earnestness is mine, sayeth the conservative

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.

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13 thoughts on “earnestness is mine, sayeth the conservative

  1. I just wanted to make a small point that focuses on the videos. I thought the first Will.I.Am video was brilliant and politically well timed. I remember surfing the comments sections of some conservative blogs and the prevailing attitude at the time was, “How are we supposed to beat THIS?!”

    Artistically it was well done, and if your were predisposed towards supporting Obama it was poignant and powerful. Politically it sent a different message, one that ultimately conveyed a truth about the Obama campaign; there’s an awful lot of us out here, and we are REALLY passionate about our candidate.

    So the first one I think on an artistic and substantive level, but also on a politically strategic level. All the rest of the videos in the same vain, however, have been… well… creepy. And what is worse is that they feed into the myth of cultism among the Obama supporters.

    This is part of the reason why no one likes it when Hollywood gets involved, or at least why I don’t like it when Hollywood gets involved. I don’t give a crap about the whole “it’s not fair that their voice gets so much attention because they’re rich and famous” argument that I’ve heard time and time again. Conservatives have no right to talk about unfairly shaping public opinion based on fame as long as Rush Limbaugh is still flop sweating over a studio mic.

    No, I despise Hollywood action because Hollywood activists are frankly pretty stupid when it comes to politics. They may be right on the issues from time to time, but they have no political instinct and mistake whatever artistic instincts they may or may not have for political instinct.

    And, my new friends in this joint venture, I’m sure you will eventually learn that nothing aggravates me more than people who play politics without a lick of political understanding.

    (also… ahem… I think I started this conversation, yes?)

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  2. Sure. But that has to be equally applied, and of course the self-same people who lament Sean Penn talking politics love that Robert Duvall or whoever is an outspoken conservative.

    In the broader sense, I’m with you in that I don’t think people check their freedom of speech at the door when they become famous. We can and should judge the content of what they say with equal criticism of any one else, but there’s this idea out there that public figures just shouldn’t talk about politics. But in America, everyone gets to say their piece, and it’s really the fault of reporters for constantly sticking microphones in the face of these people if they don’t say things worth listening to.

    Sorry not to include you above– I just looked at the Series and saw only Erik and Mark, all apologies!

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  3. I have no thoughts really on the topic. I just wanted to say tip of the bowler hat for the use of Yardarm. That was possibly the greatest use of that word I’ve ever seen. That gets Word of the Day.

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  4. De nada, Freddie. Good post. I think it strikes again on that subject of genuine debate vs. verbal fisticuffs. I’d say there is a reason why one can read Larison or the C11 crew and maybe disagree but with a great deal of respect, and it’s not anyone’s lack of conviction. It’s not simply tonal, either, but rather some level of mutual respect even when at odds politically. This is not to say everyone need play nice at all times, but respect does not always mean one need be nice or timid. But it does require honesty, and intelligence. And those have been meted out in very short order over the last eight years…

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  5. It is a creepy video. The Cult of Celebrity will do Obama more harm than good, after all. And where were all these celebs and their silly pledges the last eight years? Does it really require a new President to inspire rich, idle people to pledge their time to do good?

    Hardly a liberal/conservative issue at all, to my mind. This is a class issue, methinks.

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  6. 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.

    Probably not. But if that mirror-universe video were made, surely liberals would be mocking it just as conservatives are mocking the real one. I don’t disagree with anything in the post per se, but isn’t it just pointing out the obvious: that partisan people like being partisan? I dream of the world where we all unite in mocking creepy political videos with quick-cuts of overly earnest celebrities.

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  7. Please allow me to make the most obvious point of all. Conservatives would not , and did not, make a video like this. For most conservatives, their loyalty is properly targeted towards our country, rather than any individual entrusted with it’s stewardship. Supporting the POTUS is a far, far cry from promising personal fealty, and conservatives, by their very nature, understand that.

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  8. For most conservatives, their loyalty is properly targeted towards our country, rather than any individual entrusted with it’s stewardship.

    Oh, indeed. That’s played out exactly how you describe over the past eight years. And I’m sure conservatives will, en masse, get behind this President exactly in the manner they did with Clinton…The Limbaugh’s of the world are already proving how conservatives’ loyalty “is properly targeted toward our country.”

    Oh, and does hoping for one’s President to fail fall into that category of national concern?

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