Friday, October 27, 2006

Paglia: Democrats Acting Like Idiots

Excerpts from a interview:

What has been your reaction to the huge uproar over Rep. Mark Foley, which was on the front pages of newspapers in Europe as well as the U.S. for two straight weeks?

Foley is obviously a moral degenerate, and the Republican House leadership has come across as pathetically bumbling and ineffectual. But the idea that this is some sort of major scandal in the history of American politics is ludicrous. This was a story that needed to be told for, you know, like two days.

Mark Foley was never on the radar of anyone outside the small circle of news junkies. So his fall and banishment from Washington were nothing but a drip in the torrential flood of current geopolitical problems. The way the Democratic leadership was in clear collusion with the major media to push this story in the month before the midterm election seems to me to have been a big fat gift to Ann Coulter and the other conservative commentators who say the mainstream media are simply the lapdogs of the Democrats. Every time I turned on the news it was "Foley, Foley, Foley!" -- and in suspiciously similar language and repetitive talking points.

After three or four days of it, as soon as I heard Foley's name, I turned the sound off or switched channels. It was gargantuan overkill, and I felt the Democrats were shooting themselves in the foot. I was especially repulsed by the manipulative use of a gay issue for political purposes by my own party. I think it was not only poor judgment but positively evil. Whatever short-term political gain there is, it can only have a negative impact on gay men. When a moralistic, buttoned-up Republican like Foley is revealed to have a secret, seamy gay life, it simply casts all gay men under a shadow and makes people distrust them. Why don't the Democratic strategists see this? These tactics are extremely foolish. Gay men through history have always been more vulnerable to public hysteria than are lesbians, who -- unless they're out there parading around in all-leather bull-dyke drag -- simply fit more easily into the cultural landscape than do gay men, who generally lead a more adventurous, pickup-oriented sex life.

Not only has the public image of gay men been tarnished by the over-promotion of the Foley scandal, but they have actually been put into physical danger. It's already starting with news items about teenage boys using online sites to lure gay men on dates to attack and rob them. What in the world are the Democrats thinking? We saw the beginning of this in that grotesque moment in the last presidential debates when John Kerry came out with that clearly prefab line identifying Mary Cheney as a lesbian. Since when does the Democratic Party use any gay issue in this coldblooded way as a token on the chessboard? You'd expect this stuff from right-wing ideologues, not progressives.

It's also been interesting how both sides -- but the Democrats early on -- characterized Foley as a pederast. He's a dirty old man in the classic Washington tradition, going after teenagers. But there's no proof that he's a child molester.

I kept hearing on the radio the stentorian voices of Democratic women politicians saying that Foley was "preying on children." When will this stop? This blurring of the line between teenagers and children -- who should be vigilantly protected by any society.

And in Washington, the age of legal consent is 16.

Exactly! Therefore if it wasn't absolutely clear at the start who exactly Foley was flirting with, the Democrats should have been far more cautious about what they said. All that's been accomplished by this scandal is to call into question one of the central erotic archetypes of gay male tradition -- the ephebic beauty of boys at their muscular peak between the ages of 16 and 18. It goes back through Western iconography from Michelangelo's nudes to Hadrian's Antinous and beyond that to Greek sculpture. It's a formula at the heart of Plato's dialogues, as in the Symposium, which shows Socrates in love with but also declining sex with the handsome young Alcibiades. In ancient Greek culture, an adult man could publicly profess his love for a young man without necessarily having sexual contact with him.

The Foley scandal exploded without any proof of a documented sex act -- unlike the case of the late congressman Gerry Studds, who had sex with a page and who was literally applauded by fellow Democrats when they refused to vote for his censure. In the Foley case, there was far more ambiguous evidence -- suggestive e-mails and instant messages. Matt Drudge, to his great credit, began hitting this issue right off the bat on his Web site and radio show. What does it mean for Democrats to be agitating over Web communications, which in my view fall under the province of free speech? It's a civil liberties issue. We can say that what Foley was doing was utterly inappropriate, professionally irresponsible, and in bad taste, but why were liberals fomenting a scandal day after day after day over words being used? And why didn't Democrats notice that they were drifting into an area which has been the province of the right wing -- that is, the attempt to gain authoritarian control over interpersonal communications on the Web [what the heck is she talking about?]? It's very worrisome and yet more proof that the Democrats have lost their way.

It also advances a line the far Christian right has employed for years -- to make a connection between gay men and child molesters. It's one of the most despicable smears imaginable.

And with the Democrats' record of sex scandals, what the hell were they thinking of? For heaven's sake, after we just got through the whole Clinton maelstrom! What Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky was far worse than any evidence I've seen thus far about what Foley did with these pages. Clinton, whom I voted for twice, used his superior power as an employer to lure Monica Lewinsky, who was perfectly willing, into these squalid sexual assignations on the grounds of the White House. There was a time when feminists were arguing, in regard to sexual harassment in the workplace, that any gross disparity in power cannot possibly produce informed consent. All of a sudden, all of that was abandoned for partisan reasons in the Clinton case. I take the European view that any government official has the right to conduct as many sexual affairs as he wishes -- off government property. But Clinton, with all his power, somehow couldn't figure out a way to discreetly meet his chosen women at the mansions of his many friends. I can understand why hotels and motels might have been difficult to manage, with the telltale Secret Service presence. But to use the hallway off the Oval Office for those encounters -- to be serviced by a young woman to whom he gave no other dignity and whom he used like a washrag -- he turned that hallway into a sleazy mosh pit! The Democrats are being extremely imprudent to arouse all those sleeping tigers again -- particularly if their next presidential nomination is Hillary Clinton. They've reignited the endless series of charges about Clinton's allegedly abusive physical encounters with women, beginning when he was governor of Arkansas. The Foley case shrinks in comparison to Clinton's rumored history of hitting on women in subordinate positions.

But what if by jumping on and making a big deal out of this, it delivers the Democrats the House and the Senate? Will it have been worth it?

I completely disagree that the Foley case has helped the Democrats. There's been so much fudging of the polling data, which long before the Foley case already indicated that many Republicans nationwide were turned off by the direction of their party and were planning to sit home on Election Day. It's a boldfaced lie that the Foley case caused this. Bedrock Republicans have been dismayed by the Bush administration's overspending and by its inaction on illegal immigration, among other things. These trends were already quite visible before the Democrats inserted themselves into the Republicans' slow drift away from the polls. So what they've done, in this rabid orchestration of the Foley case, is to risk energizing the Republican base again. Are they mad, or just dumb? They've handed the Republicans a reason to go to the polls -- to register their contempt for Democrats!

And this was at a moment in the campaign when we needed to keep the fiasco in Iraq on the front pages. For the Democrats to have stolen the headlines and forced the major media to switch subjects has been a tremendous boon to Bush. What kind of disproportion of scale are we talking about here? The Foley case is nothing compared to the disaster in Iraq and the innumerable lives that are being lost or ruined on both sides.


It seems like religion has never been a bigger issue in American politics, recognized on both sides of the aisle as something that needs to be addressed. Have the Democrats changed the longtime Republican characterization of them as godless?

Well, as long as the Democrats are perceived as the anti-religion party, we're going to lose the culture wars. That's why Hillary has made such a show of churchgoing and wearing crucifixes -- even while there seems to be little connection between her Christian ideals and her backstage activities as a politician and money raiser. But religion is absolutely central to this country in ways that Europe's secularized intellectuals fail to understand. I'm speaking here as an atheist who studies religion and respects it enormously. In the history of mankind, the benefits that religion has brought to society in shaping behavior and moral choice are overwhelming in comparison to the negatives, which anyone can list -- like religious wars and bigotry. Without religion, we'd have anarchy.

Religion is also a metaphysical system that honors the largeness of the universe. It's that sense of largeness, which my generation used to call cosmic consciousness, that is missing in the cynical ideologies promoted by the elite universities -- like post-structuralism, which is obsessed with politics and language and has a depressingly debased view of human experience. Post-structuralism doesn't see the stars or the enormity of nature, which for religious people symbolizes God's power. So I think that the constant sniping at religion coming from liberal Democrats is really a dead end.

But there's reason for alarm at the right-wing intertwining of religion and politics, where the Bible is seen as the prophetic master plan of the universe and where Israel as the Holy Land must be protected at all costs from Muslim infiltration -- duplicating the agenda of the medieval crusades. But to claim, as Democrats often do, that there has always been a separation of church and state in America is misleading: The U.S. simply has no official state religion. The formative influence in our intellectual heritage came from Puritan dissidents in New England. Major universities like Harvard and Yale were founded on religious principles.

The more liberal parents are, the less contact their children have with religious ideas. That will surely disable our future American leaders from being able to understand the religious commitment of Islamic fundamentalists. Liberal journalists often seem incredulous about how anyone would seek death for religious principles. But that was the entire history of early Christianity, when the saints willingly sought martyrdom. We're heading into that world again.

What do contemporary intellectuals have to offer anyhow? What passionate engagement do they have to appeal to young people? Liberal secularism has become bourgeois and materialistic. It's snide, elitist, and politically marginalized. The chattering class clearly has no effect whatever on decision-making in Washington. Conservative radio hosts have been claiming that liberal criticism of Bush's decisiveness in invading Iraq mirrors the shilly-shallying of 1930s intellectuals during Hitler's rise. The intellectuals, with their cultivated internationalism, always counsel procrastination and leave it to the men of action to deal forcefully with fascist regimes.

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