Mau-Mauing the Flak-Throwers

My post earlier today linking to something in The Wall Street Journal reminded me of another piece that I never shared with you. It was in that paper (and yes, I do read other things) a week ago today: An interview with one of my all-time favorites, Tom Wolfe.

Have you ever wondered about the politics of the man who wrote Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flaked, Streamline Baby, The Right Stuff, and other brilliant, thoroughly enjoyable works of journalism/social criticism before he turned into a somewhat-painful-to-read novelist? Well, if you read The Guardian, you wouldn’t wonder.

That’s all right; I don’t read The Guardian, either. But thanks to what he’s written in the past, there were no surprises for me in this passage from the WSJ:

Mr. Wolfe offers a personal incident as evidence of
"what a fashion liberalism is." A reporter for the New York Times
called him up to ask why George W. Bush was apparently a great fan of
the "Charlotte Simmons" book. "I just assumed it was the dazzling
quality of the writing," he says. In the course of the reporting,
however, it came out that Mr. Wolfe had voted for the Bush ticket. "The
reaction among the people I move among was really interesting. It was
as if I had raised my hand and said, ‘Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell
you, I’m a child molester.’" For the sheer hilarity, he took to wearing
an American flag pin, "and it was as if I was holding up a cross to

George Bush’s appeal, for Mr. Wolfe, was owing to his
"great decisiveness and willingness to fight." But as to "this business
of my having done the unthinkable and voted for George Bush, I would
say, now look, I voted for George Bush but so did 62,040,609 other
Americans. Now what does that make them? Of course, they want to say —
‘Fools like you!’ . . . But then they catch themselves,
‘Wait a minute, I can’t go around saying that the majority of the
American people are fools, idiots, bumblers, hicks.’ So they just kind
of dodge that question. And so many of them are so caught up in this
kind of metropolitan intellectual atmosphere that they simply don’t go
across the Hudson River. They literally do not set foot in the United
States. We live in New York in one of the two parenthesis states.
They’re usually called blue states — they’re not blue states, the
states on the coast. They’re parenthesis states — the entire country
lies in between."

The wonderful thing about this is the way Wolfe catches modern "liberals" out in their own lack of self-awareness so neatly: He sneaks up on them. Just, as Wolfe chronicled, Ken Kesey took the steam out of an anti-war rally with a harmonica and a couple of verses of "Home on the Range," the King of Coolwrite sneaks up on liberals by being an artist and intellectual. They think they are among their own, and then "… UHHH … Ohmigod! YOU voted for BUSH?" Once his prey is paralyzed, he slices and dices it. He makes jullienne fries out of ’em.

I’d love to see him do the same to modern "conservatives," but dressed the way he is, they’re liable to spook before he gets close enough.

What do I have against both of these groups? They quit thinking. They bought their values off the shelf years ago as a complete set; they’re completely unprepared for anything that doesn’t fit in their little boxes. The Wolfe scene above reminds me of a passage in Bridget Jones’s Diary (yeah, I read it; I wanted to know what the women in my family were going on about). I mean the bit in which Bridget has already fallen for Mark Darcy, and they’ve gotten together and are dating (actually, maybe this happened in the second book), and she finds out quite inadvertently that he votes Tory. She is aghast: How could he? When he asks what’s wrong with being a Tory, she is unable to come up with a coherent answer. Why? Because she hasn’t really thought about it, ever. It’s just that everyone she knows takes it as gospel that all decent, caring people vote Labour. What is this? Mark’s a human rights lawyer, for goodness’ sake…

Between Bridget and Wolfe, I prefer Wolfe, who by contrast told The Guardian:

"I cannot stand the lock-step among everyone in my particular world.
They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There
is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not
one of them."

There’s a character flaw in there somewhere (one that I’m afraid comes out in his novels), but he’s so refreshing, I’m willing to overlook it.

31 thoughts on “Mau-Mauing the Flak-Throwers

  1. Dave

    Brad, I know you would like everyone to be a centrist like yourself. But fantasizing about turning Tom Wolfe into one comes across as odd. You said “I’d love to see him do the same to modern “conservatives,” but dressed the way he is, they’re liable to spook before he gets close enough.”
    My question to you would be what would be the liberal equivalent of the American flag lapel pin to repulse conservatives?

    The fact that an American flag pin can repulse a liberal tells everyone a lot about the liberal state of mind in today’s world.

  2. Mike C

    Wolfe is a cultural conservative and has been quietly celebrated by cultural conservatives for years. These folks hold that culture has arisen over millennia of trial and error and that society tampers with its traditions only at great risk.
    The New York intelligentsia missed one point of Wolfe’s latest novel: their disdain for things like values and tradition they helped spin the web in which Charlotte found herself entangled. These folks regard fighter pilots as merely heavily armed seven-year-olds, while Wolfe saw in them the right stuff that can accomplish remarkable feats. And your title for this blog entry alludes to the great service he provided by giving the world the pejorative “radical chic” to describe the far-left funding preferences of the left coast and mid-Atlantic / northeast trust babies and entertainers.
    The important point is that it’s not party or politics that drives him, but the desire to observe and chronicle what he sees as being right or wrong from his cultural understanding. Since he appears to hang out in the New York social milieu, he’s got a pretty good idea of their foibles and the cognitive dissonance they exhibit daily.
    Recall who Wolfe’s idol is. As a son of the South he has a perspective and sense of justice that’s unusual in the great city where he now makes his home. We should hope that he keeps on chronicling the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  3. Lee

    Mike, most Southerners have never been around the rich heirs, who are hounded by socialist professors and other gurus into shoveling over large batches of their time and money in a never successful effort to redeem themselves for grandaddy’s sins of creating hundreds of jobs. Those of us who have, like Tom Wolfe, felt like invisible observers of the foreign (sub) culture which it surely is.
    Then, to see these same former rich Castro supporters in their modern persona of comfortable middle-agers in their luxury cars, completes the picture.

  4. Phillip

    Brad, nice piece on Wolfe. Let me just say to Lee and others who posted above, the cherished stereotype of the “limousine liberal,” the “left coast and mid-Atlantic /northeast trust babies and entertainers,” is just as inaccurate a vision of the whole picture re left-of-center Americans as some liberals’ cartoonish views of the typical “greedy corporate tycoon” or “redneck racist.” Sure, all these stereotypes have some basis in reality, but are only a small part of the picture.
    Mike, am I assuming correctly that it is NYC where Wolfe now makes his home? If so, as a Southerner who lived in New York for 17 years, I don’t find a “sense of justice” to be “unusual” there. On the contrary, for all of its problems, there is probably no city on earth where people of all races and income levels live together (block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood) so amicably. From my experience, I firmly believe that New Yorkers’ sense of justice and tolerance and shared community across race, religion, sexual preference, and economic lines is as great or greater than any city on the planet.

  5. Mary Rosh

    What I noticed is that Wolfe didn’t actually quote anybody or describe what anybody actually said or did; he just talked about his impressions of what he thought people’s perceptions were, without providing any details so that the reader could discern whether or not those impressions were grounded in reality. It was important to him to portray people in California and New York as being isolated and somehow not part of “real” America.
    So Wolfe essentially tells us that he has an impression that New York and California are not part of “real” America, and that’s all he does. Whether this impression is real or imaginary, we don’t know. He pretends that he is grounding this impression on observations, and he pretends that he is sharing these observations with us, but he isn’t. We don’t know what (if anything) he observed, because he doesn’t give us any specific details. This omission suggests to me that Wolfe is lying, because if people are telling you about a conclusion they reached from observations, they usually tell you about the observations that led them to the conclusions. Wolfe doesn’t do this.
    Warthen, characteristically, uses this incident to pose as a centrist, rather than as the Republican apologist and conservative hack that he in fact is.
    What on earth is Wolfe’s claim that New Yorkers and Californians aren’t part of “real” America other than the rankest partisan hackery? What is Warthen’s uncrtical swallowing of Wolfe’s claim other than the rankest partisan hackery?
    If Warthen were a real centrist, he wouldn’t blindly accept Wolfe’s specious arguments, and his unsupported self-reports of how he has reduced his arguments to silence with them. No, if Warthen were a real centrist, he’d call Wolfe out over his disgraceful tribalism.

  6. Lee

    I have been around a lot of East Coast liberals when they were young wannabe rebel hippies.
    Today, you can see these phonies on television:
    * John Kerry, posing as deer hunter with his shotgun, flying on his wife’s jumbo private jet to whine about the environment.
    * Al Gore, calling America the source of terror in front of an Arab audience who paid him to be their stooge.
    * The editors of Mother Jones, Harpers, New Republic, Vanity Fair – brats who never had a callous on their pink little hands.
    * JFK Jr
    * Any Kennedy

  7. BLSaiken

    Phonies: Not to mention our current President, who is a fourth-generation millionaire. He discovered that he didn’t like the cultural snobbery of the East Coast – after 10 years of expensive private schooling there.
    Wolfe has a Ph.D. from Yale, which puts him ahead of me (I only have a Master’s from there), and I enjoy his writing immensely, but his perceptions of what “real America” is are personal, not necessarily factual.

  8. Lee

    Yes, some of us are capable of receiving a good education without become brainwashed. That means we have to be observers of those victims of the liberal brain laundries.

  9. Dave

    Phillip – You probably remember Bernard Goetz? For those who don’t, he tired of being bullied and accosted and threatened on the NY Subway system. A geeky kind of guy, one day on the subway he shot dead several of the black bullies. I believe that Wolfe had recently written “Bonfire of the Vanities”, a story about a stockbroker in NYC, who tired of being threatened as a target for wearing nice clothes on the subway, started wearing old clothes and carrying his office attire in a paper bag. Wolfe was said to say that you couldn’t invent fiction in NYC since no matter what you wrote about, it either happened or would happen soon. Goetz was a lifelong NY’er, one of those so full of multiculturalism and tolerance for people from all over the world. NY’ers I suspect are a lot like S. Carolinians who hate criminals and the predators who prey on the decent people of society.

  10. Dave

    Mary, your perception of Brad as a conservative is a result of the perception that you are so far left that anyone to the right of you must be conservative. Brad is against school choice vouchers, against the lottery, against most tax cuts as I can recall, and favors big government spending on baseball parks, especially parks that are within easy driving distance of his residence. He is supporting the Iraq war effort and the war on terror, and doesn’t want to surrender to terrorists, so he has some credentials on the conservative side. That pretty much defines him as a centrist.

  11. Mary Rosh

    Dave, being against school vouchers doesn’t make one not conservative – school vouchers happen to be a momentary fashion among certain groups of conservative, but it isn’t a fundamental principle of conservatism. Opposing a lottery is more conservative than not. Being “against most tax cuts” doesn’t tell me anything about whether or not someone is conservative. Tax cuts aren’t automatically good or bad. Favoring spending on items like baseball parks upholds a fundamental principle of conservatism – that of using tax money not for the welfare of the general public, but to benefit insiders. Spending money on baseball parks is a kind of handout, and there is nothing dearer to a conservative’s heart than a handout, as you know from personal experience.
    As for your attempts to claim that opposing terrorism is “conservative,” that is risible. In fact, neither Warthen nor you supports the war on terror, if favoring the war on terror means taking any effective actions against terror, and especially if it means you doing something personally to oppose terror. You support the Iraq war because the costs are borne by people other than yourselves. Both you are Warthen are happy for the United States to fight in the Iraq war, because the fighing, dying, and paying is done by others. Your only “contribution” to the war is to continue to sit around collecting handouts, the way you have done all your lives.
    The Iraq war has nothing to do with fighting terror. Iraq didn’t represent a threat to America. Attacking Iraq drew resources away from fighting bin Laden and creating a stable government in Afghanistan, so fighting in Iraq promoted terrorism; it didn’t fight it. Warthen does not oppose surrendering to terrorists, and neither do you. You supported the Iraq war, even though it weakened the United States and increased the threat of terrorism, because you are both “white man’s burden” racists, believing that the United States has the right to control nonwhites. Well, we don’t have the right to use military force to control nonwhites who are not threatening us, and Bush has demonstrated that we certainly don’t have the power. But you and Warthen are both consumed by a racist fantasy of American hegemony, so your racism causes you to advocate a course of action that has made a surrender to terrorists more likely, not less. One might say that you and Warthen, in your support of the Iraq war, have actively promoted terrorism.
    And of course, it goes without saying that if standing up against terorism depended on you or Warthen making any sacrifices – to fight terrorists or to pay your fair share of taxes – your signatures would be on the surrender documents within seconds.
    No, you don’t really oppose taking any effective action against terrorism. All you want is to promote a racist fantasy and to claim a monopoly on patriotism for yourself. Well, your racist fantasy has been proven to be just that – a fantasy. And you can’t claim a monopoly on patriotism because you aren’t patriotic, or even loyal, Americans. You don’t care about America. All you care about is continuing to collect handouts and advocate war for the sake of war. War in which better men than you – both Americans and Iraqis – have fought and died.

  12. Dave

    Mary, your problem is you have absolutely no understanding of what is transpiring in Iraq, in fact, your logic is perverse. You would have us abandon the “purple fingered” Iraqis who proudly and at the risk of their lives voted for democracy to a mass slaughter and genocide that would surely come if the fight was abandoned. Read this from Christopher Hitchens in today’s WSJ Opinion Journal The Stone Face of Zarqawi!

    Also, you need to spend some quality time reviewing the FACTS being gleened from the tapes and papers now being made available on the internet showing that Saddam was collaborating and supporting Al Qaeda terrorism and working on WMD. I know facts are dangerous things to the (C)looney left but they may help to keep you from writing delusional and goofy statements about how Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism.

    School vouchers are a “momentary” fashion amongst conservatives? I guess after the moment is over, conservatives will be demanding what, laws to make private schools illegal maybe. You really are on out in the outer fringe of the left, perhaps more than 3 standard deviations from the mean.

  13. Mike C

    Michael Barone — columnist, pundit, political expert, and author of The Almanac of American Politics, 2006 has identified a growing force within the Democrat Party, the trustfunder left:

    Who are the trustfunders? People with enough money not to have to work for a living, or not to have to work very hard. People who can live more or less wherever they want. The “nomadic affluent,” as demographic analyst Joel Kotkin calls them.
    These people tend to be very liberal politically. Aware that they have done nothing to earn their money, they feel a certain sense of guilt. At the elite private or public high schools they attend, and even more at their colleges and universities, they are propagandized about the evils of capitalism and globalization, and the virtues of environmentalism and pacifism. Patriotism is equated with Hiterlism.

    They are not spread out, but tend to cluster. San Francisco is a favorite site, as are all of the counties, usually the wealthiest in their respective states, where Mr. & Mrs. John Kerry have estates. Did someone say “Martha’s Vineyard”?
    And what about New York?

    You can see the trustfunders’ imprint as well in New York. In 56 of the state’s 62 counties, the Republican popular vote margin increased or the Democratic margin fell between 2000 and 2004. Five of the six counties that moved away from George W. Bush are trustfunder havens: New York (Manhattan), Ulster (Woodstock), Columbia (trendy Hudson River country), Otsego (Cooperstown) and Tompkins (Cornell University).

    Dave –
    Where Mary hangs out, the standard deviation is rubber sheets…

  14. Mary Rosh

    Mike, citing Clownhall is an admission that you’ve lost the argument. Does Barone present any evidence at all – any studies, any interviews, anything – to indicate that his claims about the existence and motivations of the “trustfunder left” come from anywhere other than his imagination?
    Barone does cite information which, if true, tells us one thing, at least. Areas where the population has a high level of education moved away from Bush in 2004 versus 2000. Not a big surprise.
    Now, of course, there is a counterpart to the “trustfunder left,” one that exists in reality, not in Barone’s fevered imagination. This is the “freeloader right.” It consists of uneducated, shiftless bums who don’t have the initiative to support themselves and therefore depend on handouts paid for by the federal taxes of liberals. The “freeloader right” are ingrates, and more than ingrates. Their sense of self depends in large part on resentment of the liberals who pay the taxes that fund the handouts that have kept the “freeloader right” from starving to death.
    As far as where I am relative to the mean political viewpoint is concerned, I don’t understand why my disinclination to sing Dave’s optimistic song about the Iraq war – an attitude that I share with more than half the American people – puts me out of the mainstream.
    Of course, neither Dave nor you really cares one way or another about the Iraq war and the Iraqi people. You just use it as a mechanism to impugn the patriotism of people who oppose his views. If Dave (or you) really cared, you’d be over there fighting. Of course, if he (or you) really cared about America, you would have made a postitive contribution to this country, rather than dragging it down.

  15. Dave

    Mike – Barone is one of my favorites. He is one of the few journalists that I would openly campaign for in a run for office. His article on the “trustfunders” is exactly on the money. Except for calling Mrs. Kerry Mrs. Kerry. She quit using the gigolo’s name shortly after the election. Fame is fleeting with the trustfunders you know.

    Back to the original subject of this thread, Wolfe recognizes the same thing that Barone does, the anti-patriotism, liberal guilt about money they inherit but didn’t earn, and the appeasement toward terrorists. Liberals somehow think that even if the fanatic Islamics ever gained control of the western world, they would be spared, after all they claim to be nice people who truly care about the downtrodden of the world. The fact is they would likely be among the first of the infidel crowd to go to slaughter as their education and wealth would not be admired by the Al Qaeda of the planet. Liberals, I think, believe that 9-11 happened somehow to Americans who in a subtle way deserved to be murdered. Just listen to the Colorado professor refer to the thousands of little Eichmans who got what they deserve in the WTT in NYC. That professor is a hero of the left.

  16. Lee

    The Nonworking Left also had no clue about the suffering of 250,000 people who lost their jobs from the 9/11 attacks.

  17. Phillip

    If we progressives talk like this about wealthy people, we get accused of waging “class warfare.” It cracks me up to see you right-wingers engage in it. Mike, at least some of these wealthy people Barone cites have the self-awareness to realize they did nothing to deserve their money and thus have some understanding for those on the other end of the financial spectrum…as opposed to some of these grotesquely overpaid CEO’s who also have done little to deserve to be paid 431 times as much as a worker in their company, yet who have no such sense of guilt and in fact, do everything in their power to ensure that the system continues to work for their benefit. I’ll take the former group over the latter any day.

  18. Lee

    Just because we work for a living doesn’t make us “right wingers”.
    We like wealth and wealthy people. We just laugh at the pathetic guilt which motivates non-working liberals to hand out grandpa’s cash to socialist hucksters in the chattering class, who sell themselves as having the redemptive power to cleanse that dirty money by running it through their own bank accounts.

  19. Mary Rosh

    Phillip, the idea of the “trustfunder left” and people who are racked with guilt about their inherited wealth is something Barone just MADE UP. How can he know about their motivations?
    No, Barone just wanted to cast aspersions on people who disagree with him, so he made up this category of people and attributed characteristics to them with no evidence.
    Ask yourself how many “trustfunder liberals” there are likely to be, relative to the overall population. The average income in places like New York is pretty high, true, but that’s because people work and have high levels of education, not because more than a couple percent of them are independently wealthy, with an even smaller proportion having obtained their wealth from inheritance.
    The reason people in places like New York, Massachusetts, California, and the like, are more liberal isn’t that they are so rich that they live without working. A few are, but not that many. And how many of those people are liberal, I wonder.
    The reason that people from higher income states are more liberal is that they’re better educated. The higher incomes and the liberal political views stem from the same source, just as the lower incomes and conservative political views of people from the poorer, “freeloader” states stem from the same sources, namely, ignorance, shiftlessness, and lack of education.

  20. Dave

    New England is the area of the country, other than Virginia and Maryland, that receives the highest per capital in federal dollars compared to all states. The real bloodsucking greedy are in the Northeast corridor and the facts prove it. Mary is certainly one of them but tries to absolve her liberal guilt by shifting the blame to the southern states. It doesn’t work.

    Mary wonders how many of these people are liberal? It’s easy to find them, simply look at the campaign contributions for Shrillery Clinton, John Kerry, and a few other greedy rich. Deducting any used undies lately, Mary, great tax deduction to avoid contributing some money to the poor in Arkansas or other places. Wash them first, please.

  21. Phillip

    Lee, left-wingers like me (see, no disrespect meant with the term right-wing) work for a living just as you do.
    I just don’t get why if you are wealthy but give money to liberal causes, you are “non-working,” but if you’re a unserious, millionaire-by-your-family’s-money, failure-at-pretty-much-every-business-you-tried, you’re “President of the United States.”

  22. Dave

    Phillip – At least give credit where credit is due. Bush at least worked for a living, and did have some success. With Clinton, we had a President who spent his entire life on the public dole, but he did work hard on trying to hump every female within eyesight. I will say he worked real hard on that.

  23. Lee

    GW Bush was propelled to the Presidency by unprecented donation of less than $50 per donor, an early sign of a popular groundswell to cleanse the White House of the Clinton stench.
    The same media which mislabeled rich puppet Eugene McCarthy as “Clean Gene”, also spun Bush’s populist financing as “candidate of the rich”.

  24. Lee

    REALITY: Rich, nonworking liberals financing socialism for the rest of America.
    STRAW MAN spin: “Why does giving to liberal politicians make some one ‘non-working’?”
    The fact that liberals have to resort to such juvenile rhetorical devices is evidence of their lack of an intellectual foundation for their politics.

  25. Mary Rosh

    Dave, you once again show why you have to depend on handouts to survice. Maybe New England does receive the highest per capita federal expenditures, but they pay more than that in taxes, while shiftless parasites like you receive much more in federal handouts than they ever pay in taxes. People in New England are’t “greedy bloodsuckers” because they don’t finance your freeloading to an even greater extent than they already do.
    And the question I was addressing wasn’t how many people in the wealthier states are liberal; it was how many people who live off of trust funds are liberal.
    The great majority of people in the liberal states work for a living. They tend to have pretty high incomes, because they are well-educated and hardworking – those characteristics tend to make people liberal.
    Just as your own stupidity, ignorance, shiftlessness, and laziness make you conservative.

  26. Dave

    Mary, where the New Englanders show their smarts is while they are making those nice bucks, they are smart enough to buy property in the Carolinas so that when they can finally retire, they can abandon their pushy, rude, selfish, obnoxious, and self absorbed and overtaxed neighbors and move here to finally begin enjoying life. You should try it sometime. But if you move here you will have to stop calling the natives shiftless and lazy.

  27. Phillip

    Lee, since you and I are going to probably be posting opposing viewpoints for some time to come on this blog, let’s agree to keep our discourse on a high level. I assume I’m the one using “juvenile rhetoric” to whom you’re referring. I try to keep my comments non-personal and I hope you can do the same. Dave called me Neville Chamberlain (sort of) on another post so I guess “juvenile” is not so bad by comparison!
    About the “intellectual foundation”–I do plead guilty in some sense. I’m not a progressive by virtue of a worked-out, intellectual sorting out process. I’m simply one in my heart, I suppose. I’ve always been on the side of the underdog.

  28. bill

    “The times,they are a changin”.What started with the election of a president already well into his dementia is ending with the total collapse of an administration herded by a cocaine cowboy.
    Tom Wolfe’s journalism was all about himself.A prince of pedantry.Give me the real deal any day;Hunter Thompson.Here’s a quote from the late great to brighten up your day:”America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

  29. Dave

    Bill, what did you think of Bush when he stepped forward and committed $15 billion of US tax dollars to fighting AIDS in Africa? He is trying to infected brothers and sisters and you only want to spit in his face.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *