The Great Right-Wing Freak-Out

Symptoms of the conservative crack-up were on full display after President Obama's trip abroad. Bill Kristol, take a bow.

Obama's recent trip to Europe, Turkey and Iraq was a fairly bland
freshman outing in foreign affairs, notable for the enormous good will
it generated toward the U.S., along with some practical achievements
and a few minor errors. It lacked the drama of the untested young
Kennedy grappling over Berlin with the wily old Khrushchev in Vienna in
1961. On the American Right, however, Obama's trip produced a hysteria
not seen since radio listeners mistook Orson Welles's 1938 radio production about an invasion from Mars
for the real thing, and crowded the highways, heads wrapped in wet
towels, to escape the poisonous miasma of the onrushing aliens. The
weeping and trembling of Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and
William Kristol underlined once again that the rightwingers are
playground crybabies who kick and scream and faint whenever they do not
get their way.

The outrage began when Obama greeted Saudi King Abdullah
by leaning into a double-handed handshake. Sean Hannity at Fox Cable
News sputtered, "We got this video of Barack Obama bowing to the Saudi
King Abdullah. Now look, watch how low he gets. Way below the
shoulder." Camille Paglia denounced
from her own little papier-mache Mount Olympus "the jaw-dropping
spectacle of a president of the United States bowing to the king of
Saudi Arabia." The critics missed the point; far from being obsequious,
Obama's double-barreled handshake violated the protocol for greeting
royals. When singer Kylie Minogue similarly clutched Prince Charles's hand, the London tabloid press noted it as a faux pas that only a celebrity could get away with. But in any case surely George W. Bush's sychophantic cheek-kissing and hand-holding of Abdullah was far more offensive to the political Right? Apparently not. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called the greeting "shameful."
She also darkly warned, "we're still finding out what happened during
that G20 summit. I think that there may have been agreements made
behind closed doors that we aren't even aware of, that could be ceding
American sovereignty."

Most conservatives had little trouble with the part of Obama's address to the Turkish parliament
in which he declared that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. Those
conservatives only wanted to emphasize that George W. Bush had said the
same thing. But there were notable, clownish exceptions.

Radio personality Rush Limbaugh challenged the president, saying that if we are not at war with Islam then the Somali pirates must not be Muslims.
Perhaps, the rotund one suggested with his world-famed gift for subtle
wit, the Somalis are actually Orthodox Jews. But Obama had explicitly
said that the U.S. is at war with some Muslims, to wit,
al-Qaida, and had merely exempted the broad religion of Islam as an
object of enmity. When the U.S. went to war against the Serbians over
Kosovo, it was presumably not involved in a war on Christianity, even
though the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox Christians. Moreover, Islamic law
forbids piracy, so the Somalis are not acting out of religious motives.
The fevered irrationality of such diatribes, on the part of someone
recognized as the leading voice of the contemporary Republican Party,
points to the party's dire intellectual straits.

Obama's address to the Turkish parliament also managed to enrage Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, who blew a chance to prove wrong the adage that he is always wrong about everything. He complained
to Brett Baier of Fox News on April 6, "Look . . . We have defended
Muslim nations against terrorists. It would have been nice if President
Obama could have said a word about the young Americans who went to
Afghanistan . . . and . . . Iraq. But could Barack Obama say something
that would be mildly unpopular to an audience [to] which he was
speaking? No."

Somehow Kristol seems to have missed the part of Obama's
speech where he emphasized that Turkey and America were fighting a
common enemy, side by side, in Afghanistan. "Finally," said the
president, "we share the common goal of denying al-Qaida a safe haven
in Pakistan or Afghanistan. . . Turkey has been a true partner. Your
troops were among the first in the International Security Assistance
Force. You have sacrificed much in this endeavor. Now we must achieve
our goals together." In other words, Obama said precisely what Kristol alleged that he did not. Kristol, the mighty Casey of rightwing punditry, struck out yet again, for a lifetime batting average of .000.

That in the same speech Obama praised Turkey's modern
founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and that country's "strong, vibrant,
secular democracy," irked unemployed theocrat Karl Rove. Rove
complained that Obama had declared that the U.S. is not a Christian nation
and had sympathized with Turkey's separation of religion and state. The
notorious betrayer of CIA agents opined to Sean Hannity on April 8,
"Yes, look, America is a nation built on faith. I mean we can be
Christian, we can be Jew, we can be a Mormon, we can be -- you know,
any variety of things. . . And to somehow go to Turkey and in order to
sort of identify yourself with this Turkish secular movement that began
in the early part of the previous century and try and somehow make
Turkey and America equivalent is to deny each nation's reality." Like
Kristol, Rove apparently didn't bother to read or listen to Obama's
remarks in full before criticizing them. In the speech, Obama urged
greater acceptance of religion in public life in Turkey and the
reopening of the Eastern Orthodox Halki seminary.

Rove also forgot to coordinate with neoconservative
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who told Baier on the
6th, "I think he did all right in his speech to the parliament in
Turkey. I thought there was an overemphasis in the second half on how
it's a Muslim nation. But in the first half . . he stressed the fact
that it's a secular democracy. And I thought that was a good approach."
This clash of interpretation showed up the fissures in what is left of
conservatism, between the proponents of Christian Reconstructionism
(religious rule) and the generally secular neoconservatives. What it
does not do is damage Barack Obama, who obviously managed to navigate
the minefields of secularism versus religion, both in the Turkish and
the American context.

Aside from complaining that their pleas for Christian
state-making have been ignored by the president, conservatives were
reduced to alleging that Obama was just doing and saying all the same
things as W. had, but was getting more credit for it. Some even seemed
to hope for redemption through apocalypse, since they kept coming up
empty in their histrionics. Bill O'Reilly said on April 6, "there's no
question . . . that the Islamic world likes Barack Obama better than
President Bush. Okay, fine. . . But before it's all over, they may hate
Barack Obama . . . We get hit again, Barack Obama's going to have to
wipe out a few countries. Okay?" Of course, it is not actually true
that replying to a strike by a small asymmetrical terrorist
organization would require wiping out whole countries, nor even that it
would require enmity between the U.S. and the broad Muslim world. And
if the possibility of such an attack is all Republicans have left to
cling to, it is a sad state of affairs.

More hot air was vented on the Right in making elementary
errors of logic, and more verbiage spent condemning the bow to King
Abdullah, than in discussing any of the meatier issues broached during
Obama's trip abroad. The ever greater concentration on minutiae, and
the investment of more and more passion in matters of no moment,
signals the bankruptcy of conservative philosophy. Its proponents have
stared transfixed as the ruthless implementation of their most
cherished principles produced a series of economic, social and foreign
policy calamities from which it may take decades to recover. The
spectacle of their spokesmen misunderstanding English, hyperventilating
over dark suspicions of surrender of sovereignty or reeducation camps,
condemning a Muslim country like Turkey for setting a bad example by
being insufficiently theocratic, and engaging in mock auto-da-fes
to illustrate their inner rage, raises the question of whether the
Republican Party is having a collective nervous breakdown. Meanwhile,
Obama and the rest of the country have begun seeing "glimmers of hope."

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