Either With Kurt Andersen or You're With the Terrorists.
Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq; either
we hope for the vindication of Bush's risky, very possibly reckless
policy, or we are in de facto alliance with the killers of American
soldiers and Iraqi civilians... I don't mean to suggest, in the right-wing
proto-fascist rhetorical fashion, that every good American is obliged
to support all American wars. But at this moment in this war, that binary
choice of who you want to win is inescapable and needs to be faced squarely—
just as being pro-war obliges one to admit that thousands of innocent
Iraqis have been killed or maimed or slaughtered.
is it easy to make money in this writing business in New York City.
You youngsters out there who are still waiting to get published, still
trolling for intern jobs, you may not see it yet. But take a good look
at Kurt Andersen at New York if you want to see how it all works
out at the end of the rainbow.
Once upon a time, when he was writing for the legendary
Spy magazine, Kurt Andersen was not a mouse, but a man. After
four years of working (along with Graydon Carter) at Time magazine,
Andersen left in 1986 to found the famous send-up of Time's idiot
news-mag culture. In hindsight, Spy was maybe not the viciously
dead-on parody of media careerism that it seemed to be at the time,
but it was definitely funny as hell, during a very unfunny time in our
It was a publication Jefferson would have been proud
of—a high-tech pain in the ass that savaged everything that entered
into its field of view, proving over and over that we were all better
off thinking for ourselves than listening to the pompous mannequin-frauds
American society presented to us as sages and cultural authorities.
For reasons that ought to strike everyone (and especially
Andersen and Graydon Carter) as quite sinister, Spy never made
anybody any real money. In a publishing landscape where dumbness itself
(read: Cargo, Self ) sells like hotcakes, this obviously brilliant
magazine with a desperately devoted readership died something like a
half-dozen deaths—finally expiring, I think, in the spindly altruistic
arms of the owners of Psychology Today.
Andersen was long gone by then, having joined Carter
on a 20-year journey in which they would both be endlessly hailed as
geniuses and innovators by hordes of media sycophants and offered gobs
of money to do either nothing at all (2003: a million bucks to co-write
Spy: The Funny Years) or to just add countercultural elan
to the staid, unthreatening publications (New York, Vanity Fair)
that were placed in their rabbity custody.
Carter's career path showed that the best way to secure
a golden old age of attending parties and carrying the skirts for celebrities
is to behead a few in your youth.
What Andersen proves is that once you've put in a few
years of writing very well, with dignity and iconoclastic fervor, you
can then mail it in for the rest of your life, if you like. You can
melt into the easy life and undead thinking of a timorous upper-class
weasel, and you can dress it up as "realism," because you
were somebody once.
Andersen's Feb. 21 Iraq piece, "When Good News
Feels Bad," is the most shameful, vicious piece of horseshit I
have seen anybody write about this terrible war. It is sickening
not on the level of writing or rhetoric, but on the level of human behavior.
On the surface, Andersen's piece is a cheeky piece
of political self-denunciation, a mock show-trial confession. He confesses
to being one of those many New Yorkers who considers himself smarter
than everybody else and tends to disagree with the Bush administration
"politically, temperamentally, and ontologically most of the time."
But, he says, smart New York people like him—us—have to get real and
face the ugly reality of our emotional struggle over Iraq. He then goes
on to indict all of us for secretly applauding any bad news that comes
from Iraq, and for choosing to ignore in grumbling fashion the "surprisingly
smooth and inarguably inspiring" spectacle of the Iraqi elections.
If we face this reality, he says, we are then forced to see that "the
only way out is to root for Bush's victory."
The crux of his argument comes in the remarkable passage
listed at the top of this column, the one that casts our dilemma as
a "Hobbesian choice." Observations:
"Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq": This idea of Iraq as a "Hobbesian
choice" is horseshit on its face. Even the original Hobbesian
choice was horseshit, especially in the eyes of the stereotypical New
York liberal Andersen is addressing. We no more have to choose between
chaos and authoritarianism than we do between rooting for Bush and rooting
for the insurgents. There is a vast array of other outcomes and developments
to root for.
We could root for Bush to admit he fucked up and appeal
to the world for help in stabilizing Iraq. We could root for a similar
admission and a similar appeal to the U.N., only coupled with an immediate
American withdrawal. We could root for America to come out firmly against
the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which would change the equation
in Iraq. We could root for such things as the turning over of Iraqi
oil contracts to the United Nations and an end to war profiteering—
which, again, would change the equation in the war.
And that's just the beginning. It does not come
down to rooting either for Bush or for the insurgents. Andersen thinks
he can make this argument because he thinks he knows that in our hearts,
many of us are rooting for the insurgents— and he is trying to tell
us that renouncing this instinct automatically translates into unqualified
support for Bush. But that is wrong, and totally dishonest.
Incidentally—and this is neither here nor there—the
use of the term "Hobbesian Choice" in a hack punditry piece
like this is the literary equivalent of the purple hot pants on an elderly
Bushwick Avenue hooker. Pull over, honey, I'm a pseudo-intellectual...
"Either we hope for the vindication of Bush's risky, very possibly
reckless policy..." Note the use of the qualifying, "risky, very possibly
reckless," here—obscuring the stark lie of the word "vindication."
To the audience Andersen is addressing, nothing can possibly vindicate
Bush's Iraq policy. Along with millions of other people, I opposed the
war before it began, and we opposed it not because we thought we might
lose or fail in Iraq, but because invading Iraq was wrong. It
was wrong because they were lying about why we were invading; it was
wrong because the whole notion of preemptive invasion is immoral and
dangerous; it was wrong for a dozen other plainly irrefutable reasons
that will not change if Iraq is magically transformed into Switzerland
by next year.
"I don't mean to suggest, in the right-wing proto-fascist rhetorical
fashion, that every good American is obliged to support all American
No. You suggest it in the pompous, verbose, superior fashion of a feckless
"But at this moment in this war, that binary choice of who you want
to win is inescapable." Translation: you're either with us or against us, either
for us, or for the terrorists. Where have I heard that before?
Oh, that's right. I've heard it everywhere.
Just never from that funny guy who used to run Spy. What a goddamn