Joe Wilson is a child of 9/11. When he shouted “Liar” in that crowded theater … the joint session of the House and Senate being addressed by President Obama … he did so as a proud white southern man angry at his country for electing a black liberal president in this time of crisis, that crisis being the the ongoing threat of attack by non-Christian foreign extremists, the ongoing threat of attack on our free market system by an Arab-loving Harvard lawyer name Hussein, the ongoing threat of attack on our most reliable form of protection from attack foreign OR domestic (our privately owned firearms) by liberals who would take our hard earned, inherited, and stolen money and use it to feed the spawn of other men. Other men who are mostly black or immigrants or whatever. And Teh Gayz. Don’t forget Teh Gayz.
His anger is part of a press-validated internally well organized subculture assembled from long kindred parts. Racism, white pride, working class fear and resentment, hatred of education buttressed by studied ignorance, fear of cuckoldry, Christian fundamentalism and xenophobia are among the ingredients in the right wing’s larder. From these ingredients McCarthy mixed up the communist scare. Nixon mixed up the so called silent majority’s hatred of the hippies and yippies. Regan mixed up Kadafi (while ignoring Saddam) and Bush and Bush mixed up Saddam, and together they created a cuisine of Disdain For All that is Arab. And all of these cultural casseroles1 have a single most common ingredient. The Velveeta of vindication. The mushroom soup of misanthropy. The Tuna Helper of of Right Wing Hatred. That stable ingredient is, of course fear.
This has always been true, but the construction of the post 9/11 world was special. This was not a thousand chefs in a thousand diners working on a thousand menus fed daily in the sociocultural background to the libertarian and right wings of the populous. Rather, this was a single pot to make a single dish … a Guinness Record size serving … that would bubble and boil and never run out no matter how much was dished up and that would define conservative politics for all time. There was no one ingredient in this dish, other than the fear, that makes it special. The post 9/11 conservative ideology is the same as the pre 9/11 conservative ideology. And the focusing effect of 9/11 is not iconic of it, either. The fact that 9/11 is the moment of production, or perhaps the kitchen in which this hot dish2 was served up is no more important to the post 9/11 conservative trope than the baking sheet is to the plate of cookies. Yeah, we get that there must have been a baking sheet and an oven and so on, but right now we are eating the cookie and how they got here is not so important.
The very first thing that happened when the planes hit was the overwhelming sense of wide-eyed gawking dread and the widespread feeling of not knowing how to feel. That first thing, dread, makes sense but please don’t forget the awful unknowing numbness that most felt but few mention today in their reminiscence. This was a powerful sense of “What do I do now? What am I supposed to think now? What does this mean?” waiting for an answer. And that answer was quickly provided, over just a couple of days after the impact while the event was still very much going on, by the press and by the authorities that we elect or hire to run things for us.
“The world will never be the same again” we were told. “We now live in the Post 9/11 world. The Pre 9/11 world is over.”
But what did that mean? Well, the void that most Americans felt was the biggest and most coherent vessel for fear and loathing to exist since World War II, and into it the conservative establishment poured all the usual ingredients, with a ten fold helping of fear.
And thus cooked up the Post 9/11 world in which we lived unquestionably for the next six years.
When the Dixie Chicks were tarred and feathered because they, a country rock band, criticized President Bush, we knew the process was complete and dinner was served. Country Rock and NASCAR were the hymns and holy water of the New Right. This was a Right that combined the paranoia of the Libertarians with the self interest of the traditional Republicans with the anti-intellectualism of the conservative wing of the working class and the all-powerful petit priesthood of mostly Caucasoid heternormative socially (somewhat) liberal and fiscally (highly) conservative “middle” class.
NASCAR is a toy version of driving. It is not real driving, but the ultimate video game … so real you can get killed but still, boys with their toys. The modal modern libertarian is an older white guy living in part on public assistance and demanding that you stay off his lawn unless you come bearing gifts, and as such, he must deny reality in a fundamental way just to avoid implosion from the irony. Traditional Republicans are a people without a history or valid power base to which they can any longer refer … having been the anti-racism party and the erudite educated party for so long, they must now sport a pretend ideology. The anti-intellectual working class is happy to live in a world made by science and technology but can not comfortably acknowledge, or even ‘believe in,’ the brain power required to build and maintain that world. They fear education and enlightenment and thus live inside an opaque artificial bubble. The schizophrenic upper middle class, economically occupying new territory above real “middle” class but below rich, live off an income stream based primarily on bubbles which they fear the bursting of, and since they recycle (usually) and send the three month old clothing that is now too old to wear off to the veterans, they shun any inconvenient truths without a wisp of self doubt.
Ignorance and milquetoast. This is the character of the post 9/11 society.
When you pour a cup of detergent into the laundry, you do not smile from ear to ear and shout to the world about how well it will remove the stains, and lean over to look wide eyed through a glass-sided washing machine so you can see the lovely blue and white powder swirl around and dissolve, creating tiny little stain-eating humanoids that will make your clothes bright and white. No. You just pour the stuff in the washing machine and turn it on. There are people on TV to do the smiling and shouting and singing and dancing about how great the laundry soap is.
The strum and draw of the AstroTurfers at town hall meetings, the histrionics of Rush Limbaugh, and the shout of “Liar” in the crowded auditorium is the Madison Avenue arm of the process. It is the flamboyant TV chef showing you how easy it is to be a right winger, how good your just desserts will taste when you finally extract them from the liberal establishment. The new cuisine of American political culture is served at an over the top dinner show with surrealistically bright (red, white and blue) colors and if you ask the wrong question of your waitress, who looks strangely like an intermorph of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, you will be removed to the Dixie Chick Room (which is somewhere in Canada).
What Obama meant when he said “Change” during the campaign was not something new. What he meant was something old, though certainly updated and done in new ways where appropriate. What he really meant, conscious of this meaning or not, was to clear the table of that 9/11 casserole that inappropriately dominates the social and political realm today. The casserole is starting to stink. Well, actually, it always stunk.
I drove Julia to school this morning. At one point we drove, on a crowded highway, beneath an overpass. I had always thought that if I was leading a terrorist group, I wouldn’t try to take over airplanes or office buildings or government centers, or even nuke plants. I’d take over the overpasses during rush hour. Anyway, this thought returned to my mind as I looked up at the overpass and saw two wide eyed, grinning-too-much squeaky-clean youngsters waving American Flags at us.
“Oh, look at that,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s 9/11,” Julia explained.
So. A teachable moment, perhaps, has come along. For what it’s worth, the blog post you are reading now was half written and waiting for my return.
“So, what do you think that means, those guys on the bridge? What does it mean?”
“It means two kids got the suckiest volunteer job ever,” was the 14 year old’s reply.
“Yeah, obviously. But what do you think it means to THEM, what do you think they’re thinking?”
“They’re thinking all kinds of bad thoughts, I suspect,” was the reply.
“OK, what do you think would happen if instead of American Flags they were flying an Arab Flag,” not specifying what I meant by ‘Arab flag’ because I didn’t really know or think it would matter.
“They would be instantly arrested and thrown in jail for life for being all Araby and stuff.”
Right. Time to throw out the hot dish.
1Casserole is a widely used word for “hot dish.”
2Hot dish is a Midwestern word for “casserole.”