10/12/2006 08:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My Love Affair With Hate Mail

I'm getting hate mail--and loving it!

If you're like me, you assume, when you hear about the 31% (or whatever the number is) of the public that still approves of the President and his administration, that the figure represents the hard-core, permafrost, unchanging "base." And by that you mean, the dogmatic right-wing religious believers, the Talibangelists--i.e., people whose allegiance to this epic catastrophe of corruption and ineptitude begins and ends, not with facts or reality, not with economic self-interest or even clear-eyed moral consistency, but blithe and blind faith.

Their unshakeable Christian belief in J.C. translates into an equally unshakeable Republican belief in W. And if they therefore cannot be reasoned with, and cannot be made to see that their man has, with one hand, ignored or betrayed his every commitment to them while, with the other, destroyed or corrupted everything he's touched--well, that's religion, or faith, or dogmatism for ya. Who else can possibly defend an administration that is, by almost every measure, indefensible?

Well. As the young hepcats say, "As if."

Our book, Yiddish With George and Laura, has been out for about a week. The Vidlit based on it can be viewed here:

Check it out. It'll take three minutes and you might find it amusing. I'll wait.

Okay? Got it? This little advertisement, in circulation only since Sunday, has already prompted almost twenty vehemently denunciatory emails, none of which reflect a far-right, Evangelical Christian bias. Au contraire. One says:


Another says:

I find it troubling that you choose to demean the best friend Israel has ever had. The portrayal of Candy rice was beyond tasteless. You are beyond tasteless.

And another:

After seeing this piece of drek, I realize that you have betrayed my grandparent's language for your fucking political propaganda. You are nothing but a bunch of racists hiding behind your fake Jewishness. Stalin had a saying for people like you, he called them; "useful idiots." The pictures of the people in your cartoon did not believe in evolution, they believed and still do believe in creation. By the way the Nazis also used Yiddish for their hate filled speech. Zeig Heil.

And so on. Not all of them are as livid, and in fact not all of them are in defense, or supposed defense, of Yiddish or Jews or Israel. Here is how they break down by theme:

Best Friend Jews/Israel Ever Had in White House: 4
Disrespectful of the President: 4
Tasteless, boorish, etc.: 4
Abuses Yiddish: 2
Thinks we "should've done a nice little vidlit about Succos or something": 1
Other ("scurrilous, disgusting, radical left-wing diatribe," etc.): 3

What kills me, and what Democrats might find significant, are the first two. There are people out there who, despite the tumultuous destabilization of the Middle East by our invasion of Iraq, and despite the consequent world-wide damage to the reputation of the U.S. and, by extension, its ally Israel, nonetheless call George W. Bush "the best friend Israel ever had."

And they do this, despite knowing full well that all Republican-evangelical Christian affection for Israel is based strictly on the Promised Land's utility as a Biblical prerequisite for the rise of the Antichrist, the seven-year revenge-fantasy orgy of genocide and annihilation known as the Tribulation, and the "Glorious Appearing" of Jesus in His Second Coming. Of course, whether the Rapture is to come before, during, or after the Tribulation, is something over which reasonable religious lunatics can disagree. What matters is that modernity will get its ass kicked. And they can't wait.

With friends like these...

Then are those whose antipathy to the Vidlit is, or at least seems to be, entirely the result of the "disrespect" they claim (correctly) that it shows the First Family. This is an aesthetic or moral objection--i.e., a purely subjective one--and they're entitled to it.

Of course, one wonders if they get as upset and indignant at all examples of political satire, which by definition is "disrespectful," but never mind. Do they send daily emails of protest to The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, and Conan? Never MIND. Did they complain about such things when Clinton was in office? I said never mind.

The point is, who knew? Who knew that so many non-fundamentalist non-Christians were out there, who can't tell the difference between the office of the Presidency and the man who has done more than any in history to abuse and dishonor it? In other words, the perseverance of that 31%, its stubborn persistence and immutability, may not be religion's fault! It may be America's fault.

It may be that, with every succeeding generation, all of politics in America becomes more and more a transaction based on make-believe, negotiated through a currency of wishful thinking, projection, fairy tale, and fantasy (and, alas, their opposites: character assassination, slander, smearing). America, after all, is the land of make-believe, the United States of Amnesia (h/t Gore Vidal) and home to The Happiest Place on Earth (h/t Walt Disney), where our highest aspiration is consistently called a "Dream," where everyone came from everywhere to get away from History itself.

Thus, George W. Bush wins (or "wins"), not because of his ideas, his objective history of governance, or even his party's proven service to anyone other than the rich (and homophobic), no, people vote for him because "he's a good Christian man" or, if that's not relevant, because "you can have a beer with him."

This is the language of the casting director, and its use in the presidential campaign of 2000 was the opposite of a surprise. Everyone knew by then (if not by 1968), that the candidates are "sold" and that "it's all marketing" and so on. What's amazing (and distressing, nauseating, etc.) is that, having cast this joker in the part, and having lived through six years of dailies and seen more than enough footage to determine that he wasn't the talent many thought he was, nonetheless there are people who still talk as though it's just after the screen test and the lad shows promise.

To illustrate, let us turn to a politely critical response to the Vidlit sent us from a friend-of-friends whom we see very seldom. Here are some of his reasons for liking the President:

"First, I like his integrity. He actually means what he says and I think that's what freaks a lot of people out. He has actually followed through, or tried to, on all of his campaign promises in spite of attempts at total obstruction by the opposition. He got his tax cuts through, twice. He passed his prescription drug plan."

Now, what freaks me out is, not only that every sentence of this is wrong, but that every sentence is completely at odds with the truth. It is a description of a fantasy George Bush.

Whether or not a politician "means what he says" is arguably less important than what he says in the first place (since Hitler, etc.) but never mind that. If we know nothing else by now, we know that George Bush does not "mean what he says." In fact he has lied about everything not nailed down, from his National Guard service to the reasons we went to war, and there are entire books devoted to documenting and proving it. He lies to get his way, and then repeats the lies until they're shown for what they are. Then he denies having told them.

The reference to "attempts at total obstruction by the opposition" is to laugh, of course, since until recently there has been only token, feeble opposition. His tax cuts (which he indeed "got through," in the teeth of almost no opposition) have benefited, not our middle-class friend quoted above, but the already-wealthy, and have created, for the first time, a Forbes 400 entirely populated by billionaires. (Remember when Bill Gates' being-worth-a-billion was news? Now there are four hundred of him, and no. 401 is probably a billionaire, too.) His prescription drug plan, passed after he and his party lied about its cost, has proven to be a welfare plan for Big Pharma and a nightmare for everyone else.

In short, every item on our friend's emphatic, firmly-presented list of Bush's virtues and accomplishments is belied by reality--not only untrue, but objectively proven to be untrue. And the person defending the President is neither a fundamentalist evangelical nor an Israel-protecting Jew.

But that's who's out there in the 31%: Not just "the Christian base," but people for whom the image of Bush is the only Bush they acknowledge. There are people for whom criticizing Bush equals--irrationally, absurdly-- abandoning Israel to Hezbollah, or who are more offended by a three-minute cartoon than by secret wiretaps, the abolition of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, and 750 "signing statements" advertising this president's intention to ignore the law.

Maybe we've stumbled onto a new and weird ontology of American politics. If you're defending a fantasy (which you believe is real), it's easy to ignore reality--in fact, it's essential. You get out of bed ignoring reality. But maybe that makes you unusually susceptible to other people's fantasy criticisms (e.g., Yiddish With George and Laura) which, if they attack your fantasy, have the impact of something real. I keep wanting to say, "It's like when you multiply a negative number by a negative number and get a positive number." Fantasy vs. fantasy equals real insult and indignation. No?

Maybe not. In any case, here's what I've realized about the 31%: They're not all Christian. Some of them are Jewish. Some of them aren't particularly religious at all.

But they all act that way, lashing themselves to an idealized conception of the President and remaining faithfully impervious to news of the actual consequences of his actions. (In that, of course, they sound like him.) This is the lesson of hate mail, and it's one I'm pleased to pass along to the Democrats: Don't bother going after these people. Anyone who can be won over, by evidence or persuasion, has already been won over. (That's how bad things have become.) As for the rest, they won't budge, because they can't.

Of course, it may be, as some think, that a dependency on a fantasy-conception of politics, or the world, or God stems from a reality--personal, psychological, spiritual, material--too painful to address. But that's a whole other magilla.