Hard News by Russell Brown

Big Long Rant

Time magazine's "blog of the year", Power Line, called former US president Jimmy Carter a traitor recently - and then issued a "clarification" which essentially made it clear that the authors really did think Carter was "on the other side" with America's enemies.

And the former president's act of treason? Last September, he expressed the view that the security situation in Iraq was such that it would not be possible to hold national elections in January. In the end, he was wrong - the elections were held and a mere 44 people were murdered on the day. But did Carter's analysis really constitute working for "the other side"? Of course it didn't - especially when you consider that only three or four months previous, what Carter said was actually the official White House view regarding the viability of national elections.

There were various expressions of shock and surprise at what Power Line said, but there really should not have been. In 2003, Power Line regular Hindrocket (aka John Hinderaker, the source of much of the most deranged material on the site) mused as to whether another former president, Bill Clinton, could "officially be called a traitor". The offence in this case? Clinton suggested that "in an interdependent world, and you cannot kill, jail or occupy all your adversaries, sooner or later you have to make a deal." (Ironically, Power Line was recently ebullient at a report that the US might be, er, making a deal with Sunni insurgents in Iraq …)

The flagship of online conservative opinion just loves calling people traitors - especially journalists. That's when it's not calling people Nazis or something. Last year, in response to a brief and innocuous occupation of a Republican Party office by some professed Democrats, it compared the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party:

The Democratic Party has spun far outside the sphere of normal political debate, and has taken a pro-violence position whenever it thinks that violence will advance its political interests. John Kerry has never once condemned criminal conduct, when that conduct has sought to advance the interests of the Democratic Party. In this campaign season, there is seemingly no length to which the Democratic Party, like the National Socialist Party of seventy years ago, will not go.

Observing today's Democratic Party raises a deadly serious question: Is it inevitable that a party of hate will become a party of violence?

Power Line, for all its pomp, is paranoid, bigoted and hysterical - which actually puts it pretty much in line with the zeitgeist of online conservatism. Really. Trawl through Power Line's back pages and you'll find zingers like this:

Some look at Israel and fear that its current besieged state is a preview of life in America in years to come. Maybe so. But there are at least two basic differences between our situation and Israel's. First, Israel is a tiny island of western civilization amid three hundred million Arabs. Notwithstanding recent patterns of immigration, it will always be more difficult for Arabs to operate secretly in the United States than in and around Israel. And second, Israel is a far more liberal country than the US. (If you doubt this, you haven't been listening to Toby Keith lately!) Israel has shown an unbelievable (and unwise) degree of restraint in responding to Arab terror. Should Islamofascist attacks on the US ever begin to approach the magnitude suffered by Israel, we would mercilessly crush those who harbor and encourage terrorism. I was reminded somewhere recently (I forget where or I'd link to it) that the Islamofascists are not our first enemy to use attacks on women and children, and civilians generally, as a tactic. Various Indian tribes were there first. The results from their standpoint were not good, and if terror attacks start getting out of hand, I don't think our current enemies will fare much better.

Leaving aside the "No shit, Sherlock!" wisdom on the geopolitical differences between Israel and America, this is a shockingly racist little mind-burp. Not only does it gleefully equate Arabs (all 300 million of them) and terrorists, it goes so far as to propose native Americans as the original terrorists. He talks about "our first enemy": who's "us" in this context? White people?

From the moment they set foot in the New World, Christians (Spanish, in the first place) slaughtered Indians by the millions. There are accounts of children not just being systematically killed, but cut up for dog food As a prolonged act of genocide, what befell American Indians is considered only to have been exceeded by that perpetrated by Christians on Jews over nearly 2000 years, and for sheer numbers by the secular killing sprees of the USSR (41 million) and communist China (35 million) last century. In terms of the cruel ingenuity of slaughter - from dismberment to mass poisoning - it [probably stands alone. And geniusboy appears to be promising to open up another can o' genocide whup-ass?

Hinderaker recently sent a deranged and abusive response to an email from another blogger. He apologised, but in a way that made him look like the victim - a view endorsed by one of his colleagues. You might actually think that these people actually invented this mode of discourse, but, no, they're the victims.

And that's one of the things that annoys me about contemporary conservative opinion: the weeping sense of grievance it has developed. This, of course, is what the political right has long liked to allege of the political left; just generally nastier, more paranoid and more threatening. In particular, I'm bored with their cutesy little acronym, the "MSM", for mainstream media, which, of course, is full of lying leftist malcontents.

Case in point: a rant entitled The Berlin Wall's Revenge has been doing the rounds of the blogosphere. It makes the learned case that Europeans are poor, smug, jealous, racist, blinkered and and treasure unpleasant stereotypes about Americans. Billmon linked to it, and suggested some background reading.

Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds, on the other hand, simpered of Ascher's piece "I wish he were wrong," perhaps risking the unfortunate impression that Ascher was actually right, in the old-fashioned factual sense.

Let's start with the easy stuff. Barely able to contain his disgust, Ascher holds forth on economics:

Now, why doesn't the Euro left criticize the Euro elites, even when it is not part of it? First, there are pragmatic considerations: the Euro left has been bought off with jobs, prestige etc. When you work directly or indirectly for the state (in a university, say, or the movie industry) and the state actually pays attention to what you say or think, you're much less tempted to criticize it.

Ascher's assertion that anyone who works at a university or makes movies is an employee of the state makes rational analysis a bit tricky. But buried in this document, you will find tables showing that while the proportion of employees in the US public sector is indeed, lower than that in France, it is higher than that in Spain, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, and increased steadily through the 1990s.

But there are other reasons as well: with real socialism dead, state-centered Europe became the next best alternative. And for those who really believe in it, because they feel (quite rightly, by the way) that they wouldn't do as well in an open, competitive and "savagely capitalistic" society, it must be quite painful to see exactly that kind of society outperforming their own in, well, everything.

Uh-huh. So this would be the Europe that could count six nations in the Top 10 of the Heritage Foundation's 2005 Economic Freedom Index, from which, under Bush, the US has fallen out of for the first time. Or as the Heritage authors put it:

Looking for the "land of the free"? Try Estonia. Or Ireland. Or Chile. Or Denmark. Or even Iceland. These countries now offer more economic freedom than the United States. Long a symbol of economic prosperity and might, America for the first time ever no longer ranks among the top 10 "free" nations of the world ...

Of course, the Heritage folks, along with their commie co-authors at the Wall Street Journal, are clearly just disaffected leftists who would say that anyway. It would probably be rude to point out that five of the seven countries in the OECD's "high" per capita income category are European, three of them outranking the US. That would spoil the fun of making things up. Or that the US centres where those high incomes are concentrated voted for the other guy anyway. Or that the rate of child poverty in the US is increasing, nearing a quarter of all American children, compared to rates of between five and nine per cent in the European countries Ascher most reviles. They have doubtless sacrificed a degree of economic vitality to be that way, but that is the decision their people made.

And then there's this part:

The sad truth is: though the press and the media are still free in much of Europe, they're not independent anymore. The kind of criticism one reads in the NYT or the WaPo against the US government is almost impossible to find in Europe against any government, except, obviously, the American one. Well, and the Israeli. But Europeans were never particularly fond of Jews, not of the living ones anyway

What a lovely stereotype. As I read it here, I think he's slinging off at European lefties for not being left-wing enough. Or something.

But lest anyone think that he has any actual facts or anything, this study of European newspaper editorials, the "claim making" recorded in leading newspapers was "overwhelmingly" (about three quarters of all editorials in the UK, France and Italy) directed at governments. It's completely ludicrous to suggest that the kind of criticism run in the New York Times or the Washington Post is absent from European papers. It might also be noted that of the 10 top countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2004 Press Freedom Index, nine were European and the other one was New Zealand. The USA came in 22nd and Australia a dizzying 41st, below El Salvador and Costa Rice, but a place above Namibia.

Ah, but the Europeans aren't only to be found in Europe. Check this:

This newly ever-growing Western left, not only in Europe, but in Latin America and even in the US itself, has a clear goal: the destruction of the country and society that vanquished its dreams fifteen years ago. But it does not have, as in the old days of the Soviet Union, the hard power to accomplish this by itself. Thanks to this, all our leftist friends' bets are now on radical Islam. What can they do to help it? Answer: tie down America's superior strength with a million Liliputian ropes: legal ones, political ones, with propaganda and disinformation etc. Anything and everything will do.

Okay, let's parse this: a "newly ever-growing Western left" (is there a syntax doctor in the house?), present even in America itself, is aligned with radical Islam in a campaign to destroy American society and indeed the whole damn country? As a payback for the Berlin Wall? Who knew? And did somebody say "paranoid"?

And then: "tie down America's superior strength with a million Liliputian ropes: legal ones ..." The rule of law is such a downer, isn't it? "... political ones ..." How dare they have a sovereign foreign policy? "... with propaganda and disinformation etc." Etcetera? Would , say, a few examples be out of the question?

And what do these bad people want?

Now, whatever they wanted to defend or protect doesn't exist anymore. They have only things to destroy, and all those things are personified in the US, in its very existence. They may, outwardly, fight for some positive cause: save the whales, rescue the world from global heating and so on. But let's not be deceived by this: they choose as their so-called positive causes only the ones that have both the potential of conferring some kind of innocent legitimacy on themselves and, much more important, that of doing most harm to their enemy, whether physically or to its image.

See. I knew the Europeans made up all that stuff about global warming! Just to annoy America, no doubt.

Ascher is doubtless correct in saying that some on (ahem) The Left demonstrated a regrettable blinkeredness about the intrinsic merit of allowing Iraqis to freely vote. But isn't it just a little bit like conferring "some kind of innocent legitimacy" on oneself to profess to be a champion of democracy and human rights as a means of ignoring the small stuff like a few tens of thousands of deaths, a new and disturbing embrace of torture and secret internment, and pretty much everything to do with Uzbekistan?

In the end, the point isn't the largely fact-free status of Ascher's diatribe, nor that neither Europe or America are actually, on an empirical basis, what he imagines them to be. It's not the creepy (but common enough) distrust of expertise shown in the crack about global warming. He's just a blogger after all, and I imagine being an American in Paris gets a bit irksome sometimes. The point is that silly, xenophobic, paranoid bilge like this (and there's plenty more like it) could get lofty endorsement from Reynolds, who fancies himself as the intellectual anchor of the right-wing blogosphere. It's actually embarrassing. Reynolds and the rest of the herd have spent too long eating Freedom Fries.

PS: Nothing from me tomorrow, seeing as I'm off to Nelson for the evening. But do call in anyway ...