Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Confusions of the Age

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

I get confused by the news quite often. Here are five anomalies that make no real sense.

1) Football as Ethical Sermonizing. Most watch football as a release from anxieties, work, and even the race/class/gender obsessions of our age, and see players in non-racial terms. And I think viewers put up with the growing hypocrisies, pretensions, and repugnancies of the NFL — star players involved in drugs, assaults, shootings, (even the creepy base cruelty to animals), the dubious origins of some of the owners’ vast fortunes, hack sportswriters masquerading as Platonic thinkers, high-priced, crass spoiled multimillionaires occasionally offering cheap sound bites as if they were civil rights leaders of the Gandhi or King caliber — because of the courage of hundreds of gladiators to engage each Sunday in an incredibly dangerous, nearly pre-civilized struggle in the arena.

But with the Limbaugh matter, the entire Potemkin edifice is exposed. The race mongers Jackson (‘hymie-town”) and Sharpton (“white folks was in caves…”), the latter whose incendiary antics defamed a DA and led to rioting and death, talking of decorum is like, well, NFL players talking about proper role-model behavior. And are proper politics now, in this brave new world of government control of an increasing number of businesses, criteria for private enterprise? Is Ted Turner never allowed to buy another sports team, given his outrageous political statements about Iran, Israel, Bush, global warming, etc? Perhaps we need a federal “acquisition board” with “nonpartisan” humanists and former federal officials like a Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, or Van Jones to adjudicate the moral character of potential buyers?

2.To Russia With Love. Do you laugh or cry about our policy with Russia? When we serially cried out “reset” button, blamed Bush for the new Cold War with Russia, and promised to “listen,” we knew the U.S. was walking blindfolded up the steps of Putin’s guillotine. So we humiliated the Czechs and the Poles (who have suffered far worse from the Russians) in exchange for the mythical “help” with sanctions on Iran. Today, Putin’s brief verdict of “premature” on sanctions said it all. If we can reconstruct the Obama/Hillary disaster, it goes something like this: Putin always liked the win/win/win/win idea of a nuclear Iran (the missiles point at the U.S., good profits for Russian companies, tensions in the Gulf always a help with high oil prices, everyone begs Russia to “leash” their new feral nuclear bulldog). So he entraps the idiotic Americans by vague promises of Iranian sanctions in exchange for reestablishing Russian fear and obedience in the former Soviet sphere — while revealing how America’s economic dive and strategic hesitation are proof of a more endemic decline. When Hillary talks of how delighted she is that Russia is “so supportive”, are we to cry for the beloved country? It is as if Putin not only knew he would win on this one, but also get the added bonus of showing the world how obsequious, naïve, and impotent the new U.S. was in the bargain.

3. Not to be Spoken. What is this recent confusion about sodomy in the news, which transcends even the context of rape and coercion? I don’t quite understand how “sodomy” in the current press is presented as a sort of force multiplier to all sorts of sins. For example, the grotesque Polanski matter is not just presented as a repugnant rape of a child, but emphasized ad nauseam as even more repulsive and horrendous due to the additional wage of sodomy. Almost anytime the press wishes to emphasize the particular cruelty or the unpleasant carnality of a sexual crime, they include, if applicable, the word sodomy, with the understanding that such an act is sensationalized and fraught with depravity. And, again, it is not always just the matter of coercion, but rather what the Greeks called para phusin (contrary to nature, as in the notion of confusing sexuality with the excretory system [see Aristophanes on this]). Popular culture has all sorts of expressions that correlate the act with a certain physical unpleasantness, from prison jokes to the generic “We got screwed” by this or that. But yet at the same time, the act seems to be an absolutely taboo subject in even the most generic referencing to the male homosexual movement.

I know the issue of civil rights is a separate one (and one I support as equality of all before the law), but if popular culture has all but suggested that heterosexuals who engage in such an act are depraved when carried out consensually, and especially worthy of odium beyond that accorded to the rapist, when as an act of coercion, why is the subject simply taboo in matters of public discussion of male homosexuality? When it was touched upon in the days of worries over co-factors for the increased vulnerability to the HIV virus, a firestorm followed that such discussions were indirect expressions of homophobia. (As a father of three, who in the 1990s went through the California public schools’ explicit sex education classes, I can attest that my children were taught that unprotected sex in general, not especially particular types of unprotected sex, were equivalent to a near death sentence.)

So what is the politically-correct stance to take the next time a talking head on the news grimaces and then in sober tones goes on to relate that case A involving coercion or incident B without coercion or revelation C involved sodomy — are we to be outraged at his deprecation of a particular act more associated with a particular group and to think this is selective moralizing if not homophobia, or to be outraged that suspect A or person B crossed the lines of behavior and is even more morally repellant for such an act that went beyond rape, or as now simply to think in paradoxical fashion, “wow, that is a really awful act” or “wow, I am not supposed to think that is a really awful act”?

4. The Status of Race? As I have written ad nauseam, I was worried about racial relations, given the comments that candidate Obama had made (“typical white person”, the clingers speech, the 95% bloc voting he garnered against a very liberal rival in the primaries like Hillary Clinton, and, of course, the Rev. Wright virulent racism, etc.), and his epigones as well since his election (the Van Jones’ racist stereotyping, the “cowards” outburst by Eric Holder, the Professor Gates matter, the faux-racist charges by Rangel, Paterson, etc.). Now I am confused what is really to be considered racialist, racist, taboo, okay — or what?

I thought Kanye West’s stealing of the mike at the awards ceremony was in part racially-motivated. I could not quite believe Chris Rock telling a confused Jay Leno, “What the hell did Michael Vick do, man? A dog, a pit bull ain’t even a real dog. A pit bull, that’s the white stuff. Dogs are white man’s best friend — dogs have never been good to black people.” Rock went on about “white people” not liking blacks, etc. All that seemed as, or as not, polarizing as fellow entertainer and political commentator Limbaugh suggesting that a controversial black quarterback was treated too kindly in discussions of his effectiveness by sports writers because of politically-correct/racial anxieties. In other words, I think in just 9 months there have been more racially charged rhetoric and more charges of “racist!” than we’ve seen in the past decade. I know that “white person/white people” as a collective stereotype is being employed more than ever before, perhaps because of its initial presidential sanction. My fear is that we are going to see an enormous backlash against this constant racial obsession. At some point, someone is going to hear a Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, of the “black” caucus, railing on the House floor about Limbaugh’s supposed seeing people in terms of race, and — well, laugh.

The problem with racializing things is that it is a catalyst for all sorts of frightening hatreds given the nature of the human species; as a society we should be talking constantly about “us” and “we,” never about a particular group of people whose skin color binds them rather than shared interests and ideas. When a Chris Rock or Lee or for that matter Van Jones talks breezily about “white people” or “black people” doing this or that, then fairly soon, someone is going to do the same with “black” or “brown” people, not covertly, but overtly in emulation. And then we have all but legitimized the descent into tribalism.

5. Rich? Not you, not me?

All the news agencies picked up this USA Today story: “Democrats in the House today represent a combination of both the wealthiest and poorest districts across the nation, a different composition than in 2005, a USA Todayanalysis of Census data indicated Wednesday. Democrats now represent 57 percent of the 4.8 million households that had incomes of $200,000 or more in 2008. In 2005, Republicans represented 55 percent of those affluent households.”

This seems to be an enormously revealing, but mostly neglected, story:

a) It gives credence to the old impression that the modern Democratic Party is not sensitive to the middle-class complaint that the wealthy can afford the redistribution of money to the poor that falls inordinately on the middle class who can’t.

b) We have not seen Obama’s promised tax hikes yet. When the lifting of FICA caps, the increase in income taxes on the top brackets, surcharges for healthcare, etc. are enacted, will those who make over $200,000 continue to support the huge new entitlements and deficit spending? It was easy to rail against Bush as heartless when he cuts your taxes, but will it be so easy to encourage Obama’s spending sprees when yours are actually raised?

c) There is something very Roman about this, in the sense of the upper-classes seeking exemption from popular outcry at their exalted status, by a sort of bread-and-circuses entitlement insurance policy. In more practical purposes, the survey would mean in my work area, that those in the Redwood City barrio and those in the East Palo Alto ghetto, who draw more inordinately on food stamps, housing subsidies, and Medical, have a natural affinity with those in $3 million homes in the rather apartheid Palo Alto and Atherton — but neither so much with the working classes in a Sunnyvale or Milpitas (more racially diverse communities than either Atherton or Redwood City). The rich offer bromides for the poor, but are exempt by their capital from the consequences should such social policy prove ill thought-out. Apparently a lawyer who makes $250,000 and hears constantly Obama’s now tiresome rant about the “rich” either thinks that his own liberality exempts him from the charge that he has ill-gotten gains; or that he has enough that an extra 20-30K in income and payroll taxes won’t matter that much; or that Obama will treat taxation as he has Guantanamo — a strident talking point that remains that. (Most likely he will just let the Bush tax cuts naturally expire, and say ‘they’, not he, hiked taxes on the middle classes.)

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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