I Spy a Sellout
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Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq; either we hope for the vindication of Bush's risky, very possibly reckless policy, or we are in de facto alliance with the killers of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians ... I don't mean to suggest, in the right-wing, proto-fascist rhetorical fashion, that every good American is obliged to support all American wars. But at this moment in this war, that binary choice of who you want to win is inescapable and needs to be faced squarely -- just as being pro-war obliges one to admit that thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed or maimed or orphaned.
-- Kurt Andersen, New York magazine
Man, is it easy to make money in this writing business in New York City. You youngsters out there who are still waiting to get published, still trawling for internships jobs, you may not see it yet. But take a good look at Kurt Andersen at New York if you want to see how it all works out at the end of the rainbow.
Once upon a time, when he was writing for the legendary Spy magazine, Kurt Andersen was not a mouse, but a man. After four years of working (along with Graydon Carter) at Time magazine, Andersen left in 1986 to found the famous send-up of Time's idiot news-mag culture. In hindsight, Spy was not the viciously dead-on parody of media careerism that it seemed to be, but it was funny as hell during a very unfunny time.
It was a publication Jefferson would have been proud of -- a high-tech pain in the ass that savaged everything that entered into its field of view, proving over and over that we were all better off thinking for ourselves than listening to the pompous mannequin-frauds American society presented to us as sages and cultural authorities.
For reasons that ought to strike everyone (and especially Andersen and Graydon Carter) as quite sinister, Spy never made anybody any real money. In a publishing landscape where dumbness itself ( Cargo, Self) sells like hotcakes, this obviously brilliant magazine with a desperately devoted readership died something like a half-dozen deaths -- finally expiring, I think, in the spindly altruistic arms of the owners of Psychology Today .
Andersen was long gone by then, having joined Carter on a 20-year journey in which they would both be endlessly hailed as geniuses and innovators by hordes of media sycophants and offered gobs of money to do either nothing at all (splitting a million bucks to cowrite "Spy: The Funny Years") or to just add countercultural ï¿½lan to the staid, unthreatening publications ( New York , Vanity Fair ) that were placed in their rabbity custody.
Carter's career path showed that the best way to secure a golden old age of attending parties and carrying the skirts for celebrities is to behead a few in your youth.
What Andersen proves is that once you've put in a few years of writing very well, with dignity and iconoclastic fervor, you can then mail it in for the rest of your life. You can melt into the easy life and undead thinking of a timorous upper-class weasel, and you can dress it up as "realism" because you were somebody once.
Andersen's Feb. 21 Iraq piece in New York , "When Good News Feels Bad," is the most shameful, vicious piece of horseshit I have seen anybody write about this terrible war. It is sickening not on the level of writing or rhetoric, but on the level of human behavior.
On the surface, Andersen's piece is a cheeky piece of political self-denunciation, a mock show-trial confession. He confesses to being one of those many New Yorkers who considers himself smarter than everybody else and tends to disagree with the Bush administration "politically, temperamentally, and ontologically most of the time." But, he says, smart New York people like him -- us -- have to get real and face the ugly reality of our emotional struggle over Iraq. He then goes on to indict all of us for secretly applauding any bad news that comes from Iraq, and for choosing to ignore in grumbling fashion the "surprisingly smooth and inarguably inspiring" spectacle of the Iraqi elections. If we face this reality, he says, we are then forced to see that "the only way out is to root for Bush's victory."
"Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq." This is horseshit on its face. Even the original Hobbesian choice was horseshit, especially in the eyes of the stereotypical New York liberal Andersen is addressing. We no more have to choose between chaos and authoritarianism than we do between rooting for Bush and rooting for the insurgents. There is a vast array of other outcomes and developments to root for.
We could root for Bush to admit he fucked up and appeal to the world for help in stabilizing Iraq. We could root for a similar admission and a similar appeal to the U.N., only coupled with an immediate American withdrawal. We could root for America to come out firmly against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which would change the equation in Iraq. We could root for such things as the turning over of Iraqi oil contracts to the United Nations and an end to war profiteering -- which, again, would change the equation in the war.
And that's just the beginning. It does not come down to rooting either for Bush or for the insurgents. Andersen thinks he can make this argument because he thinks he knows that in our hearts, many of us are rooting for the insurgents -- and he is trying to tell us that renouncing this instinct automatically translates into unqualified support for Bush. But that is wrong, and totally dishonest.
"Either we hope for the vindication of Bush's risky, very possibly reckless policy... ." Note the use of the qualifying, "risky, very possibly reckless," here -- obscuring the stark lie of the word "vindication." To Andersen's audience, nothing can possibly vindicate Bush's Iraq policy. Along with millions of other people, I opposed the war before it began, and we opposed it not because we thought we might lose or fail in Iraq, but because invading Iraq was wrong. It was wrong because they were lying about why we were invading; it was wrong because the whole notion of pre-emptive invasion is immoral and dangerous; it was wrong for a dozen other plainly irrefutable reasons that will not change if Iraq is magically transformed into Switzerland by next year.
"I don't mean to suggest, in the right-wing, proto-fascist rhetorical fashion, that every good American is obliged to support all American wars." No. You suggest it in the pompous, verbose, superior fashion of a feckless left-wing snob.
"But at this moment in this war, that binary choice of who you want to win is inescapable." Translation: you're either with us or against us, either for us, or for the terrorists. Where have I heard that before?
Oh, that's right. I've heard it everywhere. Just never from that funny guy who used to run Spy.
Matt Taibbi lives in New York. He covers politics for Rolling Stone and the New York Press .