things we are not allowed to say

The patriotism of most 18-year-olds (rather like, on the one hand, the patriotism of most people and, on the other, most other enthusiasms of 18-year-olds) is seldom deep, thoughtful, or nuanced in distinguishing the abstract idea of “my country” from the concrete facts of this country, this administration, this war. (I work daily with young people of this age, by the way.) So it is that few young people who joined the military do so with a clear notion of what that decision might entail, and whether such a decision really serves their country.

And of course military recruitment ad campaigns do not emphasize patriotism, sacrifice, duty – they’re all about adventure, training, and pride.

So why the fuss over John Kerry’s remarks? Apparently we’re not allowed to state the obvious: many soldiers are soldiers because they saw no better options. They saw an opportunity to make something of their lives – assuming they can get through Iraq with those lives. Very few active-duty soldiers are in line to inherit Fortune 500 corporations or have parents in the White House. (Jenna? Barb? Why is it you haven’t enlisted?)

Certainly there are some soldiers who might otherwise have had plenty of career options. But if it’s true that most do, or that most people join the military for altruistic reasons, what makes the people who market the military so afraid of using such a pitch? Could it be they recognize what Kerry was wisely foolish enough to state out loud – that such a message would be far less effective than the allure of fast machines and flashing, D&D-like swords and armor?

Addendum: Wow.

Bill Fay Group “Sam”
Creedence Clearwater Revival “Fortunate Son”

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6 Comments

Filed under noise, political

6 responses to “things we are not allowed to say

  1. Tris McCall

    well, i think you have to consider the source. this isn’t really about “the troops” — it’s about the public perception that john kerry, representative of the east coast liberal establishment, believes he is so much smarter than the average american. never mind whether he is or not — you can always make hay in the heartland with that sort of thing. “the troops” is, in this case, just another way of saying “average joes”, and forcing kerry into a corner where he’s got to apologize — because “the troops” are the average joes you can’t insult. it doesn’t matter how many purple hearts he won in vietnam: he’s now just another rich guy in a suit, comfortable and condescending.

    in ’04, the republicans (with plenty of help from kerry) were able to make it feel like the kerry war record was mostly smoke and mirrors — not because of kerry’s heroism or lack of it, but because of the suggestion that even when he voluntarily went into combat, he was still doing it for political reasons. the republican suggestion was that even then, he thought he was *better* than the grunts; destined for greater things on the homefront because of his proximity to the establishment. grunts = average joes. this is how you lose elections in america — the other guy successfully paints you as arrogant and out of touch with main street, and then it’s game over, pal. what’s weird about kerry was that he never seemed to understand that this was happening, so a good 50% of the time that he opened his mouth on the campaign trail, he ended up reinforcing this perception. he *still* doesn’t seem to understand. it’s weird. *he* is weird, and frankly, i hope this puts a stake through him.

    the reason democratic candidates now don’t want to be seen with kerry doesn’t have that much to do with the war — it has to do with their desire to distance themselves from the east coast establishment that he represents. also, kerry can’t recognize that he is now a proven loser, and you don’t want a proven loser around when you’re trying to establish yourself as a winner. the loser is the guy you want to define yourself against.

    five days left before the latest demonstration of the suckiness of democracy. brace yourself.

  2. 2fs

    Hey Tris – yep, that’s surely the dynamic. My official posture here is that the media and politicians ought to act like adults and not be offended when someone speaks an unpleasant truth – it is also my official posture that leprechauns riding flying unicorns will bring me one trillion perfect gold coins on a silk pillow.

    I never did write up the proposed entry responding to your “democracy” rant – although I’m still not sure what you’d replace it with. Although rule-by-leprechauns is beginning to seem an attractive alternative.

  3. Paula

    it’s about the public perception that john kerry, representative of the east coast liberal establishment, believes he is so much smarter than the average american

    Why is the American public so threatened by others who may be smarter than they are? They don’t seem to be threatened by better-looking or more talented people (i.e. celebrities) so when did we/they/whoever become so mistrustful of educated, well-spoken people?

    Abraham Lincoln–rail-splittin’ and change-returnin’ man of the people though he was–was also a well-spoken, thoughtful man, and he got a whole damn holiday out of it.

    When did the tide start a-turnin’?

  4. Tris McCall

    ooh ooh i got an answer for that. the reason why it is an electoral disadvantage to be visibly smart is that a working majority of americans fear a runaway meritocracy based on intelligence. and for good reason.

    political parties lose elections when their candidate looks like an east coast egghead. this is resentment of course, but not completely: left to our own devices, coastal eggheads will design institutions that favor, promote, and reward our own. those on the outside will not be able to decipher these institutions, because they’ll lack the cultural codes to access them, know what i’m saying? thus they will fall further and further behind, economically and culturally. to a great degree this has already happened. the heartland war against scientific progress (in the name of really bad theocracy) is a rear-guard action fought by those who know damn well they’ll never be able to join the club, and who are lashing back by banding together and supporting heroes who are aggressively dunderheaded. the big question in american politics is: how bad is this new civil war going to get? i think those of us who are elitist college-educated scumbags — not that you’re elitist or a scumbag, but i know damn well that i am — should have a heart and recognize the fear of rampant intellectual meritocracy as legitimate, and try to understand the things that we do that reinforce the resentment.

    when did the worm turn? probably some time in the mid-sixties, and not because of youth culture. it started to become obvious then that a scientific techno-superclass was emerging around new industries, and that the traditional 20th century constituencies of the democratic party (labor unions and blue-collar people) weren’t going to make it to the new frontier. so when the members of the superclass coalesced around candidates like mcgovern and lindsay and got really loud about it, it became easy for the republicans to strip away working-class voters. everybody knows about nixon’s “southern strategy” and why it was racist, but the southern strategy doesn’t work if all the archie bunkers out there don’t feel like they’ve been betrayed by those who promised them postwar upward social mobility.

    the point is that intellectuals are clever by definition, and will always successfully design systems that create wealth, prestige, and luxury for other members of the club. and that’s okay. where intellectuals burn the asses of non-intellectuals is when they start saying that non-intellectuals who fail to help perpetuate those value systems aren’t enlightened. when that happens, we get things like election ’04 and the gwb andministration: extreme overreactions based on a reflexive need to preserve the power of the mediocre majority. and plenty of collateral anti-semitism, too.

  5. 2fs

    So what’s the matter with Kansas isn’t Kansas, it’s that some snarky intellectual is presuming there’s something wrong with Kansas? I think there’s much to your analysis – but I’m not sure why intellectual elites are less trustworthy than, say, industrial elites, banking elites, etc. In other words, what happened to bring such class-based resentment to bear against intellectuals – rather than against CEOs, preppy millionaires like Bush, etc.?

  6. Tris McCall

    it’s a change in the means of production of capital. rich cities have abandoned their manufacturing base in favor of hi-tech industries. that’s just the way it’s going in america. it used to be you could dig gold out of the hills, but that’s not true anymore. now, to get the gold and the prestige that comes with it, you have to have scientific-technological training. not everybody is going to be able to do that. most aren’t.

    intellectual elites are just as trustworthy as any other elites, but it’s a harder rank to join, because you have to merit inclusion via participation in certain institutions. that’s where the trouble comes in.

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