Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Here is Simon Schama, in the Financial Times, on his fellow-passengers on the New York commuter train:
Heavy-set thirtysomethings on parole from suburbia, fists popping cans of Bud Lite, boomed to all who wanted to hear (Ben Bernanke maybe?) that they were "gonna do some serious shopping DAMAGE dude!"
Schama's political point?
[A]s the pontificators of the rightwing media insist, it’s only deluded bleeding-heart liberals who persist in thinking that massive and growing income inequality is a bad thing when why-oh-why can’t they understand it is actually the engine of national prosperity! The farther apart the haves and the have-nots get, the more loaded the plutocrats are with tax-cuts, loopholes and tax-free inheritances, the more likely they are to give job-hiring business some of that good old trickle-down.
The dominant reality for the Republicans will be who can recite the nostrums fiercely enough to establish themselves as the true voice of the Tea Party; the cant of the disingenuous directed at the aggravation of the credulous. Instead of an honest look at the chastening of America – whether in military overreach or corporate irresponsibility – their hope is for a perpetuated national tantrum all the way to a foot-stomping, red-in-the-face, shrieking and bellowing election in 2012.
But read the whole, blindingly enraged, thing.
Here (quoted and linked by Ron Radosh) is Jeffrey Sachs, on MSNBC, giving his view of Victor Davis Hanson:
JEFFREY SACHS: Anything that Hanson says I’m likely to disagree with, cause no commentator has done more harm to the American people actually than that guy who led us into all these disastrous wars. But aside from that —
SCARBOROUGH: My God! That is serious.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: OK, then!
SACHS: No, that is real. Because this is an extremist. So quoting him doesn’t really make the point.
SCARBOROUGH: And I will put Victor Hanson —
SACHS: Sorry, that’s a side point, but that man — that guy’s done a lot of damage.
SCARBOROUGH: I will put Victor Davis Hanson to the side, you obviously, you guys aren’t on each other’s mailing lists, Christmas card lists.
SACHS: That guy got us into more wars, and more militarism, than anybody.
(Here is VDH's response to Sachs.)
Simon Schama is, or was, a serious historian. "Citizens", Schama's history of the French Revolution, is a formidable (and far-from-cheerleading) book. Schama's work - in art history as well as in political and social history - is very much worth reading. Yet here he is, sounding like the left-wing equivalent of a drunken Colonel Blimp holding forth in a pub.
Sachs, for his part, has always been a more overtly partisan figure than Schama, but he is a celebrated liberal economics professor at Columbia University. He too: almost incoherent with hatred.
Schama and Sachs are not isolated cases, of course. This sort of talk has become commonplace among people who used to be liberal but serious, sophisticated, and certainly not hysterical. You hear it from public figures like Schama and Sachs, and you hear it very commonly in private, from left-of-centre (or once left of centre, but now seethingly leftist) friends and acquaintances.
What is going on? I can't claim to explain it. Surely part of the story is that you can get away with it, or you might reasonably feel you can: the (One-Party) media will never criticise such talk, or even cover it in a way that might expose it unfavourably. But this is surely not the whole story. If anything it's a symptom as much as a cause. So why, in the early 21st century, do a great many people proud of their sophistication talk, and sometimes write, like Communist hacks in the 1930s? There seems to be a weird kind of political tribalism at work: this kind of talk marks you as "one of us". Still: I don't really get it.
UPDATE: Several of the comments suggest, quite rightly, that I was a little unfair to Colonel Blimp: at least Colonel Blimp before and during the Second World War. As J. M. Keynes, and indeed George Orwell, pointed out at the time, the "Blimps" got it right about Hitler; or at least they were more reliable on that rather important subject than some of the intellectuals. A propos, but without any political or polemical edge, is the wonderful and quite touching film, made during the war, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. If you haven't seen it, you have a treat in store. It's online, for instant viewing, on Netflix.