Thursday, March 02, 2006

Joel Stein's (Im)Modest Proposal

I have a feeling that Mark Hyman would be one of those people who, if he read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” would think that the satirist was actually encouraging people to eat babies. Subtlety and nuance don’t strike me as qualities Hyman has much appreciation of.

I say that after reading
Hyman’s recent comments about Los Angeles satirical columnist Joel Stein. Hyman offers Stein kudos for being “the very first liberal columnist to publicly admit he doesn’t support the troops.”

According to Hyman, most people who disagree with the war “believe they can inoculate themselves from well-deserved criticism with the five throw-away words, ‘but I support the troops.’”

As an aside, it’s interesting that conservatives are unable to explain why opposing the war in Iraq is antithetical to supporting the troops, or why supporting an administration that lied in order to send men and women to die on the other side of the world is equivalent to supporting the troops. And we already know that when “supporting the troops” means anything other than supporting Bush administration policy, Sinclair is AWOL, as we found out with their decision to not air ABC’s tribute, “The Fallen.”

But I digress. Back to Stein. Hyman cites Stein’s recent commentary in which he says he doesn’t support the troops as evidence of a liberal showing his true colors. But in doing so, Hyman reveals either A) a complete inability to deal with subtlety on any level, or B) a willingness to consciously distort what someone says in order to attack them. Of course, in this case, my favorite answer (and probably the correct one) is C) All of the above.

Not that this matters a whit to Stein. The Hymaniacs out there aren’t his intended audience. And I don’t doubt he knew full well when he penned this piece that folks like Hyman, Michelle Malkin, and the Newsmaxers would, out of mendacity and/or maliciousness, interpret his piece exactly as they have done.

if you read the entire essay, it’s clear that Stein is speaking to those of us who already oppose the war (which is to say, most Americans). He essentially throws in the towel on the “support the troops” debate because it’s meaningless. What conservatives and some liberals have gotten into is an empty exercise in chest thumping, with colored ribbons and patriotic bumper stickers in place of pounding fists. What Stein says, in essence, is “Fine, if you want to think I don’t support the troops, that’s okay by me. Let’s agree that I don’t. Now, can we go about getting them the stuff they need?”

Hyman wants to interpret the text as a screed against those who serve in the military, but he can’t make it fit into the neat little ideological box he wants to force it into. Stein is intentionally provocative, but the upshot of his commentary is that most of what passes for “supporting the troops,” in both liberal and conservative circles, is utterly empty and meaningless platitudes that do nothing to make the situation better. If saying you don’t support the troops will end this idiocy and move the debate on to how to get soldiers the body armor they need, the medical care and counseling they require, and (most importantly) get them home, Stein says it’s a small price to pay.

For my own part, I don’t agree 100% with his commentary, and I would not have framed the argument the way he does. However, it’s a valuable point that’s worth considering. Becoming incensed at the idiocy of neo-con namecalling is ultimately an act of selfishness that doesn’t help the troops at all. It’s particularly irrelevant given that most of America is “against the troops” if you go by the definition that conservatives like Hyman use. So why fight a meaningless battle? Let the chickenhawks of the world wear their lapel pins, slap bumper stickers on their Escalades, and wrap themselves in the flag. And let the rest of us move on to actually fixing the mess.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.62


At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Bradley said...

As always, excellent commentary Ted. Although Hyman makes his living through lies and distortions, I found this particular edition of "The Point" especially galling. Not just for its intellectual dishonesty (although that's a big problem, too). Somehow, Hyman writing an editorial critizing a piece of Joel Stein's writing reminds me of the first-year composition student who tries to rip apart an intelligent text like "The Allegory of the Cave" or "The Communist Manifesto," with comments like "It doesn't make sense" or "It's stupid and boring," only to then go on and write an essay titled "How I Got Fucked Up At Senor Frogs [sic], Spring Break 2005." It's that sense of smirking superiority (pardon the alliteration) with absolutely no talent or ability to back it up.

Unlike other people who sometimes reply here, I don't really think Hyman-- or anyone in charge at Sinclair-- is a fascist. Let's face it-- pornographers require things like the First Amendment. Sinclair, to me, represents capitalist opportunism. It's easier to manufacture and sell conservative misinformation than liberal misinformation, because conservative misinformation appeals to our base, ignorant impulses. Hyman's Point serves to remind those who already smirk with a sense of underserved superiority that yes, you are better than other people. Naturally, there's an audience for such mindless reassurance.

Thanks again, Ted. You're providing an important service with this blog.

At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe Democrats wonder why their so-called support of the troops is constantly questioned.

In his third inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1941, FDR hopefully envinsioned democracy "still spreading on every continent - for it is te most humane, the most advanced, and in the ned the most unconquerable of all forms of human society. In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America." Roosevelt went even further about that faith: "The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has biven our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world."

Can you imagine anyone in today's Democratic leadership making such statements? That's laughable!

"For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the gnerosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, tha the torch has been passed to a new gneration of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

President John F. Kennedy, his 1961 inaugural address.

Instead of rolling up their sleeves to help win the fight, today's Democrat leaders say things like, "George Bush's Vietnam." (Ted Kennedy)

Louis Farrakhan, "the rule of a devil."

Harry Reid, "The war on terrorism has been placed on the back burners, while the Bush Administration spends its time and energy putting out fires in Iraq."

Other notable quotes: "Suicide bombers are, in a way, the most sympathetic...because if you are going to fight a war on need to understand what it is the creates the people that would do such horrible things, rather then just...labeling them as evildoers." George Clooney explaining why Americans are greedy and corrupt, while suicide bombers are freedom fighters.

"The idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong." Howard Dean

"There is no reason that young American soliders need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and childrens, you know, women, breaking sort of the...historical customs, religous customs." John Kerry

"'Complete victory' is a slogan, not a well-defined objective."

Here's a clue Democrats, if you do not aim for victory, you will not achieve it.

At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bradley, I'm trying really hard to wrap my brain around the idea of "conservative misinformation," but it's making my head hurt! Would that be the same as telling the truth, since conservative information is inherently untruthful?
And yes, Hyman and all the rest are pushing a Neo-Fascist agenda on ignorant "Good Americans."
Mike B. in SC

At 2:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said, "Here's a clue Democrats, if you do not aim for victory, you will not achieve it."
Anonymous wouldn't know victory if it were to sneak up and bite him on his posterior!
He seems to have bought the "conservative misinformation" that what we are doing in Iraq and elsewhere, has something to do with the high-minded ideals of spreading freedom and democracy, and not merely advancing American imperialism and corporate hegemony.
I think it was one of our founding fathers, TJ, that said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." All good Neo-Fascists should whole-heartedly support an illegitimate president who chooses to engage our military in an illegal, immoral, pre-emptive war, based on lies and deception. They should also support his decision to fight this war both fiscally and physically on the backs of the poor and middle class, as the only budget cuts come at their expense, while the wealthy and the war profiteers get richer, with more tax cuts and no-bid cost-plus contracts.
Yeh, Bush and the other Neo-Fascists talk a good game when it comes to exporting freedom and democracy, but when it actually happens, and it doesn't go the way they wanted it to, (Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Iran and a host of South American countries) they do all they can to squash it.
Anonymous, wake up and smell the petroleum, napalm, white phosphorus, depleted uranium and cluster bombs!
What would you consider to be victory in Iraq? The war in Iraq is over, and sadly, the Iranians were the winners!
Mike B. in SC

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Bradley said...

Mike B.--

As I said, I don't really believe that most of these neo-cons are true fascists, because I don't really think they believe in anything other than making themselves rich. If you ask me, facism is superior to the kind of nihilistic greed demonstrated by Hyman, O'Reilly, et al. As Walter said in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, "Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism-- at least it's an ethos." These people have no ethos beyond "looking out for number one."

I'm not sure that I'd agree that conservatism is "inherently untruthful." I mean, there is a conservative intellectual tradition-- we just don't see much of it these days. Obviously, I'm pretty far to the left on the political spectrum, so I'm not the best person to articulate this type of intelligent conservatism. But, as Ted has pointed out before, neither Hyman nor the Bush Administration tend to argue from this tradition-- which is usually big on tradition and capitalism and limited government and stuff like that. Again, a conservative perspective can be put forth honestly and persuasively-- many conservative thinkers have done so throughout history-- but the thugs currently in charge of our country and the media aren't interested in honesty. They persuade through trickery and, as I said before, appealing to our base fears and prejudices.

Also, it's funny that "annonymous" should irrelevantly refer to Louis Farakhan in his discussion of... Joel Stein... or whatever the hell it is he's talking about. Funny, because Mike Thayer's been talking about Louis Farkahan over on his blog in a discussion about... Tavis Smiley... or something. I dunno. It's pretty senseless. But I don't visit Thayer's blog for sensible thinking. I visit it so I can hone my skills at identifying logical fallacies and grammatical errors.

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, Farrakhan has been in the news lately and does have a heavy Democrat following.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Bradley said...

I'm not sure I agree that Farrakhan has a "heavy Democratic following." It could be that most of his followers are registered Democrats, but none of the Democrats I know are particularly fond of him.

Still, I think any reference to Farrakhan in a discussion about Joel Stein's recent essay remains irrelevant, whether he's been in the news lately or not.

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it can be effectively argued that Farakhan - the leader of The Nation of Islam - shares with his followers a Democrat ideology. Take his comments with a grain of salt yes, but I don't think they should be tossed out.

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Bradley said...


I'm not sure I understand your point exactly, but if you're saying that Farrakhan's concerns about the oppression of African Americans is one that, for the past forty years or so, has also been a concern of Democrats, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. But I think that some of his more... flamboyant rhetoric is something few Democrats would get behind ("Hitler was a great man," for example).

And I agree that Farrakhan's comments shouldn't be tossed out; he's an important, influential man who is at times eloquent and persuasive. But he's also a very divisive figure in our culture, and I don't know too many people-- Republican or Democrat or Other, Black or White or Other, who embrace his ideology completely.

And again... I still fail to see why Farrakhan is relevant to a discussion of Mark Hyman's smear of Joel Stein and the anti-war left.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

I agree with Bradley on this one. Part of my doctoral thesis involved reading quite a bit by and about Farrakhan, and the fact is that in just about every important way, his approach to politics and social issues is conservative, not liberal. He certainly doesn't fit in with the current crowd of Republicans, but his underlying approach has far more in common with them than it does liberalism.

Farrakhan basis his political and social beliefs in a strict religious orthodoxy (albeit it's Muslim rather than Christian). He argues that individual morality, not collective action, is the only way toward social transformation. He preaches non-reliance on others. He advocates a "up-by-your-own bootstraps" vision of emmpowerment. He also uses religion and race as wedge issues. If he was white insteae of black and based his beliefs in evangelical Christianity rather than Islam, he'd probably be majority leader in the Senate right now.


At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Continuing example, RE: I can't believe Democrats wonder why their so-called support of the troops is constantly questioned.

How about Rep. John Murtha (D-PA)? Saying he doesn't believe General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on national Television is a demonstration of supporting the troops?

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bumber stickers on their Escalades"

But, of course, they aren't bumper stickers, they're magnets, which can be taken off in a second, and don't affect the trade-in value of your gas-guzzler.

A bumper sticker is apparently too high a level of comittment.

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Bradley's point that it is not clear what today's Republicans believe in beyond "getting tough" with foriegners and making it easy for large businesses to make even bigger profits.

Yeah, they trot out the old "moral issues" card, but Bush's behavior has exposed that hypocrisy, whether its winking at torture or playing a guitar while New Orleans drowned.

It's really sickening, isn't it?

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone notic how our esteemed troll, Mike Thayer, includes quotes of actor George Clooney in his above post. What Thayer does say is that Clooney was talking about terrorists in a MOVIE, not in real life. It is typical of Mike to just cut-and-paste junk from one of his favorite nazi blogs. Mike also yells "foul" the loudest. Big surprise, huh.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry about the typos in my last post. Meant to include a "not" in the previous post.


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