Letters

"Ann Marlowe is a fine example of the problems we face." Readers inveigh against "The Ideas That Conquered the World." Plus: The editor of "The Intimate Life of Abraham Lincoln" responds to Andrew O'Hehir's review.


Salon Staff
February 9, 2005 2:00AM (UTC)

[Read "The Ideas That Conquered the World," by Ann Marlowe.]

If the neocons have "conquered the world," in my humble opinion, they have done it because of a willingness to do or say whatever it takes to win, not because the power of their ideas.

They have changed many people's "perceptions" of themselves as the champions of fat cats and proponents of the "I have mine, now fuck you" theory of social justice into images of themselves as an army of Captain Kirks in navy blue suits, making the galaxy safe for democracy. No argument there.

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But they haven't done it through any great innovation on their part, no creativity of thought -- just playing on fear, dividing and conquering, and, oh did I mention, lying a lot? This is how they have "conquered" the world, however much they might like us "liberal losers" to buy into the "perception" that it is through their powerful ideas.

Government by perception works great in the short term, and it is an amazing tool for election manipulation (especially if you have no ethics to speak of). But the more I hear how the left has to "learn from the neocons," the more repelled I become by the idea. I know enough about them to know I have no desire to be like them.

And for the record, I would welcome the "boredom" (some might say "stability") of a Western European culture. I'll take healthcare and the ability to find work over angry inner-city rap music any day.

-- Gentry Johnson

In plugging "The Neocon Reader," ditsy author Ann Marlowe says, "If it weren't for Christian fundamentalists, we probably wouldn't have punk rock. Or rap, Gothic fashion, skateboarding and lots of recent art."

That's like saying if it weren't for the Nazis, we probably wouldn't have Spam. Or interstate highways or Betty Grable pinups.

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-- A. A. Murphy

Thank you, thank you for this open-minded review that I wouldn't have expected to find on Salon.com. It's a pleasant surprise in light of the increasingly vitriolic leftward tilt that these pages have seen since the November election. Too many of my friends don't know what a neoconservative is and use it as a smear against those Republicans they dislike.

I've pointed them to this article.

-- Joe Price

Human rights rhetoric does not make one a champion of human rights or democracy. Napoleon Bonaparte, like the neocons, talked of liberty and equality while acting to make himself emperor and destroying democracy and security with his secret police and continual wars. Liberals don't hate neocons because they have "stolen" the liberal agenda; liberals hate neocons because they perceive them as liars, hypocrites and would-be tyrants who are bent on destroying American democracy, impoverishing the American middle class, and establishing a one-party state.

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-- Eleanor Egan

Ann Marlow's essay is full of inconsistencies that beg to be addressed. For example, Irving Kristol's defense of Social Security may indeed be sincere, but she fails to relate it in any way to the current administration's wish to dismantle the program. Elsewhere, she claims that "early predictions of a quagmire [in Iraq] and heavy American losses were quickly proven ludicrous." I would say that the burden of proof -- that the situation in Iraq is not a quagmire -- lies with Ms. Marlow in this instance, and she offers none. As to what would constitute "heavy American losses," she doesn't say. And since many of the non-military contractors who have died over there aren't included in the official death toll, she can't really claim to know, either.

-- Kevin Knox

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Ann Marlowe mistakes thoughtlessness for clarity and ineptitude for imagination. The Nazis at Nuremberg had clarity -- Europe may have benefited from a little ambiguity in their policies. Come to think of it, they were also trying to build WMD ... unlike Iraq in 2003.

She writes, "Liberals have failed to recognize that the 'diversity' they so celebrate includes people who disagree with them." Did she happen to notice that this was published in Salon?!

-- Sean P. Carr

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I'll admit that, having been born in 1976, I was a little too young to appreciate punk in its heyday. But from her statement that "by election night, I felt that wearing a Bush button was a punk rock gesture," it seems Ms. Marlowe missed the point of punk altogether.

I thought that, whatever else attached to it, the heart of punk was rebellion. Which brings me to the question: By voting for Bush, what exactly was Ms. Marlowe "rebelling" against? The Democrats? Liberals in general? Here's the thing -- the Democrats don't have any power. They aren't the party that's effectively controlled all three branches of government for the past four years. As for liberals like me, we're really nothing more than a convenient cultural scapegoat at this point. All the power in this country is on the side that Ms. Marlowe was backing. I'm not sure how one can "rebel" against a group that is essentially powerless. It is possible, however, to bully them, and the snarky, snotty tone of Ms. Marlowe's article suggests she is more than willing to do so. Or, as Jello Biafra put it in "Nazi Punks Fuck Off": "When you ape the cops, it ain't anarchy."

Oh, and the idea that we wouldn't have punk rock if not for Christian fundamentalists: That's debatable. It's also a lot like saying that we wouldn't have had the civil rights movement if not for the Jim Crow laws. Personally, I'd trade in all my Clash and Sex Pistols albums if it meant my gay friends could get married.

-- Nate Carter

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Innovative, honest and practical? No wonder Marlowe thinks perception is more important than reality. Given reality's stubborn refusal to fall in line with neocon propaganda, it's not surprising that the neocons are now reduced to writing books to explain how wonderful they are.

It's nice that neoconservativism works -- in print.

-- Genevieve Carnell

In Ann Marlowe's review of "The Neocon Reader," she claims that John Kerry "came off as plastic and corporate" while failing to mention that George W. Bush is possibly the biggest corporate benefactor to ever inhabit the White House, not to mention being Connecticut old money playing down-home cowboy. She chides liberals for failing to "recognize diversity" while attempting to persuade us that religious fundamentalists are full of openness and understanding of alternative viewpoints. Neoconservatism places an emphasis on human rights? Tell that to the victims of the wave of Iraqi prison-abuse scandals.

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Liberals and independents are supposed to bow down and kiss the feet of neoconservatives because they offer "moral clarity"? Since when does an ardent belief in something false automatically make it right?

-- Michael Rengel

While I disagree with many of Marlowe's opinions, it is a pleasure to see Salon again expanding its horizons, avoiding the narrow-minded partisanship that became common in its coverage during the presidential election. I hope to see more articles that question rather than simply cheerlead. Marlowe's rebuttal to Salon readers -- challenging without being triumphal, provocative without being condescending -- is a needed dissenting voice. I hope to see more of her pieces on Salon in the future.

-- Peter Robinett

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Ann Marlowe writes a mostly cogent review of "The Neocon Reader," but like most neocons -- and conservatives in general -- of recent vintage, she eschews the intellectual honesty she lauds when it's convenient for her argument.

This is probably most clear in her statements about liberals and diversity: "Liberals have failed to recognize that the 'diversity' they so celebrate includes people who disagree with them -- churchgoers and mosque-goers, pro-lifers and hunters ... Those who inveigh against 'the religious right' don't consider how dull a country we would have if everyone actually did think like them."

Certainly there are plenty of individual liberals about whom this is true. But ultimately this is another "p.c." straw-man argument. For what people dislike about the religious right is not its beliefs per se, but its conspicuous agenda to impose those beliefs on schoolchildren, elected officials, scientific research, television -- and so on.

Liberals are the same as conservatives and the religious right, and anyone else in this regard -- everybody tends to feel more comfortable around those who see the world as they do. Liberals and conservatives are different in one essential way, though. Only one group's ideology requires that points of view they don't agree with are protected and even promoted, in the interest of fairness.

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When was the last time any conservatives argued for diversity and didn't mean themselves?

-- Dereck Daschke

I'll be the first to admit that I too easily write off the ideas of neocons, but that is, at least in part, because they have forced me into that position. You're either for us or against us. Well, in that case, I'm against you. I guess.

I doesn't bother me that they think they are right and others are wrong. I should hope that all of us who have spent a great deal of care in forming our beliefs would have the full conviction of those beliefs. What bothers me is the lack of respect for the beliefs of others and the unwillingness to compromise that seem built into the neocon belief system.

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We need to be able to believe that we are completely right and still be willing to compromise. This is how a functioning society operates. Unfortunately in the last election, we were faced with a candidate who wanted to embrace all beliefs and one who was unwilling to compromise. I'm glad to see that Ann Marlowe doesn't fall into either category. I just wish that more neocon sympathizers were like her.

-- Joshua Kidd

I read with some fascination Ann Marlowe's vapid review of "The Neocon Reader." My initial reaction was that it proved that she's an able transcriber of received wisdom. But the more I thought about it, the more her review seemed to be a creative act. Liberals, I learned, hate the religious right because liberals can't tolerate people who disagree with them. I usually try to keep this secret on account of the stigma and everything, but I know some liberals, and what they object to about the Christian right is the right's desire to impose its morality on the rest of the country. Liberals are intolerant because they object to anti-gay bigotry? Marlowe is quite creative.

Liberals and the left do have a problem in this country. Part of it is that we don't have the echo chamber of talk radio and the corporate-owned media that amplifies the bloviations of the right. Part of it is that we haven't come up with rhetorical strategies for countering the Rovian "Big Lie" strategy. Moral clarity is much easier when one has no particular interest in reality-based information.

Marlowe is a fine example of the problems we face. The tens of thousands of Iraqis we've placed beyond the reach of tyranny are of no concern, as long as some percentage of the, you know, still living ones show up to get their thumbs dyed.

-- Tom Sullivan

I feel much better about liberalism in the U.S. after reading this review. Marlowe's praise for the neocon philosophy confirms to me its inherent emptiness. The entire point of view depends on slamming imaginary straw men (for example, the left-wing pundits so upset about not stopping the Afghan war -- all four of them). The fact that she seems to have a mostly emotional connection to politics and policy (Kerry tedious and boring, Bush somehow rebellious and punk) just shows that the current ascendancy of the neocons is a hiccup -- if we're so conservative as a nation, why did Bush just deliver a speech as his State of the Union that any Democrat could have given?

It's our ideas that lead the way forward. One may think our spokespeople dull (no real argument from me), or one may find the business of harnessing the power of collective action to better all our lives (that is, governing) to be tedious. One may even find it really fun to lambaste those whose earnestness and sincerity seem so humorless. But the truth is that one side is interested in moving our society to ever greater heights, while the other is content to take potshots for kicks.

-- Jim Pharo

[Read "The Sexual Life of Abraham Lincoln," by Andrew O'Hehir.]

Of all the highly negative reviews yet to appear of C.A. Tripp's "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," Andrew O'Hehir in my opinion has written the smartest. But since I am listed on the book's title page as "edited by," I do, of course, have some quibbles.

O'Hehir writes, "Supporters of the view that Honest Abe was a veritable hetero Lothario of the prairie didn't pay to get this book into print, presumably, but they might as well have." A puzzling remark in light of O'Hehir's statement, "I'm prepared to believe in Lincoln's bisexuality," a willingness at least in part derived, if I've read the review correctly, from O'Hehir's thoughtful discussion of Lincoln's relationship with Capt. David Derickson. For example: "But it does seem that more than a few people in the capital had the impression that that the two were intimate beyond the bounds of propriety." O'Hehir follows up this concession with the comment that the Lincolnist David Herbert Donald's summary rejection of Tripp's view of the Lincoln-Derickson relationship "is more than a little defensive." Supporters of Lincoln as hetero Lothario would pay to see this in print?

Second, O'Hehir's references to "Kinseyesque pseudo-science," "quasi-quack theorizing" and "Kinsey lore" are a bit dismaying. Since when have informed people relegated the great sex researcher's findings to a "quasi-quack" realm of "lore"? It is by now evident that many readers of "Intimate World" have found Tripp's application of Kinsey data to the question of Lincoln's early puberty not only odd, but downright weird. But for a writer like O'Hehir -- intelligent, impressively well informed -- not to have even a bit of open-mindedness about this subject is surprising. For one thing, the subject is fascinating. Take the question of Lincoln's "sex-mindedness," a characteristic for which there is abundant and indisputable evidence. How did he get to be that way? Tripp's answer, via Kinsey, is very far from quackery.

Third, O'Hehir cites Tripp's "bizarre attempt to destroy Lincoln's heterosexual credentials (which are ample, as it happens), as if the idea that he may have had male lovers somehow depends on proving that he didn't like girls." Hmm. "Bizarre." And "ample." (Odd that O'Hehir makes the "ample" assertion in parentheses.) Lincoln ran away from eligible girls and women until he married at the late age of 33. There is no space here to support that claim, and I acknowledge that such redoubtable scholars as Douglas Wilson and Michael Burlingame marshal much "evidence" to try to disprove the claim. But let us conduct a thought experiment: Suppose that it is true that Lincoln as a young man avoided carnal relations with women. And suppose further that he was indeed highly sex-minded. What did he do with himself until he married at the late age of 33? Ah well, one might say. What about Ann Rutledge?

Those who think that the Rutledge legend bolsters Lincoln's "heterosexual credentials" should perhaps take a look at two articles published in the premier scholarly journal devoted to Lincoln studies, "The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association" (JALA). Tripp wrote the first article: "The Strange Case of Isaac Cogdal" (JALA, vol. 23, no. 1, Winter 2002). I wrote the second: "'Overwhelming Evidence' of a Lincoln-Ann Rutledge Romance? Reexamining Rutledge Family Reminiscences" (JALA, vol. 26, no. 1, Winter 2005). Tripp's JALA article, by the way, was adapted from the Rutledge chapter in "Intimate World." O'Hehir in his comments on the book includes the words "shoddy scholarship." What gets published in JALA is the polar opposite of shoddy.

Fourth and finally, I just have to laugh at the Who cares? take on whether Lincoln had sex with men, which opens and closes O'Hehir's review. Never mind gay lib and all that. I care for two reasons. Anything that sheds light on the life of our greatest president matters a great deal indeed. And then there is this: To the extent that Tripp is right, all of mainstream Lincoln historiography is wrong in a very big way. "Who cares" if there has been a systematic coverup of evidence long in plain sight? Anyone who cares about history should care.

-- Lewis Gannett


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