In an essay for Salon’s “Life Stories” section, Kim Brooks asks: “Is my Facebook page a liberal echo chamber?” Her answer: yes. She made this discovery after friending an old high-school chum, a marching band veteran she remembers as pleasant and quiet — never the type to affix cattle horns to the hood of his car.
Then the new friend let slip his mask. After President Obama delivered a televised speech, the harmless geek changed his status to read: “Just turned off the t.v. More lies from B. Hussein Obama.” Worse was yet to come. Brooks writes:
Within a few minutes, 10 people had “liked” this comment. Within a few more minutes, others had begun to add comments of their own, nearly all of which made reference to the president’s skin color, “questionable” national origin, or socialist death-panel agenda. I nearly fell out of my chair. My heart was racing. I squinted at the screen. I read the comments again and again. This was the real deal, not on Fox News but right here on MY computer, on MY Facebook page. I’d invited it in, that horrible place I’d left the day I graduated from high school. I looked down at my keyboard and saw that my hands were shaking. I decided to add a comment of my own: “Don’t like! Boy, am I glad I don’t live in Richmond anymore. You are un-friended!”
This triggered in Brooks a round of furious soul-searching. “Have I actually constructed an enclave of liberal, secular, urban-dwelling, like-minded 30-somethings so sealed off from the rest of the world that a tiny breach in the form of a Facebook post could so thoroughly floor me?”
I’m not here to pick on Brooks. People who construct Park Slopes of the mind make easy targets, and I consider myself a sporting man. Besides, I’m no one to point fingers. My personal bubble is even weirder than hers. Though a decent, right-thinking liberal of the sort that Brooks would be proud to friend, I’ve built my virtual nest among right-wingers.
Seriously. My most loyal readers include a sedevacantist, a co-operator in Opus Dei, and an instructor at the most self-consciously orthodox Catholic university in America. (Forget single-sex dorms; CU would have to launch single-sex degree programs to match this joint.) They fit in just dandy with my Facebook friends, who post photos of troops on patrol in Afghanistan, captioned: “TOO BUSY TO OCCUPY WALL STREET.”
All I need are a French legitimist, a Spanish Carlist, a Belgian Rexist and a member of the Vlaams Belang to make up a boxed set. No accounting for taste, you say? Well, maybe there is. Offhand, I can think of three reasons:
Right-wingers take a rosy view of the past. Those on the right agree with Edmund Burke that anyone who refuses to borrow from “the general bank and capital of nations and of ages” is asking for trouble. On exactly which ages and nations are offering the lowest interest rates they may disagree; the age of the Founding Fathers, the Middle Ages and the 1950s are engaged in a tight race here. But the basic conviction remains that someone, somewhere, had it just right.
In these bleak times, it feels necessary to get happy about something, and the future ain’t it. Period movies have always been my opiate, and those that celebrate the British Empire have always had the highest street value. With a friends list full of nostalgists, I can post clips from Zulu without being reminded of the General Pass Regulations Bill; from That Hamilton Woman without having to express regret for how Nelson helped the Bourbons overthrow the progressive Parthenopean Republic; from Elizabeth and Essex without remarking that the Irish who disgraced Essex were, after all, the good guys. If I give up those films, how long will it be before I have to renounce my all-meat diet?
Right-wingers love men — and women — on horseback. Burke predicted gloomily — and, as it turned out, correctly — that a “popular general” would co-opt the French Revolution to serve his own purposes. When Barack Obama first told crowds, “We are the ones we have been waiting for, “ critics on the Right echoed his fears about personality-driven leadership. Yet when it comes to leaders who promise to restore their own values, Righties sound more like Thomas Carlyle, who praised “heroes,” including Napoleon, as the real drivers of history. It was Reagan’s revolution and Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Current GOP front-runner Herman Cain has titled his memoir not Dreams from My Father, The Audacity of Hope, or even Profiles in Courage, but…This is Herman Cain.
Last week, Cain became only the latest of several Republican hopefuls to distinguish himself by making statements that sounded, well, completely off the wall. He proposed, among other things, that America protect its borders with an electrified fence. Compare that with Michele Bachmann’s anecdote from an unidentified supporter who claimed an HPV vaccination had left her daughter “mentally retarded.” Both candidates distanced themselves from these remarks, and were probably smart to do so. But I doubt either would have spoken so glibly in the first place, had a smaller share of the base believed that a heroic nature, not policy expertise, will regenerate America.
Last May, when NRO’s Jonah Goldberg criticized Cain’s for misunderstanding the Palestinian “right of return” issue, his readers defended their candidate as “a man of honor, integrity, and moral character”; chided Goldberg by asking, “You’ve never had an off day?”; or strangest of all, praised Cain’s confusion as a sign of integrity: “Herman Cain will take anyone on and not pretend he knows all the answers. He doesn’t hide – he confronts.”
This generosity corresponds to Carlyle’s “valetism” — the idea that, since no man is a hero to his valet, the public shouldn’t nitpick its own heroes to death. Seen in action, it can look quite touching. During the three years in which Sarah Palin looked like a serious contender for the White House, a friend reminded me constantly: “Max, you need to stop seeing Sarah with her head, and start seeing her with your heart.” If ever I end up on trial for my life, I hope everyone on the jury subscribes to World Net Daily.
The Right Welcomes the Great Unfulfilled. Lately, Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe have been taking it hard on the chin, and mainly from the Left. But this trend is too new for me to wrap my mind around entirely. On the contrary, I’ve heard the term “liberal elite” hawked so ruthlessly this past decade or so that part of me has started to believe that being a liberal, like bullying a customer-service rep, is something only a haut-bourgeois can do really well. There’s some objective evidence to support this: the states that consistently vote Democrat are the kinds of places where I can’t afford, and don’t deserve, to live. Seventy-two percent of college professors — of the type I never succeeded in becoming — identify themselves as liberal. In the Ivy Leagues, of which my only direct experience is a brief stroll around Harvard Yard (on the arm of a rugged Irish Bostonienne), that percentage jumps to 87%.
It’s not that I hate these people, as Kelly LeBrock used to say, for being beautiful. But I can’t hang, and the cultural disconnect is about as hard to ignore as an bloating corpse. Not long ago, my mother e-mailed me a gushing review of a lesbian wedding she’d attended. Both ceremony and reception took place at a 19th-century farmhouse in a Vermontlike section of Upstate New York. Exactly how the brides earned their living I forget. I wouldn’t swear that one was a doctor, the other a potter, or that both performed surgery and made pots out of the same home office, but somehow that was the impression I got.
It occurred to me that all the lesbians I know work at Lowe’s. If Arizona ever grants them the right to marry, they’ll probably mark their nuptials with Dominos, Pringles and pony kegs. If that was all same-sex marriage had to offer me, I wondered, why bother?
I didn’t actually go on Facebook and post that lesbians aren’t for marrying, they’re for putting on video to raise the morale of the troops overseas. But I took comfort in knowing that, if I had — throwing in a winking semicolon as a disclaimer — a few people would have liked it. No bitter schlump should have to be an island, entire of himself.