Monday, May 26, 2008

"A Kind Of Anesthesia"

Mainstream political leaders (Hillary and Huckabee) and media figures (be sure to watch this video clip) now allude to assassination or openly joke about it in the context of the person most likely to become the nation's next president. And aside from those who follow the campaign season's daily drama, there's not a whole lot of concern about it. What's going on here? Just some loose, careless talk, nothing more than a set of coincidences? Or an unsurprising next step in which the system begins to feed on itself? Regular readers know my thesis that we're in an overarching period of consequences during which "things fall apart." Sebastian Haffner on how war, economic decay, and the failure of the political class produce a sort of trauma cocktail that can numb a nation and, in his words, make it "ready for anything":
Everything takes place under a kind of anesthesia. Objectively dreadful deeds produce a thin, puny emotional response. Murders are committed like schoolboy pranks. Humiliation and moral decay are accepted like minor incidents. Even death under torture only produces the response 'Bad luck'...Just a little pact with the devil -- and you were no longer one of the captured quarry. Instead you were one of the victorious hunters.
In Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti tied the debasement of a nation's basic unit of measurement (currently the public's number one concern) to the degradation of the individual and the rise of extreme and previously taboo types of political and social discourse:
A man who has been accustomed to rely on it [the value of the currency] cannot help feeling its degradation as his own. He has identified himself with it for too long and his confidence in it has been like his confidence in himself. Not only is everything visibly shaken during an inflation, nothing remaining certain or unchanged even for an hour, but also each man, as a person, becomes less.
Thomas Mann, in a 1942 lecture at Princeton, noted how easily the outrageous becomes the ordinary under those circumstances:
The market woman who demanded in a dry tone "one hundred billion" mark for a single egg had lost during inflation her ability to be amazed at anything anymore. Since that time nothing was so mad or so atrocious that it could have caused any awe in people anymore...They learned to look on life as a wild adventure, the outcome of which depended not on their own effort but on sinister, mysterious forces.
And from one of Milton Mayer's interviewees, who probably wouldn't have been surprised by the rise of the assassination meme:
The world you live in -- your nation, your people -- is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.
All against the backdrop of the Dolchstoss dynamic:
Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who lived through the assasinations many years ago, I don't find it anything to joke about. Whatever your politics, it was a dark time in our country. It should not be acceptable to even refer to it, even casually, or even as a "gaff"...

Maybe you are right, maybe it is just a sign of the disturbing times we are in. I worry about my grandchildren.


5/26/2008 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe this was a gaffe.
This piece says it well.

5/26/2008 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superior post sir.

The financial and political elites have dug themselves a hole because few will be willing to believe that their diminished economic security is due to anyone but those elites themselves.

It's painfully obvious that there is no enemy domestic or foreign who caused the great financial giants to acquire trillions of dollars of paper assets which were essentially ficticious. Who lent money every more carelessly because they could book the profits right away due to the miracle of modern accounting. Who caused the debasement of the currency by creating a system of monetary inflation based upon sending dollars overseas, where the jobs were lost to, only to have the dollars come back to us as loans.

The technicalities of each mechanism, and others, escape many citizens but the overall truth that something is wrong is easy to grasp and is being grasped.

I offer all this to give some slight hope that the forces of concentration of power and of repression will be beaten back if only because the traditional method of apportioning blame to others, outsiders or insiders, is so threabare in the face of the obvious reality.

5/26/2008 7:49 PM  
Blogger montag said...

Reading this post is like being at home with Wagner while he recites the story of the Gotterdammerung...while a full orchestra is playing in the background.
It is an amazing and wonderfully concise journey into our heart of darkness.

(ps: I just read the reference to dolchstoss and was rather amazed to see how close I came with the Wagner in the parlor remark.)

5/26/2008 8:28 PM  
Anonymous nil said...

I see no reason to believe that the original remark by Hillary was anything other than an item in a list of primaries that extended into summer. The ensuing brouhaha is mainly another manufactured scandal, with Hillary-haters reading her mind and explaining to us that she was really hoping for or calling for someone to assassinate Barack Obama.

5/27/2008 12:33 AM  
Blogger billmasi said...

As usual, an extraordinarily sensitive expression of our unease.

5/27/2008 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

I really hate to say it. But if Obama survives his presidency, I will have to readjust my worldview a bit; in a good way.

5/27/2008 10:35 AM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

If he is the next president. Obama is already backtracking on his willingness to wage diplomacy with our enemies. LOL...fearmongering is always in fashion. He already is lending credence to the claim that he isn't experienced by backtracking so fast rather than attacking. Why doesn't Obama bring up Nixon talking to Mao. That would be a great way to deflect how about the bomb bomb Iran hard would it be to make McCain sound like a war crazed lunatic? Once again the Democrats wilt in the face of criticism...its looking like John Kerry all over again. I wouldn't count McCain out. The Democrats have lost two election in a row by allowing the Repugs to protray their candidates as sissy boys. Two veterans and one who was a VP during an economic boom and they had a cheerleader frat boy with two Ivy league degrees!!!!! If this is the best they can do...they will lose again. Obama needs to be forceful and he needs to attack McCain. Rather than backtracking and offering justifications...come back with an attack of your own after every criticism...turn the tables...Rove style.

5/27/2008 12:29 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Please. The media has been promoting this assassination narrative and then it fitted HRC's (hackneyed) remark about RFK into it. Hoping, no doubt, that this would finally knock her out of the primaries. (I wish she would drop out, myself -- but that's another matter.)

There's no doubt that the MSM has fallen very low, frittering away what's left of its credibility on "Character" issues and ignoring major issues altogether (not to mention crimes on the part of our current leadership). Does this reflect the will (for lack of a better word) of the people? I have no idea.

And the politicians? I'm not completely sold on anyone -- nor am I vain enough to think that the candidates should echo all of my own views. But at least there is the possibility of voting for or against, whereas my only options vis-a-vis the NYTimes (et al.) are to write letters and/or to stop reading.

5/27/2008 12:56 PM  
Blogger Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

If the plan is to degenerate the standard of living and public discourse in the United States to a level where the populous will accept a correspondingly despotic, corrupt form of leadership that knows not how to foster the economy but rather extracts wealth at gunpoint, or through open market operations: Mission Accomplished!

Who's ready to vote 4 more years of this?

5/27/2008 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think nil hit the nail on the head. read the full hillary comments to understand.

she wasn't trying to imply some underhanded conspiracy, or imply somehow obama was a lost cause becuase he was going to be assasinated. she was just using any number of examples that primaries extend for a long time and hers wasn't the first.

5/27/2008 8:25 PM  
Anonymous nil said...

One additional note to my previous comment: it's not that I disagree with CR's larger point, in fact I concur. I am not an American, so I would not want to be the stereotypical foreigner lecturing Americans about Bush, US imperialism yadayada. And yet checking the american media, I occasionally find what I read deeply disturbing...

John Derbyshire from a National Review column. Here's just one quote:
Chelsea is a Clinton. She bears the taint, and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat. In Stalin's penal code it was a crime to be the wife or child of an 'enemy of the people.' The Nazis used the same principle, which they called Sippenhaft, 'clan liability.' In Imperial China, enemies of the state were punished 'to the ninth degree': that is, everyone in the offender's own generation would be killed, and everyone related via four generations up, to the great-great-grandparents, and four generations down, to the great-great-grandchildren, would also be killed.

Lt. General Jerry Boykin describing a set of photographs he had taken of Mogadishu. “Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy,” Boykin said to the congregation as he flashed his pictures on a screen. “It is the principalities of darkness... It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy.” Of course. Demons in the sky of Mogadishu.

Brian Buckley, nephew of William Buckley the "father of modern conservatism," in a recent posting:
"Even after [the Clintons] are dead, I say we stuff their bodies, fix them in some kind of preservative, and display them at county fairs across the nation, where the citizenry can have fun putting cow dung on them. Or if that's not in good taste, their bodies should be flattened as thin as possible, again fixed in some kind of preservative and then hoisted up a flagpole to flap in the wind. I'm sure others could come up with some additional ideas, but the point is we all need to spend every waking moment for the rest of our lives - even after the Clintons are dead dead dead - reminding people that the Clintons were bad bad bad. And if we can figure out how to do this in our non-waking moments, we need to act on that too."

"rise of extreme and previously taboo types of political and social discourse" indeed. I could go on and on: Michael Ledeen and the Middle East richly deserving being cauldronized, any quote from Ann Coulter, etc.

OK, any country has its share of angry fringe. But these guys are not bark-at-the-moon hoboes, or basement conspiracy theorists. They are not ostracized for their lunatic views. They are promoted Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, they are best-selling authors, trotted out to TV shows, touted as foreign policy experts. They are voicing what is now apparently mainstream political opinions.

The US has taken leave of its senses since September 11. Please, please snap out of it. It is getting creepy.

5/27/2008 11:58 PM  
Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

"The US has taken leave of its senses since September 11. Please, please snap out of it. It is getting creepy."

Ah, but that was the idea all along.

5/28/2008 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

John Derbyshire is a crazy person best ignored, and I had no idea William Buckley's nephew was making a few bucks off his last name, ala Jonah Goldberg.

5/28/2008 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nil, that stuff is genuinely horrifying, ugh. I do think it fits with the Dolchstoss idea that CR has been educating us (me anyway) about.

I hang out on lefty-ish blogs a lot and it is strange that I've never seen these quotes before. I guess the volume is too big......

On Hillary's assasination reference, I will say that I disagree with you somewhat. Although certainly she is not advocating that someone "take out" Obama or anything of the sort, the comparison with RFK in 1968 just doesn't pass the "red face test".

If you've ever been in sales, you certainly test/vet your messages early on, before you use them with a customer, to make sure that you are credible and persuasive. This isn't the first time she's used the RFK reference, it just is something that she should have had the good sense not to bring up at all.

- Whammer

5/28/2008 1:25 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

I don't get it. Why shouldn't she bring up RFK? The media made a stink about because the Obama campaign fed them the story, straight from Rupert Murdoch's NY Post (which later retracted its highly questionable interpretation). I'm not interested in slamming the Obama campaign for promoting this HRC attack, but I am interested in the way no one this side of the National Review ever seems to find anything wrong with anything the Obama campaign says or does. How is HRC, or any other targeted politician, supposed to know what will touch off the outrage-o-meter? She made exactly the same remark back in March and no one made anything of it -- because back then they were busy accusing HRC of other crimes.

In other words, we are not having a rational discussion in this country, on the left or on the right. It's a scripted affair, and the script calls for HRC to be the villain. Just to be clear, I'm not a supporter of hers. I didn't vote for her in the primary, and I have problems with many things she's said and done. But that doesn't mean I think she's evil or deserves the treatment she's gotten from the media.

I know I'm getting a bit off topic here. But I do think the dynamics of the media coverage are part of the larger picture CR is trying to convey.

5/28/2008 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

History's rhyme?

5/28/2008 9:20 PM  
Anonymous nil said...

Well since we're deprived of our daily dose of cunning realism, might as well keep going.

More fun with the banalization of assassination.

"Many others [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States." Vito Corleone? No, George W Bush, State of the Union January 2003

To cheryl: is your advice to ignore the crazies? The ones babbling about the Great Whore of Babylon, those advocating suspension of habeas corpus, wars of aggression, "extrajudicial killings," the apologists for patriotic torture? If we passively snub them enough then surely they will come to their senses, or at least go away? Good luck!

To anonymous Whammer: have you seen the video? Hillary is being asked to justify why she hasn't quit, already. She makes several points before adding that her husband was still campaigning in June 1992, and so was Bobby Kennedy before he was shot. Her remarks make complete sense in that context: it's not unusual to still be battling in the primaries. Interpreting it as "I need to keep campaigning in case someone shoots Obama" makes no sense. Even if she had conceded by then, she'd still be nominated if, God forbid, something were to happen to Barack Obama.

5/29/2008 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Although Bill Clinton was "campaigning" in June 1992, he had the nomination well in hand and it was not a contest. Also, in all the previous elections prior to this year, California didn't have it's primary until June. That is a big difference from this year, when CA was in March.

So, the example of her husband was irrelevant/not applicable. Mary above is right in that she brought up RFK in March -- I think that was also not good, but I also think that her comment on the "meta narrative" makes a certain amount of sense as to why there wasn't as much of a stink at that time. I'm doing some googling on the issue now, and it appears that she also brought up RFK in May on more than one occasion.

In 1980 Ted Kennedy kept going until the convention, so he was campaigning in June. In 1984 Walter Mondale didn't have the nomination wrapped up until the convention, and so he was campaigning in June.

She is smart enough to know that the only way she can win is by getting a bunch of superdelegates to commit to her. This has actually been the case for quite some time, after her campaign went off the rails. So she continues to make lots of arguments that can only be construed as attempts to influence the superdelegates. She also knows that Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than other candidates.

I don't think that the RFK reference was introduced repeatedly by HRC as some kind of "just popped into her head" kind of thing, and as such, I don't think she should have done it. I do think it is fair to think, at a minimum, that it was a calculated statement.

- Whammer

5/29/2008 5:48 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

As for whether or not Bill Clinton had the nomination sewn up by June of 1992, here's a headline from the Times on June 2: CLINTON IS FACING A DIFFICULT HURDLE IN CALIFORNIA VOTE. On June 3, a headline in the Washington Post read as follows: “CLINTON SECURES PARTY NOMINATION.” But really, who cares? All HRC was doing was arguing that there's a reason for her to stay in the race -- I don't buy the case she was making but I don't feel the need to "fact check" so that I can call her a liar, or to read her mind or psychoanalyze her to divine her deepseated motive. Why do so many others feel this need?

I don't know why HRC ever says anything she says, and I don't think anyone else does, either. I don't think it's worth wondering why she mentioned RFK, since it wasn't something that, in a rational world, should have caused any outrage whatsoever. Which is why the media reaction seems so pathetic and irrational. My god, it's hard to imagine why anyone would run for president in this age -- how many of us would be willing to subject ourselves to such petty, banal, mean-spirited "mind reading" and "analysis"? Not me.

5/30/2008 4:39 PM  
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