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Bart Motes

Bart Motes

Posted: August 4, 2008 04:14 PM

W. is not Batman


The extreme right has a fetish for justifying their contempt of American institutions via tenuous comparisons to fiction. Most recently, in the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Klaven has compared Our Leader, W., to Batman. "Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past." To quote Matt Taibbi on Thomas Friedman's magnum dreckus The World is Flat, "already the premise is totally fucked." When you approvingly compare a vigilante crime fighter to the head law enforcement officer of our country, there is bad voodoo afoot. If Klaven was at all correct in his demented thesis, impeachment would be imperative.

Batman only breaks those rules he must. In Batman Begins, he is given the responsibility of destroying Gotham wholesale because it has fallen into sin, but chooses instead to become the protector of its flawed existence. That initial act of protection justifies Batman's occasional transgressions against the civil order. Even so, Batman never harms an innocent or allows, by his willful inaction, an innocent to be harmed. Compare, Katrina.

But Klaven's is only the latest in a string of loony fictional analogies by extreme right-wingers. Brad Reed, of Sadly, No!, wrote in October of 2006 of the "right's scary affinity for sci-fi political punditry." His article, Battlestar Galacticons examines several amusing case studies in right wing moonbattery.

Reed takes on the curious case of Jonathan Last. In 2002, Last, an editor of The Weekly Standard, stole some time away from the Standard's main task of hyping the war with Iraq to argue that the Empire in Star Wars were the good guys and the Rebels were the bad guys. Last doesn't ignore the fact that, you know, the Empire has a messy record of summarily executing civilians, torture, and, er, planetary genocide, but he makes a "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs" argument out of it. The "Empire is not committing random acts of terror. It is engaged in a fight for the survival of its regime against a violent group of rebels who are committed to its destruction." Well, good thing that governments never gin up a threat to justify their abuses of power. Last has one thing over Klaven: he understands that his comparison will only work if he reverses our moral polarity. Of course, in doing so, he rather amusingly makes "arrogance" and "chaos" greater crimes than torture and genocide, which I suppose is fitting for a writer with the magazine that was the chief cheerleader for the Iraq War. (Of note, Last's boss, William Kristol is "morose" over the thought of Barack Obama becoming President. I don't recall him expressing "moroseness" over the 4,000+ dead Americans, 20, 000+ maimed Americans, and 600, 000 thousand dead Iraqis in the war for which he relentlessly propagandized. Priorities.)

Reed also examined the amusing trend line of right wing enthusiasm for and eventual dismay with Battlestar Galactica, which shifted its emphasis from tough choices that the right liked--i.e., torture, summary executions, to ones that they found disturbing--i.e., resistance tactics like suicide bombings against an occupier.

Similarly, the right has reached new levels of synergy between political action and fiction in the macho soap opera 24. Rush Limbaugh, violence fetishist/24 producer Joel Surnow, and Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security traded sloppy kisses in a forum organized at the behest of the formerly opiate addled comedian called " '24' and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does It Matter?"

24 marries old tropes of rugged right wing individualism--some inherited from the 1980s, from action movies like Die Hard, Rambo, Lethal Weapon, Commando, etc, all featuring a heroic figure who must defeat not only the pure evil of the enemy Other, but the more insidious rot of his own society's weakness--to a new favorite justification for torture, the ticking time bomb scenario. In the ticking time bomb scenario, the acts of torture are justified because there is a known threat with certain loss of life and a time frame that excludes alternative methods of acquiring information. Its also entirely unrealistic. Not only does it almost never occur in real life, say counter-terrorism experts, but a ticking time bomb scenario is the worst case scenario to extract information. The terrorist knows that he simply has to out wait the clock to be successful.

In the 1950s, Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels featured a vigilante hero who murdered countless Communists that the law couldn't touch, either through their weakness or the Communists' treachery. As Stephen Whitfield observed in The Culture of The Cold War, "the procedural rules and legal guarantees that helped make a civil society worth defending were treated with savage contempt. . . . Because of the official limitations under which formal authority chafed, vigilante ruthlessness was the only effective antidote to unmitigated evil." Whitfield, page 37

Klaven adopts a Cliff Notes version of A Few Good Men to rationalize his celebration of lawbreaking. We cannot understand, says Klaven, the burden of "the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator" and we vilify them "in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve." Absolute nonsense. If Klaven believes that the torturers at Abu Gharib deserve the hero treatment, he's mentally ill. And if he believes that Americans don't scrupulously honor the true heroes of our military, he is willfully ignorant.

What is new and dismaying about the current right wing fetish is that it reaches all the way up to the President. Traditionally, it is acknowledged in right wing fantasies that the President must not know of or formally condone any sort of law breaking, though he may unofficially know of it and condone it out of necessity. Klaven and his ilk take away this fig-leaf and insist that we celebrate the dismantling of our civil liberties by the very leader sworn by the Constitution to protect them. It is difficult to imagine a more troubling, un-American sentiment.

Klaven's sort of fascist prattle is a parasite on the heart of the Republic and must be opposed vigorously by true conservatives, libertarians, and liberals alike.

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