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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Two Mailers 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot T.C.: a wide-ranging, magnificent, hilarious colloquy (from New York magazine) between Norman, author of The Armies of the Night, who plainly knows from rowdy conventions, and his son John Buffalo, on a variety of topics -- including the hazards (and therapeutic benefits) of violent protest, Vietnam v. Iraq, the one honorable man in the Bush administration, and here, at the outset, Fahrenheit 9/11:
NORMAN MAILER: I don’t disagree. I saw it for the first time last night, and was upset through the first half. You don’t make your case by showing George H.W. Bush and a Saudi sheikh shaking hands. On a photo op, important politicians will shake hands with the devil. Moore seems to think that if you get people laughing at the right wing, you will win through ridicule. He’s wrong. That’s when we lose. Back with the Progressive Party in 1948, we used to laugh and laugh at how dumb the other side was. We’re still laughing, and we’re further behind now.

On the other hand, the stuff on Iraq was powerful. There, he didn’t need cheap shots. The real story was in the faces. All those faces on the Bush team. What you saw was the spiritual emptiness of those people. Bush has one of the emptiest faces in America. He looks to have no more depth than spit on a rock. It could be that the most incisive personal crime committed by George Bush is that he probably never said to himself, “I don’t deserve to be president.” You just can’t trust a man who’s never been embarrassed by himself. The vanity of George W. stands out with every smirk. He literally cannot control that vanity. It seeps out of every movement of his lips, it squeezes through every tight-lipped grimace. Every grin is a study in smugsmanship.

JOHN BUFFALO MAILER: His face does bring out the rage of the left. Never before have I seen so many people’s blood boil at the sight of an American president. Especially in New York. Of all the cities out there, why would the Republicans pick New York to hold their convention?

NM: I would say they are hoping for ugly attacks. If I were a voice in top Republican circles, I might be offering this advice: “What we need for New York is a large-scale riot. Some of those activist kids will be crazy enough to do a lot on their own, but we can do better with a few of our guys, well-placed, ready to urinate on the good American flag. Let us recognize that if we lose, all we’ve been doing since 2000 is bound to come out. Back a couple of years ago, Karl Rove was saying that we could gain a twenty-year hegemony by winning the next election. He hasn’t said it lately, not since the worst of Iraq came through. Because now we could be out of power for those same twenty years. So I recommend that we put as many of our people into the protest movement in New York as we can find.” Or so, at least, speaks the cool Republican planner I envisage in my mind.

JBM: I feel we’ve entered a realm where the question is, whose propaganda is better? The left is beginning to figure out that they can’t beat the right with intelligent argument. They need punch phrases that get to the heart of the average American. If that’s the case, what is the future for our country?

NM: That’s not my first worry right now. Do the activists really know what they’re going into? That’s my concern. Or do they assume that expressing their rage is equal to getting Kerry elected? It could have exactly the opposite effect. The better mode may be to frustrate the Republicans by coming up with orderly demonstrations. Now, when I was young, the suggestion to be moderate was like a stink bomb to me. An orderly demonstration? What were we, cattle? You have to speak out with your rage. Well, I’m trying to say, we would do well to realize that on this occasion, there are more important things than a good outburst. I wish we could remind everybody who goes out to march of the old Italian saying: “Revenge is a dish that people of taste eat cold.” Instead of expressing yourself at the end of August, think of how nicely you will be able to keep expressing yourself over the four years to come if we win. Just keep thinking how much the Republicans want anarchy on the street. I say, don’t march right into their trap.

JBM: However, if McCain comes out strong for Bush—say, were he even to run as his vice-president, and Bush wins, I can’t imagine McCain would be able in all good conscience to put up with what Bush would do with another four years. How is he in a strong position to run for president if he kowtows to Bush?

NM: Politicians do have their vanity. McCain might think, “George is an empty vessel. If I were vice-president, I could influence him. He might become a better chief executive if I were vice-president.” That could be the barb on the harpoon that hooks McCain. “I owe it to the country to make George W. Bush a better president.” Yes, McCain could decide, “I have to bite the bullet and work for a man I truly despise. But it’s necessary. America needs it.” The moment a politician says to himself, “America needs it,” he can shift the direction of the wind within the halls of his own brain.

JBM: What could the protesters do that would further the cause?

NM: What they could do is not what they’re going to be allowed to do. It won’t all be their fault. You can be damn sure Pataki and Bloomberg do not want to embarrass George Bush. If these demonstrations ever hurt Bush, and he still gets reelected, New York will be penalized in terms of receiving money from Washington. That’s one reason Bloomberg and Co. kept them from holding their protest in front of the Garden. If a million people were to walk down Fifth Avenue—which is where it should be—that could have a significant effect. Especially if it was a peaceful march. But the Republicans don’t want a peaceful demonstration with that number of bodies. One of the things about the Pentagon march back in ’67 is how peaceful it proved to be. Despite all the negative media hype that came out afterward, the second word that came, if slowly, was: “Peaceful—these people were peaceful.” The ideal is exactly to have a huge, passive demonstration. If it could take place without calamitous incidents, odds are Kerry will probably win. But a combination of riots with media coverage will give Bush a huge spike.

JBM: Doesn’t Vietnam relate to this? In Iraq, aren’t we in the same kind of quagmire?

NM: Bad as Iraq has been up to now, Vietnam was worse. We were there in force for ten years. Fifty thousand of our soldiers were killed and 2 million Asians. What is immediately comparable to Iraq is that the logic for being in Vietnam proved false. The domino theory did not play out. Southeast Asia may have been a mess afterward, but only Vietnam turned communist, and it was well on the way before we came in. The major difference is that in Iraq we have exacerbated the two major branches of a religion that has had power over its followers for more than thirteen centuries. Communism had only been in existence for fifty years. Its historic roots were not nearly so profound. It is not the size of the casualties in Iraq so far that weighs on us so much as the prospect of a century of unending terrorist acts that we do not know how to terminate by military force. Whether this fear will work to Kerry’s benefit, I can’t say. The question is how clear will it become in the awareness of Middle America that Kerry was a combat hero and Bush was in a National Guard flight suit. It will be interesting to see how the Republicans will look to tarnish Kerry’s war record. Not all the Republicans, however. I think a minority of conservatives are ready to go for Kerry.

JBM: You really do?

NM: I’ve been saying for a couple of years that Bush is not a conservative. He’s what I call a flag conservative, a Flag-Con. He’s not as interested in conservative values as in empire-building. The classic conservative, someone like Pat Buchanan or, to a more complicated degree, Bill Buckley, does believe that certain values in society must be maintained. The classic conservative believes in stability. You make changes grudgingly and with a great deal of prudence. Don’t move too quickly, is the rule of thumb, because society, as they see it, is essentially a set of compromises and imbalances that can be kept going only by wisdom and, to use the word again, prudence. So you don’t go off in wild, brand-new directions. None of this characterizes Bush. As a Flag-Con, he is surrounded by the tycoons of the oil industry, plus neoconservatives, plus gung-ho militarists who believe that since we’ve created the greatest fighting machine in the history of the world, it’s a real shame not to use it. These three different groups came together on a notion that I would call “exceptionalism.” The more ideological among them believe that when the Cold War ended, it was America’s duty to take over the world. They believe God wanted America to run the world. All too many Americans do believe that. Just look at the patriotic fever every time there’s an occasion for people to show their flags. Very few fascist nations ever failed to put a huge emphasis on getting people to wave flags. This is not the same as calling America fascistic—we are not next door to fascism yet—but even as certain people fall into a pre-cancerous condition, I would say America could be approaching a pre-fascistic condition. And the basic notion behind such an impetus, what the Flag-Cons fear, is that America is going to lose its preeminence in the world unless drastic steps are initiated . . . .

JBM: But I don’t think it’s possible anymore to take over the world with military force.

NM: Can it be that Iraq is telling us as much?

NM: One of the strengths of Michael Moore’s movie, if I can go back to it for a moment, is that you could see all the faces of the present administration, those empty faces, those handmaidens and bodyguards of the Big Empty. And then Moore contrasted them with all the faces of American soldiers over there: innocent, strong, idealistic, or ugly, but real faces, real people. Plus all those suffering Iraqis. Obviously, people in such torment are always dramatic and eloquent on film. Still, most of those Iraqis had different kinds of faces. That shade of alienation from natural existence had not yet gotten into their skin. They might be hard to live with, but they were alive. Whereas the people running this country are all—with the notable exception of one guy I’ll get into in a moment—kind of awful. They don’t look as human as thee and me. That’s a large remark, but I support it. The one exception, oddly enough, and by this I’ll probably antagonize a good many people, is Donald Rumsfeld. Of that whole gang, he’s the only one who seems real to me. In other words, I might not agree with him on anything, but he does believe in what he says. It isn’t as if he searches for the most useful response he can come up with at the moment to wield or save his power. He’s interested in his ideas first. The power is subservient to the ideas.

JBM: What makes you say that?

NM: Because he’s real. He reacts. He doesn’t weigh his words. If something makes him angry, he’s angry. If something pleases him, he smiles. If he has doubts about how the situation is going, he expresses those doubts. In that sense, he’s the only one of that coven I’d call an honorable man. Let me emphasize: I can disagree totally with people I consider honorable. But never have I seen an administration that has had, by that measure, so few honorable men.
For what it's worth, Zemblan patriot P.S. recommends that NYC protestors express their dissatisfaction with the Bush administration this Labor Day by dropping to their knees, in prayer, in Central Park. Let's see the cops try to bust that one up.

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