|Mark Lilla, Columbia University|
|Charles R. Kessler, The Planet Pluto|
They must have some wonderful dinner parties at Columbia University nowadays. I can just imagine Mark Lilla and Nicholas Lemann, wives, significant others and assorted faculty members sitting around after the meal, drinking their port and lancinating the Righteous Wah Wah Right in a way with which Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw would have felt right at home.
In a sumptuous, two and a half page delight,in the New York Times Book Review, Professor Lilla serves up the latest deep thinker from the Republican Right, Professor Charles Kesler, like some over stuffed Thanksgiving turkey.
"More than a few American citizens are loathing themselves blind over Barack Obama. Why?"
Lilla, of course, is not the first to express bewilderment over this. Even Mad Dog has asked the same question. Here you have a very centrist, not nearly liberal enough Democrat (for Mad Dog's taste) who is vilified as left of Marx and Lenin, which is a significant disservice to Marx and Lenin.
"A sense of proportion, once the conservative virtue, is considered treasonous on the right today and Kesler cannot be accused of harboring one."
Of course what allows Kesler to claim to be an academician is his reference to names and people who most of us only dimly remember from our history courses, if we ever took history courses. And, apparently, one of the great crimes of modern American politicians is to have been influenced by European thinking, in particular German thinking. (Remember where Marx came from.) So, as Lilla observes, two conservative parlor games are "Cherchez le Kraut and Whac-a-Prof." So who does Kesler go after, as the root lefty in modern American history? None other than Woodrow Wilson. Remember him? But Wilson is a likely subject, Lilla notes, because "Woodrow Wilson, who openly confessed to reading German..was engaged in a genuinely revolutionary activity--writing books." Wilson was also suspect because he was a professor at an elite Eastern school, which likely would have rejected Rush Limbaugh, had he ever applied for admission. And, Franklin Roosevelt, it must be noted, spoke German as a child. (Cherchez le Kraut.)
Lilla says of Kesler: "Once that rhetorical lineage is established, he then tries to show how the Idea spread out into American culture at large, bringing with it existentialist self-absorption, moral relativism and passivity in the face of the new administrative state, so that by the midcentury we nearly became European (only fatter.)"
And what was that idea? That the state had a possibly benign role to play.
"Yes, the New Deal did convince Americans that citizens are not road kill and that government can legitimately protect public welfare and basic human dignity."
This, in short, is the "Swedenization" of America, Heaven forbid.
"The thing is, the conservatives have also spooked themselves. They now really believe the apocalyptic tale they've spun and placed mild-mannered Barack Obama at the center of it. It hasn't been easy."
It's worth going on line to read. Of course, its opening paragraph alone is worth the time on the computer, but Mad Dog realizes most of the eyes on this page will never see the article so I'll (spoiler alert) print it below:
"Once upon a time there was a radical president who tried to remake American society through government action. In his first term he created a vast network of federal grants to state and local governments for social programs that cost billions. He set up an imposing agency to regulate air and water emissions, and another to regulate workers' health and safety. Had Congress not stood in the way he would have gone much further. He tried to establish a guaranteed minimum income for all working families and, to top it, proposed a national health plan that would have provided government insurance for low-income families, required employers to cover all their workers and set standards for private insurance. Thankfully for the country, his second term was cut short and his collectivist dreams were never realized.
His name was Richard Nixon."