Michael J. Totten

Friday, May 23, 2003

Moses Wine

You probably don't live in Los Angeles. But if you do, or if you feel like showing up on July 2, consider yourself invited to Roger L. Simon's book-signing and wine-tasting party. Roger is promoting his new detective novel Director's Cut, and he was so kind to invite me down there to tend bar for all you wine and litra-chah types.

Matt Welch, Ken Layne, Charles Johnson, and Brian Linse will be there, too. Roger is buying, and Ken will make damn sure your glass is full.

I'm the only one in this group who hasn't met any of the others yet. I'm stuck up here by myself in rainswept Oregon. But if I can get down there, you can too...

Interesting Times

Over at Winds of Change, Armed Liberal asks why are you a Democrat?

Roger L. Simon has what seems at first glance to be an astonishing answer.

I don't know. And more amazingly, I don't care.

I don't want to quote Roger out of context. His answer isn't an unthinking one. It's a smart answer. He continues:

The world is undergoing a conflagration and that has my full attention.


I can't begin to concentrate on the internal affairs of my own political party. But I think there's a reason for that: this same conflagration—this giant philosophical debate that engulfs our planet—is creating new alliances none of us had anticipated. I have found myself agreeing with people that, if you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have ignored or might even have despised. And of course the reverse is true.

A few years ago I would have been horrified if someone told me I would soon see eye-to-eye with Republicans, especially in regard to foreign policy. It seems like only yesterday that I stuck up for Bill Clinton's military intervention in the Balkans while most conservatives wallowed in anti-war, isolationist, objectively pro-fascist jackassery. The Democrats were emerging as the new War Party while the Republicans were turning into a bunch of Pat Buchanans.

(I thought the Vietnam Syndrome was buried in Bosnia, but I guess that was wishful thinking. Bosnia did finish off pacifism for me, though.)

I don’t know about Roger, but I know why I’m not paying much attention to the internal affairs of the Democrats.

History is far more interesting than politics. Of course, in some parts of the world (like Iraq) the two are one and the same. Here in the US we bicker over the size of the budget. When nothing else is going on we argue about the president’s sex life as if the fate of the republic depended on it. Bah.

When the Chinese and the Bosnians say “May you live in interesting times,” they mean it as a curse. My friend Bill recently said he wished he lived in more interesting times. I agreed with him wholeheartedly then, and we both got our wish. It was a dumb wish, I know. But there you have it.

History is back, and it’s epic. I’d rather go outside and dig a hole in the ground than argue about taxes right now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Root Cause

Robert Lane Greene in The New Republic writes:

Two weeks ago, the Bush administration announced its intention to withdraw the vast majority of American troops based in Saudi Arabia--this after months of growing bitterness between Washington and the House of Saud. Given that our presence in the Muslim holy land was ostensibly the main source of Osama bin Laden's hostility toward the United States, you might have thought that this would have a calming effect on Al Qaeda activity. So how did Al Qaeda react? To date, nothing so much as a videotape, audiocassette, or letter to Al Jazeera has materialized. But if last week's bombings in Riyadh were any indication, it's probably safe to assume that Al Qaeda wasn't exactly appeased.


The terror spree in Casablanca last week included a suicide-bombing at the Belgian Consulate. Belgium tried to appease the Islamists by opposing the American-led invasion of Iraq. They thought they could escape the terrorist's wrath. Belgians would be wise to heed Churchill's quip about appeasement:

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

The operative word here is "hoping." Belgians were hoping terrorists would leave them alone. They were wrong. It is long-past time to retire the illusion that a change of behavior on our part will make crocodiles want to stop eating.

Here is the Islamist grievance in a nutshell.

Western Civilization is richer, more powerful, and more influential than Islamic Civilization.

Islam requires individual submission to authority, and that authority must be Islamic.

As the Muslim world plugs into the global economy, it becomes increasingly Westernized.

Western Civilization is liberal. Liberalism exalts the individual and throws down an anti-authoritarian gauntlet. It decouples religion from the state. It encourages atheism and apatheism.

If Islamic Civilization becomes Westernized, and thus liberalized, the tradition of submission to Islamic authority will die.

Islam, in its pre-modern version, will be finished. Muslims will become secular apatheists. An Arabic Nietzche will write "God Is Dead," and he will not be beheaded for doing so.

Western Civilization therefore is a clear and present danger to their God. The Islamist reaction is this:

Jihad for the sake of Allah.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The Compass

A few conservatives have told me I'm a closet-conservative. Some leftists don't like my hawkish foreign-policy views, and so they try to banish me to the right.

Here's where I stand on the political compass, according to this test. I am the red dot.

I don't dispute this result at all. It it just right. The only people who can plausibly claim me as a closet-one-of-them are the libertarians, and I've never really objected much when they do. The graph shows why.

Just because a person believes X does not mean they automatically believe Z.

Conservatives: If you find yourself in agreement with me, just be glad you found someone on the left you can do business with. It is not necessary for you to redefine me, nor will you succeed if you try. Not everyone who agrees with you occasionally is just like you and, trust me, you're better off for it.

Leftists: The most serious difference between me and you is that I blow off the "lessons" of 1968 in favor of the more pertinent lessons of September 11 and Bosnia. If you don't like my dissident views, the least you can do is be aware that I draw my inspiration not from Reagan and Bush, but from Truman and Roosevelt. Next time Bush gives a speech, remember what the Chinese say: The finger points at the moon and the fool looks at the finger.

Monday, May 19, 2003


Some assclown wrote up a blog post accusing me of being a devious right-wing wolf in a liberal sheep’s suit. He calls me a liar, and even uses the word “cabal” in his post.

Why? Because I criticize the left. In his insulated fantasy universe, only right-wingers do that. I call myself a liberal; ergo, I am a liar.

I am not going to link to this person. Bad behavior deserves no reward. A word of advice, though, for anyone else out there who fires off libelous hit-pieces. If you are a blogger and want to accuse another of falsely representing themselves online, use your real name on your own blog. If you want to use an anonymous Internet psuedo-identity, that’s cool. But don’t come after me for pretending to be someone I’m not. I use my real name, and I post my real picture. I mean what I say, and I say what I mean. No one dictates my opinions; not a person, not a party, and least of all a “cabal.”

I think of myself as liberal, but it’s not by a long shot the most important thing about me. Before anything else, I’m a human being. I’m also a husband (of one), a brother (of one), a son (of two), a friend (of many), a writer, an intellectual (or so I like to think), and an American. “Liberal” is down the list. I once had a girlfriend whose father liked me solely because I voted Democrat. He praised me constantly for this. He knew nothing else about me, and I was insulted. For him I wasn’t a person but a cog in a machine that cranked out an all-important epic partisan drama in his head.

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about idiotarians. They are people motivated primarily by conspiracy theories and hate. They are the jerks with a pathological hatred of George Bush; the hilarious and self-mocking Bush=Hitler crowd. They are also the creeps who have such a vein-popping hatred of liberalism they think God ordered the September 11 attacks to punish us for gay sex and feminism. They blame all the world’s woes on Americans and Jews. Just get rid of Jews, Americans, Republicans, liberals, gays, whatever, and everything will be instantly perfect.

I’d like to expand the definition of Idiotarians, at least for myself if not for others. I think the people I mentioned up top deserve to be included, even though they aren’t the Blame America First types.

A few nights ago Shelly and I watched James Carville and Mary Matalin yelling at each other on television. He is a propagandist for the Democratic Party. She is a propagandist for the Republicans. They actually married each other. Quite the pair. He went straight down the Democratic Party line and scowled at his wife. She put up Republican boilerplate and rolled her eyes at her husband.

Those two are both idiots. Or at least they play idiots on TV. They’re such idiots I wonder if either of them believes what they say. Few are capable of spouting a party line unless they are forced, brainwashed, paid, or idiots. Learned intellectuals don’t take their opinions from feeding-spoons.

Carville and I are both Democrats, but I would rather read a column by a smart and funny conservative like Jonah Goldberg than listen to Carville flap his yap again. I believe (and dearly hope) there are conservatives who would rather read Christopher Hitchens than listen to Rush Limbaugh bellow at Tom Daschle.

Whether or not Carville and Matalin are idiots in the privacy of their bipartisan living room, they play the role of Party Idiots to pay for their living room furniture. Any American who behaves this way without drawing a paycheck is an idiot.

Phil Donohue, Alan Colmes, Joe Conason, Robert Scheer: All idiots.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage: Idiots.

These are the sort of people who become government mouthpieces in one-party states, blaring the party line and denouncing traitors.

There is no point in arguing with people like this, nor is there any reason to pay attention to them. If they make a good point it is by sheer chance, not because they worked hard to arrive at the proper conclusion.

Unlike Democrats and Republicans, anti-idiotarians have no party line. Rather, anti-idiotarianism is a disposition, a state of mind. Anti-idiotarians reject conspiracy theories, hatred, bigotry, and stupidity. They reject dogma, including that of the people they vote for. They reject the cult of terror-apologism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and general illiberalism. They span the political aisle and dismiss the political margins. They are comfortable with disagreement and have no time for partisan ferrets.

I am left-of-center, and so are a lot of the idiotarians. The right has its own batch. I spend most of my ammunition on both sets, partly because I feel like it, but also for another reason. Since September 11, the number of people around the world who hold lunatic opinions has increased dramatically. The grimmer the headlines, the crazier the protests, the op-ed pages, and the radio show call-ins. This must be fought. The blogosphere helps. It might be the best b.s. detector the world has ever known.

Anti-idiotarians of the left include Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, and Salman Rushdie. Anti-idiotarians of the right include Andrew Sullivan, Stephen Schwartz, and Victor Davis Hanson. Andrew Sullivan may be on the opposite site of the political mid-point from me, but I have more in common with him than I have with a moonbat like Noam Chomsky who is supposedly on “my side.”

I’m tired of being expected to think and say certain things. It’s time to move the “liberal” label further down my list of self-identifiers. It’s not a wrong label, but it gets less relevant by the day.

I voted for Ralph Nader twice because the Democrats pissed me off too many times over a period of many years. I’m not a Democratic Party activist, I’m just a place-holder. They may not like me very much, but I don’t care because the feeling is mutual. I’m only a Democrat because my opinions, which are mine alone, range from the radical left to the center and I don’t have anywhere else plausible to go.

From here on out, my commitment to broadly defined liberalism is deep and lasting, but my affiliation with sectarian liberalism and the Democratic Party is shallow. First and foremost, I belong to the Anti-Idiotarian Party. I’m just on the left-wing of it.

Postscript: Someone out there should start an Anti-Idiotarian opinion magazine in print. Hire two editors; a reasonable liberal and a reasonable conservative. Sell it in newsstands, coffeehouses, and smoke shops. Lots of people would read it, and would want to write for it.

UPDATE: On re-reading this, I think I may have gone overboard accusing some pundits as "government mouthpiece" types. They are predictable partisans, but they aren't that bad. It is easy for me to imagine Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter in such a role, however, and they were really the ones I had in mind when I wrote that. Then again, maybe that's just my own bias showing through. Take it as you will.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon had a similar experience. Alwin Hawkins, too.

Last night Andrew Sullivan wrote "Today's right looks for converts whereas today's left looks for heretics...The right is always trying to build an audience; the left is busy purging theirs'." To some extent, Andrew, yes. My personal experience (see above) validates this. But the Christian Right is even more hell-bent on rooting out heretics. They declared war on me (and you) long ago.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten