This remarkable cartoon that Matt got off of Hendrik Hertzberg says it all, doesn’t it? Some of the terminology has changed since this cartoon was published in 1862, when there was a backlash against the Republican party of that era for its perceived liberalism. For instance, the term “Negro worship” has been replaced with “political correctness”, though I do imagine the two terms are used to promote roughly the same argument. (Which is that white liberals aren’t sincere in their anti-racism, but are just acting out of some sort of guilt that they impose on each other.) “Spirit rapping” is a reference to an admittedly silly trend of the era that is analogous to the various alt medicine and New Age-y crap that often takes off with liberal sorts who reject organized religion, but haven’t graduated to rejecting irrationality. “Free love” has turned into an all-purpose complaint about feminism and sexual liberation. I think by “Puritanism” they might have been referring to a particular strain of 19th century progressivism. The modern equivalent would probably be conservatives complaining about the “nanny state”. Complaints about “rationalism” have morphed into complaints about “liberal elitism”, and particularly denouncing Obama as “arrogant” for having the temerity to suggest facts matter. And complaints about “socialists” and atheists haven’t changed one bit, it seems.
This is the sort of thing that makes claims that Tea Partiers are either some new phenomenon or that they have a specific, policy-based gripe with Obama even more comical. It’s all culture war, all the time. Like Matt says:
I think the evident similarities between aspects of political rhetoric today and 150 years ago highlights the extent to which the values-and-temperament debate between conservative nationalism and progressive cosmopolitanism is ultimately much more fundamental than the passing controversies over tax rates economic regulation. The basic anxieties provoked by threats to existing status hierarchies haven’t changed, nor have the rhetorical tools of countermobilization.
After reading that, I read a perfectly hilarious example at Sadly, No. Daniel Foster at NRO suggested that he should start smoking again just to show those nanny state liberals who had the nerve to put warnings on cigarettes indicating that smoking is deadly. (He should see the labels on cigarettes in England. These new ones still don’t measure up in terms of graphic nastiness.) I’ve noted before on this blog that the “piss the liberals off” meme has gotten to the point where conservatives are expressing a willingness to hurt their own bodies to “show” us. I would point out to them that even suicide bombers know you have to pick one more victim than yourself in order to make an impact. As soft-hearted as I am, I’m not going to stay up at night thinking, “Some simple minded fool is out there killing himself just to show me he has every right to do it.”
Anyway, Sadly, No makes fun of Foster for this. In doing so, they include this picture of him:
This caused him to claim that they were making fun of him for being a dork. This was insulting, because their joke was way funnier than that. Plus, there’s something more than a little strange with that as your go-to complaint. The picture is just of him smiling, with no editorial commentary whatsoever from S,N. Presumably, therefore, Foster’s feeling that the shirt is dorky is his own, which makes you wonder why on earth he’s fucking wearing it if he thinks he looks like a dork in it. Is it for the same reason that he’s thinking of picking up smoking? Has he just determined that his whole life should be lived in a way that attracts the mockery and disapproval of presumed liberals? Is being a dork a desirable thing because some liberals are not dorks? Perhaps Foster thinks none of us are dorks, and that we all spend our time sitting around being super-cool and getting laid a lot, so he has to really amp up the dorkery to reject that. But I swear there are dorky liberals, so being a dork as an anti-liberal statement is likely to fail on those grounds.
Just to make the whole situation even funnier, Foster’s parting shot in all this was to whip out the “haters gotta hate” card. Which means his definition of “hater” is the exact opposite of the actual definition. A hater is someone who envies someone for being cool or successful or just plain awesome, and spends all their time trying to take them down. But Foster is deliberately using it—by his own measure—to mean, “Someone who picks on dorks for being dorky.” I’m just going to write this one off as pure dumbassery that infects conservatives when they spend all their time denying verifiable facts about the world.
Long story to make this point that this is culture war. The right repaints and repaints itself in an attempt to disguise this fact, but it’s always there. The exact levels of dorkiness in Foster’s sartorial choices has absolutely nothing to do with policy ideas. But it has everything to do with the right wing narrative that they’re the only Real Americans and they’re oppressed by a bunch of liberal elites who think they’re so cool with their black T-shirts and their fancy coffee drinks consumed without lung-blackening cigarettes.
But I will say that I fully support Foster’s project of linking cigarette smoking with dorkiness. That’s probably a better idea than putting pictures of dead people on cigarette packages. Maybe a picture of him in that green shirt with language saying, “Smoking isn’t cool. This guy does it.” That way, it’s a win-win situation. We get to discourage kids from smoking, and Foster gets to feel like he’s oppressed.