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Commentary: A selection of heterodox views

by on January 25, 2014 10:19 AM

Recent weeks have seen a decline in the kinds of abusive reader emails that keep a columnist feeling feisty. It’s a long time since anybody informed me that I’m a cowardly elitist doomed to spend eternity in hell watching NBA games with Barack Obama.

So to stir the pot here’s a brief selection of heterodox opinions:

• As a New Jersey expatriate (my sons used to call “All in the Family” “The Man Like Grandpa Show”), people keep asking me what the George Washington Bridge brouhaha says about Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential hopes. What hopes? Christie never had a realistic shot at the GOP nomination anyway. He’s merely a noisier version of “America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani.

Christie’s whole act, pointing at people and yelling — not to mention cozying up to Barack Obama — won’t play with GOP primary voters south and west of Trenton. For the longest time, it was impossible to take the bridge thing seriously because nobody could possibly be that petty and stupid. Now that we’ve seen the incriminating emails and heard Christie’s alibi that he was betrayed by disloyal staffers, all that’s lacking is what thriller writers call “the MacGuffin” — the ultimate prize these jokers were chasing.

Ultimately, Jersey political intrigue always involves a shakedown. If anybody solves the puzzle, it’ll probably be Steve Kornacki, an excellent reporter who knows the territory even if he does work for MSNBC.

The novel version is Robert Penn Warren’s classic “All the King’s Men,” even though it’s set in Louisiana in the 1930s.

• Speaking of Louisiana, I wrote a while back that an ill-advised publicity stunt by “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson would probably backfire. Condemning gays to hell won him short-term notoriety.

“Longer term,” I wrote, “unapologetic bigots always fade into obscurity, basically because they embarrass people.”

Sooner rather than later it turns out: Ratings for the show’s season five premiere were down 28 percent from last year.

• As a recovering testosterone addict, Frederic Poag’s Daily Banter article “The Myth of the Good Guy with a Gun: How I was Almost Curtis Reeves” struck me as exactly right.

Curtis Reeves is the Florida ex-cop who shot somebody to death for texting in a movie theater. You pack heat, you’re apt to run into some jerk that needs killing — or so you might think for the two enraged seconds it takes to destroy his life and yours.

• So how can it be a bad thing that Iran has shut down its uranium-enriching centrifuges while it negotiates with the U.S. and allies? Here’s syndicated columnist Paul Greenberg agreeing with a reader that negotiating with Iran is worse than handing over Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.

Unlike Britain and France in 1938, see, “the United States and its allies are fully capable of exerting the necessary military power to preserve the peace. ... Iran, like North Korea, is the international equivalent of a little bully whom the big boys ought to be able to dispatch with ease — and the very fact that they are not willing to do so signals a supine posture even worse than that of Munich in 1938, and therefore a much more craven act of appeasement.”

Or, to summarize in strictly Orwellian terms: War is Peace (“exerting the necessary military power to preserve the peace”). Also, Strength is Weakness. Precisely because Iran poses no serious threat, failing to attack shows cowardice.

Its proponents call this style of thinking “neoconservatism.”

• Meanwhile, the anti-gravity left has gone over the edge regarding Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. There was zero chance that President Obama’s recent proposals to safeguard Americans’ privacy would meet with the approval of the Snowden-Glenn Greenwald axis. They are not of this world.

“The objective of the NSA and the U.S. government,” Greenwald has written, “is nothing less than destroying all remnants of privacy. They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another, things that we say to one another, things we do with one another, places we go, the behavior in which we engage, that they know about it.”

Historian Sean Wilentz has aptly dubbed this style of thinking “paranoid libertarianism.” Even so, I was astonished to find Digby Parton, normally one of the most incisive online political writers, praising the brilliance of blogger Marcy Wheeler’s analysis of President Obama’s speech.

Martin Luther King Jr., see, once warned that American arrogance might cause God to “break the backbone” of our power.

Wheeler explodes the metaphor on her site, emptywheel.net: “Not only does it (arrogance) threaten to break the ideological backbone of our hegemony — replacing our liberties with our policing — but it quite literally threatens to balkanize the communication backbone we’ve exploited to become that policeman.”

Read that again. Read it six times.

How is it possible to literally “balkanize” anything, much less a metaphorical backbone that’s also a policeman?

When intelligent people emit sheer gibberish, it’s a good sign nobody’s thinking.



Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin's Press, 2000). His column is distributed by the Newspaper Enterprise Association. You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.
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January 25, 2014 10:09 AM
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