the sycophant's dilemma

No American writer would have fit as easily into court society – whether in Idi Amin’s Kampala or in Caesar Borgia’s Rome – as Fred Barnes. The man is not just your average D.C. ass kisser. He is somehow beyond that. He is to flattery what de Sade was to cruelty: there is a sexual relish in his praises of our present Commander in Chief that was embodied by that wonderful crotch shot pic on the cover of his last book, Rebel in Chief. Latent homoeroticism be damned – the sexual excitements of other people are, of course, sealed by seals even the angels in Revelations can't unlock, but obviously the zipper of our Rebel in Chief and the sacred object found behind it fills Barnes with an eagerness, a reverence that he has as much difficulty mastering as I have comprehending. But there it is, unabashed, unashamed. His career of abasement before right wing thugs (two thumbs up, Benito Mussolini!) has created a prose style that is the equivalent of a dog wagging its tail while it begs for a biscuit, except that dogs have constraints built into their body talk from which Barnes, who is rumored to be human, is free, using as he often does something like language.

Which is all by way of recommending Barnes’ article on Jeb Bush in the Weekly Standard. In it, Barnes has created a new philosophical conundrum: the sycophant’s dilemma. It is a variant of the Buridan's ass problem. You remember, there are two equally delicious piles of hay put before an ass, one on the right, one on the left. Which will the ass prefer, and why? In Barne’s version of the conundrum, we have two male, oh so testosteroni, oh so rockstar, squeezingly male Bushes put before the ravished eyes of our groupie. Now, which shall receive the higher praise? Is it to be our Rebel in Chief – so precious, so manly, so mission is accomplished? Or is it the leaner, meaner Jeb? So Christian that one remembers the sexy pictures of Jesus from Sunday School, so cut the government and cut taxes that one can almost imagine him stepping over the starved and dessicated bodies of poor people (but then, Rebel in Chief one ups him – for who has done more to kill off poor people than our Katrina Kommando!). So you can see, Barnes is in a sexual stew:

“Friends of Jeb compare him favorably with his brother, but they're wary of doing it on the record. One former Republican governor insisted that Jeb Bush "is far more gifted than his brother or his father," the elder President Bush. A consultant who knows both Jeb and George says, "Jeb is excellent and George is above average."
The conventional wisdom is that Jeb is the smart one who thinks through issues, and George is merely savvy and acts on instinct. That's a media myth. Both think alot before they act. And they agree on many things. JebBush has visited Iraq and backs the policy there. He agrees with his brother on immigration and taxes and soon.
But there are significant differences, so many that conservative activist Grover Norquist says, "Jeb Bush is adopted." There's no "genetic mix" with his father or his brother, according to Norquist. He is joking, of course, to highlight the ideological gap between Jeb and the Bush family. Jeb Bush is a small government conservative. He was feted in Washington in 2003 by the libertarian Cato Institute and talks about having a "libertarian gene." President Bush has no such gene. He's what I call a strong government conservative and others refer to as a big government conservative. True, President Bush is closer ideologically to President Reagan than to his father, a moderate. But Jeb Bush is closer to Reagan than his brother is.”

Delight and anguish deliciously mix here in much the same way they mixed in the soul of Humbert Humbert, bringing bad domestic news to his step daughter, Lo.

Here are other Barnesisms from the article:

“But Jeb Bush has turned out to be the superior governor of the two. He's the most powerful chief executive in Florida in modern times and has had a positive impact on the state in almost every conceivable way--economically, fiscally, educationally, politically, and the list could go on and on.”

“In this state, he is the guy," House Democratic leader Dan Gelber told Wil S. Hylton of GQ magazine. "Everybody else is not even in the ballpark. He's a rock star."”

“Bush, after handling eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in 14 months in 2004 and 2005, has become the undisputed national leader in emergency management.”
“…his command of the intricacies of policy … a hands-on governor, Bush is a workaholic…he learned how to project his charm and likability …He's not only a limited government conservative, but a social and religious conservative as well…”

The list could go on and on... LI has read Penthouse Letters that are less heated. (In fact, we did an article, years ago, about erotica writers, and mostly they were a glum crew. But somehow I think Barnes' loves his fantasies even in his off hours). It is, in its own perverse, disgusting way, inspiring. While I’d say that the last five years of Bush culture have rank up there with the last five years of Ceauşescu’s rule for tawdry failure, corruption, and an indictment of the country’s civilization as a whole, it is a little cheering to know that one man, getting to share body space in the same room, sometimes, some record-it-in-your-pillow-diary-times, with the Rebel in Chief (oh, and he shook my hand. I will never wash this hand again! Ever! I swear it diary.) is living his dream life, shuttling between Bush brothers. These are the best years of Fred Barnes' life, make no mistake about it. That he is a prominent media personality, on TV whenever he wants to be, is the sad thing – his dream life being our national nightmare and all, you know.


new york pervert said…
monsieur--you are a master of the obscure found object. This Barnes is the most amazingly non-existent being I've nearly ever heard of. Making a living from having 'fantods' for unattractive politicians does beat all. He is like a movie-star look-alike. The prose is febrile, like something I'd imagine a necrophiliac writing. And here I thought 2 comparisons I've read of Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn were the dumbest things I'd ever read.

One thing these and somewhat related things make me think is that by now fame has truly become undesirable, unless one has fame left over from at least 2 decades ago. I'm having a difficult time thinking of anyone newly famous that isn't vacuous. This is even true in the arts, I think--there are brilliant and talented people, but these are almost never the truly famous, even though some obviously have some following.
tom said…
Having lived through the entirety of Jeb's handling of windstorms in Florida, we'll say he managed. To hide his head in the sand, to cry "wolf!" each time he saw a hedgehog, to send hundreds of thousands of geezers simultaneously down the same roads to watch their engines expire in the world's longest, thinnest parking lot. He did learn, however. The next year, he worked hard with Michael Brown to get that FEMA gear ready. Jeb and Brownie: wet dream!
roger said…
Actually, the reality of Jeb, as distinguished from the lollipop that Fred Barnes wants to lick and lick, sounds pretty sinister. I've read that he is connected both to the dark side of the Cuban exile groups and has business associates in Tampa that are your traditional narco-anti-com heavies.

But, what the hell. Reality is for suckers. Politics is now the battle of wet dreams, and alas, the dreamers are those least sexual of people, the beef stuffed pundit class. If we must choose wet dreams, let's at least professionalize the racket and get the guys and gals from Vivid in on it. Pornstars for President -- I think that is my new political motto.
new york pervert said…
roger--Can Michael Chertoff be classified as a Sycophant? My guess is 'yes.' Well, he just published his piss-perfect op-ed in the NYT called 'NY, Still No.l' while explaining the cuts, and talk about 'a joy forever,' this beautiful piece made the image of 'Merrill Lynch' pop into my head--those ads you see about the way they will offer you so much protection till you die that you probably won't even be able to die.

Well, I just googled plain old 'Merrill Lynch' and they were advertising a credit card with a girl lounging on her white sofa staring at laptop. I wanted one of 'those phrases' and I got it: It said 'Levels of protection. All on another level.' That was even more piss-perfect. So that, finally. The banal CAN be sharp. And yours to own. It was an old wives' tale that it couldn't. Ron Susskind's article has gone the way of dustbin.
roger said…
Suskind's article prompted a scary thing, Mr. NYP -- a spate of claims to be "reality based." I'm much too much of a Freudian to believe that calling oneself 'reality based' is anything but the hubris that leads to disaster. On my more delusional days, I think I have a grasp of reality, but the world pretty quickly knocks that nonsense out of my head.

I'll have to check out the Chertoff article. If I have the stomach for it.