My mom today was looking at a copy of New York magazine and asked me what I think of it. I told her that New York fascinates me because something like three quarters of it panders to the Hamptons set, tracking the comings, goings, eatings and divorcings of the city's glitterati, and the other quarter has really interesting articles often the equal of anything in its more self-consciously elevated cousin the New Yorker. As an example of this latter quarter--and by way of making another point--I commend to you Kurt Andersen's article about a trend that's been widely noticed: the media's reversion to a balkanized mishmash of viewpoints and partisanship, as the post-WWII consensus symbolized by Walter Cronkite's nightly news broadcasts fades into the past.
Yes, yes, you say; BFD. Well, it is, but it's not new or, at this point, all that interesting. What's cool about Andersen's piece is that he expands this concept of the "Neo-Nineteenth Century" well beyond the po-mo yellow journalism of Rupert Murdoch and pals:
Everywhere I look, the nineteenth century is creeping back. The swinging mix-and-match cultural hodgepodge of the past 25 years, marked by the blurring and erasure of easy distinctions between high culture and pop, is called postmodern, but in fact it’s a very premodern circumstance, more 1850 (when a single night at the theater might encompass Shakespeare and vaudeville) than 1950. Or consider Bush’s dream of an even less regulated, more privatized, lower-tax, looser-social-safety-net “Ownership Society,” which really does seem more late-nineteenth-century than late-twentieth. His foreign policy doesn’t use the phrases “Manifest Destiny” or “civilizing imperialism,” but might as well. And the atavistic Christianity of his political base is literally a throwback to the 1800s, if not earlier.
Once again, I remind my younger readers: Not so long ago, things were very different. When I was in school—public school in Nebraska, no less—evolution was not controversial or a “theory.” Darwin versus Genesis was no more a debate than round Earth versus flat Earth. In the sixties and seventies, the 1925 Scopes trial—what a historian had prematurely called “nineteenth-century America’s last stand”—seemed almost comically ancient, like the Salem witch trials. Biblical literalism was in the dustbin of history.
Back when an ostensibly conservative Republican president—Richard Nixon—imposed wage and price controls and created the federal environmental regulatory bureaucracy, a kind of Eurosocialist America appeared plausible if not inevitable. Amending the Social Security system was literally unimaginable. Everyone took the United Nations seriously. No one seriously promoted sexual abstinence. And so on.
This neat summary shows how far the "anti-Enlightenment" (as I now dub it and will henceforth refer to it) has come in a dismayingly short period of time. And it shows the folly of "compromise" on the question of the filibuster of judicial nominees, which is really a dry, process-oriented proxy for the vastly larger question of what direction our public policy will take.
You can't negotiate with these people. They won't let you. The only question is whether they'll take the Rovian (there's another world-historical figure whose name I could here use as an adjective; think Ruhr, think Munich, think 1930s) position of accepting half a loaf now, knowing full well they'll come back for the rest later, or will wrap themselves so tightly in righteousness that any seeming compromise will sit ill with the Almighty (or so would say His spokesmen).
Now, we know that one near-compromise was already averted, at the behest of Radical Cleric SpongeDob. This would have been a disaster, with the dual ill effects of guaranteeing some of Bush's holy nut jobs lifelong spots on the bench AND reinforcing the public perception of Democrats as spineless blowhards who back down from a fight. Why take the chance that this guy will save us again? Fight it out, and if we lose, hang the truly extremist views of Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, Bill Pryor and the rest of the Holy Fools around the necks of every Republican on the ballot next year.