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Charles Taylor Stumps for Obama 2012, Calls It a Book Review

So I’m reading a review of Stephen King’s new novel 11/22/63 by a guy, Charles Taylor, who I know from past experience of his work to usually be honest almost to a fault and therefore trustworthy as a reviewer.

And it’s going good so far — Stephen King, under appreciated: check. Reference to Leslie Fiedler praising King: check. Mention of prior misapprehended novel written in the wake of 9/11: check.

But then I stumble onto this paragraph, written to describe his take on how different King’s treatment of 9/11, especially in its immediate aftermath, has been from other writers:

That alone put him at odds with much of the commentary and decision-making that followed 9/11, from the sanctimonious pronouncements made on the left about the cause of the attacks before anyone had claimed responsibility for them, to the right’s use of them to justify its slavish militarism and contempt for human rights. Implicit to many of these responses was the belief that nothing had happened that couldn’t have been anticipated, and consequently that not only the causes of the attacks but the proper response to them was self-evident. Against these arrogant certainties, King focused on uncertainty as the very currency of American life.

Um, what?

I certainly don’t recall any “sanctimonious pronouncements made on the left about the cause of the attacks before anyone had claimed responsibility for them”. I do recall one very accurate piece by Gary Kamiya, Taylor’s fellow Salon writer at the time, and done after the attacks had been linked to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. (By contrast, PNAC member Donald Rumsfeld, hours after the 9/11 attacks, while the Pentagon fires were still burning, urging his people to “go massive” in trying to find a link to Saddam Hussein, so as to find a way to carry out the wishes of PNAC guru and Iranian government operative Ahmad Chalabi and attack Iraq. Most sane people would find this, ah, somewhat more reprehensible than Gary Kamiya’s being right about 9/11.)

Either Charles Taylor’s dictionary states that “sanctimonious” means “correct and accurate”, in which case he needs a new dictionary, or he’s indulging in the favorite activity of American mushy-middle centrists seeking to render a coherent defense of their ideology, which is inventing imaginary irrational just-as-bad-as-righties progressives to attack.

Taylor then returns to reviewing 11/22/63, discussing the problems with time travel as a means of righting wrongs and solving problems, the chief wrong in this case being JFK’s murder (which in Stephen King’s mind set off a host of ills), and then sets up another, erm, interesting passage:

Clearly, there’s much wrong with Al’s grasp of history. The cold-warrior exploits of JFK’s presidency—the Bay of Pigs, the reckless brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis—might very likely have found their next expression in Vietnam, and received a chorus of approval from the unholy alliance of Ivy League superiority and corporate technocracy that characterized the Best and the Brightest. Kennedy approached civil rights with, at best, a sense of noblesse oblige and, at worst, worries about his uncertain chances in the South in 1964. (As attorney general, Robert Kennedy made a deal for local authorities to arrest Freedom Riders for their own safety, even though the Supreme Court had already outlawed segregated waiting rooms in interstate travel facilities.) It would take a white Southerner, whose roots in the Texas hill country etched the experience of poverty forever in his bones, to approach civil rights as a moral imperative. As for King and the rise of the black power movement, nonviolence always risks—almost counts on—arousing violence, and is always going to be challenged by those sympathizers who see its wise counsel as passivity.

So what? There remains the murder of a young man in his prime, an event that was also a bloody assault on the sense of hope and energy he had brought into politics, a spirit that animated people who would move far beyond the compromises and diffidence of the man who inspired them.

In other words, he sides with Stephen King even though he knows King’s grasp of history (which King shares with his character Al, the man who’d been trying to stop the JFK assassination) is wrong, because in Taylor’s view symbolism and mythology (in this case the carefully-constructed “Camelot” myth) are more important than cold hard facts. This is like praising Hitler because Leni Riefenstahl was a really good propagandist.

This sets up the big climax of the alleged review, where Taylor cuts loose once again on his real target, those darned ungrateful lefties who won’t quit picking on Obama:

But to listen to the endless parade of white left commentators who have accused Obama of abandoning his base because he hasn’t achieved perfection in politics or in social justice is to realize that the radical right doesn’t have a monopoly on the divisiveness Obama’s presidency has given rise to. I’m not suggesting that Obama’s blackness makes criticizing him off-limits. But the reduction of the meaning of Obama solely to his policy decisions, the implicit dismissal of what the fact of Barack Obama means to people who before him never felt they had a voice in American politics—just as the fact of JFK made other people find their political voice for the first time—is not unlike the blindness King captures in 11/22/63. It is the seed of a reckless politics built on wish fulfillment.

So in essence, what I’d just read was yet another exercise in punching hippies (particularly straw hippies) in order to try and somehow equate progressives (i.e., the people who so far have been right about pretty much everything) with Tea Party members, and with a nice steaming chunk of juicy “you hate Obama ‘cuz you’re white!” race-baiting tossed in, which is ironic as hell because some of the most biting critics of Obama are in fact African-Americans.

Then again, the title of the piece should have clued me in: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the standard rote response used by Obama apologists against anyone trying to hold Obama to his promises to the majority of Americans. (Obama’s promises to Corporate America, he has no trouble keeping.)

(Crossposted from Mercury Rising.)

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