Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Year of the Radical Right

[caption id="attachment_857" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="James Ellroy should be required reading for all of us, including the radical right."][/caption]

By Baynard Woods

Radical Conservatives controlled the country for most of this decade. But last year saw the birth of the Conservative counterculture. Obama’s election has allowed racists, insurance companies, polluters, Bible Beaters, anti-intellectuals, End Timers, Conspiracy theorists, Birchers, Birthers, Beck, Nativists, red state Red baiters, lobbyists, Dobbsists and disgruntled Baby Boomers afraid that they aren’t the center of the world anymore, to come together and present themselves as anti-fascist, anti-communist, and anti-elitist patriots, naming their movement after the Boston Tea Party. Right-wingers hated Clinton, Carter and Johnson pretty good—but they were all Southern at least. The Right has not known such countercultural fury since the election of John Kennedy in 1960, when the paranoid Bircher/Klan counterculture was equally, or more, important than the leftist counterculture that was developing. Countercultures are always represented as much by style as by substance. The historian Richard Hofstadter detailed this style in his book The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which came out in 1964. That paranoid style is alive again—and in many ways it models itself on that previous countercultural moment.

This year was the perfect time then for the release of Blood’s a Rover the final volume of the trilogy that may well be the great work of fiction about the right-wing counterculture, James Ellroy’s Underworld USA.

With this dark and daunting book, Ellroy, a crime writer known for Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential, completes his strange, disturbing and ultimately compelling picture of American politics as crime. The trilogy begins with American Tabloid just before the election of John Kennedy and leads to his assassination—an event arranged by two of the book’s main characters. Ellroy’s timing was perfect. American Tabloid may have chronicled the early sixties but it came out in 1995, just as the radical right was rising again as an anti-Clinton insurgency. The Cold Six Thousand, which came out in 2001, followed many of the same characters as they helped instigate and orchestrate the escalation in Viet Nam, the drug trade, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

These books are about the heroes of the tea-bag movement, the small-time and often conflicted operatives working with some loose government sanction. It is hard to believe how insightful Ellroy was. Ellroy’s heroes help us understand the part of the country that it is most important for us to understand—our worst part. The heroes of Ellroy’s books are the torturers at Abu Ghraib. They are the bumbling CIA operatives found guilty of kidnapping in Italy, and the Blackwater employees who went on “snatch and grab” missions with them.

The New Radical Right might try to distance itself from Bush, but Cheney and Rumsfeld remain its patron saints, with their brash, defiant, almost rock n’ roll style. Joe Wilson was just Rumsfeld on the other end of the podium. The Boston Tea Party was not a demonstration—it was an act of destruction, of radical subversion. The tea party was intended to incite revolution. By using this name, DeMint and his cohort admit that their purpose is to subvert the government of the United States. This is where DeMint gets some of his radical chic. You can almost hear him with his buddies making fun of how square his country cousin Lindsey is.

Sanford’s trip to Argentina was the big story this year, but perhaps it should have been DeMint’s trip to Honduras. It shows that DeMint has gone full-retro, embracing Right Wing Latin American coups in open defiance of the U.S. policy. Oh, how it brings back memories. It almost makes one giddy. This was the year, remember, when DeMint and G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon’s Watergate man, came together to say that the president was a Nazi.

As it happens, Liddy bears a striking resemblance to James Ellroy. If I were inclined to give Wilson and DeMint a gift, I would definitely buy them Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover. And I would recommend it to the rest of the country, so we know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about tea-baggers.

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