhile, I hope Kinsley will agree that my free speech is being suppressed because I do not have a syndicated column.
Relatedly, I would also recommend Irin Carmon, who notes that feminists have in fact frequently criticized the more progressive misogynists now being cited as tu quoques. And while Bob Somerby is right about MSNBC’s sexism issues, he’s wrong to nobody else in the “liberal world” is willing to discuss this in public. If you’re going to imply, for example, that Rebecca Traister is a hypocrite and sellout only willing to criticize MSNBC hosts on listervs, you might want to spend a minute or two looking into whether she’s, say, written an (excellent) book that extensively discusses the sexist treatment Hillary Clinton received at the hands of Olberman et al.
Shorter Verbatim Susan Collins: “I feel I have to vote for the Blunt amendment with the hope that its scope will be further narrowed and refined as the legislative process proceeds.” Oh.
One wonders if this justification is intentionally incoherent, so that the Maine voters who inexplicably think they’re sending a “moderate” to Washington can actually visualize Mitch McConnell dunking her head in a sink while she’s saying it.
…this is also a good point. In general, I wish the Democrats had a more unified caucus, but it’s hard to see how McConnell dunking Brown’s head in the fountain actually makes any sense from his perspective. What’s the point in making someone facing a tough race vote for an extremely unpopular amendment that won’t pass?
McArdle speaks for those silenced by the leftist conspiracy–rich people with declining Wall Street bonuses who might have to move out of their 5 million dollar house.
I believe that Elizabeth Warren has made this point–when people get into financial trouble, they often say, “Well, I didn’t take fancy vacations or go to restaurants all the time or buy 17 pairs of Jimmy Choos.” But (with the exception of some really compulsive spenders) this isn’t the stuff that gets people into trouble. It’s the big house with the stretch mortgage that you convinced yourself you had to have because it was in a good school district and you needed a yard and a bedroom apiece for the kids. It’s that brand new SUV (or Volvo station wagon) you persuaded yourself to buy because it was important to have a safe car. It’s the school activities or travel sports teams that cost thousands of dollars, which you let your kids start in ninth grade because you didn’t know that you’d have to break their hearts by pulling them out in their junior year. The divorce decree you signed because you didn’t realize your income was going to drop by a third.
It now seems clear to me that the truly oppressed and misunderstood in this country are living in Greenwich, Connecticut. If my parents hadn’t spent $5000 for every season I played youth soccer, I would be smoking crack right now. Won’t somebody think about the Benetton-clad children???!!???
David Greenberg with a classic take-down of Chris Matthews’ ridiculous new biography of JFK. The whole thing is a must-read, but essentially Greenberg notes that Matthews dreams of an uber-masculine Kennedy who keeps those elite effete liberals at bay. This fits the sexist and misogynist Matthews who we all know from his moronic television show.
Matthews thinks of liberalism in the same crude, blinkered, and gendered way that he thinks about politics in general. His view of liberalism, widely shared among the punditocracy, comes straight from the demonology of Richard Nixon, who equated liberals with effete, Ivy League-educated advocates of subversive 1960s values. To Matthews, similarly, liberals can never be tough, strong, or masculine; they are soft and effeminate, personified by the shrewish Eleanor Roosevelt or the light-in-his-loafers Stevenson. But of course many liberals of the era opposed communism vigorously, took an unsentimental view of politics and human nature, knew how to play politics, and otherwise defied the stereotypes. This ignorance about the nature and complexity of postwar liberalism may account for Matthews’s inability to understand Kennedy, whom he makes out to be much closer to the socially conservative working-class Irish of Boston’s neighborhoods than he actually was.
Matthews accepts at face value, for example, Kennedy’s description of himself in 1946 as a “fighting conservative,” claiming that he was “clearly drawing a line between himself and his party’s liberal wing.” Perhaps. But he doesn’t include JFK’s avowals of his own liberalism, such as his statement that a liberal is someone who “cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties,” and that under that definition, “I’m proud to say I’m a liberal.” Nor, as noted, does Matthews, despite his rote rehearsal of Kennedy’s major achievements as president, delve much into the lesser-known elements of the president’s progressive record, in such areas as economics, education, and women’s rights. Matthews’s portrait of Kennedy is finally incoherent, because he wants to celebrate Kennedy’s liberal achievements without celebrating liberalism.
Andrew Revkin is getting defensive over the backlash against his hack job on Peter Gleick leaking the Heartland documents. Revkin has pulled out the big guns to make us stop–the notoriously ethical Megan McArdle!!!
[7:37 p.m. | Updated | I've been remiss in not pointing out the important reporting of Megan McArdle of The Atlantic on the origins of the Heartland files and some of Gleick's statements. Her latest piece is a must-read that asks more probing questions and clarifies what is, and is not, responsible investigative journalism.]
Yes, the full-on conspiracy theorist McArdle clearly gives us all lessons in responsible investigative journalism. Moreover, her long-demonstrated objectivity on climate change should give anyone defending Glecik pause. Pause to think whether Revkin or McArdle is the greatest hack.
Shorter Alana Goodman: I’m a contemporary conservative. Of course I don’t understand the concept of “consent.” For that matter, I don’t know why people get so upset about forced sterilization these days; why, people choose to get vasectomies or their tubes tied all the time!
This Tyler Cowen nonsense is a classic example of a conservative rhetorical technique that is particularly annoying. I’m not sure what to call it — the strawman tu quoque? It’s not quite the same thing as poetic justice as fairness. But it’s remarkable how proud conservative some commentators are of the idea that if you support some state regulations that a conservertarian doesn’t you must presumptively favor all state regulations, given how utterly asinine it is.
Cowen does, however, has to be given credit in a way for choosing an example that makes the silliness of his premise particularly obvious. Yes, indeed, many of the people appalled by Virginia’s reprehensible forthcoming abortion regulations favor other regulations that provide information to consumers. The “contradiction” is not terribly hard to understand if one thinks about it for a tenth of a second or so. On the one hand, the typical consumer regulation does not require consumers to pay substantial direct costs to undergo humiliating and invasive medical procedures without their consent. And on the other hand, the “information” provided to women by the regulation is worthless, since women are generally aware of what pregnancy entails. It’s not very complicated once you leave the Planet Strawman, on which liberals who favor any regulation must favor any other regulation, including those that entail substantial costs while providing no benefits. I’m hoping that Cowen’s twitter feed was hacked by an especially mean parodist…