It’s been obvious for a while that a panicked Republican Party would get down and dirty in an effort to win a few close House and (especially) Senate races, and the GOP is definitely living down to that expectation. Aside from the tawdry crap they’ve been throwing at Harold Ford in Tennessee, we now have the ripe example of George Allen’s efforts to lift a few shocking sex scenes from Jim Webb’s war novels to paint him as some sort of mysoginistic pervert.I haven’t read the books in question, not being a big fan of war novels (The Caine Mutiny being the one exception). But my colleague The Moose has not only read a number of Webb’s novels, but is familiar with Webb’s rationale in writing them, and with the original conservative reaction to them.I know some of my regular readers are Moose-o-phobic, but I encourage you to read his latest post on this subject. He reminds us that (a) Webb wrote his novels in no small part to provide a grunts-eye-view of the Vietnam War to a generation of peers who were in the habit of disparaging those who served; (b) conservative commentators generally gave these novels, “shocking” content and all, rave reviews when they actually appeared; and (c) Webb is an authentic war hero whose own service, and his searing accounts of what it entailed, should command great respect, particularly from an ostensibly pro-military GOP.Beyond that, there’s something particularly disgusting about this sort of attack on Webb emanating from the campaign of George Allen.For one thing, Allen (like me) could have served in the Vietnam War, but didn’t, getting past it on a student deferment. As an enthusiast for the war in Iraq, and contributor to the argument that Democrats generally and Webb in particular are “weak on national security,” he has a special responsibility to steer clear of attacks on Webb for anything related to his rival’s war service.More fundamentally, Allen’s own background ought to make the implicit anti-intellectualism of his campaign’s attacks on Webb’s fiction truly objectionable.I know the conventional wisdom is that the revelations about Allen that have emerged during the current campaign turn on his alleged racism, dating from his peculiar obsession with the Confederacy during his high school years in Southern California. That’s all true.But I personally think the most damning thing about the Allen Story is that he has been exposed as the ultimate Golden State Child of Privilege who has spent much of his life trying to impersonate a dirt-farm, dirt-track Yahoo, mainly by aggressively embracing the underside of Yahoo culture, without the mitigating circumstances of actually growing up that way, or any indication that he shares the positive features of that culture (e.g., a healthy disrespect for economic elites). To put it another way, most true southern white crackers may well have contempt for those well-heeled cultural elitists who look down on them, but they’d also kill to give their kids the kind of advantages that George Allen had, and, if confronted directly with the full Allen Story, would probably consider his efforts to remake himself as a ‘bacca-chewing, thuggish redneck the ultimate insult.It’s also illustrative that when Allen decided to relocate himself to his vicarious southern homeland, he chose to attend the University of Virginia. Having lived near Charlottesville off and on for a good while, I can personally verify what anyone familiar with The University would say: this is a place where anyone affecting a Yahoo world view–much less the Yankee son of a national celebrity with a French mother–would stand out like a sore thumb. UVa is arguably one of the two or three best public universities in America, but it’s also arguably one of the two or three snootiest public universities in America. Whether or not George Allen routinely used the “n-word” while at UVa, or pulled Klan-style “pranks” on black residents of Louisa County, there’s no question his whole pick-up-truck, Dixified persona in Charlottesville was weird on every level. And in many respects, Allen has remained, ever since college, the Wahoo Yahoo–the guy who perpetually combines inherited privilege with a willful determination to refute it by aping what he understands to be the culture of “real people.”By now, I assume many of you are thinking that the Allen Story closely resembles the Story of the President of the United States, on a smaller scale of privilege and pretense. And you’re right: George Allen is sort of a George Bush Mini-Me. No wonder he was the early favorite for ’08 among many Bush loyalists who can’t abide John McCain.And the parallels and ironies extend to the current campaign. Remember that moment in 2004 when the Bushies went after John Kerry for his goose-hunting photo op, supposedly exposing him as a uppercrust quiche-eater pretending to be a Real Guy? Well, George Allen has spent much of his adult life as an uppercrust quiche-eater longing to appear to be a Real Guy–and not a particularly admirable Real Guy at that–without Kerry’s history as a war hero and genuine outdoorsman. He even shares Kerry’s odd experience in learning on the campaign trail that he had a hitherto unknown Jewish ancestry. I don’t recall that Kerry responded to this thunderbolt like Allen, who immediately started talking about his abiding affection for pork products.Have any of the Republicans encouraging Allen’s smear campaign on Webb mocked the Wahoo Yahoo like they mocked Kerry? Of course not.Allen’s bigger twin, George W. Bush, is probably capable of the sort of anti-intellectual assault that his Mini-Me has launched on Jim Webb. But at least W. has hired a few smart people over the years, most notably the brilliant wordsmith Mike Gerson, who have helped him pay lip service to the idea that national leaders ought to take ideas seriously. If George Allen has ever exhibited interest in a political discourse more advanced than the endless repetition of football metaphors, I’ve somehow missed it.That’s why Allen’s latest gambit, in the end, is so nauseating. I don’t like to throw around Nazi analogies; they tend to devalue the unique nature of the Third Reich, and also ignore the abiding civilized values that unite both parties and most Americans, no matter how much and how vociferouly we disagree on this or that topic. But everything about George Allen’s effort to beat Jim Webb by quoting stupidly from his novels is reminiscent of the quote often attributed to Herman Goering: “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun.”Allen’s ad attack on Webb’s novels represents the Wahoo Yahoo’s willingness to look the cultural products of a war hero and genuine cultural conservative right in the face, and reach for his gun.I hope and pray Virginians vote for the real representative of their values, and not the cynical pretender whose abasement of those values is best illustrated by how he has chosen to save his political hide.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.