Where's Manson? Political discourse can always use a new villain
I keep waiting for Charles Manson to get involved in politics.
Yes, the old lunatic is still around, although he doesn’t make the news much these days.
Manson is 75 now. And judging by the most recent photograph I’ve seen, he probably has to strain to achieve anything like the wild-eyed glare that earned him such infamy during his murderous heyday, when even a president, without provocation, once mentioned him during a press conference.
Yet the Manson mystique — his brand name, if you will — could still carry a certain cachet, I think, if only Charlie would cast his lot with one side or other of the political spectrum.
As a villain, Manson has few peers among the living or the dead.
And villains have rarely been as valuable, when deployed as political pawns, as they are today.
Hitler, for instance (who was, by the way, Manson’s favorite world leader), is launched so often as a propaganda missile that it’s hard for somebody who is at all deficient in partisan zealotry to figure out just whose side the fuehrer was actually on.
Or would be on were he still alive.
If you follow the news in more casual fashion, though, you might have come to the perplexing conclusion that Hitler is both:
• the spiritual ancestor to President Obama. “Socialist,” remember, is right there in the Nazi Party’s name — it’s the second word, even — and we all know Obama is a socialist.
• the chief inspiration for the Tea Party movement. This, as you know, is the sinister cabal striving to dismantle the socialist utopia that Obama allegedly so dearly wishes to assemble.
Hitler was a lot of things, but I doubt he is capable of pulling off that sort of doppelganger ruse.
Especially not now, when he’s dead.
And even when he wasn’t, Hitler’s style tended toward the blunt rather than the clever.
A cudgel to the kidney sort of guy, is what I mean.
But of course historical accuracy matters not a whit in modern politics. If money is still the mother’s milk of that endeavor, then exaggeration is the chocolate syrup that makes it sweeter, and guilt by invented association the straw that whips everything into a nice froth.
Democrats seek to link Tea Party members to Tim McVeigh, the KKK and assorted other distasteful flotsam of the right.
Tea Partiers, meanwhile, counter the left’s jabs with a stiff combination of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot comparisons.
But so far as I’m concerned this bout is a draw, because neither scrapper, despite much energetic flailing, manages to land a single blow that delivers the sting of a well-reasoned argument.
The Tea Party, contrary to the claims of certain incoherent commentators, can’t be branded as the inevitable spawn of McVeigh and the militia movement simply because its promoters bemoan the expansion of government entitlements and whine about taxes being too high.
McVeigh blew up a federal building.
Tea Partiers rally outside federal buildings and, apparently, pick up the trash they see.
“Hey, that teabagger just threw a wadded up hamburger wrapper at me!” shouts the offended counter-protester who’s standing beside the garbage can.
Yet some of the allegations leveled against Obama and the Democrats seem to me equally inane and infantile.
The president’s campaign to ensure all Americans have health insurance might earn him the respect of European socialists, but it doesn’t make him a dictator who would have enjoyed swapping favorite gulag stories with Stalin.
As I recall, Americans freely elected not only Obama, but also all those Democrats who voted for the healthcare reform bill last month.
The Germans, by contrast, were saddled with Hitler whether they wanted him or not. (In fact the last time they expressed their opinion about him through suffrage, in 1932, Hitler was trounced by the ancient Junker Hindenburg, who was still coasting on the story of how he handled the Russians at Tannenberg in 1914.)
I’ve read quite a few histories chronicling the transition from the Weimar Republic to Nazi control and in none did I come across a reference to a ballot that read something like this: “For the office of fuehrer of the Third Reich. Please fill in only one box: 1) Adolf Hitler; 2) Execution.”
That would have been the real hanging chad.
The deplorable state of political discourse disappoints me in large part because this ought to be an inspiring episode in American history.
We have reached, it seems to me, one of those moments when two vastly different attitudes about our country’s direction are poised on a fulcrum, more or less equally balanced.
Yet I don’t believe the current debate, which is based largely on the question of how much money the government should take from us, and how it should spend that wealth, is so polarizing, when compared with, say, slavery and the civil rights movement, that tipping the balance to one side or the other must inevitably lead to a ghastly four-year war, or even violent clashes in the streets.
There are, I think, cogent arguments to be made on both sides.
And some people are making them.
People who understand that it’s quite possible to lambaste a president’s policies but not actually wish the man ill. Who understand that lawmakers who believe health insurance is a right do not intend to send government agents to confiscate your guns and force you to trade your pickup truck for an electric car that has a solar panel where the sunroof’s supposed to go.
Yet I fear that the healthful benefits of vigorous intellectual exercise will continue to elude us, more often than not, so long as too many people reach instead for the easy but empty calories of baseless accusation and specious insinuation.
There’s nothing fortifying, anyway, about branding people as bigots who simply think a trillion dollars is a rather large sum, or about implying that politicians who believe the government should help its citizens also have an allegiance to the architects of genocides past.
All of which makes as much sense as hiring Manson to write your speeches.
Imagine what Beck or Olbermann or Maher could do with that.