Friday, January 12, 2007

Rod Dreher's Narratives.

I'm resurrecting my presence at this blog, perhaps only briefly, for a couple reasons.

First, I feel it necessary to point out that, while Rod pontificates about the possible consequences for conservatism if and when there is consensus that our policy in Iraq has failed -- is there an implicit hope that the crunchy-populist-agrarian-neotraditional-distributist strain(s) of conservatism will become ascendant? -- there's a much bigger question: not what will happen to conservatism, but what will happen to the United States.

Mark Steyn put it extraordinarily well:
As it is, we're in a very dark place right now. It has been a long time since America unambiguously won a war, and to choose to lose Iraq would be an act of such parochial self-indulgence that the American moment would not endure, and would not deserve to. Europe is becoming semi-Muslim, Third World basket-case states are going nuclear, and, for all that 40 percent of planetary military spending, America can't muster the will to take on pipsqueak enemies. We think we can just call off the game early, and go back home and watch TV.

It doesn't work like that. Whatever it started out as, Iraq is a test of American seriousness. And, if the Great Satan can't win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That's how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it. "These Colors Don't Run" is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. ... To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover. [emphasis mine]

For a guy who so desperately wants to be seen as one who truly understands and is willing to reckon with the threat of jihad, Rod Dreher has a remarkably large blind spot on this issue. The possibility of dire consequences for our nation should we lose in Iraq seems never to occur to him.

Just as he's too busy bitching about Bush to offer an alternative policy (to say nothing of a realistic and coherent alternative), he's too busy making political calculations about losing Iraq to see the more important consequences. Why anyone should listen to him on matters of war therefore eludes me.

But the bigger question -- the second reason for this entry and the reason for its title -- is why anyone should listen to him at all.

I invite you to listen to the commentary he provided for NPR just yesterday, audio available here. The important thing isn't the NPR introduction; it is Rod's own words, spoken with Rod's own voice. Here, you'll hear him assert, "On September 11th, 2001, I stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and watched in horror as the World Trade Center collapsed," a claim that could be considered an embellishment.

("Though I didn't see it with my own eyes, others did.")

But you'll also hear about his youthful worship of President Reagan. Here's my hand-typed transcript of the relevant portion:
My first real political memory came in 1979. It was listening to Jimmy Carter tell the nation about the failed hostage rescue mission. I hated him for that. I hated him for the whole Iran mess, shaming America before our enemies with weakness and incompetence. When Ronald Reagan was elected president the next year, I stayed up late to hear his victory speech: America was saved! I was thirteen years old, and I was a Reaganite from that moment on. My generation came of age politically under Reagan. To me, he was strong and confident; Democrats were weak and depressed.

Rod the Reaganite? I'm not sure how to reconcile this with a piece he apparently wrote for the Dallas Morning News, for June 9, 2004. The original is sadly no longer available online, but fortunately the relevant text was copied by a disillusioned high school friend of Rod's and former Salon blogger.
As a conservative, I wish I could say that I have fond memories of the Reagan years. Alas, it was my bad luck that the Reagan presidency coincided with my adolescent rebellion. My dad loved Ronald Reagan; everybody we knew in our small Louisiana town did. Therefore, I thought Mr. Reagan was a clod, a fraud and a right-wing nut.

I confess it now: I was a Teenage Reagan Hater.

In 1984, I helped found a Students for Mondale group at my high school. There were six of us, and we stood in the parking lot of the Dixie Dandy supermarket one Saturday trying to pass out Mondale/Ferraro bumper stickers. From the reactions of the shoppers, we may as well have been handing out doggie doo on a stick. Which only confirmed to smug little me how hopelessly idiotic people were.

He appears to confirm all this in a comment made in November of last year.

There's a disconnect between Rod the Reaganite and Rod the Teenage Reagan Hater. And here's how he tries to split the difference on his own blog:
As someone who came of political age under Reagan, I've been a conservative for most of my life (for the sake of brevity, NPR edited out the part of the essay in which I explained that I'd had a high school and early-college dalliance with liberalism).
That's not the summary of his explaining his being a "Reagan hater" campaigning for Mondale. That's the entirety of what he wrote reconciling this week's NPR piece and the DMN article from '04.

Four years after supposedly believing that America was saved because Reagan was elected, Rod actively worked against his reelection by helping found a group supporting Walter Mondale, but that was a mere "dalliance" with liberalism that doesn't severely undercut his claim of being a Reaganite since 1980?


He's trying to position himself as a lifelong, stalwart Reagan conservative so as to make his criticism of Bush more pleasing to the NPR producers and audience. He's doing this because the narrative matters far more than the truth: the narrative that he has something important to say about 9/11 is enhanced by his actually seeing the towers fall from the Brooklyn Bridge, so he embellishes his original claim; the narrative that he's a reliable conservative who's been disillusioned by Bush is enhanced by tracing his conservatism in an uninterrupted line from the 1980 election to now, so he diminishes beyond recognition his work for Walter Mondale.

He personally stops just short of denying altogether that youthful "dalliance" with liberalism -- for that should he be commended? -- but the final version of the NPR commentary ("I was a Reaganite from that moment on") is good enough for Rod that he makes no claim that the version aired is woefully inaccurate.

It appears that fidelity to the truth is secondary to his precious narrative and the wider audience that it brings him.

Well, at least he doesn't have the nerve to write endlessly about Christian ethics and coverups.


Blogger Diane said...

He's doing this because the narrative matters far more than the truth....

Heh. Reminds me of the ending of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. When the facts contradict the legend, go with the legend.

Must be a Journalist Thing. :)

1:29 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

benedict has solved for us the ancient question, "to be or not to be"... the answer, obviously, is BOTH.

3:10 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

it's like the movie sybil. there's Rod, then there's Ray, then there's Benedict, then there's Ray the teenage reagan hater, then there's Ray the teenage reaganite ... can we write this up and get it published in a psychiatry journal?

3:14 PM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Bubba, you need a short lesson on how to read Dreher truth diagrams. He says:

"On September 11th, 2001, I stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and watched in horror as the World Trade Center collapsed."

Two true statements:
1) Rod stood on the Brooklyn Bridge.
2) Rod watched in horror as the WTC collapsed. (On TV later that night. With a croissant.)

.... both rolled into one truthy statement. In general.

I know it sounds at first like he's contradicting his earlier memories. But if you had been patient enough to fight your way through Crunchy Cons you'd realize that "some assembly required" doesn't just apply to tricycles.

Now I feel completely justified in defending Kathleen for this post which has turned out to be prophetic.

5:59 PM  
Blogger pikkumatti said...

Fake but accurate, I'm sure.

8:46 AM  

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