Archive for March, 2011

Lament of a boho-con: Why can’t we on the right be cool?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Originally published in The Daily, 3/17/11

By Ann Marlowe

During the 2008 presidential campaign, guitarist Tom Scholtz of the band Boston blasted Mike Huckabee for using Boston’s song “More than a Feeling” on the campaign trail, saying that he, Scholtz, was an Obama supporter. John McCain stopped using populist rocker John Mellencamp’s “Our Country” at rallies after Mellencamp pointed out that he supported John Edwards.

As a proud bohemian conservative (or “boho-con”) and former rock critic, this was the moment when my thoughts about the aesthetics of the right coalesced. Boston and Mellencamp are not exactly cutting-edge acts. (“More than a Feeling” dates from 1976). Yet even they didn’t want to be associated with my party. You’d have to be from Mars not to know that it’s hard to find pop stars — other than those in country music — who are on the right. But why, exactly? Why can’t it be hip to be conservative? Or, put another way, why are conservative tastes so weary? Why do I have to be represented by awful campaign logos and songs and websites? I certainly don’t want the dark glamour of fascism or anything militaristic or violent. But why can’t a Republican campaign be more like, say, a Gorillaz concert?

Some answers are close at hand. Post-World War II American politics has always hearkened back to a frontier past, the image of the cowboy or rancher (Reagan, the Bushes) gaining prominence even as the reality behind it is lost. And quasi-agrarian wholesomeness has also gained currency in political campaigns, even though almost no Americans still farm for a living. But frontier can be hip, as Robert Altman showed in his movie “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” or as Dylan and The Band demonstrated when they re-imagined frontier myths for the avant garde of their day. Today there are worthy if not equal examples. I think of the Arizona band Calexico, whose song “Sunken Waltz” muses “washed my face in the rivers of empire.” I wish McCain had had a campaign song written by them.

What makes the hip deficit in conservative politics more of a mystery is that today’s hipster culture isn’t our parents’. It’s not so clear what it’s oppositional to. It’s not popular to be anti-military today, even among the cool kids, and as “The Social Network” shows, entrepreneurship can also be cool, as long as you keep your hoodie.

And, oddly enough, hipster culture today isn’t opposed to older people. Many people I know in the 18-to-24 age group consider their parents their friends and genuinely enjoy spending time with them.

Of course, more radical hipster culture — represented by, say, the more political devotees of the Burning Man festival — attacks “the patriarchy,” racism and capitalism in far more extreme terms. But this is a fringe group in the United States, and I wouldn’t expect to find even the furthest-left Democrat embracing Burning-Man-style shamanistic imagery or trance music.

Two years after the election of our first hipster president, whom I didn’t vote for and won’t, I’m still puzzling over these facts. So far I can do little but lament that we Republicans seem to be boxed into being the tepid, sedate party: the party that’s no party.

What about the Tea Party? I went to one of its first rallies in the early months of 2009, and it didn’t look like a group I wanted to hang out with, worthy though I found its ideas. I understand that they are populists and all. But still, they were so badly dressed.

Hoping some answers, or even a solution, might emerge from solidarity, I’ve discussed my worries with other Republicans whom I suspect of being boho-cons. This is a furtive matter, for if New York is the place where gays are out and Republicans are in the closet, within the N.Y.-D.C. right-wing-media world, it’s the bohos who are closeted. Sometime I realize I’ve gone too far, by assuming that a fellow Republican has, say, a passing familiarity with electronic music, or would know not to wear a suit to dinner in the youthful Brooklyn enclave of Williamsburg. Or perhaps by assuming that he or she would have been to dinner in Williamsburg in the first place. There’s a look I get then, the look that brands me as potentially unreliable, maybe a secret supporter of higher tax rates or socialized medicine. I’m not. But just for a moment, I wish I were.

Helping Themselves to Freedom (from The Daily, 3/7/11)

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Mideast liberation is better achieved without foreign intervention

By Ann Marlowe Monday, March 7, 2011

Do Libyans need the help — or “help” — we gave the Iraqis in bringing down their tyrant? Or is it more likely that the Iraqis should have been left to free themselves, a la the Tunisians and Egyptians?

While I supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the recent uprisings in the Arab world have given me pause. I defended our intervention in Iraq partly on the grounds that it showed that the U.S. valued Muslim people’s freedom. It was a way of saying that their lives are worth no less than ours, that they are no less capable of democracy and self-rule than we are. The invasion seemed to me to be egalitarian, non-racist, in the best American tradition. I also used to tell people that if I thought the Allies ought to have made a much bigger effort to save Europe’s Jews in the 1940s, it was incumbent upon me to support a similar effort to punish genocide now.

But now that two Arab countries have liberated themselves, it occurs to me that our Iraq intervention might have been the result of condescension, too. We assumed they couldn’t free themselves. But now we can wonder whether the Iraqis might have overthrown Saddam Hussein this winter, as the uprisings moved east from Tunisia. (The problem with this counterfactual is that under Saddam, Iraq had no mobile phone network or public Internet access, and if that had still been the case now, it would have been very tough to organize demonstrations.) And this would almost certainly have been a better outcome for all concerned.

There’s much to be said for a no-fly zone in Libya, and no ruler can be allowed, in this day and age, to fire on unarmed protesters. But there is also something to be said for doing as little as possible beyond fending off a massacre. Support the protesters verbally, yes. But make an American show of force in Libya? Not unless the opposition implores us to do so.

A spokesman for the opposition National Libyan Council, human rights lawyer Abdul Hafidh Gogha, said last week, “We don’t want and we won’t accept any foreign intervention on our soil. We started this revolution, and we will finish it.”

The glory of this revolt of the Arabs — their greatest deed in hundreds of years — is in its autonomy. The Iraqis did not win their freedom for themselves, and accepting what Johns Hopkins University Professor Fouad Ajami has called “the foreigners’ gift” almost tore them apart. Besides the obvious heap of bodies our intervention left behind, there’s the unappetizing nature of the resulting Iraqi government — currently involved in rounding up its own peaceful demonstrators and making them disappear.

Some of the concern for the people of the Arab tyrannies now manifested in the American press is genuine. But some is part of a cynical effort to get on the right side of history and cozy up to newly free peoples. The people of Egypt and Bahrain and Yemen know exactly how much we bled for their freedom: not at all. We’ve propped up their tyrants for a generation. As future free media in these countries bring the details to light, the Arab world will have plenty of fodder for reproaching the West.

Oddly enough, the Arab peoples now bringing down their despots themselves may end up liking us more now that they are free — precisely because it is no thanks to us. True friendship is between equals, and for the Arabs, what matters isn’t equality in GDP or number of patents obtained. It’s moral equality.

The Arab men and women who win their freedom with their own courage and blood are the equals of our Founding Fathers, and they know it. They can hold their heads high among the peoples of the world. This isn’t to ignore the fragility of many Arab civil societies, their oppression of half their numbers (women), or the tough road ahead as the Arab nations free their economies and media. But nations of deservedly proud people will contribute more to world security than states of the humiliated.

The new Arab states will have to be founded on broad coalitions, like our own body politic. And they will have to work out their own futures in the rough and tumble of politics. The conversations that Arabs need to have these days aren’t with us, but with each other. The greatest help we can offer them now is to treat them as moral equals, and agents of their own destiny.