Bali: It has nicer weather than your ugly town

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 15:57 EDT
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DJW’s round-up of National Review’s Campaign Spot blog is pretty hysterical. The right wing noise machine is a fascinating thing to watch, because as hostile as some wingnuts are to the theory of evolution, they’re sure fond of natural selection when it comes to honing their campaign smears. By which I mean, they throw a bunch of shit up on the wall and see what sticks, and often it seems almost randomly generated, with the hopes that what works best will survive through, you guessed it, natural selection.

But evolution isn’t as random as it seems, and neither is the right wing noise machine. For relatively bright liberals like DJW, some of the smears against Obama being generated seem kind of pointless and empty, but I propose that we should fear them more, because what seems like ripe nonsense to us often resonates with some of the more paranoid, right wing parts of the nation. At first blush, it might seem like the immediately infamous “fist bump incident” will turn into an embarrassment for wingnuts, but I fear it’s actually going to turn into one of those legends that lives on with those in the Bircher mindset forever. After reading Nixonland and interviewing Rick Perlstein about the book (which will be on the podcast next week), I think I’ve got an even better idea about what kind of things capture the imagination of the paranoid people out there who, unfortunately, still vote, and because many of the Goldwater/Bircher types are cranky elderly people, they vote in far greater numbers than pretty much any other demographic. Plus, the post-9/11 wingnut reaping has created an entirely new generation of Birchers that are of the Boomer generation or worse, like Jeff Goldstein and are Gen Xers, and as such will be around for fucking forever.

Every Bircher-oriented smear against Obama will be developed, I’m thinking, off two separate themes that are grouped together under one basic racist theme: 1) Plays on Bircher fears that African-Americans are secret subversives and 2) Jealousy of anything Obama has that you, the crazy Bircher, don’t have. The “fist bump” will live on because it riffs on these two very well: 1) “What the hell kind of crazy hand gesture was that? I’ll bet it was a secret communication of joy because they’re going to steal this country right out from under us and the dumbass sheep voters don’t even realize it!” 2) This is a little more obscure, but I think relevant. The fist bump was a very sweet, sexy moment, and who doesn’t hate seeing people that are happily and deliriously in love? For the more resentful parts of the population—and right wingers are nothing without their radiating jealousies—that picture of the happy couple bumping fists will cause some pretty nasty envy. There’s a reason that right wingers prefer your stiffer, passionless marriages in their politicians.

The question then is will moments like that inspire usually cynical younger voters to hit the polls, impressed (as I was) at the candidness and sweetness of our candidate and his wife? Enough to cancel out the Birchers? I hope so.

I predict that many smears we “normies” will see as completely insane will actually resonate with the paranoid, resentful crowd because they will riff on these two major themes. Which is why a post like this that doesn’t make sense in rational terms makes perfect sense in Bircher-ese. Let’s do a close reading and think like a wingnut for a moment.

From time to time I’ve referred to Obama’s advance for Dreams From My Father, and stories indicating it was enough to allowed “him to set aside six months after he graduated to write.”

All theme #2. Translation: Obama thinks he’s hot shit with the grad school and the taking 6 months to write a (seriously hefty) book. Writing’s not even real work, not like the work you the resentful audience does. He was pretending to work, but basically was spending all his time having fun, something you forgot to have sometime between graduating high school and your first wedding.

Jim Geraghty then quotes a NY Times story about the process that Obama went through to write his book. Contrary to Geraghty’s claims, they didn’t “dig”, which implies that there was something hidden. If anything, the story is a bit of a puff piece. The relevant quote, bolded so that his readers can skip ahead and minimize their exposure to the liberals rays emanating off NY Times prose, is this:

His half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, said he eventually retreated to Bali for several months with his wife, Michelle, “to find a peaceful sanctuary where there were no phones.”

To you or I, this is a fairly normal sentence explaining a fairly normal process. But think like a wingnut, people! There is much on both themes #1 and #2 here. The sister with the foreign-sounding name, the country of Bali that few can find on a map, the insulting lack of patriotism evidenced in the idea that it’s hard to get writing done in America with the phone ringing off the hook, the fact that he’s written an entire book, the hints of sexual depravity in the form of multiple sex partners over a lifetime in the term “half-sister”—all evidence of #1, that he’s a subversive. That he has a passport and knows to go to a place like Bali is all #2, reasons to envy and hate him. I know, on a certain level, there seems to be a contradiction there. If knowing where Bali is shows that you’re an unAmerican subversive, then why is it so enviable? But that’s actually how the “latte liberal” libel works. You stoke envy of the target for their sophistication or good taste or money, and then you console the then-ruffled by telling them it’s okay that they don’t know where Bali is, because their lack of knowledge makes them morally superior.

In case the slow-witted morons out there didn’t get the reason for the bolding, Geraghty hammers it home—envy Obama, people, and then hate him!

Nice work if you can get it.

Translation: Writing is like a vacation, because it so closely resembles playing video games, what with the facing the computer and sitting at a desk and all. Not work at all.

The article doesn’t quite make clear when that second contract was worked out, sometime between 1990 (Harvard Law Review) and 1995 (the book’s publication). A $40,000 book contract in 1993 would be $58,427.46 in 2007, according to the Inflation Calculator.

Translation: No one pays you $58,427.46 for playing World of Warcraft for a year, and that’s hard work, man. Which is Obama’s fault, of course, and only by voting for McCain can you stop the scourge of other people getting paid for work you have convinced yourself isn’t work, even though if pressed into it, you’d complain non-stop about how much work it is, since it is like 50 times more work than that 10 page research paper you spent two months complaining about in college. But through wingnut logic, we can convince ourselves that the longer and denser the book, the more vacation-like it was writing it, so totally unfair that he got paid and stuff.

Best part of this rant—Geraghty, a professional writer, suddenly realizes that he just argued against his own right to get paid for working. So he tries to back out of it.

(I can hear it coming — “Hey, big shot, weren’t you in Turkey when you wrote your book, now available at fine remainder bins everywhere?” Yup, but I was already over there when the publisher signed on, and frankly, being overseas made writing it tougher – seven hour time difference with sources, etc.)

Nice try, Jim, but.

A strange thing to include, since if he’d ignored his own hypocrisy, then I actually doubt anyone would have called him on it. But once again, the envy-disgust continuum kicks in. Geraghty knows his audience, that they are disgusted by his panty-waisted writerly smarty-pants-ness because they envy it, and he can’t resist tossing that out there with the hopes that he can enjoy the unique pleasure of being envied. But without inciting disgust. So you know, it was work for him writing his book and not for Obama. Yeah, that’s the ticket.


A smarter move (if I had no integrity, I’d make my living composing paranoid rants and raking in the wingnut welfare) would have been to diminish how cool it is to go to Turkey while puffing up the beauty of Bali. Something like, “I couldn’t even pronounce the region I was staying in, but Bali has trees and stuff.”

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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