I was pondering Erik and Mark’s thoughts on partisanship, and this video fell in my lap.
I first saw this via Andrew, but it appears to be making the rounds in the right-of-center blogosphere. It’s being held up as an object of derision, and for good reason; I too find it creepy and self-indulgent and generally worthy of mockery. What rankles, for me, is conservative reaction to this video in particular, and conservative reaction to liberal enthusiasm for Obama in general, in the context of the Bush presidency.
I’m trying to imagine what would have happened had a similarly enthusiastic, earnest, and ridiculous video been made following September 11th, and liberal bloggers had teed off on the spectacle. How do you suppose that would have been taken, in those heady days? I think the kind of snark and sarcasm rightish bloggers are showing towards this video would have been called a demonstration of the fundamental lack of decency of liberals, our emotionlessness, our callousness. Surely, the idea of a pledge to support the president, taken without coercion by the affluent and the connected, would have been lauded in the conservative press. Similarly, the idea that you would attack people for such a demonstration of commitment would be see not only as showing the lack of character of the individual liberals in question but as proof positive of the flaws within liberalism as a whole.
To be sure, some of the conservative bloggers who are now snarking about this video would have voiced similar discomfort towards a Bush-worship video of similar character, even back then. It is equally true that the post- 9/11 world felt like a profoundly different time and level of threat than we have now. That, I’m afraid, is only a product of our psychology, as the United States, with its economy in shambles, is surely in more danger now than it was on September 12. But we don’t, to be fair, have the same psychological condition that we did then, for sure.
On yet another level, though, we don’t have that same psychological condition precisely because of conservatives’ and Republicans’ attitudes towards leadership and crisis. Yes, vacuous celebrity odes to Great Leader are creepy and self-defeating. But they don’t come with the threat that accompanied the calls for fidelity to W. We have a short memory in this country. It amazes me, how quickly politicos of both stripes have forgotten the force and nastiness of the threat to those who questioned authority in the post-9/11 world. Ashton Kutcher may not be my idea of an ideal spokesperson for supporting Obama, but I doubt he or his bride will be going around accusing those who don’t support the president of sedition and anti-Americanism. That was the threat under which any partisan operated in the post-9/11 America; criticism of the Bush administration or its various adventures wasn’t just a mark of cynicism, it was a mark of insufficient dedication to ones country.
Whenever I consider partisanship and our ideological divides, I try to remain cognizant of the fact that my own inclinations (liberal, left-wing and Democrat, in that order) color my discrimination of partisanship as a whole. But I do believe that those on my side of the aisle have, in the post-Bush world, a very important and potent laurel. We are not the ones who advocated the frankly un-American line of exclusionism and censorship that flowed from certain corners of conservatism. Now, there’s no reason that any or all conservatives have to hang by that yardarm; many of the most strident voices in opposition to those things came from conservatives, many of whom we now regard as the intellectual vanguard of reformist conservatism. These people, it has to be noted, objected under the greater strain of internal criticism; the man reforming from within always is under more pressure and more threat than the one criticizing from the outside. So those people deserve respect and thanks. But I think it is fair to say, while we are talking in generalizations, that the Republican party became a vehicle for exclusionism, and that is important to mention when discussing partisanship.
In any event– what bothers me the most isn’t just that conservatives seem eager to unequally judge cynicism and snark, but because when they are in the mood to criticize those things, their opprobrium can be so over the top. It seems to me to be a boilerplate conservative complaint that sarcasm and irony have overtaken our culture, that they corrupt everything they touch because they deaden us emotionally, that they are a poison that robs our ability to genuinely feel…. I may be improperly situating an attitude within ideology, here, and this could be just a non-ideological complaint. But I do think many conservatives who once attacked liberals’ inability to rally around our president or government are now suddenly in possession of a far more jaundiced view of established power, now that the president is no longer their guy. This, it seems to me, is exactly the kind of partisanship we should avoid, the kind that compels us to judge broad concepts like cynicism, snark, idealism and enthusiasm for politicians through a purely ideological lens. I don’t think many of the people mocking Ashton Kutcher et al. would be doing so if they were showing fealty to a President McCain rather than a President Obama, and there’s a failing there.