And now it’s less than two years away. But if you were young and alive and curious about everything in that late sixties, finally away from home and in a college dorm room arguing with your friends about reality and perception and the war and all sorts of things, it’s hard to explain those stunning times. You kind of had to be there, with the Stones or Hendricks or John Coltrane on in the background, or at their most whimsical, the Beatles, perhaps singing When I’m 64.
At the time we all thought that particular effort was charming and clever, and deeply ironic – Yours Sincerely, Wasting Away. But we never imagined we’d find ourselves that old, ever. And we all considered the song one of their minor efforts.
But we had been warned. We’d be there. Of course it wouldn’t be so bad, as we’d have mellowed, or ripened, or something pleasant. And there’d be the grandkids on your knee – Vera, Chuck and Dave. It wouldn’t be so bad, aside from the inevitable physical decay.
But three years earlier, in 1964, we’d watched those same guys in Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night. You might remember that. In the movie, pretty much an excuse to present the music in the days before music videos, there was the nasty old man, nominally John McCartney, Paul’s grandfather, played by the sour looking character actor Wilfred Brambell. He was the butt of all the jokes – he just didn’t get anything, he was bitter and implicitly sarcastic (he hardly spoke a word), and he tried, always unsuccessfully, to stop anyone from having any fun. The boys were always trying to get him to loosen up, but that was close to impossible. They obviously really liked the old man and did their best – they wanted to include him in things – but he was a sly and cunning and suspicious fellow, oddly likeable, but set in his ways.
And that provided pretty much all the dramatic conflict in the film. It was exuberant and carefree youth versus dyspeptic and careful old age, represented by the guy who had seen far too much and had just shut down, as he’d had enough of foolishness. You get old, you get distrustful. The later song about how pleasant it would be when we’re all sixty-four had to be ironic. Getting to that sweet spot was the ideal. There were no guarantees.
And now some of us, the withered and widened detritus of the sixties, find ourselves turning into that old guy from the Lester film. With age comes wisdom, perhaps, but caustic impatience, for sure. You find yourself railing against the foolishness, while the younger folks shrug.
But some things get to you, like Michele (that’s how she spells it) Bachmann, the former tax attorney and now the Minnesota Republican congresswoman, speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives, warning parents everywhere that if Democrats’ healthcare reform legislation passes, school clinics will become controlled by Planned Parenthood and turned into SEX CLINICS that promote abortions, or provide them, and the parents won’t even know their little thirteen-year-old got a free pregnancy test and a free abortion and just rode the school bus home that very evening and you knew nothing about it.
And written in this bill is a provision whereby Planned Parenthood could become a proprietor for school-based clinics in every school across United States. These have been more accurately called school sex clinics … And as a matter of fact, the bill goes on to say what’s going to go on – comprehensive primary health services, physicals, treatment of minor acute medical conditions, referrals to follow-up for specialty care – is that abortion? Does that mean that someone’s 13 year-old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser.
Yep, here’s the video, and at salon.com, Vincent Rossmeier, looks into this. It seems PolitiFact and Politico’s Glenn Thrush have both demonstrated that Bachmann’s argument is entirely untrue. But Rossmeier adds context:
…she’s hardly the first conservative to advance this line of thinking. In fact, the specter of Planned Parenthood engaging in abortion bonanzas in America’s schools has been a staple of right-wing opposition to healthcare reform for a while now — though that doesn’t make the assertion any less of a lie.
The falsehood seems to have begun with a blogger named Peter Fleckenstein, writing on his blog Common Sense from a Common Man back in July. Fleckenstein alleged that Page 992 of the House healthcare bill contained language that would lead to the establishment of school clinics that could advise young girls to have abortions without parental input.
Conservative groups like the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel, a conservative group affiliated with Liberty University’s law school, then pushed the abortion clinic myth to wider right-wing audiences. One chain e-mail from the Liberty Counsel told parents, “[your] children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!”
As you recall, the Bush administration packed the Justice Department with graduates of Liberty University’s law school – they’d hire no one else, and forced out the career lawyers from more conventional law schools, and the Obama crew is having a hard time getting the department staffed up again with folks who actually know the law. That will take years. But on the matter of the Sex Clinics, Rossmeier reviews the facts:
In actuality, the section of the bill at the root of the controversy states explicitly that the school clinics would have to abide by existing federal, state and local laws regarding parental consent. On top of that, the school clinics in question aren’t a new entity dreamed up by Democratic socialists intent on indoctrinating America’s youth. Rather, as PolitiFact has pointed out, the clinics have been around for thirty years. There are 2,000 such clinics across the country. None provide abortions and they generally serve students who live in areas with limited healthcare options. The healthcare reform legislation would just ensure that these clinics continue to receive funding.
Okay then, Bachmann didn’t realize this wasn’t something new, just a renewal of funding. Everyone makes mistakes. But of course that was never the point:
However, as Thrush suggests, the fact that Bachmann’s allegations have no basis in reality might not keep Congress from overreacting.
“None of the three bills in the House explicitly prohibit the use of the school-based clinics to steer kids to abortion clinics – so look out for an amendment, however statutorily superfluous, to be introduced by somebody as a way to wedge conservative Democrats from the party’s liberal base,” Thrush writes. “Either that, or we’ll be hearing 30-second ads that say something like, ‘[Candidate X] voted for the Nancy Pelosi government takeover of health care, which will result in your 13-year-old granddaughter getting an abortion on the way home from school …'”
Rossmeier does a lot of legwork here on a matter that is rather minor. After all, everyone knows this woman is odd. Bachmann introduced legislation that would bar the dollar from being replaced by any foreign currency. No one had suggested that. Bachmann has taken to the floor to claim that since carbon dioxide is “a natural byproduct of nature” it is actually a harmless gas, and thus regulating greenhouse gasses is stupid. She is opposed to the census – she won’t answer any census questions and thinks no one should, as we could all end up interned like the Japanese in World War II, as FDR used census data to find and lock up Japanese-Americans. Bachmann said she wanted Minnesotans “armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.” That’s a bit of a call for armed revolution. She wants to end funding to AmeriCorps, the federal community service organization, as that could lead to re-education camps like in Communist China. She has been urging a nuclear strike in Iran, and a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage, and gays. She told Chris Matthews that someone should investigate all the anti-Americans in Congress, so they’d be tried for treason or something, and that Sarah Palin is right about those Death Panels. She is who she is.
It’s enough to make you grumpy, to make you into a grumpy old man. But it may be that it’s Palin-Bachmann 2012. What the phase? I’m getting too old for this? That’s the one.
But the country is what it is – “Americans? The worst-educated people in the First World. They don’t have any thoughts; they have emotional responses, which advertisers know how to provoke.” And so do politicians.
Those words come from the quintessential grumpy old man, a fellow who lives up in the hills a mile or two east of here, Gore Vidal. He’s not the guy in the old Beatles film, but he will do. And the quote come from an interview that Vidal gave to the Times of London:
Vidal is sitting in the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, where he has been coming to stay for 60 years. He is wearing a brown suit jacket, brown jumper, tracksuit bottoms; his white hair twirled into a Tintin-esque quiff and with his hooded eyes, delicate yet craggy features and arch expression, he looks like Quentin Crisp, but accessorized with a low, lugubrious growl rather than camp lisp.
He points to an apartment opposite the hotel where Churchill stayed during the Second World War, as Downing Street was “getting hammered by the Nazis. The crowds would cheer him from the street, he knew great PR.”
Well, if you’re going to be a grumpy old man, do it in style. And he’s earned the right:
In a flash, this memory reminds you of the swathe of history Vidal has experienced with great intimacy: he was friends with JFK, fought in the war, his father Gene, an Olympic decathlete and aeronautics teacher, founded TWA among other airlines and had a relationship with Amelia Earhart. (Vidal first flew and landed a plane when he was 10.) He was a screenwriter for MGM in the dying days of the studio system, toyed with being a politician, he has written 24 novels and is hailed as one of the world’s greatest essayists.
He has crossed every boundary, I say. “Crashed many barriers,” he corrects me.
And he is not too pleased – he switched allegiance from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during the Democratic nomination process, and now he he thinks Obama is dreadful – “I was hopeful. He was the most intelligent person we’ve had in that position for a long time. But he’s inexperienced. He has a total inability to understand military matters. He’s acting as if Afghanistan is the magic talisman: solve that and you solve terrorism.”
He says America should leave Afghanistan – “We’ve failed in every other aspect of our effort of conquering the Middle East or whatever you want to call it.” And the War on Terror was just something we made up – “The whole thing was PR, just like ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It has wrecked the airline business, which my father founded in the 1930s. He’d be cutting his wrists. Now when you fly you’re both scared to death and bored to death, a most disagreeable combination.”
Now that’s how you do grumpy. And he’s had it with Obama being nice to the Republicans:
Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred – religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word “conservative,” you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.
Clinton would be the better president:
Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the generals. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.
Is this what it means to get old? You’ve seen too much and you don’t give a damn what you say:
Today religious mania has infected the political bloodstream and America has become corrosively isolationist, he says. “Ask an American what they know about Sweden and they’d say ‘They live well but they’re all alcoholics’. In fact a Scandinavian system could have benefited us many times over.” Instead, America has “no intellectual class” and is “rotting away at a funereal pace. We’ll have a military dictatorship fairly soon, on the basis that nobody else can hold everything together. Obama would have been better off focusing on educating the American people. His problem is being over-educated. He doesn’t realize how dim-witted and ignorant his audience is…”
And of course this is compounded by Gore Vidal being gay. Bachmann and many Americans may be appalled at that.
“They don’t have any thoughts; they have emotional responses, which good advertisers know how to provoke.” You could have been the first gay president, I say. “No, I would have married and had nine children,” he replies quickly and seriously. “I don’t believe in these exclusive terms.”
And that’s only a taste of it. The whole interview is amazing.
But is he just a grumpy old man living out here in Hollywood, in his case just down the way on Outlook Drive? Things can’t be that bad.
Or maybe they can. There’s Thomas Sowell’s latest column for National Review. Sowell argues that President Obama and his team are “brainy” – and that’s a real problem. Bright officials in positions of leadership can be dangerous:
Many crucial things in life are learned from experience, rather than from clever thoughts or clever words. Indeed, a gift for the clever phrasing so admired today by the media can be a fatal talent, especially for someone chosen to lead a government. Make no mistake about it, Adolf Hitler was brilliant. …
There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.
We need dumb leaders, you see.
And he ends with this:
Someone recently pointed out how much Barack Obama’s style and strategies resemble those of Latin American charismatic despots – the takeover of industries by demagogues who never ran a business, the rousing rhetoric of resentment addressed to the masses, and the personal cult of the leader promoted by the media. Do we want to become the world’s largest banana republic?
Steve Benen comments:
There’s that phrase again, “banana republic.” The far-right was fond of the phrase for a while several months ago, and perhaps Sowell intends to bring it back.
I’d just respond that conservatives don’t seem to appreciate what the phrase actually means. One of the distinguishing characteristics of a “banana republic” is an unaccountable chief executive who ignores the rule of law when it suits his/her purposes. The ruling junta in a “banana republic” eschews accountability, commits heinous acts in secret, tolerates widespread corruption, and generally embraces a totalitarian attitude in which the leader can break laws whenever he/she feels it’s justified to protect the state.
Benen suggests that was the last administration.
As for Sowell’s larger point, that brilliant people “tend to overestimate how important individual brilliance is,” Gore Vidal might consider just staying in London.
By the way, Thomas Sowell is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford and in 1990 he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal and in 2003 he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement. He’s Harvard ’58, magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. His master’s degree is from Columbia, 1959, and his PhD in Economics is from the University of Chicago. He’s taught economics at Howard, Cornell, Brandeis and UCLA. But he seems to be ashamed of it all. Rush Limbaugh is an admirer of Sowell’s writing and calls him an “honest thinker.”
What can you say? And of course he’s black.
Okay – sixty-four fast approaching, damn it. And now Gore Vidal is making sense. That whimsical Beatles song had it all wrong. You get old, you get distrustful. And you get disgusted. But by then, it doesn’t matter. It may be best to just take a nap.