In her July 14 New York Times column, “White Man’s Last Stand,” about the Supreme Court nominee hearings, Maureen Dowd wrote: “A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not know that a gaggle of white Republican men afraid of extinction are out to trip her up.”

Ms. Dowd is very often a witty writer. She frequently writes about political subjects, dressing them up as kings, queens and princes, with pithy or eloquent quotes from literature, making them seem more interesting to the reader than they otherwise would be. In this, Ms. Dowd is essentially a literary writer. And it would be fair and accurate to say that most of her references come from the very writers making their last stand, according to her. And if she does not mean those words, what does she mean?

Frank Rich, the former Times drama critic, has been writing opinion pieces for the same paper for some time now. His August 2nd piece, “Small Beer, Big Hangover,” begins thus:

“The escalating white fear of newly empowered ethnic groups and blacks is a naked replay of more than a century ago, when large waves of immigration and the northern migration of emancipated blacks, coupled with a tumultuous modernization of the American work force, unleashed a similar storm of racial and nativist panic.” His reference is to the Gates-Crowley confrontation (See my essay “Profiling in America”) and beer drinking with the President in the Rose Garden to smooth things over. Mr. Rich ends with: “Beer won’t cool the fury of those who can’t accept the reality that America’s racial profile will no longer reflect their own.”

In this and other columns, Mr. Rich sees himself as an insider, confident of his acumen and place in the world. The white men he writes about are Republicans, with whom he apparently shares nothing in common. The ill effects they will suffer as their numbers dwindle and influence decreases will not affect him, a liberal Democrat. Unlike Ms. Dowd, he seldom uses literary or theatrical references to make his point. In the above-cited columns, the two authors write as self-negating liberals.

The hallmark of the self-negating liberal is his/her apparent lack of self-interest. He has no turf to defend, no stake or holdings, cultural or otherwise, in the world under threat and in need of defense. His sole purpose in the world, apart from feeding himself and taking care of his immediate needs, is to promote the cause of the Other, whoever that might be. Thus, the interests and concerns of the Other largely take precedence over his own concerns.
Whenever the Other is attacked, the SNL rushes to his defense. And his efforts, he imagines, are always appreciated. Never does he imagine that his own tastes and concerns will ever clash with the expansion of the Other in the world. He never seems to consider that the Other will someday supercede him and his kind. Rather, the Other will always allow the SNL to hold his high place in the world and treat him with deference and respect.

Of course, the self-negating liberal does have self-interests. He does have tastes, habits, old favorites, cultural icons, tribal myths and memories he values and cherishes. If it came down to it, he probably would defend his family in a fight. But he never admits to these things.

I am not interested in defending the Republican Party, giving it advice on how to win future elections. I am suspicious of partisan politics though I recognize they are a fact of the political landscape. My interests cross party lines. My interest here is in social and cultural habits, myths, stories, ideas, that are or were part of the core culture, and are worth defending today.

A minor case in point: the 2003 film “Sylvia,”about the life of Sylvia Plath. There is a scene early on, in an English pub, when Plath, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and then-boyfriend Ted Hughes, played by Daniel Craig, deliver poems from memory to several barflies. They speak quickly and loudly, shrilly, which I believe is uncharacteristic of English-speaking poets of that era. Listening to the pair of them, it struck me that director Christine Jeffs was trying to show the contemporary art film audience that 1950s girls and boys could jazz it up just like minority-led rappers of today. It struck me as a false, unnecessary moment in an otherwise absorbing film.

Critics have been commenting for the past half decade on the coarsening of American culture. We have gone from “want to” to “wanna” in short order. I believe there are two forces at work here: white anti-intellectualism stemming from the 1960s, and minority slang, habits, customs and dress codes. I would not accuse the afore-mentioned Times columnists of being inarticulate. Far from it. Both are good writers. They came from my world, generally speaking.

However, in their incessant attacks on the outer manifestations of that world, they are undermining more than they allow. Continuing her attack on white men in her column, Maureen Dowd wrote: “After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.” She knows about these codes, handshakes and clubs from her own personal contacts; contacts that in some instances must have moved her career forward. Some of these men have confided in her, told her secrets and juicy tidbits that she has used in her articles. Now she is eager to betray them.

The self-negating liberals see these men, variously described as conservatives, Republicans, right wing radicals, as an obsolete breed, circling their wagons as they face an annihilating charge of Indians, who will cleanse the world of their bad governance and misdeeds. But I wonder.

It seems to me that behind the front line of attack, the SNLs have left their flank exposed. Behind their lines in the cultural wars is a void. No one is minding their fort, their well-springs and supplies. After all, they work tirelessly in the service of the Other. Those that will survive in the turbulent times ahead will be those that defend their sources, who strive to preserve something of their mythology, stories, sensibility: the well-springs of their strength and reason for being; those who take pride in their accomplishments.

I too want to live in a better world. I recognize the limitations and faults of the world I came from. But I doubt that the wholesale slaughter of the post-World War II America will lead to a better, brighter, more sustainable future. Looking around, I just don’t see it.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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