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Book Review June 26, 2002
 
Why We Always Wight
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 2
 
Yet Bennett writes in worry and frustration, as if his readers were far too lukewarm and needed massive injections of staunch love of country. It's as if all Bennett heard, in the roar of patriotic chants after September 11, were the scattered, frightened grumbles and half-hearted cavils of a few old professors. He constantly warns his readers that "We are under attack, and have been for some time." And he doesn't mean attacks of the WTC sort; he means attack from within, by seditious whisperers.

The question which interests me is: is he just using the Leftie quotes to stir up his readers, or is he really so frightened that Americans will lose their nerve?

I suspect he really does fear this. And I think this strange partial deafness, in which only one's enemies, only bad news, can be heard, is a fundamental characteristic of American right-wingers. Even when they're winning by a landslide, they're wretchedly unhappy, convinced that their enemies are only laying low, planning something terrible. Nixon's paranoia was by no means a mere individual pathology; it's the occupational disease of his span of the ideological spectrum. He was leading McGovern by the biggest margin ever recorded in a presidential election when his goons got busted at Watergate. All he had to do was coast, but he couldn't see it; he felt only terror and vindictive rage.

That's why the rightwing crazies loved having Reagan around to front for the cameras: because he was the only one who didn't wear fear and hatred on his face. He simply lacked the attention span a paranoiac requires, and that vacancy made for a lovable canine smile.

Bennett is one of the bedrock nutcases; it's never enough, for people like him. September 11, and the week that followed, were clearly bliss for him:

"In the wake of September 11, the doubts and questions that had only recently plagued Americans about their nation seemed to fade into insignificance. Good was distinguished from evil, truth from falsehood. We were firm, dedicated, unified. It was, in short, a moment of moral clarity...."

Do you hear the longing, the desperate nostalgia in that paragraph? If only there could be a mass slaughter every day! Then that "moral clarity" might last a bit longer, and give Mister Bennett the high he obviously craves. But the high never lasts. Sooner or later, people start arguing -- and for all Bennett's lip service to "democracy," dissent is something which drives him into a genuinely pathological rage.

It's unbearable to him that a handful of tenure-hungry jargon-mongers are saying snide things about America. Theirs are the only voices which really come through to him. To any sane listener, the sound of America after the attacks was one huge roar of outrage -- but for Bennett, there is only "the Death of Outrage." In the middle of an 80,000-seat stadium roaring out the anthem, Bennett would scan the crowd for the one or two cranks who refuse to rise from their seats -- and he would follow them, collect their bitter grumbles, paste them together and use them to make himself and his readers even angrier and more wretched, as he has here.

It's madness, of course. But it's a very adaptive madness. After all, Ladies and Gentlemen, who won the war? Bennett and his like are the true elite now. Their imaginary "liberal" enemies are a demoralized remnant, useful only to whip the victors into new kill frenzies.

This book is the rhetorical equivalent of a rock wielded by a paranoid schizophrenic. The imagined "enemy" has been ambushed, knocked down, battered to a pulp. He's already dead, his head smashed -- but the madman goes on battering the crushed skull, moaning, "Leave -- me -- aLONE! just -- leave -- me -- aLONE!"

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