The Anti-Meanness Movement; The Reform Party's Future

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:25

    The King of Mean Acouple of years ago I happened to see an article in the Utne Reader thatlisted the 10 most "progressive" cities in the United States. Oneof the cities making the cut was Portland, ME. This gladdened my heart. I wasabout to move to Portland part-time, and, as an LBJ Democrat, I thought I wouldfeel at home there among all the like-minded progressives. On arriving in Portland,however, I did not find many LBJ Democrats. What I did find was (1) lots oflesbians, (2) lots of handicapped people and (3) lots of cars sporting bumperstickers with "progressive" messages like MEAN PEOPLE SUCK. In fact,anti-meanness turned out to be more than a mere slogan. There are actually legalpenalties in the state of Maine for being chronically and incorrigibly mean. Consider,if you will, the case of Clifford Shattuck. Mr. Shattuck is the proprietor theLighthouse Motel, a tidy little inn near Lincolnshire, ME. He is 66 years oldand has been running the motel for 17 years. Late last spring, however, a superiorcourt judge ordered Mr. Shattuck not to have any contact with his guests. Thejudge also fined the innkeeper $15,000. His crime was being mean.

    Mr. Shattuck,it seems, cannot resist saying disobliging things to tourists who wish to stayat his motel. When a couple from Ohio asked to see a room, he called them "scum."A woman from Canada reported that he called her an "ignorant pig."Two women from Minnesota departed the premises after being referred to as "sluts."A couple from Pennsylvania took umbrage at being addressed as "idiot"and "moron." (When the local Chamber of Commerce tried to intervene,the motelier allegedly sent its director a postcard with a hyena on it.)

    Some ofMr. Shattuck's abuse has had greater specificity, even if it is occasionallymisdirected. Two Hispanic men, who said they had pulled over in front of themotel to clean up spilled coffee, claimed the innkeeper told them to get movingor he'd get his gun and "blow (them) back to Africa." A pair of youngmen just mustered out of Israel's army said Mr. Shattuck informed them thathe "hates Israelis" and "hopes there will be a second Holocaust."

    Here perhapsis where one begins to lose sympathy with the innkeeper. Irascibility ceasesto be charming when it is seen to spring from vulgar prejudices.

    Yet I wouldargue that Mr. Shattuck's meanness is admirable in the broadness of its scope.It respects the Enlightenment value of universalism. It takes cognizance ofGeorge Bernard Shaw's proposition that "the worst sin against our fellowman is not to hate them but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence ofinhumanity." Indeed, Mr. Shattuck appears to be living up to the example of the early Christians, who, despite Jesus' gospel of love, were said by theirpagan Roman contemporaries to exhibit a general hatred of mankind. (The argumentfrom Christianity cuts no ice in Maine, where many of the lesbians, I'm told,are practicing Wiccans.)

    Now, I amcertainly not advocating that everyone begin behaving like Mr. Shattuck. Somany New Yorkers already do, anyway. But my fellow liberals have something tolearn, I think, from his example. Hatred is a very great pleasure-"thelongest pleasure," in Byron's estimation-and there is no reason for usto deprive ourselves of it in the name of being "progressive." Weshould not be expected to love humanity. That is a burden only a saint couldbear. All we are obliged to do is to distribute our feelings of malice as broadlyand equitably as possible, across every racial, national, ethnic and religiousgroup.

    Walkingthrough Times Square a few years ago, I heard a black soapbox orator declarethat "the white man is the devil." As a white man myself, I knew justwhat he meant. Most Caucasians are diabolical. Indeed, if I had to pickout one tribe as being especially repugnant, it would be my fellow WASPs, whohave certainly done me the most harm in the course of my life. But I would notsingle out WASPs as special objects of meanness. Asians and blacks are justas cruel, deceitful and greedy. Ditto for Jews and Muslims, heterosexuals andhomosexuals, Serbs and Albanians, Flemings and Walloons. There is only one race,the human race. And it's loathsome.

    I do notsee why Mr. Shattuck should be punished by the state of Maine for living hislife according to this insight. Perhaps he would be better off moving his innto Italy. Earlier this summer the Italian Parliament decriminalized a greatnumber of nasty behaviors, including blasphemy, insulting a public officialand insulting the dead. Italians are also now free to duel, insult the flag,get drunk, and beg "in a repugnant or tormenting manner."

    Of course,we are free to do most of these things in America, too. On the other hand, Iam quite sure that I have never seen a bumper-sticker in Italy proclaiming GENTECATTIVA SUCCHIA.

    Scott McConnelL THE CONFORMIST AFourth Way? The Reform Party, since its creation a toy for Ross Perot's use, is on the verge of metamorphosis-thoughinto what remains uncertain. At the party's Michigan convention last month,delegates elected Jack Gargan, the choice of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, bya wide margin over Perot-backed Patricia Benjamin. Left-wing perennial candidateLenora Fulani nearly won the vice chair slot. Liberal Republican Lowell Weickerhas been making noises about seeking the party's presidential nomination. So,on behalf of their man, are supporters of Pat Buchanan. With its establishedballot line and federal matching funds eligibility, Reform has become a powerfulmagnet for political figures from left, right and center. Venturahopes to steer the party away from the contentious or ideological issues, saying,"We look more at straight government issues, finance reform, taxation,things of that nature." But that's not where the political action willbe in the year 2000.

    The ReformParty minus Perot is interesting because of the end of serious ideological politicsamong Beltway Republicans and Democrats. A front-loaded primary system putsthe premium on early fundraising, not building coalitions around issues. TheBuchanan campaign now refers dismissively to the "Bush-Gore" position,noting that on almost every question of consequence, the "compassionateconservatism" of George W. and Gore's "Third Way" are indistinguishable.Other contenders-Bradley, Forbes, McCain, Dole-fall in line as well.

    But thereare vital issues out there, begging for someone to grab hold of them and run.

    Take foreignpolicy. The United States has rained bombs on one Balkan country, supposedlyto counter ethnic cleansing, while its new Balkan allies, Stalinist thugs linkedto the international heroin trade, are now carrying out brutal ethnic cleansingof their own. This is what American globalism has come to under Clinton: bullyingwith air power countries about which we know little. In the past year, the U.S.has fired off cruise missiles into three continents, its economic sanctionshave caused the death of untold thousands of Iraqi civilians and Washingtonis skirting around the edges of confrontation with China. Bigwigs at the Pentagonworry that some poor swarthy type is going to retaliate against an Americancity with a biological terror weapon, and they have a point.

    Is no onein American political life ready to step up and say, as Bobby Kennedy and GeneMcCarthy did in 1968, what on Earth is going on here? That maybe our stanceof challenging and picking fights with everyone on the horizon, rather likeGerman chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's policy in 1914, might be leading to disaster?But in Bush-Gore land there's hardly a peep of dissent.

    Then there'simmigration, banished from Beltway political debate since 1996, despite thefact that voters regularly tell pollsters they want some lessening of the influx.Yes, of course, most immigrants are fine people, etc.: but like seasoning, diversityoverwhelms at a certain point. Research has established that immigrants arediminishing the wage rates for many of the native born-particularly the lessskilled-a basic function of supply and demand. (That's one reason high immigrationis popular with business.) Meanwhile, the newcomers are enriching America withquaint customs like arranged child marriage, female genital mutilation and indenturedservitude. (A Nigerian couple, apparently unimpressed with the results of theAmerican Civil War, was recently arrested for importing a slave from their nativeland to do housework.) Discussion of this issue is also taboo in Bush-Gore land.

    And race-basedaffirmative action. Last month at the Manhattan Institute you could hear a pindrop when Heather Mac Donald asked Jeb Bush about his stand on this criticalquestion. The Florida governor-who has just given anti-racial-preferences crusaderWard Connerly the runaround-had ready a slick and ambiguous reply. Jeb's brotherthe presidential candidate has been doing the same. Referenda for ending racialquotas have won overwhelmingly in California and Washington state, and wouldprobably triumph in all 50. Yet Republican mandarins shun the issue.

    These questions(trade is another) are far more vital than the tax cuts that obsess the GOPor the process issues that Ventura wants to make the meat and potatoes of Reform.But the front-loaded primary system means that American people will likely haveno say on them. The Bush-Gore crowd's worst fear is a repeat of 1968, when McCarthy,Kennedy and yes, George Wallace, energized crowds by taking the tougher questionsbefore the people and forcing the establishment to deal with them. Under today'sset-up, that might well require a viable third party, which is why Reform seems so pregnant with possibility.

    George Szamuely THEBUNKER The Real Thing Itis not often that the European Commission does something right. But at dawna couple of weeks ago it raided Coca-Cola's offices throughout Europe. Bureaucratsin Germany, Britain, Denmark and Austria seized internal company documents because,according to the Commission, Coca-Cola may have been abusing its dominant positionin Europe's soft drinks market. One of its favorite tricks, apparently, is tooffer retailers and restaurant-owners free refrigerators or soda fountains ifthey refuse to sell rival soft drinks. A thorough investigation of Coca-Cola'smarketing practices is promised and the company could face a fine of 10 percentof its sales. This was only the latest of Coca-Cola's recent troubles in Europe.A few weeks earlier the company had been forced to recall 17 million cases ofCoke. Some Belgian children had reported feeling sick after drinking bottledCoca-Cola; Europe's national health authorities immediately banned the saleof the drink. The panic was almost certainly without foundation. Toxicologyexperts could find no trace of anything anywhere that could explain any sickness.But the scare probably cost Coca-Cola over $100 million. This came on top of loss of sales in Russia and Eastern Europe as a result of NATO's war on Yugoslavia.And in May, the European Commission had stopped Coca-Cola from acquiring CadburySchweppes while French authorities blocked its acquisition of Orangina. Clearly,someone has it in for Coca-Cola. This, of course, is not the first time thecompany has been under attack in Europe. After the Second World War, the Frenchfought fiercely, but unsuccessfully, to keep the drink out of their country.Coca-Cola was everything they disliked about America: ruthless salesmanshipcombined with perpetual adolescence. A sweet, sticky, foul-tasting, gaseousdrink that destroyed teeth and had no nutritional content, Coca-Cola nonethelessconquered continents. Since no one in his right mind would ever choose to drinkCoke given so many vastly superior alternatives, its extraordinary worldwidepopularity can only be explained by brilliant American marketing. How else doesone explain the craze for Air Jordan sneakers in countries where basketball is sport number five or worse in its priorities? Or the wearing of baseballcaps by people who have never watched a game of baseball in their lives? Orthe box-office triumph of American movies in countries whose indigenous filmsare easily superior to anything coming out of Hollywood? (Critics who pointto the abysmal quality of most of the films made in Europe today are correct.But Europe has been so thoroughly penetrated by Hollywood that it is hard evento talk about a distinctly European cinema. The best movies today are beingmade in countries that have been relatively impervious to American influence:Iran and Yugoslavia.) As far asthe Washington elite is concerned, the triumph of American cultural style isa cause for rejoicing. In the first place, it is democratic and egalitarianand therefore preferable to any other cultural style anywhere in the world.And, second, it represents the victory of global market forces. Europe's attemptsto place barriers to the free flow of capital and goods appears to be almostan immoral act. Indeed, the very existence of Europe is nothing short of anoutrage. Time and again, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has instructedthe Europeans to shape up or else: adopt American-style capitalism and becomecompetitive or risk being thrown on the dust-heap of history by "globalism."Yet Europeans continue to reject American dogma. They refuse to "reform"welfare. They mumble about introducing America's pride and joy-"flexiblelabor practices"-but do nothing about it. They accept double-digit unemploymentrates without complaint. Complacency of this sort drives American policymakersup the wall.

    But thenAmericans seem to be unbalanced these days almost as a matter of policy. Accordingto the mad logic of globalism, enunciated with cretinous gusto by Thomas Friedmanin his ignorant and illiterate The Lexus and the Olive Tree, people haveto sacrifice their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes just so the global economycan function without hindrance. Europeans, according to the Washington consensus,will have to accept regular cuts in pay, work longer hours, take shorter vacations,learn to live with less comprehensive health care coverage or else cease being"competitive." But why on Earth would Europeans allow their culture,their cities, their civilized way of life degenerate to the brutish levels thatwe take for granted here in America? Why on Earth would they destroy everythingthat is vital to Europe just so that they can "compete" with the sweatshopsof Indonesia and Thailand? And at what point will the Europeans be competitive?When workers are earning $10 an hour? Five dollars an hour? Two dollars an hour?Who came up with this idiotic notion that there is something wrong with economicsecurity? That throwing people out of work in the name of "downsizing"is commendable because it ensures "competitiveness"?

    The creationof a bourgeois class with a strong set of moral values-optimistic, confident,secure in its home, its community, its nation-was the great triumph of capitalism.If capitalism offered economic insecurity as a permanent way of life, socialismwould have won hands down. The ideologists of globalism do not seem to understandthis. The Europeans do. Economic insecurity, American-style neuroses, medicaldebts that take a lifetime to pay off, bad education for almost everyone exceptthe very rich, a vast underclass, a large section of the population permanentlybehind bars, seem to go together with this American-style capitalism that U.S.policymakers extol wherever they go. This is what lies behind Europe's onslaughton Coca-Cola. Two rival models of capitalism are fighting it out. Or, rather,globalism is being shown up for the infantile fantasy that it is. Accordingto the doctrine, the giant conglomerates should be able to do whatever theywant. They can merge, downsize, switch their operations around the world, andthere is nothing anyone can do about it. If Coca-Cola gets annoyed with theGermans for some reason, they can simply transfer their bottling plant to Nigeria.The Europeans, however, are demonstrating that they can make life very difficultfor any transnational corporation. If the corporation threatens to transferits main business to some place where it can pay workers two dollars an hourit will face harassment. If it tries to sell in Europe products it made elsewhereat a fraction of the cost it will get clobbered. A health scare can be whipped up overnight, allegedly unfair competitive practices can be investigated foryears. And the ultimate sanction is denial of access to the European market.This is already rather a large market and the European Union will expand toinclude almost every single country in Europe in the next few years. Europeis, in effect, practicing protectionism.

    There isnothing wrong with protecting a civilized way of life. Americans dismiss thisas a recipe for decline. Europeans, they believe, will continue to suffer aflight of capital while America will be where all the exciting high-tech workwill be done. To be sure, the United States is doing well now. Or rather theDow Jones continues to climb to the stratosphere. Which is all that people actuallymean when they say "the United States is doing well." But sooner orlater something untoward will happen. It may be a recession; it may be a collapsein the stock market; it may be the Japanese unloading their T-bonds. Then theglobalists will discover that "flexible labor practices" are not asappealing to the people who are fired as they were to those who were hired.People who gambled on stock options in lieu of extra earnings or savings willdiscover that they may have been a little rash. At this point, the European-stylecapitalism will seem rather attractive. Europe's wealth is not as tied to thestock market as it is in the United States. It is also not burdened by a hugetrade deficit that it can suddenly no longer finance.

    There isone wrinkle to all of this. Though Europe and America represent two rival versionsof capitalism, they are still joined together in this defunct organization calledNATO. Europeans are content to remain members, since they thereby can get awaywith spending next to nothing on defense. Americans like NATO because it enablesthem to throw their weight around in Europe. Europeans had to go along withAmerica's demented destruction of Yugoslavia because the alternative was-asalways-to pay for their own defense. An unacceptable notion, apparently. NATO,in other words, may be the means whereby the United States will prevent theemergence of a rival capitalism. It is one more reason-as if we needed anotherone-to bring this morally and intellectually bankrupt organization to an end.