Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Conservative Chic

Schwartzenegger, the icon of Conservative Chic, is governor of California.

This may be the beginning of the end. Once a political posture becomes chic, it becomes popular piety, and once it is established as the old time religion it ceases to be chic and, with nothing else to recommend it, withers away.

Radical Chic became a household word when Leonard and Felicia Bernstein invited the Black Panthers, and Tom Wolfe, to their epoch-making cocktail party. In those days, far-left political action of this sort was an extreme sport that only the very rich could afford to play. Young, lower-class black males in street gangs were the great domestic nightmare--paired with the Soviet Bomb, their foreign counterpart. They were the ultimate countercultural symbol, flaunting their rejection of bourgeois folkways and appropriating every feature of the Bad Nigger archetype they could manage for the titilation of the decadent elite.

Radical Chic however did not last. Once it became public it spawned safe off-the-rack knock-offs for Middle Americans. Within a decade, afros were quaint period pieces, along with mohawks, and middle class suburban teenagers affected dreadlocks. "Roots" became an American Epic and it became a pious truism that America was "a salad bowl, not a melting pot."

Like Radical Chic, the liberal piety that replaced it was fundamentally apolitical: it was a multimedia fashion statement. In addition to liberal clothing and accessories, which evolved over the years, there were liberal sports, liberal foods, liberal stationary, liberal medicine and liberal decor. Liberals hiked (they did NOT hunt) and ate whole grains, tofu, vegetarian fare and expensive chocolate. They used hand-pressed unbleached papers for social correspondance. They trusted in the medicinal power of herbs and birthed their babies naturally, ideally in Alternative Birthing Centers with midwives in attendance. They furnished their homes from IKEA where where they could leave their toddlers in nurseries furnished with educational toys, which they imagined simulated enlightened Swedish pre-schools, while they shopped.

Politically, Liberalism was the widest of tents. The only thing about which Liberals agreed was Peace, which they generally held to be a good thing.

By the last decades of the century Liberalism had become so bland and pious, so oppressively "feminine" in the old, unreconstructed sense that the elite, which now included ex-officio the entire 16 to 30 age group, adopted a new extreme sport: Conservative Chic.

Stupid white men, like Rush Limgaugh were the countercultural Bad Niggers of the '90s, titilatting their constituency with quips about "feminazis" and skating close to the edge of racism. Minnesota voters elected Jesse Ventura. George Bush II, a legacy graduate of Andover and Yale who opined that the jury was still out on evolution, was deposited on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Being a guy was in, dumb was cool, redneck was good, firefighters were heroes and the more inarticulate the better.

Then Arnold Schwartzenegger, his very name a joke, became governor of California and Conservative Chic became safe, mainstream and pious. Arnold , pro-choice, a supporter of gay rights and the environment, did not have anything to say about feminazis or affirmative action babies. Carefully coached by his handlers, his only ideological commitment was to cut taxes--the conservative mantra. Conservativism had become boring.

What is next? I hope a cadre of new radicals clamoring for for high taxes and war, for a socialist welfare state, military intervention to squash human rights violations, nation-building and the imposition liberal Western style democracy on all peoples, the legalization of recreational drugs, the abolition of dress codes, affirmative action and the destruction of post-modernism, Continental "philosophy" and multiculturalism. Let us dream.

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