It was more than 11 years ago that The Dixie Chicks made their famous comment on a London stage about being ashamed the president came from Texas. The firestorm was immediate with Republicans expressing fury, conservative celebrities disowning them, radio stations refusing to play their records and right wing groups staging CD burning parties to protest their very existence.
The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding that the Chicks apologize publicly and perform a free concert for American troops stationed. The resolution called the comments "unpatriotic" and "Anti-American." The far right online group called Free Republic (the Breitbart of its day) said, "We are outraged by the anti American statements made by the Dixie Chicks on foreign soil during a time of imminent war. We are sick of ‘stars’ spouting anti American rhetoric thereby demoralizing our military personnel and offering aid and comfort to our enemies." When the Chicks went on TV to apologize, Diane Sawyer grilled the singers relentlessly asking, "Do you feel awful about using that word about the president of the United States?"
One of the major complaints about their comment was that it was made on "foreign soil" in a time of war. Conservative rocker Gene Simmons put it this way:
"In time of war, to aid and give comfort to the enemy on foreign soil, on stage and in a public forum is perfect fodder for anybody's press overseas that has a slightly different agenda, and I think it's reprehensible. And just because you're cute and have D-cups doesn't mean it's any less reprehensible."
It was quite a flap, culminating with the president himself petulantly complaining that the Chicks could say whatever they wanted but they shouldn't "get their feelings hurt" when people don't like them anymore. (Like Bush vs Gore, this was a lesson which only applied to one particular case --- when the Duck Dynasty patriarch was equally hit for his homophobia, all the same right-wingers became 1st Amendment absolutists.)
This trip down memory lane is just to add a little context to another American who went to London this week to talk about American foreign policy. Texas Governor Rick Perry went across the pond and gave a speech that would have made all those Chicks-haters proud. No, he didn't repeat his earlier comments to the Americans for Prosperity gathering (from which he drew "hoots" from the audience), in which he said, "The deepening chaos in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Ukraine is all the clear and compelling evidence the world needs of a president one step behind, lurching from crisis to crisis, always playing catch up." But what he did say was enough to curdle the blood of anyone who isn't looking to start World War III. He makes his case in no uncertain terms:
It is one thing to speak earnestly about the international order that our nations have helped to establish these past 70 years, and something else altogether to see that it is defended. That, once again, is what is required of Western nations and the great alliances we have formed. And as you know better than I, this cause will draw heavily on our wealth, our will, and our wisdom.
The plainest imperative of all is the resources we commit to the common defense, holding nothing back if it will better assure our security. And the nations of the West had better get about it, and never take for granted our military superiority.
For us, in the present conflict, the difference that superiority makes is the difference between those people - the jihadists of ISIS - in control or in retreat.
We know what they do when they're in control, and they try very hard to make sure we see it. In all of our conduct toward this enemy, there can be no illusions, and no compromise of all that we are defending.
There's more along this line. Much more. He goes on to put himself in the shoes of the average Iraqi or Syrian, lugubriously asserting that Americans are always seen cleanly and purely as saviors:
And when they look up and see an RAF, Danish, or American bomber coming in, they feel precisely as you and I would feel. That sight must seem like the answer to a prayer, a prayer that can be expressed in every faith: "Save my family, save my home, save my village, save me, from this evil."
There is much more in his speech to alarm you but this probably sums up his attitude most succinctly:
What all of these various hate groups have in common is a disdain for, and a wish to destroy, our Western way of life.
And someone needs to tell them that the meeting has already been held. It was decided, democratically, long ago - and by the way through great and heroic sacrifice - that our societies will be governed by Western values and Western laws.
Among those values are openness and tolerance. But to every extremist, it has to be made clear: we will not allow you to exploit our tolerance, so that you can import your intolerance. We will not let you destroy our peace with your violent ideas. If you expect to live among us, and yet plan against us, to receive the protections and comforts of a free society, while showing none of its virtues or graces, then you can have our answer now: No, not on our watch!
You will live by exactly the standards that the rest of us live by. And if that comes as jarring news: then welcome to civilization.
(But don't worry, you can carry a many guns as you like and shoot anyone who looks at you sideways.)
What does this have to do with the Dixie Chicks? Well, as this report on the speech from the Texas Observer points out, Rick Perry is not only going to spread our superior Western values all over the world whether they want it or not, he's ready to enforce his new "standards" on all of us.
Whether it's Britain or America, moreover, there are always people ready to insist that our societies could stand some improvement too - that we have our own injustices to correct.
Such a posture of moral equivalence is seen now and then on the Left, and sometimes even at the U.N. - an institution founded on Western ideals. And it pretends not to see the most basic of distinctions.
The shortcomings of Western democracies, the systematic savagery of the enemy - to a certain way of thinking, it all gets mixed up as one. They've got bad guys over there, we've got a few of our own - what's the difference?
This attitude of cultural relativism certainly doesn't approve of harsh or violent practices imposed elsewhere, but does question the right of Britain, the United States, or other Western powers to do anything about it...the attitudes I'm describing reflect a deep confusion at a time when moral clarity is at a premium. And this confusion can weaken the confidence we need in our own values - the values of Western Civilization.
Even President Bush said that the Dixie Chicks had a perfect right to say what they said. Perry seems to be saying something far more ominous.
It's fair to guess that a President Rick Perry would likely be very unhappy about anyone who does not publicly affirm what he deems to be "moral clarity," even a Dixie Chick from Texas.
One can easily see him thundering from the podium, "You will live by exactly the standards that the rest of us live by ..." Why wouldn't he?