Michael Ledeen -- lead counter-tenor in the Iran-Contra operetta, resident scholar at the Old-Age Home for Old and Young Neoconservatives (the American Enterprise Institute), nostalgist for the "movement" (not, note, the "regime") of Italian fascism, the man who lamented that Mussolini "never had enough confidence in the Italian people to permit them a genuine participation in fascism," and the man who wrote this:
I think Chirac will oppose us before, during, and after the war [in Iraq], because he has cast his lot with radical Islam and with the Arab extremists. He isn't doing it just for the money -- although I have no doubt that France is being richly rewarded for defending Saddam against the civilized countries of the world -- but for higher stakes. He's fighting to end the feared American domination before it takes stable shape.
If this is correct, we will have to pursue the war against terror far beyond the boundaries of the Middle East, into the heart of Western Europe. (National Review Online, 3-10-03)
--has been swimming like a fish among the People:
Barbara and I went to Indianapolis for a Toby Keith concert, where we partied with something like 25,000 happy rednecks, most of them young, most of them wearing boots and cowboy hats (and cheering Keith's great song "I Should Have Been a Cowboy"). It's a great show, and he's a wonderful performer, not least because of his deeply moving patriotic songs like "American Soldier," "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," and "The Taliban," etc. (The Corner, 9-17-07).
I'd pay decent money for a photo of the 66-year old, grizzle-bearded neocon and his wife "partying" with 25,000 young, happy rednecks in cowboy hats and boots. Where is Google Street View when we need it?
But here's the best part:
It's great to get out of the Washington culture of narcissism and spend some time with the rednecks, a.k.a. real Americans. And it's simply great, as the encores end, and a downpour of red, white and blue confetti covers the crowd, to see Toby say "don't ever apologize for your patriotism," and then lift the middle finger of his right hand to the skies and say, "F*** 'Em!"
Which, after a week of disgusting anti-Americanism in Washington, nicely summed up our feelings.
For extra credit, write an essay of at least ten words on one of the following:
1. Who has ever asked or told Toby Keith or his audience to apologize for their patriotism?
2. The lyrics of "Should've Been a Cowboy" start off by praising Marshall Dillon for never asking Miss Kitty to marry him. (NB: Miss Kitty runs the saloon in the Gunsmoke TV series, but in reality she'd be a madame, like Belle Watling.) Meanwhile, in the chorus, the singer fantasizes about "Stealin' young girls' hearts." The song then invokes "Roy," a reference to Roy ("King of the Cowboys") Rogers, whose cowboy identity is inseparable from that of Dale Evans--his wife. Discuss.
3. The singer fantasizes that he might have "ended up on the brink of danger/Riding shotgun with the Texas Rangers." Yet "riding shotgun" takes place on a stage coach (a public means of conveyance, not a law enforcement vehicle), while the Texas Rangers rode horses. Since this is like saying, "I might have been a cop/Flying co-pilot in the cockpit," then what the heck?
4. To whom in "the skies" is "F*** 'Em!" addressed?
5. To whom does the "'Em!" in "F*** 'Em!" refer?
6. If escaping a "culture of narcissism" is so great, why does Ledeen remain in Washington?
7. To what does "a week of disgusting anti-Americanism" refer?
8. Since Keith's "F*** 'Em!" nicely summed up Ledeen's and Barbara's feelings, to whom did they wish to express that sentiment?
9. If "red necks" are "real Americans," what kind of Americans are Ledeen and Barbara?
10. If Ledeen claims that the posturing of a country pop star and the cheers of cowboy-hat wearing mid-western young people sum up his and Barbara's feelings, isn't it possible that he's a narcissist?
Yes, as always, mocking the patronizing, inherently dishonest pensees of the thinkers of the right is good for a laff. But here's the interesting thing:
We are familiar with the sense of victimization of the Christian right. These are people who in one breath can say, "This is a Christian nation," and in the next nod with righteous indignation when any Bible-wielding charlatan or demagogue reminds them of how they're "oppressed" or "marginalized" or that their right to "freedom of religion" is being violated. To such a Christian, a day without feeling persecuted is a day without sunshine.
Where does it start? Who victimizes these innocent, loving people of faith? Their answer would be: The whole world. Modernity, tv, kids-these-days, science, "Hollywood," that-rap-music, feminism, pre- and post- and un-marital sex and gay sex and gay marital marriage.
But if they said that, they'd be wrong. What really oppresses them is the fact that God seems to be letting these libertines and atheists and sinners get away with it. The Christian right's sense of persecution begins in the child's complaint to the parent, "It's not fair."
Now look at Michael Ledeen's "real Americans." When Toby Keith urges them not ever to apologize for their patriotism (and, presumably, they respond with cheers--our man in Indiana didn't say), what are they responding to? Whom do they refuse to apologize to? Who's oppressing them?
The answer is the same, adjusted for the secular context. Their sense of oppression and their need to defy it originates in themselves, in their own authoritarian mindset.
If you're going to declare that "supporting the troops" is no different from supporting the President; if your idea of patriotism begins and ends with the tough-guy/fabric designer motto "These colors don't run;" if you're going to denounce "tyranny" and then cheer for the folks who bring you the "unitary executive;" if you're going to stand up for "freedom" and then boycott (and issue death threats to) the Dixie Chicks for expressing an opinion--why, then, you've internalized, you've made part of yourself, the reassuring/scary voice and the protective/threatening presence of the Authority.
He can be God or he can be Daddy, but the extent to which you derive strength from Him is precisely the extent to which you suffer from His scrutiny and fear His wrath. Spend your day on your knees in worship of an authority, and sooner or later it's got to dawn on you that your knees hurt.
That's who these Keith fans are defying: their inner Daddy. Nobody--not Natalie Maines, not "liberals," not even Michael Moore--is judging their patriotism. It just (once Keith mentions it) feels that way. They walk around feeling judged and evaluated and called-to-task, not by the invisible "they" to whom Keith gives the finger, but by the very institutions (family, church, country) and their figurehead embodiments (Dad; God; the President) from whom they derive a part of their identity and a sense of their own adequacy in the world.
These are Michael Ledeen's peeps. Except, of course, not really. For Ledeen (and, presumably, Barbara) the Keith concert was an exercise in cultural slumming, a bracing dip in the pool of idealized "real American" primitivism. It's classic--which is to say, it's self-parodic--Republican punditry. "You ought to try it," Ledeen writes. "Does wonders for the spirit."
Just what the uptown Jazz-Age swells used to report after an evening's diversion in Harlem.
Go here for the lyrics to "Should've Been a Cowboy"
Gene is Gene Autry, who was a cowboy in exactly the same way that Elijah Wood was a hobbit. Roy and Dale, meanwhile, used to sing "How Do I Know? The Bible Tells Me So." (Yee-haah!) It's all here, the whole Wild-West-Day-at-summer-camp extravaganza: six-guns, campfire songs, Jesse James, whisky, women, and gold. Someone--Lyle Lovett, say, or Big and Rich--should write a song called "Oh, Fuck, I'm a Cowboy," with lyrics like these:
Oh Fuck, I'm a Cowboy
Well my ass, it takes a poundin'
In the saddle ev'ry day
And the trail boss, he's a-bitchin'
'Bout our schedule and our pay
Gotta chase them goddamn mav'ricks
Ev'ry time one runs away
It's enough to make a feller up and say:
I'm a cowboy
Ev'ry day I pull a muscle in my arm
Breathin' dust along the trail
Sleep in rain and ride in hail
Shoulda listened to my pa and worked a farm
Well I'm scared of ev'ry gal I meet
And they all think I'm strange
So I sleep out with the cattle
And the bugs 'n' mites 'n' mange
I take comfort with the cowpokes
But I think that's gotta change
I don't want to be no homo on the range
I'm a cowboy
And I'm tired of ev'ry boy and ev'ry cow
Take a drink from my canteen
Tastes like moss and Mr. Clean
Shoulda listened to my ma and pushed a plow
Now the grub that Cookie cooks us
I don't wanna know its source
And the coffee, when you smell it
You feel hatred and remorse
On the trail my eyes get itchy
And I sneeze with fearsome force
'Cause I think I'm now allergic to my horse
So you young un's pay attention
And think twice 'fore you decide
Got no git-tarr, got no six-gun
Got no sidekick to deride
I ain't free to roam the prairie
I'm just free to work outside
I don't ramble, I don't gamble, I just ride
I'm a cowboy
So you sing your songs about me while you can
Me, I'm lookin' for a life
Lets me find myself a wife
And a job that lets me call myself a man.
(Cross-posted at http://barbel.wordpress.com/