Friday, October 27, 2006

Camille Paglia: The Sane Democrat

Salon has an interview with one of its founders, Camille Paglia, who is the Ann Coulter of the sensible middle. Some nuggets:
I'm very worried about the low opinion that conservative hosts and callers have of the American artist. Art is portrayed as a scam, a rip-off and snow job pushed by snobbish elites.

I was warning about this for years in my Salon column. I was virtually alone on the pro-art side in criticizing the Brooklyn Museum's 1999 "Sensation" exhibit for its needless provocations, which I foresaw would damage support for arts funding at the local level nationwide. Now the cold reality seems to be sinking in.

But I was still amazed at all those servile TV reviewers who raved about the recent four-hour PBS documentary about Andy Warhol. What a tedious, pretentious program -- with its funereal music and preening, jargon-spouting talking heads. Shows like that do incalculable damage to the reputation of the fine arts in the U.S. And this was about one of the most populist artists ever! Warhol, who came from working-class Pittsburgh, spoke directly to the mass audience with his Campbell's soup cans and Brillo boxes. And where was the protest about [director Ric] Burns' censoring out of Warhol's pioneering drag queens? It was outrageous, but the cowed reviewers didn't utter a single peep.

I also felt the same way, that Warhol was being bowdlerized by the unctuous little lapdog Ric Burns, whose serial genuflections at the altar of Dem false memories are beginning to make the transition from tiresome to insufferable. Paglia goes on to castigate Democrat hypocrisy and two-faced exploitation of homosexuality for political ends:
Foley is obviously a moral degenerate, and the Republican House leadership has come across as pathetically bumbling and ineffectual. But the idea that this is some sort of major scandal in the history of American politics is ludicrous. This was a story that needed to be told for, you know, like two days.

Mark Foley was never on the radar of anyone outside the small circle of news junkies. So his fall and banishment from Washington were nothing but a drip in the torrential flood of current geopolitical problems. The way the Democratic leadership was in clear collusion with the major media to push this story in the month before the midterm election seems to me to have been a big fat gift to Ann Coulter and the other conservative commentators who say the mainstream media are simply the lapdogs of the Democrats. Every time I turned on the news it was "Foley, Foley, Foley!" -- and in suspiciously similar language and repetitive talking points.

After three or four days of it, as soon as I heard Foley's name, I turned the sound off or switched channels. It was gargantuan overkill, and I felt the Democrats were shooting themselves in the foot. I was especially repulsed by the manipulative use of a gay issue for political purposes by my own party. I think it was not only poor judgment but positively evil. Whatever short-term political gain there is, it can only have a negative impact on gay men. When a moralistic, buttoned-up Republican like Foley is revealed to have a secret, seamy gay life, it simply casts all gay men under a shadow and makes people distrust them. Why don't the Democratic strategists see this? These tactics are extremely foolish. Gay men through history have always been more vulnerable to public hysteria than are lesbians, who -- unless they're out there parading around in all-leather bull-dyke drag -- simply fit more easily into the cultural landscape than do gay men, who generally lead a more adventurous, pickup-oriented sex life.

Not only has the public image of gay men been tarnished by the over-promotion of the Foley scandal, but they have actually been put into physical danger. It's already starting with news items about teenage boys using online sites to lure gay men on dates to attack and rob them. What in the world are the Democrats thinking? We saw the beginning of this in that grotesque moment in the last presidential debates when John Kerry came out with that clearly prefab line identifying Mary Cheney as a lesbian. Since when does the Democratic Party use any gay issue in this coldblooded way as a token on the chessboard? You'd expect this stuff from right-wing ideologues, not progressives.

More on Foley and Dem hypocrisy from Paglia:
I kept hearing on the radio the stentorian voices of Democratic women politicians saying that Foley was "preying on children." When will this stop? This blurring of the line between teenagers and children -- who should be vigilantly protected by any society.

And in Washington, the age of legal consent is 16.

Exactly! Therefore if it wasn't absolutely clear at the start who exactly Foley was flirting with, the Democrats should have been far more cautious about what they said. All that's been accomplished by this scandal is to call into question one of the central erotic archetypes of gay male tradition -- the ephebic beauty of boys at their muscular peak between the ages of 16 and 18. It goes back through Western iconography from Michelangelo's nudes to Hadrian's Antinous and beyond that to Greek sculpture. It's a formula at the heart of Plato's dialogues, as in the Symposium, which shows Socrates in love with but also declining sex with the handsome young Alcibiades. In ancient Greek culture, an adult man could publicly profess his love for a young man without necessarily having sexual contact with him.

The Foley scandal exploded without any proof of a documented sex act -- unlike the case of the late congressman Gerry Studds, who had sex with a page and who was literally applauded by fellow Democrats when they refused to vote for his censure. In the Foley case, there was far more ambiguous evidence -- suggestive e-mails and instant messages. Matt Drudge, to his great credit, began hitting this issue right off the bat on his Web site and radio show. What does it mean for Democrats to be agitating over Web communications, which in my view fall under the province of free speech? It's a civil liberties issue. We can say that what Foley was doing was utterly inappropriate, professionally irresponsible, and in bad taste, but why were liberals fomenting a scandal day after day after day over words being used? And why didn't Democrats notice that they were drifting into an area which has been the province of the right wing -- that is, the attempt to gain authoritarian control over interpersonal communications on the Web? It's very worrisome and yet more proof that the Democrats have lost their way.

After a very nice little grace-note urging feminists not to oppose Condi Rice in her historic opportunity as Secretary of State, Camille lambasts the Clintons, especially Bill, virtually implying that he is becoming another Jimmy Carter:
The Democrats' portrayal of Republicans as fat cats out of touch with ordinary Americans just doesn't fly anymore, and they should drop it. I think the center of the Republican Party really is small-businessmen and very practical people who correctly see that it's job creation and wealth creation that sustain an economy -- not government intervention and government control, that suffocating nanny-state mentality. The Democrats are in some sort of time warp in always proposing a government solution to every problem. It's like Hillary's philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, does it? Or does it take a strong family and not the village?

What's broadened the appeal of conservatism in recent years is that Republicans stress individualism -- individual effort and personal responsibility. They're really the liberty party now -- I thought my party was! It used to seem as if the Republicans were authoritarians and the Democrats were for free speech and for the freedom to live your own life and pursue happiness. But the Democrats have wandered away from their own foundational principles.

The Democrats have to start fresh and throw out the entire party superstructure. I was bitterly disappointed after voting for Ralph Nader that he didn't devote himself to helping build a strong third party in this country. When the American economy was still manufacturing based, the trade unions were viable, and the Democrats stayed close to their working-class roots. But now the Northeastern Democrats, with their fancy law degrees and cocktail parties, have simply become peddlers of condescending bromides about "the people."

Bill Clinton was always able to seem as though he was connecting with people outside of his realm. What have you thought about his latest media incarnation?

Whenever Clinton speaks, it throws into dramatic relief the inarticulateness of our current president, who sometimes can barely get through a sentence. After a career teaching in art schools, I've seen many examples of highly intelligent performers and artists who weren't naturally verbal, so I always gave Bush the benefit of the doubt. But now I feel that he really doesn't perceive subtleties and that his thinking is schematic and reductive. Clinton's range of reference and his ability to think out loud and to mesh the large idea with the small detail is remarkable.

On the other hand, I think, what the heck is Clinton doing? I used to assume he was campaigning to be the next secretary general of the United Nations, but he's turning into a compulsive blabbermouth who is compromising his own dignity as a former president. He was unusually young after two terms in office, but no former presidents have tried to hog the spotlight. He acts like he's the shadow president. This isn't Great Britain, where the leader of the opposing party is ready to step in if the government falls. It's a bad precedent, because we wouldn't want a disgruntled Republican ex-president bouncing around the map bad-mouthing a sitting Democratic president. Why is Clinton undermining the authority of the president when national security is so sensitive?

It doesn't really look like it can help his wife's political career.

Right! If Hillary is a serious presidential candidate, to have her husband constantly careening around the landscape like an unguided missile and stealing the limelight is disastrous. It may betray his own ambivalence and his desire to return to power. He's undermining her -- if we vote for her, are we going to be stuck with him? How will she be able to govern? Are we going to have co-presidents? It's probably too late for her to dump him.

I thought that Bill's recent performance on Fox News was very ill-advised. I know many Democrats loved it: “Oh, finally someone going toe-to-toe with Fox!” Well, what is this shibboleth about Fox as some sort of satanic force in American politics? Get over it!

It came at a time when Fox's ratings numbers have finally cooled off a little bit. It seemed more calculated.

It may have been mixed. It began as a challenge to the right-wing media, but I think Clinton got out of control and went embarrassingly too far. It was a perfectly civil and reasonable question from one of Fox's most neutral commentators. But Clinton went off on a tirade, waved his finger in Chris Wallace's face, and accused him of sitting there with a "smirk." That was over-personalizing the interview by any standard. And to charge Wallace with setting his guest up, with ambush journalism -- good heavens, the problem with American journalism is hardly that it's too severe and punitive. Our reporters' questioning of politicians is pallid and wimpy compared to what goes on in Britain and Europe. BBC journalists jump right in the face of every political figure from the prime minister on down. So for Clinton to make a huge fuss about a mild question about his administration's record in dealing with Osama bin Laden was a bullying of our journalists -- an act of war, in fact, on American journalists, saying, "Don't you dare go off our agreed-to list of questions!" Every Democrat who was disgusted by the American media's cowering passivity leading up to the Iraq war should have gone red-hot over this episode and said, "Clinton, back off! We want journalists to be bolder, ruder in challenging authority. Put more spine into our reporters!"

This overblown fear of Fox News is such a sentimentality on the part of too many Democrats. Talk radio is infinitely more powerful than Fox. Radio hosts are blanketing the country with round-the-clock conservative ideology -- not because they're dastardly conspirators manipulating the media but because they've achieved their success, market by market, in creating programs that millions of people want to listen to. The recent filing for bankruptcy by Air America dramatizes my party's abject failure to produce shows that are informative and entertaining and that systematically build an audience -- the way all the top radio hosts did who climbed the ladder from obscurity to their present prominence. Aren't we the party of Hollywood? The fact that we've failed so miserably at this central medium of communication shows how something has gone very wrong in Democratic sensibility.

Finally, Camille pulls out the stops as she depants and spanks the ineffable insufferable imposter Al Franken and generally rebukes liberal comedians and sneering shallow talksters like Randi Rhoades, who she compares to Maureen Dowd in fatuous inconsequential attitudinizing. Finally, she rebukes American intellectuals, journalists and hangers-on for their enclaves of isolation and impotent eunuch-style pontifications:
The more liberal parents are, the less contact their children have with religious ideas. That will surely disable our future American leaders from being able to understand the religious commitment of Islamic fundamentalists. Liberal journalists often seem incredulous about how anyone would seek death for religious principles. But that was the entire history of early Christianity, when the saints willingly sought martyrdom. We're heading into that world again.

What do contemporary intellectuals have to offer anyhow? What passionate engagement do they have to appeal to young people? Liberal secularism has become bourgeois and materialistic. It's snide, elitist, and politically marginalized. The chattering class clearly has no effect whatever on decision-making in Washington. Conservative radio hosts have been claiming that liberal criticism of Bush's decisiveness in invading Iraq mirrors the shilly-shallying of 1930s intellectuals during Hitler's rise. The intellectuals, with their cultivated internationalism, always counsel procrastination and leave it to the men of action to deal forcefully with fascist regimes.

Paglia reminds us that not all Democrats are the Eurotrash-wannabe soccer-mom Oprahfication empty-headed nincompoops. Speaking of Oprah, gotta watch Bill O'Reilly right now on Oprah's couch. I trust he won't do a Tom Cruise hopalong around the stage and onto the furniture!

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