I don’t ask much of my liberal columnists. I do, however, expect them to not contradict themselves in 1,000 words.Gene Robinson, the Al Franken of the Washington Post, hates Republicans. Big surprise. In his new column, “GOP Bigotry That Backfired,” Robinson speculates that the fact the GOP may have given Foley a pass to “stunning cynicism” or “woeful incompetence.” Further, if the scandal involved a female page, it would not be such a big deal - because the GOP are rampaging, “rabid” homophobes.
So which is it Gene? Is the GOP so homophobic that they faint at the sight of Carson Daly? Or are they cynics who put politics above gay-bashing? (And never mind the nonsense about it not being a big deal if it had been a woman - um, Monica, anyone?)
Robinson is yet another example of the unhinged Left, people who hate conservatives with such delirium that they can’t be bothered to make sense. They se Bush and the neocons everywhere. Robinson can’t even go to an art gallery without carrying the 43rd president in his head. A few months ago went to see an exhibition on Dada at the National Gallery of Art. Dada was a kind of nonsense art - the Mona Lisa defaced with a mustache, hanging toilets, etc. - that had a brief life span after World War I. It was a nihilistic, prankish reaction to the death and destruction of the war.
So, of course, in the works of George Grosz and other Dada art Robinson sees all kids of analogues to our present circumstance: “So here we are, nearly a century after Dada heralded the painful birth of the modern world, and once again we are engaged in what our leaders tell us is a new kind of war - one that we don’t yet understand how to fight. We assure ourselves that God is on our side and that we’re making the world safe for democracy.”
Forget for a second the silly comparison between the Great War and the War on Terror. That’s another debunking. What deflated me about Robinson’s piece is its celebration of, well, nothing. Like his friends on the Left, Robinson can kvetch about 10,000 things he hates and can’t name a single thing he likes. How would he fight the terrorists? What standards or virtues does he believe help society? Does he enjoy any art, not as a protest against something, but a declaration for something? Does he like dogs or children? I suppose he would say that Dada does stand for something - the impeachment of George W. Bush. His obsession with seeing Bush in everything, a kind of cousin to stalking, blinds him to everything else. He needs to get treatment - with Maureen Dowd.
If only Robinson knew just how played out, exhausted, just plain old tired his self-righteousness is. Even his beloved Dada and its attitude was tired shortly after it was new. In 1922, Aldous Huxley wrote a piece - in Vanity Fair! - that addressed the postwar cultural climate. Huxley observed:
We live today in a world that is socially and morally wrecked. Between them, the war and the new psychology have smashed most of the institutions, traditions, creeds, and spiritual values that supported us in the past. Dadaism represents, in the sphere of art, the complete disintegration of values. Dada denied everything; even art itself, that last idol which we all tried so pathetically hard to keep standing when everything else - the soul, morality, patriotism, religion - has been laid low, even art itself was assaulted by Dada and smashed.
Dada was an exhilarating spectacle when it first appeared on the scene. One enjoyed it as one enjoys the sight of crockery being smashed by a music hall comedian; it gratified that childish love of destruction which lurks in the hearts of all of us. But after a while this crockery smashing grew a little tedious. It was time to pick up the bits and make something new. The only question was: what?
80 years later, the Left has no answer for this. Indeed, if anything their art and culture has been nothing but a dull echo of Dada - but without the wit or reach. Since the 1960s the platform has been: conservatives are evil, religion is worthless, unlimited sex is good, America is to blame for everything, traditional marriage is a sham, patriotism is for suckers - and art is a vehicle for me to express my political/psychological rage. But Maya Angelou sing-songing a soggy feminist poem or Green Day playing two-chord anti-Republican songs cannot touch George Grosz “Metropolis,” a flaming red painting in the Dada exhibit. In Grosz there is burning heart and soul, a protest of urban society as objectively disordered and given to febrile dehumanization. Grosz’s point of view is biblical in its reach.
These days we get blown-up pictures of Iraq prisoners being tortured and collages morphing Bush into Hitler. The Dadaist at least had the brio to strafe the field in its totality; they were against war, religion, class, standards, everything (Cities are traditionally the home of Bohemia; this didn’t stop Grosz from painting “Metropolis.”) Dadaist were childish but not infantile; they understood that had they mounted an entire show based on the idea that Woodrow Wilson was a liar, they would have looked like demented obsessives more than artists.
Eugene Robinson is very much a demented obsessive. What is irritating about this is its mixture of hubris and gutlessness. Robinson and his ilk try and make living with a lack of standards a kind of holy state. The nothingness becomes a halo of existential feeling, which trumps reason and bypasses the shame, worry, disappointment and striving that comes with the reality of sin. Last year Robinson wrote another piece using art to attack conservatives. “Art is by definition artificial,” he wrote, “yet it tells truths.” Truths about God, the beauty of the world, the nature of love? Nah. Truths that announce that real people, as opposed to conservatives, “are imperfect beings who sometimes drink and smoke and stay out waaaay too late at night…..We forgive ourselves, though. We’re only human, and most of us are willing to admit that fact.” This was depicted beautifully by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the painter of late 19th Century Paris and its bohemian life whom Robinson was writing about. The exhibit Robinson saw, “Montmartre,” featured Lautrec and other bohos from the era.To Robinson, Lautrec is worth praising because he avoids all hypocrisy - unlike the religious Right: “when politicians who play to the religious right seek to impose a scripture-based code of conduct on legislative and political decisions, painting their opponents as ‘secular’ and all but calling them heathens, they sooner or later expose themselves as hypocrites.”
Well, yes and no. As sinners, we’re all hypocrites to a greater or lesser degree. We’re all called to sainthood, and inevitably we fall short. But here’s the difference: conservatives, sinners all, nonetheless do not call for abolishing standards. If I went to a prostitute I would be a hypocrite – but I wouldn’t want to legalize prostitution. As the great Catholic historian James Hitchcock noted, attacks on those who preach virtue yet violate their own pronouncements are different from attacks on virtue itself. One is an assault on hypocrisy; the other is an attack on standards as standards. It is the work of a man to attempt to live up to standards - and believing in such objective ideals of truth, beauty and goodness makes for great art. Sadly, Eugene Robinson and the rest of the Left lacks the guts - or the mental stability - to offer even the merry nihilism of the Dadaist. It would require relinquishing the one thing in this world they solidly trust in - the absolute evil of George W. Bush.
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