There’s been something on my mind from a month and a half ago, and I thought I would address it. I have, what I think is a very friendly relationship with The Q-Filmcast guys. But when they did an episode of Dr Strangelove, there was a little unpleasantness—both on their blog and on Twitter. I was unhappy that they simply avoided the political content of the film. And as is my way, I am not one to use the soft sell. I wrote, “It amazes me that any of you could miss the fact that the same radical right-wing John Birch Society has come back in a big way within the Tea Party.” That was specifically in reference to how the film lampoons water fluoridation as a communist conspiracy.
They wrote back that they wanted to stay away from politics and focus on character and so on. If that’s the case, I can only wonder why they picked the film. Really. If they decided to watch Birth of a Nation, would they focus on Lillian Gish’s acting and avoid its explicit racism and Klan apologia? I don’t think so. My point is not to put these fine guys down, but just to point out that politics is politics. It is no longer acceptable to publicly claim that the Klan was just created to protect the purity of southern white woman. But we are (sadly) still arguing about American empire. And even more pointedly we still have people like Brigadier General Jack Ripper (the Fluoridation guy who starts the nuclear war). All you have to do is listen to Lieutenant Colonel Allen West (retired).
So to take no position on these matters is very much to take a position. One can’t, for example, be agnostic on the issue of torture. Being agnostic is being for it. But what really bothered me about the whole interaction was that facile disregard of my position. And then there was this tweet, “I go to the cinema to get away from socialists, or at least escape the endless political nonsense that’s tearing us apart.” They go to the cinema to get away from socialists? Really?! Because all you have to do to get away from socialists in America is to step outside your house, visit almost any website, watch any television program, or talk to anyone. And then, after implicitly vilifying socialists as a kind of pox on society, they provide an appeal to understanding. Apparently, the political nonsense that’s tearing us apart is that there are socialists who disagree with them.
This, I’m afraid is what is behind the “can’t we all just get along” chorus. It is really just a sneaky way of saying, “Shut up and get lost!” But I would much rather get the latter treatment. As regular readers know, I talk to a lot of conservatives and I find there is a lot of crossover in our beliefs. At least, there is a lot of crossover until Fox News and hate radio start telling them what all good conservatives ought to think. But if someone doesn’t want to discuss politics, that’s fine. But don’t pretend that you’re above it when my opinions offend you. All it really means is that your opinions either go along with the perspective of the nightly news, or you only listen to news sources that reinforce your prejudices. (Actually, that’s the same.)
To give you an example of what I’m talking about, the same guys who complained about my political nonsense that was “tearing us apart” tweeted out this image for Independence Day:
And it went along with the text, “1st rule of America… No tyranny.” Now there is so much wrong here it makes me weep. I hate that it turns Washington into a guy in a Tareyton Cigarettes ad. I hate the depiction of the founding fathers as though they were toughs rather than the Enlightenment thinkers that they were. I hate that of all pictures to post on Independence Day, this is the one they chose. But most of all, I hate the caption. That’s the first rule of America? No tyranny? Well, I’m against tyranny, but the tyranny that the Declaration of Independence refers to is nothing compared to the tyranny that was suffered by the African slaves held by the white ruling elite. And the man pushing hardest against this English tyranny (John Adams) was eager to set up his own tyranny against the lower classes in the new country. And what about Gerald Horne’s contention that many of the delegates were not interested in tyranny but the thought that England was soon going to outlaw slavery in its colonies? But none of this matters. These are arguments that we could have.
But promoting a slogan like “First rule of America… No tyranny” shows that the filmcast guys do have a political ax to grind. If you had asked me what the first thing that the Declaration of Independence brings to mind, I would have said, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I just don’t see the 1765 Stamp Act as the definition of tyranny. But again, that’s an argument that we can have. But we can’t have it when people who clearly disagree with you pretend to be disinterested.
So does Dr Strangelove work today as an indictment of the Tea Party? Most certainly. Does it lampoon people who think that international relations are about how hard various leaders can beat their chests? You bet. And is it scornful of the idea that we live in anything like a tyranny today? Absolutely.
The only founding father I have a great deal of respect for is Thomas Paine who has largely been written out of our history books, other than noting the importance of Common Sense. What is not widely known is that his 1797 pamphlet Agrarian Justice called for property and estate taxes to pay for old age pensions. Sound familiar? Sound like an idea that was almost a century and a half before its time? Sound like an idea that conservatives today want to destroy? (Actually, it would already be destroyed, it if weren’t funded by a ridiculously regressive payroll tax.) It has also been suggested that the reason Paine was pushed to the side by the big founding fathers was his abhorrence of slavery. It’s interesting that all the founding fathers in that picture were slave owners. What a joke political discourse has become in this country.