‘Hear him howling around your kitchen door’

‘Hear him howling around your kitchen door’ January 14, 2019

Felix Contreras wrote about “Sweet Home Alabama” for NPR’s American anthems series. Contreras writes about the song’s “ambiguity.” That’s nonsense. The song is unambiguous. It’s a reactionary celebration of Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the politics of white resentment. Period.

Yes, the guitar lick is fantastic. And the chorus is incredibly catchy despite its banality (this place is special because the sky there is blue!). It’s a great song. It’s a great, evil, oppressive, demented song. But that doesn’t make it not an evil, oppressive, and demented song.

Contreras lets Gary Rossington try to squirm out of that by focusing on just one line — that bit about “In Birmingham they love the governor.” The “boo boo boo” that follows that line might make that arguably “ambiguous” — if it weren’t for the lines that follow: “Now Watergate does not bother me / Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth.”

There’s no room for redeeming ambiguity there. They’re cheering for Watergate. Why? Because Nixon was championing the politics of white resentment and they couldn’t be bothered to be bothered by anything that would detract from that agenda.

The next line, though, isn’t merely evil — it’s an expression of what it means to be so far gone into performative bad faith that one has become completely untethered to reality. “Does your conscience bother you?” The question is addressed, broadly, to all those “bothered” by Nixon’s lies and abuses of power, and it is addressed specifically to “Mr. Young,” for having the audacity to write a song criticizing slave-drivers and the Klan. The song insists that anyone — by which it can only mean any white person — criticizing such things must simply be lying about saying they are wrong. “Tell the truth,” the song says, “You know Watergate was just a hippy lie and you know there was never anything bad about ‘screaming and bullwhips cracking.’ so just admit it.”

It’s one thing to be the kind of a-moral, lawless worshipper of power who can say “Watergate does not bother me.” It is far, far worse to imagine or to pretend that everyone who is not an a-moral, lawless worshipper of power must therefore have a troubled conscience.

• “May he make God laugh.” That’s a lovely benediction, and an appropriately and quintessentially Jewish one. The fact that we Protestants aren’t as likely to say of the departed “may they make God laugh” suggests something amiss in our theology that our Jewish neighbors are getting right.

• Various wire services claim ownership of this photo. Josh Marshall credits it as “TASS via Getty Images,” but the whole point of the photo and of what it shows us is that it comes from TASS and only from TASS — the official state media of Vladimir Putin. The photo shows President Trump meeting unaccompanied with Putin’s foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office, where he reassured them that he fired the FBI director looking into their interference in American elections and then shared with them classified intelligence from Israel.

It isn’t possible to read Marshall’s post — “Critical Context for the FBI Probe of Trump” — and come away saying “Watergate does not bother me.” Plenty of Fox-addled Americans are saying that, but they’re not capable of reading Marshall’s post. Not because they’re not smart enough — this is not a cognitive impairment, it’s a moral choice that has cognitive consequences.

• Paul Greenberg doesn’t understand sex, and thus, according to Greenberg himself, sex with Paul Greenberg is terrible.

That’s funny, but it’s not a joke. And it has consequences far beyond Greenberg’s unintentionally dunking on himself in his op-ed column. Because this self-absorbed, studied ignorance about the meaning and mechanics of sex is shared by a lot of men whose selfish shortcomings haven’t stopped them from trying to prevent other people from having access to birth control. Or from letting anyone else learn what sex is either. Or from thinking they can somehow construct a “sexual ethic” that has nothing to do with the Golden Rule.

• “Read Revelation. … The Space Force and command was prophesied of God.” This is why I always put scare-quotes around “Bible-prophecy scholar.” Because all three words there are always misapplied.

• Very much related to that, here’s Dr. Wil Gafney on biblical “literalism”:

And so the real issue is: What is at stake for those folks? What are they protecting? What are they holding on to? Why is their faith so fragile that you can’t entertain the rich nuance of literature and genre?

• The title of this post comes from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” which borrows the melody of “Sweet Home Alabama” in service of a story about a monster who mutilates innocent victims. That howling, slavering lunatic run amok in Zevon’s song is still not as morally twisted as the person who can sing, unironically, “Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you?”

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