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Sunday, January 29, 2006

The World According to Jane Smiley

The world according to Jane Smiley smacks of absolute certainty, fear and intolerance. No, I'm not talking about her critique of fundamentalism. I'm just noting the irony that some in the "reality-based" community mirror the very features they claim to disdain in their ideological opponents. Smiley is a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist who, when not writing critically acclaimed fiction, is dishing out confident, ruthless vitriol in the form of political commentary. The classic example was her famous Slate essay, "The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States," posted two days after Kerry's defeat. Perhaps she deserves a bit of break after losing an election that clearly meant a lot to her. But there's disappointment and there's this:

The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulations that were protecting those whom they considered to be their rightful prey—workers and consumers. The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, but they did it anyway, and we see the outcome now—Cheney is the capitalist arm and Bush is the religious arm. They know no boundaries or rules. They are predatory and resentful, amoral, avaricious, and arrogant. Lots of Americans like and admire them because lots of Americans, even those who don't share those same qualities, don't know which end is up. Can the Democrats appeal to such voters? Do they want to? The Republicans have sold their souls for power. Must everyone?

Whoa there, somebody cue up Darth Vader. Actually Vader turned out to be a more complex character than Smiley's moral charlatans and the red state idiots who supported them. Ah well, moving on to a second example of reflective political criticism. Here Smiley responds in a letter to a book review by Gary Kamiya:

Gary Kamiya writes, "In a just world, Bush, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Feith and their underlings would be standing before a Senate committee investigating their catastrophic failures, and Packer's book would be Exhibit A." No. In a just world, these people would be taken out and shot.

I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk this one up as frothing-at-the-mouth anger rather than Stalinist nostalgia. But hey, due process is overrated anyway, right? Since these comments happened a while back, I thought I'd visit The Huffington Post and see if Smiley had toned things down a bit. Perhaps her novelist instincts were recognizing a few gray areas and wrestling with moral dilemmas. Maybe Smiley would call for a more respectful discourse or for more understanding of those different from us. Perhaps she would demonstrate that you can offer forceful criticism of this administration while acknowledging that not every motive is sinister, and not every dilemma (like how to protect millions of citizens from catastrophic death) is easy. Or maybe not:

I was driving down Highway 1 with a friend last evening, and after about a hour's exhaustive discussion of the terrors and crimes of the Bush Administration, we realized that we couldn't really figure out who the central madman is, that is, whose worldview enthralls his (or her) companions and is thereby projected outward.

(Dick Cheney won in a landslide, by the way). It may surprise you, however, to find Smiley holding her fire on impeachment. Why you ask? Does she think charges are unfounded or at least inconclusive at this point? Neither. Smiley uncovers the Rovean plan to turn impeachment hearings and a subsequent party-line vote into a claim that Bush has a renewed mandate!

Democrats and progressives, beware! My bet is he can't be impeached twice, no matter what the high crimes and misdemeanors are. No gambit is too outrageous for Rove, Bush, and Cheney, and they certainly have a plan to use impeachment to consolidate their power.

And no political explanation seems too outlandish for Smiley. Hey, I believe that wherever you find yourself on the political spectrum, there are substantive criticisms to be made of this disappointing administration. But what strikes me about the Jane Smileys of the world is how they exhibit something very similar to the fundamentalism they supposedly deplore.

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