Matt Taibbi and the Criminalization of Compromise

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rolling Stone National Affairs Chief Matt Taibbi, who has written the introduction to the 40th Anniversary Edition of the late Hunter S. Thompson‘s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, was interviewed about this singular honor and about Thompson in the June 27th Edition of The Village Voice.

Now, Taibbi and I only occasionally find ourselves in agreement, as much because of his tone and tactics as his content. His coverage of the collusion between government and the banks has been some first-class reporting that should be making the staffs at both The Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones blush in embarrassment.

Sadly, his polemic style undermines his reportage, if not his effectiveness with your average Rolling Stone reader. Taibbi’s goal is to enrage and mobilize at least as much as it is to argue and analyze, and to me this kind of fire-and-brimstone-upon-the-converted from ideological extremists lies at the heart of the modern American political dysfunction. Taibbi’s style is as much a part of the problem as Rush Limbaugh‘s. Passion should be the seasoning in politics, not its substance, and reasonable points get lost when concern boils into outrage.

To offer just one example of what I mean, in his interview with The Voice, Taibbi makes some cogent points about the Left’s disillusionment with Obama:

“I think a lot of what Occupy is is disappointed idealism. A lot of the people who thought, in Hunter terms, that Obama was the “Great Shark” who was going to come and right all the wrongs. And then they realized that he was very much, for all his good qualities, a conventional Democratic party politician, and all the negatives that that comes with. I think people were extremely disappointed, and that’s why they’re all out on the streets right now. There’s a tremendous cynicism embedded in mainstream American politics right now, where people who are in Washington and live on Capitol Hill really don’t think they have any obligation to be truly honest.”

As I read that, I was banging on my desk screaming “yes, Yes, YES,” like Meg Ryan in a deli, smacking the two-ton benchwright table so hard that the monitor was bouncing. Taibbi gets it, I think. Then, in the very next sentence, he tosses in a barb that ruins it all.

“They [i.e., the politicians] think that everything is a compromise. They’ve lost touch with what people actually want. And they [the voters] really do want somebody who is idealistic.”

Ach, der leiber Gott, Matt, this is the heart of the problem with both progressives and reactionaries: they want idealists in power, and because of that we wind up with Solons who could not compromise even if they wanted to because their electoral mandate is to hew to an idealistic line. As a result, today we have a government made up of puritanical idealists on the one hand and cynical sell-outs on the other whom together have effectively institutionalized political gridlock.

Are Americans tired of watching Washington serve as a feather bed of public self-servants? Of course. But the answer is not more idealism in the halls of power. What we need is a government made up of moral, ethical public servants who have strong ideals yet who recognize that in an ideologically diverse nation like our own, compromise is essential to progress. We want leaders who understand that compromise for the sake of genuine progress is no vice, but that compromise for the sake of personal empowerment or enrichment is at least morally reprehensible, if not a felony.

History bears witness to the truism that idealism in government is the pathway to division and tyranny. A government in service of ideological absolutism, whatever its flavor, is a government at odds with democracy and an open road to despotism. That a correspondent of Taibbi’s stature cannot see this elemental fact is not just disappointing, it is downright frightening.

I can only hope that the readers of Rolling Stone and The Village Voice know better. But I worry. When you start throwing around words like “moral” and “ethical” with many liberals, you don’t get nodding heads, you get a fiery debate about WHOSE morals and WHICH ethics. This is the problem with relativism in society: the good people stand around arguing about where to draw the line between right and wrong while the bad people are cleaning out the store.

That said, buy the book. Thompson did not create the modern genre of popular political science (that laurel goes to Teddy White for The Making of the President, 1960), but he reinvented it with Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, ’72, and in the process wrote a book that every voter should read at least once.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

The Golden West Review

A Californian Perspective on History, Arts, Land, Literature, and Politics

A Bucket and a Pen

In Search of Life after the Career

coffeesteffi ♡

coffee, art & my brewed thoughts

Sea Scout Ship 9201

Channel Islands Harbor • Ventura County Council, BSA

Troop 234, Boy Scouts of America

Port Hueneme/Channel Islands Harbor, CA

Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha

Musings and books from a grunty overthinker

The Chinafornia Wolf

Gratefully Chronicling a Remarkable Journey

The Thousand Books Project

Reading a Meaningful Life

Cafe Book Bean

Talk Books. Drink Coffee.

Silicon Hutong

Addressing China as it is, not as we want it to be

Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

Historian and Writer

Runningwinegirl's Blog

Colorado Girl Sharing Insights on Wine, Public Relations and Life's Adventures

ARLIN REPORT...................walking this path together

PERSPECTIVE FROM AN AGING SENIOR CITIZEN

Blue-eyed Ronin

A contrarian who enjoys challenging existing illusions, one truth at a time.

Observer

People and Trends

commentisfreewatch.wordpress.com/

Promoting fair and accurate coverage of Israel

twitchy.com

Who Said What

Barton's Blog

To the clouds and beyond...

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Basic Judaism spoken here.

Cami Ryan

Science, society, and life

Pacific Paratrooper

This WordPress.com site is Pacific War era information

______Assessing China / The TEA Collaborative______

Tech, Energy & Ambitions: Assessments at the Intersection of Technology, Investment and Policy

Cliche of Logic

This is the beginning of my writing.

An Ordinary Website

of interest to few.

Der Bananenplanet

Alternatives Informationsmedium

Corey Robin

Author of "The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin" and "The Enigma of Clarence Thomas"

Ragan Communications

The Center Must Hold

The China Story

The Center Must Hold

Yale E360

The Center Must Hold

Xindanwei | 新单位

The Center Must Hold

WritersDigest.com

The Center Must Hold

WordCount

Freelancing in the Digital Age

FriendFeed Blog

The Center Must Hold

Business

The Center Must Hold

Blog Daily Listings RSS

The Center Must Hold

Speakeasy

The Center Must Hold

The Center Must Hold

Opinions

The Center Must Hold

RSSOpinion

The Center Must Hold

WebMD Health

The Center Must Hold

Renewal

The Center Must Hold

Village Voice

The Center Must Hold

Uploads from The U.S. Army

The Center Must Hold

TechNode

Latest news and trends about tech in China

WritersDigest.com

The Center Must Hold

Techmeme

The Center Must Hold

The Center Must Hold

%d bloggers like this: