Monday, January 29, 2007

Broken Windows.

Rod's responded somewhat critically to an article by Jim Schutze in the Dallas Observer, in which Schutze mourns the loss of the "groovy" neighborhood of Old East Dallas, lost not to decay, but to improvements.

"I am frightened," he writes. "East Dallas, once a funky, diverse refugee camp for people on the lam from the real Dallas and maybe real life, is now well on its way to becoming the one thing none of us ever wanted. A nice neighborhood."

The article begins with a surreal nightmare: one of his artist neighbors -- "one of the original urban pioneers" -- was actually impressed by the open house of a so-called McMansion.
"Everything worked. Even the windows! Everything. I bet they never have to call Roto-Rooter. And the kitchen! The kitchen!"

"You've got to get a grip on yourself. I'll tell Jordan on you if you don't."
What surprised me is that Rod didn't praise the author.
I'm afraid I've got little patience for this sort of thing. Schutzism was alive and well in New York City in the Giuliani years. It came from the sort of liberals who loathed Giuliani for cleaning up the porn theaters and making Manhattan a place you might actually want to live. There is a certain kind of Romantic who finds decay and disintegration somehow more ... authentic, and in any case preferable to regeneration. What's interesting about Schutze's piece is that he went to talk to his longtime neighbors, and found that they don't really share his silly idealism.

It's a funny thing what little detail can trigger a memory, and the artist's being so amazed that the new house's windows actually work -- "Even the windows!" -- reminded me what, just last year, similarly silly idealists had to contribute to Rod's "Crunchy Con" blog at NRO.

Frederica Mathewes-Green was less than happy with those who chose to live in new developments in the exurbs of Charleston, and she too read a lot into windows that don't actually function.
They don't want to live in old Charleston (where I grew up, btw) because the neighbors are too close. They don't care about building for durability, because they're going to be moving on in five years anyway. When they move, they'll want the latest windows, the latest counters, and any house more than 20 years old is embarrassingly out of fashion. Old Charleston looks nice on a postcard but they don't want to live there. They'll take planned obsolescence any day over the upkeep headaches of a quirky older place. (For example, I wrestle with clunky old aluminum storm windows every season, because that's the price of keeping the wonderful, wavery original windows. The next owner will certainly rip it all out for something "efficient"). Sad but true: today's sprawl is exactly what a great many Americans yearn for. [emphasis mine]
The decidedly non-crunchy John Podhoretz responded with his usual, regrettable bluntness: "Once again we see the key contradiction between the contributors to this blog and the vast majority of ordinary Americans. You guys live ideologically. You make choices that gratify you because they represent a fulfillment of ideas you hold. Most people don't live this way, and to presume that they should is, well, the sheerest snobbery."

And Rod responded, not to tell FMG how little patience he has for this fetishizing of stagnation, but to tell John that conservatism is and ought to be elitist "in the sense that it believes in standards."
It believes that ideas have consequences, that some ideas are better than others, that there's a way to live that's better--truer to our religious values, truer to human nature--and that we shouldn't be embarrassed to say so. I presume you are not a moral relativist or a populist, John. You have no problem telling people how you think they should live in other areas of their lives--nor should you, as long as you are not obnoxious about it. You just don't like that we try to apply conservative principles to the way we build the environment around us, so you engage in crude populism rather than make an argument about why our concerns are baseless. Try something different. You won't get very far with a group of thoughtful conservatives by using "elitist" as a pejorative. We had all better be elitists about something!
I believe that Rod's defending Frederica here; at the barest of minima, he didn't at all suggest that she was going to far in defending old building fixtures because they were old.

(Things kinda digress from there, with you-know-who leading the charge with truly ridiculous assertions.)

The difference might simply be that the shoe is on the other foot -- instead of being a gentrifier looking down on the suburbanites, Rod is a gentrifier that Schutze thinks is ruining the neighborhood.

I hope, instead, that Rod is maturing in his philosophy.
Lorlee [Bartos] makes a point that we all have to come to terms with: you can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying. You can do things to control the rate of change and the direction of the change -- that's what our neighborhood achieving Historic District status recently was about -- but change is coming one way or another.
Change is inevitable, which is why I think criticizing television is in many ways futile: the technological landscape has probably rendered many traditions obsolete, but we should look for new practices that encourage the eternal virtues rather than merely pine for the non-existent golden days of the past or urge for people to almost literally run for the hills.

The very premise of Rod's book seems to be a rejection of the fact that things change, but I hope he's maturing away from that naivete.

And I wish he would apply this rather obvious lesson to Iraq.

"You can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying."

If you're not winning, you're probably losing, and if we were to retreat from the battlefield in Iraq, neither our enemies nor our own national psyche will let us act as if it never happened. As usual, Mark Steyn has a good word to say to the defeatists:
The open defeatists on the Democrat side and the nuanced defeatists among "moderate" Republicans seem to think that big countries can choose to lose small wars. After all, say the "realists," Iraq isn't any more important to Americans than Vietnam was. But a realpolitik cynic knows the tactical price of everything and the strategic value of nothing. This is something on an entirely different scale from the 1930s: Seventy years ago, Britain and Europe could not rouse themselves to focus on a looming war; today, we can't rouse ourselves even to focus on a war that's happening right now. Read 100 percent of the Democratic presidential candidates' platforms and a sizeable chunk of the Republicans': We're full of pseudo-energy for phantom crises and ersatz enemies, like "global warming."
Stability is an illusion; with Iran seeking to acquire the Bomb, time is not on our side. While I read alot about the seriousness of the threat we face from Islam, in nothing Rod has said or written do I detect an awareness of the importance of this battlefield in dealing with that threat.

And, in both these crunchy topics and the subject of Iraq, I still have not seen much effort on Rod's part to engage criticism from the right, either in the comments or in response to hawkish columnists.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Rod Dreher is deeply unsettled by Mark Shea's belief that the Antichrist "seems much more like to come from a Decadent West triumphant over Islam than from Radical Islam triumphant over the West."

Me? I'm still trying to see his point. Is he arguing that, because the Antichrist will likely come from the West, our victory over jihad is assured and so we can shirk our personal duties in bringing that victory about? That's ludicrous; we have our duties, and it may be that it includes defending Western civilization, flawed as it undeniably is.

The blogger Torquemada writes, "arguing that our culture is far more likely to produce the eschatological embodiment of evil than Islam strikes me as a de facto argument that we are, at the end of the day, more evil than our current crop of enemies."

I'm not sure I completely agree, as there are other possible interpretations (see above), but it's certainly a plausible conclusion to draw. In which case, Mark's thesis isn't disturbing, it's disturbed.

Not a Fan.

Rod has been commenting on Dinesh D'Souza's controversial -- and, from what I can tell, wrong-headed -- book, which asserts that the radical cultural Left is responsible for provoking 9/11 and other acts of Islamic terrorism. It appears that Rod thinks Dinesh doesn't go far enough: responsibility for provoking the jihadists lies at the feet of both social liberals and economic conservatives.

(And -- who woulda thought? -- Rod just happens to consider himself a social conservative and economic, um, "populist.")

He writes, "What I'm saying is that if D'Souza's critique were more honest and accurate, he would have to parcel blame to capitalists who push a system that does to traditional cultures precisely what the Islamists fear it will do. But he can't do that, because that would mean that the 'enemy' is not solely the cultural left, but the economic right. It's very hard for US conservatives to see this, because we are soaked in free-market dogmatism, we rarely if ever question whether the market is a limited good."

It just doesn't seem to me that Rod Dreher is much of a fan of freedom, certainly not economic freedom, which is in some ways the bedrock for political freedom.

I'm not suggesting he's an enemy of freedom, explicitly or implicitly. When asked, he would almost certainly say that freedom is worth defending.

But you'd probably have to ask to find this out.

Here, he says that we rarely question whether the market is a limited good, but you rarely hear him argue that it is even a limited good. But he hardly needs an excuse to vilify its defenders as godless hedonists or to point out that it weakens cultural stability. And now he notes that economic freedom is disrupting the culture of Islam in the Arab world, but nothing about whether the misogynistic culture there ought to be disrupted or whether at least that such cultural disruption is worth the price of personal economic freedom -- or that, since geopolitical stability is an illusion and cultures are always either gaining ground or losing ground, collision between Islam and the West is inevitable, and it's better for that collision to occur such that its outcome is favorable for the cause of liberty.

On the subject of particularly economic freedom, he's just not a fan.

A Brief Note.

Having given some thought to our exchanges with Mark Shea this past week, I think I'm quite ready to admit that a blog dedicated to frequently satirical criticism of one individual is not the ideal forum for discussing the most serious issues of the day. I'm not sure whether there's a better alternative for what we want to say; the suggestion to "get a life" is essentially to tell us to shut the hell up, but despite the purported hyperbole about our criticizing font choices, we have often had very substantive criticisms both about Rod Dreher's positions and the way he defends those positions as a confessing Christian and as a professional writer.

Reconciliation -- agreeing to disagree amicably, without that entailing either side's being silent -- would be great, but it would require far more than what we contra's could do on our own.

(Even our making peace with Mark would require, I believe, understanding on his part that passion about what we believe and irritation at Rod's writing doesn't translate to hatred.)

Until such time as this blog no longer seems necessary, we will continue to write what we think is right. We will go on vacation and even draw this blog to a close on our timetable, not Mark's and not Rod's.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Since Mark Shea feels so comforable telling others on the blogosphere what to say or do (example, "get a life!" ), I'll take this opportunity to go and do likewise. Here's my prescription for Mark Shea, in return for his to me: Shea should stop reading the contra blog, especially since he's not doing Dreher any favors in doing so. When on his own blog Shea highlights, in bold lettering and mid-space, a purposely innocuous exchange between myself and a commenter from our blog, and claims that in it we make dire analyses of his buddy Dreher --- well, let's just say that with friends like Shea, Dreher needs no contras. It's also clear that Shea pores over this blog with great care, since he venomously spits back random bits with what is becoming frightening regularity. Which can only be the point of his reading it -- to cultivate his own anger. (Unless, on some level he doesn't wish to acknowledge, he's, um "enjoying it").

Shea wishes to silence us, of course, by implying -- no, proclaiming -- that we're the crazies. He loves to call us "obsessostalkers" which is interesting, because it seems to me Shea has done a great deal of obsessing and stalking of us. Shea has even christened our blog with his very own nickname, and even given that nickname an acronym. cute!

I'm still amused that Mark Shea runs a blog called Catholic and Enjoying It. I guess he is catholic, and in some perverse way enjoying "it", but I can assure him that other catholics -- in particular those who value sanity -- don't enjoy it, and for myriad reasons. Has it dawned on him that other catholics don't appreciate his fondness for vitriol and flame-throwing? Or the fact that Shea indulgently cultivates his anger while he simultaneously sells his services as a professional catholic apologist? It's not really that great for catholicism when the catholic apologist on TV calls to mind Michael Douglas with a crewcut, horn-rims, and an automatic weapon. Besides, this sort of thing is not good for his heart. And for a self-proclaimed "fat guy", the physical one too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gaming the Table.

I believe that, in addressing those who comment at their blogs for the supposed sake of civility, both Rod Dreher and Mark Shea are creating the opportunity to change the rules of the debate so as to discount the most credible criticisms against them.

Rod supports "disagreeing agreeably," by which he means, in part, preventing in the comments threads an atmosphere "polluted by personal vitriol or dragging old disputes constantly into new threads, and in an inflammatory way."
But those who cannot disagree agreeably -- those who cannot limit their critical remarks to a person's ideas, and not that person -- are not welcome here to spoil things for those who can. And they will have their posts deleted.
Notice that criticism of Rod's hypocrisy could now plausibly be censored out of existence. If Rod mentions that Ted Kennedy's foreign policy positions aren't good for the country, bringing up the fact that he supported the Democrats in Congress this past November could constitute an "old dispute" and criticism about Rod as a person rather than his ideas -- or rather, the idea du jour.

This same week, it appears that Mark Shea has left open the possibility of banning from his comment threads those who dare to accuse him of dishonesty.
I try to run fairly loose comboxes where people can speak their minds. My basic request is civility. I also try to be honest. That is, I think lying is a sin and I try to tell the truth as best I can. That means that errors I may emit on this blog are due to a) intellectual mistakes on my part (i.e., I got my facts wrong) or b) miscommunication (among other things, my informal tone and tendency to make jokes or hyperbolize are being misread). In point of fact, I think lying a sin and think the charge of lying a very serious one. I do not make it against others unless I think there is serious reason to do so. I tend to assume that it is better to attribute falsehoods to stupidity than malice unless the likelihood of stupidity is so grossly improbably that it becomes preposterous to do so. (Hence my reluctant conclusion that the Prez is lying when he tells us he has never authorized torture: I don't think him so stupid as to not know that cold cells, strappado and waterboarding are not torture.)

Why do I mention this? Because I find that some of my guests have this nasty habit of accusing me lying or dishonesty, often at the drop of a hat. There are few things that will more quickly convince me of *your* malice than that, and thereby persuade me to ban you as a Person I Can Do Without Who Never Will Be Missed. [emphasis mine]
Will Mark ban people who accuse him of lying "at the drop of a hat" or any such accusation? Will he even admit that he -- like everyone else, myself included -- sometimes lies? He only attributes errors that he "may" make are due to intellectual mistakes and miscommunication.

I even asked the question myself, but was accused of creating a Catch 22.

"Let me put it to you this way: If you appoint yourself as one of my Combox Star Chamber judges whose task shall henceforth be to catch me in my words and prove me a liar, I shall appoint myself somebody who finds you to be a Person I Can Do Without Who Never Will be Missed."

Will any criticism about Shea's honesty count as acting as a "Combox Star Chamber judge"? He never says.

I hope I'm wrong in both cases, that the opportunities Rod and Mark are creating were unintended and will not be seized. That remains to be seen; but what can be seen right now is that, if they did want to create a plausible mechanism by which to justify their crushing of dissent to create a coccoon of sycophantic ego-stroking, they're doing the right things to accomplish it.

And as a final note, they're also doing the right things to extend that bubble beyond their own domains: it's not enough to delete dissenters from your own blog, you have to discredit as "obsessostalkers" those who create arenas, however modest, to offer their opposing views.

EDIT: On the other hand, Mark just recently displayed a tremendous amount of class in criticizing a brazen attempt to threaten our Diane.

I was overly harsh to Mark in the original version of this blog entry, and I've deleted the most egregious comment.

It may be that my worst fears for Rod and Mark with the recent announcements will prove to be unfounded.

I sincerely hope so.

Monday, January 22, 2007

And the Cinematography in Airplane was Atrocious.

Rod Dreher doesn't like "24" and has been quite critical of its dialogue.

("The lines were so wooden I thought surely the producers had dragooned The Timbertoes into the writing pool.")


It's worth noting that he also thinks that Smokey & the Bandit had a contrived premise; that the Three Stooges failed to convey the true harm that can be done with blunt-forced trauma; that MythBusters spends too little time on the physics behind their experiments and too much time blowing things up; that Ronin would have been better if Frankenheimer had just edited out those boring car chases; and that The Big Lebowski had a garish production design.

But to rest your mind about Rod's aesthetic tastes, there's a particular bread recipe that he really likes. He really likes this bread.

I mean, he really likes it.

And let us not dare to question Rod's masculinity: after all, he has a beard.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dreher Syndrome.

The comic book series Sleeper -- now available in trade paperback form, complete in four volumes -- presents the interesting protagonist of Carver Holden, a sleeper spy embedded in the criminal organization of a villainous mastermind. Trapped because the only agent who knows his real purpose is in a coma, Holden has superpowers that are appropriate for the dark universe of WildStorm comics:
Holden's superpowers are caused by an alien artifact that merged with his nervous system. Whenever he experiences physical trauma, he feels no pain and instead stores the pain, which he can then direct via touch into someone else. Enough pain would kill a person without any trace, making Carver an ideal assassin for [supervillain] Tao's purposes. Holden had little control over his power and would cause pain to anybody who touched him. Another downside was that he was also incapable of feeling anything else, though during sex a combination of pain and pleasure could make him feel pleasure. The artifact made his thoughts unreadable to all telepaths and protected him against many mental attacks, though not all. The artifact also quickly repaired all damage done to his body.

The important thing is that his inability to feel pain is coupled with enhanced healing powers: without that, immunity to pain would be more of a curse than it was. Pain is a good thing in that it causes the body to pull away from a hot stove to limit the damage done.

Physical pain keeps a person from harming itself.

Similarly, cognitive dissonance keeps a person from looking like a fool for saying wildly inconsistent things.

I've never really wondered what a person would act like freed from those particular constraints, but I think I've seen it in action. So far as I can tell, Rod Dreher is incapable of experiencing cognitive dissonance.

It's probably some heretofore unknown psychological affliction. Since Rod may be the first to be diagnosed, I propose that we call it "Dreher Syndrome."

There's a good bit to discuss over Rod's NPR commentary and other related comments, but so much of it boils down to the hypocrisy and inconsistency that would result in cognitive dissonance in a physiologically healthy human being:
Reaganism. Insofar as the term is ideological and not merely an indication of finding appealing a particular political figure, Rod Dreher is not and probably has never been a stalwart Reaganite. Beyond his youthful dalliance with campaigning for Mondale, Rod currently vilifies those fiscal conservatives who defend the free market; and anyone who lauds Carter's "malaise" speech and loathes the values and choices of middle-class America can hardly be said to share Reagan's optimism for us. That doesn't stop him from claiming the mantle of, not just conservatism, but the much more specific Reaganism.

The Left. Despite his protestations, Rod's leaning ever closer to joining the left, as he often finds it quite easy to join their ranks de facto if not yet de jure. Even though he eschews the anti-war left, he joins them in their hyperbolic ranting about Bush and Iraq. Even though he says this country doesn't need Ted Kennedy's leadership on foreign policy, he did support the Dems in November. (Just what did he think would happen? Kennedy wouldn't have a leadership position in a Dem-controlled Senate?) And though he says his conservatism is "primarily social/cultural/religious", he had the gall to redefine what it means to be pro-life to support the pro-abortion Jim Webb because of his opposition to our continued presence in Iraq.

To put the above another way, Rod implies that he supports a platform that is populist, anti-war, and socially conservative. It seems to me that most who support the free market do so because it is moral, efficient, or both; they don't appeal to its popularity because they don't have to, so I tend to doubt that any form of populism is anything more or other than socialism in disguise. Given Rod's sneering over fiscal conservatives, I doubt seriously that his populism is the exception. So: Rod is an anti-war socialist who's also socially conservative, but his support for Jim Webb tells you exactly which one of those beliefs is the most expendable.

The new war. When it comes to the war against jihad -- the war against Islamic fascism, World War IV as Norman Podhoretz called it -- Rod is a hawk in theory, but a dove in reality. That's the only way he can, on a Sunday, admit that the war will take generations and advocate a "muscular" foreign policy, only to nearly weep about the trauma of war, of killing and being killed, the very next day. The latter post would be relevant during any war, and I suspect he will continue to invoke precisely that emotionalism during engagements he opposes, to hell with all that talk about strength.

There's substance to be argued, too. It could be that our difficulties in Iraq were unavoidable and simply need to be endured in order to win, or it could be that, rather than vindicate Pat Buchanan, they vindicate Reaganism in that the "small-footprint" approach displayed too little resolve rather than arrogance and hubris. But these points are hardly worth making when Dreher Syndrome is on such full display.

And I haven't even touched the hypocrisy outside the serious discussion of issues. Rod's behavior to those who disagree with him -- us, certainly, but also other rank-and-file conservatives and even Rod's fellow professional writers -- clearly demonstrates that he is in no position whatsoever to criticize Bush for having no room for disagreement. And someone should tell Rod that he hasn't yet matured from his days as a movie reviewer, that he hasn't yet truly put aside "callow cruelty, of which there is too much in the world."

(Ask Diane or Kathleen.)

Even though I suspect that this acute case of Dreher Syndrome is the result, not of genes or a chemical imbalance, but of the vice of vanity, Rod still deserves our pity and compassion to the extent it can be given.

But he is not to be taken seriously as a writer.

His position on Iraq does not preclude the possibility that there are intellectually compelling arguments for an immediate withdrawal (though I'm skeptical), just as his young faith as a Christian does not preclude the validity of Christianity's truth claims. There's room at the table for discussions about foreign policy, the size and scope of government, theology: all sorts of subjects.

It's just that his Dreher Syndrome consistently disqualifies Rod from the table.

That may be my last word for a while as I return to more important things in my own life, but I may return to this particular arena, not because the fights are enlightening, edifying, or even interesting, but because somebody ought to respond to Rod's inconsistent and over-emotional gibberish.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Dreher has finally moved from bashing Bush to enunciating an actual policy position for Iraq.

(He does this in a post where he reveals, "I didn't write about the war in my book because my own views on the war were evolving at the time." That suggests that the book was really more about his own political views than about describing the political views of an heretofore uncategorized group of conservatives -- no surprise, really -- and it begs the question, why did religion play such a prominent role in the book since his religious views were probably evolving at the time?)

(They're still evolving. "Nobody can deny -- nobody with any sense does deny -- that the world is moving to Pentecostal Christianity," he writes yesterday, but just ten days prior, he asked whether we are entering "the Orthodox century." Shortest hundred years I've ever experienced.)

Rod's thoughts about war are as coherent as everything else he's written.

He wants us to withdraw from Iraq.
The thing is, I strongly believe that the president is right: we are fighting a war that's going to take generations to see through. I have been very outspoken about the threat to America and the West from Islamic fundamentalism. But this Iraq debacle -- which was unwise and unnecessary -- is going to set back the war against Islamism incalculably. I think the US should realize that in this battle, we've been licked, and we should retreat to defensible borders, so to speak, and rebuild for the next round. Because there will be a next round.
While I appreciate his saying this much, this position raises as many questions as it answers.

1. What "defensible borders"? Even taking that metaphorically ("so to speak"), it ought to be clear that the war with jihad is being waged over there and over here. There is no "high ground" to which we can pull back and defend our interests more easily, as the jihadists' range is not limited by the lack of tanks, ships, or long-range missles. It may be convenient for Dreher to use 9/11 in his ridiculous commentary on NPR, but it's not as if Manhatten is now utterly out of the reach of terrorism. Does Rod idiotically believe that our enemies will leave us alone to "rebuild"?

2. What is this business about rebuilding anyway? It wasn't like the thugs pulled a Pearl Harbor and destroyed a sizable portion of our fleet. Does Rod think that our enemies won't be hard at work while we're rebuilding? That they won't be using the remnants of Iraq to build another terror state? That Iran will halt its work for nuclear weapons until we're ready to stop them?

3. Momentum counting for an awful lot in war of this nature, what does pulling back do for our momentum and theirs? Will our enemies find it harder to recruit as we turn tail, or easier? Will we find it harder to fight the next war, or harder?

4. And to what end are we readying ourselves if nation-building is off the table? Dreher's unambiguous in his belief that the paleocons were right that nation-building is a fool's errand:

"It was our Jacobin hubris, our prideful belief in our own power, that got us into this mess."

Well, if we're to have a muscular foreign policy -- AND ROD LAUGHABLY WRITES THAT HE ACTUALLY WANTS A MUSCULAR FOREIGN POLICY -- what will be its goal? If we can't change our enemies in the Middle East, ought we plan to obliterate them? Or try to contain and quarantine them? Or is our so-called "muscular" foreign policy really one of defensive reaction, called muscular because Rod wishes it were so?

This isn't the breadth and width of the idiocy even in this one post:
I think the most important contribution conservatism will make to the debate going forward is a deep understanding of how decisive culture is to the making (or un-making) of societies. That, and an appreciation of the tragic sense of life. I don't think that's been much a part of American conservatism for a long time. Perhaps the Iraq catastrophe will change that. Perhaps.

Someone should tell Rod that WAR ISN'T A FUCKING POETRY READING. "An appreciation of the tragic sense of life" might be fine in a coffee shop, but this is a battle of wills between barbaric jihadists and what's left of the Judeo-Christian West. Pathos ain't going to help us kill or defeat anybody; I'd say we have plenty of pathos as it is, as opponents of Iraq were invoking Vietnam two weeks in.

Understanding that culture matters is a good thing, too, but only if that steels us for the costly and long-term commitment it will likely take to drive our enemies to their knees: "liberal democracy is a hard thing to create, so we should invest the blood, treasure, and years to ensure that the required values spread and triumph over totalitarianism." That I could buy, but not "nation-building is hard, so let's quit after four years and only 3,000 casualties."

That's perhaps the most galling thing from Rod's NPR commentary: "I didn't expect Vietnam." Well, by any historical measure, we haven't had another Vietnam. Even if we did, a nation that suffered 360,000 dead in the Civil War (Union side only) and 400,000 in World War II ought not to be driven from the battlefield because of Vietnam's 58,000 deaths, to say nothing of the 3,000 deaths in Iraq.

How many soldiers will be killed in the next round, Rod -- "Because there will be a next round" -- before you start making McNamara comparisons and calling the theater a "meat grinder"? A hundred? A dozen? One?

Again, this is a battle of wills, and if we withdraw as Rod wants us to, we will show that we simply do not have the will to suffer any appreciable casualties to win a war. Our enemies will see precisely how to drive us from any endeavor -- kill us a few at a time with weapons as simple as roadside bombs, and get the media to cover it (but we shouldn't blame the media; Rod assures us they're not to blame) -- and they will turn every battlefield into another Iraq.

And our oh-so-muscular military and Rod's academic understanding that the war will be long will be as useful as our very own Maginot Line.

Friday, January 12, 2007

God Willing, the Bottom of the Barrel.

The entire NPR commentary is contemptible, with Rod invoking Andrew Sullivan's theatrical outrage and 9/11 and his children, all the while positioning himself as a Carter-hating Reaganite when he just spent a year praising the "malaise" speech and villifying economic conservatives as godless materialists.

Rod continuously sets new lows in making completely asinine comments; I pray it gets no lower than this, the single most ridiculous sentence ever uttered by a thirty-nine-year-old who doesn't suffer severe mental retardation.

Naturally, it comes from the lips of a self-satisfied pseudo-intellectual.
I turn forty next month: middle age at last, a time of discovering limits, finitude.
Someone should tell the ridiculous little schmuck, the chimeric nothing of a man, the unprincipled hack: YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DISCOVER LIMITS AND FINITUDE WHEN YOU'RE A CHILD.

It's what happens when a beloved grandparent or pet passes away, or when those little lighting bugs you collected last night are dead in the jar the next morning, or when you watch Bambi or Ol' Yeller for the first time. Soldiers half his age understand that there are limits to human life, as do kids who've already buried their parents or had to endure cancer themselves.

I'm not sure whether it's worse to conclude that he sincerely believes what he said or whether, incredibly, he actually thinks it was a clever segue from his personal narrative to the limits of American military might. But a man who deliberately broadcasts nonsense that severe has no business weighing in on Christianity, political conservatism, foreign policy issues, parenting, or any other serious topic.

Other than a comment here or there, I'm back on hiatus, but it was worth the minute or two to point out -- in the strictest sense of the term -- Rod's single most juvenile thought.

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.