"I voted for what I thought was best for the country," Kerry told the magazine, in explaining his initial support of the Iraq invasion. "Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything'? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."
The White House, as always, attacked the language of the comment rather than addressing the content. "I've known John Kerry for a long time, and I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language," Chief of Staff and surrogate mommy Andrew Card said on CNN. "That's beneath John Kerry. I'm hoping that he's apologizing -- at least to himself -- because that's not the John Kerry that I know."
Still reeling from the FCC's ruling last month that it's OK to say "fuck" on television in the nonsexual way Kerry used the word, right-wingers flooded Internet sites with harsher reprobation. David Limbaugh, columnist and brother to Rush, explained that such language is demonstrative of the general moral bankruptcy of Democrats, who "prostitute themselves to pop culture."
After all, he explained with no hint of irony, this is the same party whose last president, Bill Clinton, admitted on MTV he wears briefs more often than boxers. And, he went on breathlessly, didn't former Vice President Al Gore appear on "Saturday Night Live" in a hot tub? Well, you can easily see how such immoral behavior adds to the degeneration of language.
Of course, Limbaugh has done nothing but defend his brother, who calls feminists "nazis" and is under investigation for illegal drug purchases, even as he campaigned on the air against leniency for others in such cases. I don't guess subscription to the lobotomizing pop-culture phenomenon of talk radio -- a bastion of self-comforting hypocrisy -- rises to the evil level of watching MTV.
Right-wingers pass their apoplexy over the f-word off as protection of family values. But it's really evidence of their fascist-like effort to control thinking. Recall that late-night TV comic Bill Maher made the observation after 9-11 that the U.S. had "been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away."
Asked about the wisecrack, Ari Fleischer, then the president's press secretary, called it "a terrible thing to say." He added: "Americans ... need to watch what they say, watch what they do ... This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."
It was one of those moments when a White House official forgot to obfuscate the agenda of discouraging criticism by demanding blind loyalty to the administration. Indeed, the PATRIOT Act requires that we abdicate civil liberties out of loyalty, not to the Constitution but to the White House's interpretation of events -- which we now know has been unprecedentedly ... fucked up.
It gets worse. Someone at the White House realized that Fleischer had said too much. So what did they do? They simply excised the remark from the official transcript of the press conference. When some reporters had the gall to notice, the White House called the rewrite of the public record a "transcription error." Two days later, the White House corrected the "transcription error" on its website.
There are a couple lessons here. One is the obvious persistent pattern of the administration and its supporters to discourage discourse by calling criticism immoral or unethical. In this, the state behaves like a censuring parent, and it's no wonder that the religious right has gained such ground. I remind you that, unlike the communist governments, most of history's fascist governments have allied themselves with the dominant religion of their culture.
But the more important lesson is that the object of the right's contempt also directs us to one of the most effective means of resistance: pop culture and the arts. Control of the artistic and intellectual life of the culture was one of the first agendas of earlier fascist governments. This is why the right despises liberal Hollywood actors, characterizing them as stupid and immoral. The real problem is that their celebrity grants them immediate attention with an audience that even Rush Limbaugh can't attract.
Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine published a piece that is instructive in this regard. It was about the way activists in the gay community had a huge impact on AIDS awareness and treatment by using the visual and performing arts in the '80s and early '90s. Through sometimes-outrageous theatrical actions, the appropriately named ACT-UP was able to awaken the media from the same kind of somnambulism it now suffers. More than anything else, its actions resulted in new protocols that made drug therapies available to people with AIDS.
It's cool that comedy still provides a means of protest. But I wonder why other artists, writers and performers aren't producing more protest art now. It's a fucking shame.
Cliff Bostock's website is www.soulworks.net.