There's a whole long history of College Republicans suddenly rising to unpleasant prominence in American politics. Look back at the Watergate scandal. Half the guys who ended up being indicted or dragged before Congress got their start in University of Southern California student politics. That whole notion of "ratfucking," that stuff was all born on the USC campus when these guys were rigging student elections back in the day.
Abramoff was the same kind of creature. He and Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed were all these very ardent College Republican intellectuals who had a lot of crazy dreams about how they were going to foster this right-wing revolution. And they were extraordinarily successful very early on in their careers. Abramoff is a wet-behind-the-ears college student in the early '80s. Then immediately in 1983 he's off - where it looks like he was working as a bagman for this neo-Nazi organization in South Africa. He ends up going to South Africa and hanging out with people like Russell Crystal, a South African crypto-fascist, and they're funneling money for the South African army. Not your everyday 23- or 24-year-old kid goes off and does this stuff.
They took this student politics thing really seriously. You have to give them credit, it wasn't just a popularity contest. With lefty-liberal political activists in college, the stereotype is a bunch of kids who go canvassing for PIRG or for Greenpeace or something like that and get baked afterwards. These guys are obviously sociopathic and have a lot more serious character flaws, but they were much more focused on the real power aspect of politics early on. They brought that to bear in their real go-around with politics when they finally did get power.
Again, if you look at these guys - Abramoff and Norquist and Reed - they weren't out to use politics to get girls or to hang out and trade stories over the keg. They were using their networking skills in college to find real opportunities for themselves in the world and to really learn lessons about how power politics works very early on. They were way too serious -far more serious than people should be at that age, but it was productive for them personally. Whereas with lefty politics, unfortunately, there's no pipeline that takes committed ideological young progressives and puts them in positions of power. That's probably because there is no progressive power structure in this country that is really seeking those people.
People in politics and in the media, they're extremely vain and they're very, very sensitive to criticism. If you level some intellectual criticism of somebody like Thomas Friedman and say, "Well, this is a rich guy who is advocating for the rich under the guise of economic populism" or whatever, he's going to shrug that off, he's not going to worry about it. But if you say that he's a buffoon who can't speak the English language and has a porn star mustache, it's going to bother him for sure, you know what I mean?
You said somewhere that the perfect symbol for the press corps of the 2004 presidential campaign was Candy Crowley from CNN sitting on the bus with cookie crumbs spilling out of her mouth, talking about how ugly Dennis Kucinich was. Is there any reason to hope for a better media performance this cycle round?
No, it's all the same. And, you know, it's not that a lot of these people are bad people. It's a mistake to go into it saying that these people are all elitist snobs like David Brooks really is. A lot of them are Ivy Leaguers, they all come from a certain class. And you can't be on the campaign trail unless you work for a massively funded organization. It costs like 3,000 or 4,000 bucks a day to cover the presidential election, just to be on the plane. Some big money has to be behind you. The group of people who end up being on the bus are a group of upper-class people who are all from the same general background, and they're familiar and comfortable with each other and they're comfortable with the candidates culturally. They're living the high life when they're on the trail, they're mostly staying in five-star hotels. They get these delicious catered meals served to them four or five times a day. You get chocolates on your pillow, you get the best musicians in the city coming out to play for you everywhere you go. It's like a big summer camp, like a big field trip.
For these people, with the proximity to power, being able to
sit in an airplane with Hillary Clinton or with John Kerry or John Edwards or Barack Obama - that's like the sexiest thing they're ever going to be involved with. And it's a lot of fun for these people. It's intoxicating. You can't take some 25- or 26-year-old kid who is just out of college, put him in that environment, and expect him to be totally objective about it. If you break with the pack on the campaign trail and you're shunned, it's a very powerful thing. Nobody wants to do it, because to be friendless in that environment is very, very hard. There's no way out, they're the only people you ever see - you're literally roped off from the rest of the world. There's a real Stockholm syndrome that goes on. As a result of that, you get this collective worldview that develops where the campaign makes sense and everything that the candidates do is taken at face value. And they judge the candidates according to the internal logic of the campaign process, which, to an outsider or to someone looking at it objectively, is completely perverse and fucked up and wrong. But to them, it all makes perfect sense because you never ever are exposed to anything that shines a negative light on it. They never see any other thing.
What happened with Cindy Sheehan - it started out as this movement that had a really clear and unambiguous and simple, emotionally powerful message that was connected to this woman who had really lost a son overseas. And it morphed into something that was different. I hate to criticize antiwar protestors or people who showed up and gave their time to this whole thing - but one of the things that happens there is that you have Cindy Sheehan alone to start with, and then within like three days you have the Cuban Five and the Free Mumia people and every circus act of the protest crowd that came to plant their flag.
It's not that I'm taking issue with anything that the American left stands for or how it behaves. It's really a class issue more than anything else. The people who are the public face of the American left tend to be people like me. They're upper class, liberal arts-educated white people, for the most part, who come from a certain background where the things that are important
to them are these mostly intellectual issues - like the environment, or social issues like abortion, feminism, that sort of thing. The historical basis for the American left, if you go back to Roosevelt, is sort of a patrician structure where you had these upper-class people advocating on behalf of a wider working class base. What's happened now is that it's kind of splintered and the upper-class portion is overemphasizing the things that are important to them and deemphasizing the things that are important to their base. That's why the party orthodoxies right now aren't things like free trade and credit policy, for instance - like the bankruptcy bill. You would never find a celebrated lefty politician who is pro-life but voted against NAFTA, for instance. It's always the other way around. What's happened because of that - because the orthodoxies are all backwards - is that the American left has alienated its natural constituency, which is this vast, middle-to-working class underclass that has been fucked over by modern global capitalism.
Instead of standing up and fighting for those people, the left has gotten bogged down in political correctness and the environment and stuff like that. They've lost touch with those people, who are now flocking en masse to the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who are talking directly to them and who are actively courting their support. That's all I was saying. It's just a question of emphasis; it's not that the stuff they stand for is bad.