wanker moments: hommage a Eschaton

Recently, the Eschaton blog warmed my heart by publishing alist of the ten top wankers of the past decade – the ten years during whichDuncan Black had run the blog. I took an unhealthy interest in guessing the honorees, partly because I, too, suffered on both the intellectual and personal level during the Bush era. Personally, I plummeted into poverty on the strength of a novel I could not get published, and a series of increasingly insane freelance jobs for newspapers and mags that imposed harsh deadlines on my product and soft constraints on my pay – paychecks would appear an easy six months after they were promised. Meanwhile, I was increasingly plugged in, as all Internetians were, to the daily doings of the American culture. They were delivered to my wondering eyes in realtime. They were, from top to bottom, rotten, cretinous, and homicidal. I took part in the moronic inferno by blogging. Like Eschaton, I have accumulated plus ten years of blogging posts – I’ve preserved in the amber of my indignation the festering wounds of the conventional wisdom, and every day I felt less like an American and more like Jeremiah – the prophet, not the bullfrog.

Eschaton’s list is solid. We who read him knew that Friedman would be the winner, which took a little bit of suspense away from each day’s announcement. And now that the  excitement has passed, I’ve been thinking that perhaps we need an accompanying ten wanking moments – ten moments in which, as Leon Bloy observed of the clichés of the bourgeoisie, the announcement of the conventional wisdom “corresponded to some divine reality, had the power to make worlds tremble and unchain catastrophes without mercy.” That is to say, less heatedly, that these flashes of conventional wisdom an pundit observation revealed both a truth and a world of lies. This is what wanking is.

So, here are two of the ten moments I want to remember. I’ll do the Eschaton thing and publish bits over the next couple of weeks.

1. Elisabeth Bumiller, the NYT’s political correspondent, attended Bush’s famousMarch 6, 2003 press conference in which the questions had the oddly wooden air of the questions that used tobe asked of Soviet premiers by Pravda. This was Bush’s second press conference since stealing the presidency, in 2001. It was the press conference that preceded by two and a half weeks the invasion and occupation of Iraq by American troops. Osama bin Laden had not been found. The Taliban leadership was safe in Pakistan. In the rest of the world, people were asking pretty good questions about the cause of this invasion, why the weapons of mass destruction issue seemed to be so vague, and why the White House was coyly promoting and then denying a connection between Iraq and 9/11 that didn’t exist. During the conference, Bush even said, “this is scripted” -  which brought forth embarrassed laughter from the assembled talking heads. Later, responding to the disbelieving howls of critics that the press conference looked less like a grilling than like a special Olympics all set up for a tiny challenged president to show his prowess in putting a noun together with a verb (not a question was asked, for instance, about Osama bin Laden), Bumiller commentedupon the matter in a conference on the press:  “I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time." Yes, it is such a serious serious time. One doesn’t want to be excluded from the victory party just around the corner! Bumiller has had a long and enriching career as a suckup to the powerful and overvalued, even taking time off from not “arguing” with the president to write Colin Powell’s authorized hagiography.  If you want a definitive sense of what the culture of wankery is all about, do yourself a favor and read the entire transcript, published by FAIR, of the conference in which Bumiller explained how you cannot say a president who tells a lie is telling a lie.

“Bumiller: You can’t just say the president is lying. You don’t just say that in the . . . you just say—

Ghiglione: Well, why can’t you?

[laughter from the audience]

Bumiller: You can in an editorial, but I’m sorry, you can’t in a news column. Mr. Bush is lying? You can say Mr. Bush is, you can say. . . .

[Murmuring and laughter continue from audience.]

Bumiller [to audience]: And stop the fussing! You can say Mr. Bush’s statement was not factually accurate. You can’t say the president is lying—that’s a judgment call.” 

2.  The Iraq war was brief, until  it was endless. The brief part was a huge triumph. We beat Saddam Hussein, who thoughfully did not turn his massive stock of weapons of mass production upon the invaders because, well, he didn’t have a massive stock of weapons of mass destruction. To even write weapons of mass destruction gives me an double Os headache, as we were invading Iraq to stop Hussein from having them while selling beaucoup bombers to Saudi Arabia. In fact, the weapons of mass destruction is an artifact as wonderful as terrorism – we give ourselves carte blanche to possess the one and practice the other, but use the rhetoric of both to pretty much do what we want. It is the foreign policy equivalent of wankery. Still, to return to our topic: on May 1, 2003, America orgasmed. Or so we would have to believe, looking back at the coverage of President Bush, who went AWOL during the pesky Vietnam years when it came to flying fighter planes to protect Corpus Christi from the Communist menace, but who magically lost his fear of flying on this magic day and was landed on a battleship, thoughtfully supplied with a Mission Accomplished banner, to start the whole orgasm business. Nobody orgasmed harder than Chris Matthews. Bumiller’s remarks show the fundamental servility encoded in the ubersmug attitude of the Timesman, but servility is never enough. Sycophancy, or more simply, ass licking, is also called for. Our man Matthews was there to supply it. The transcript is long, and the below 18 crowd shouldn’t read it – I believe that it is illegal to thrust pornography this graphic upon the sensibility of the youngsters.

MATTHEWS: What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?
MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Bob Dornan, you were a congressman all those years. Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?
MATTHEWS: Ann Coulter, you're the first to speak tonight on the buzz. The president's performance tonight, redolent of the best of Reagan -- what do you think?
COULTER: It's stunning. It's amazing. I think it's huge. I mean, he's landing on a boat at 150 miles per hour. It's tremendous. It's hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn't matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It's stunning, and it speaks for itself.
MATTHEWS: Pat Caddell, the president's performance tonight on television, his arrival on ship?
CADDELL: Well, first of all, Chris, the -- I think that -- you know, I was -- when I first heard about it, I was kind of annoyed. It sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there's a real -- there's a real affection between him and the troops.
MATTHEWS: The president there -- look at this guy! We're watching him. He looks like he flew the plane. He only flew it as a passenger, but he's flown --
CADDELL: He looks like a fighter pilot.
MATTHEWS: He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat that he does wear, that makes him -- I mean, he seems like -- he didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does.
CADDELL: Yes. It's a -- I don't know. You know, it's an internal thing. I don't know if you can put it into words. [...] You can see it with him and the troops, the ease with which he talks to them. I was amazed by that, frankly, because as I said, I was originally appalled, particularly when I heard he was going in an F-18. But -- on there -- but the -- but you know, that was --
MATTHEWS: Look at this guy!
CADDELL: -- was hard not to be moved by their reaction to him and his reaction to them and --
MATTHEWS: You know, Ann --
CADDELL: -- you know, they -- it's a quality. It's an innate quality. It's a real quality.
MATTHEWS: I know. I think you're right.
Later that day, on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Matthews said:
MATTHEWS: We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.
Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? Well, in 2003, I couldn’t even imagine Bush getting elected here, since, as a matter of fact, he wasn’t. But I was one of the few few few critics. Interestingly, Matthews, showing his deep knowledge  of politics, predicted  that the Mission Accomplished footage would be shown over and over in 2004 by the Bush Re-election committee. Of course, when it was shown, in 2004 – if it was at all – it was shown by the Democrats, since it demonstrated how irresponsible and off his rocker the Mission Accomplished “guy” was. It is important to remember, as a sidenote, that no prediction made by a wanker will ever come true, or ever damage his or her career. That is, even about the subject they supposedly are expert in, politics, they are almost invariably wrong.    

Oh, and for the hell of the thing ---- on May 1, 2003, I paid little attention to Mission Accomplished. But this was the kind of thing I was writing about that time - from May 12, 2003:

The mandate of heaven is a cruel and capricious spirit. Take Smilin' Jay Garner. About a month ago, Iraqis everywhere awoke after a night of bad dreams and thought, collectively, gee we'd like this non-Arab speaking weapons salesman to be the absolute Jefe of our brand spankin' new country! We don't want electricity, garbage pickup, safety from robbery, or those stinkin' museums and libraries -- we want a well protected ministry of oil! we want every exile group, as long as it is led by Ahmad Chalabi, to be supplied with American arms! And we want to give them their choice of residence in the wealthy side of Baghdad! And we want hands off Garner to preside over it all! These messages, ectoplasmically and extrasensorally delivered to the very heartland of Iraq -- Washington D.C. -- were not ignored. Smilin' Jay made a triumphant tour of the country. To reassure the Iraqi people, Smilin' Jay even tried to institute a continuity of style with the previous regime: just like Saddam, he disappeared into the presidential palace and was seen rarely thereafter in public.

But alas. The Iraqi people woke up, liberated and democratic, a week ago after a night of pleasant dreams (oh, the tax cuts that danced like sugar plumbs in their heads!) and decided no, Smilin' Jay wasn't the embodiment of Iraqi history. That honor goes, instead, to Kissinger Associates l. Paul Bremer III!

His Thirdness, being blessed by Henry Kissinger, is preparing us for a delicious treat: the high squeals of Christopher Hitchens, who has to maintain his cred by dissing Kissinger - otherwise, he's just another rightwinger in the rat pack - while tergiversating madly to rationalize our pyrate rule in Iraq. This should be good.

The Washington Post recorded L. Paul's historic maiden speech in Iraq. Here's what he said:

"It's a wonderful challenge to help the Iraqi people basically reclaim their country from a despotic regime," Bremer said in a tarmac interview minutes after his plane landed in Basra.
He spent a short while in the southern city before flying to Baghdad, where the civilian reconstruction agency is headquartered.

Asked whether he was, in effect, directing a U.S. plan to colonize Iraq, Bremer said: "The coalition did not come to colonize Iraq. We came to overthrow a despotic regime. That we have done. Now our job is to turn and help the Iraqi people regain control of their own destiny."

A wonderful challenge? Isn't this the neutral language of the over-coached CEO, plotting the downsizing of his company? Whatever else you say about the pirates of yore, at least there was some steel in their yeahs and nays. Here's an anecdote about Blackbeard:

"One night, drinking in his cabin with Hands, the pilot, and another man, Blackbeard, without any provocation, privately draws out a small pair of pistols, and cocks them under the table. Which being perceived by the man, he withdrew and went upon deck, leaving Hands, the pilot, and the Captain together. When the pistols were ready, he blew out the candle and crossing his hands, discharged them at his company. Hands, the master, was shot through the knee and lamed for life; the other pistol did no execution. Being asked the meaning of this, he only answered by damning them, That if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was."

Surely L. Paul should consider Teach's way of disposing of extra associates. It would at least add a colorful anecdote to our colorless pillaging expedition.