The Blog

The Good, the Bad,
and the Greenwald

Literate insights, occasional distortions, and forays into ugliness.

12:00 AM, Apr 16, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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I KNOW THIS WON'T endear me to many of my fellow conservatives, but I like Glenn Greenwald. I've spoken to him a few times on the radio and have enjoyed our jousts. Mind you, I agree with virtually nothing Greenwald says or writes and recognize his unbecoming fondness for the personal insult, but I consider him a worthy adversary.

So I looked forward to reading Greenwald's third and latest book, Great American Hypocrites, especially since I'm one of the title characters. Following two bestsellers, Great American Hypocrites purports to document the rot at the heart of the conservative movement. As its back flap brays, it will dispel myths like "Republicans are brave and courageous" with the truth--that the GOP is "a party filled with chicken hawks and draft dodgers."

Like most things that spring from Glenn Greenwald's keyboard, Great American Hypocrites is a combination of literate insights, occasional distortions, and forays into ugliness that are difficult to understand given Greenwald's obvious intelligence. In other words, the book is filled with the Good, the Bad, and the distinctly Greenwald.

"The Good" comes during Greenwald's discussion of how hypocrisy characterizes the modern GOP. Greenwald posits John Wayne as the archetypal Republican - a guy who acted tough and noble but whose personal life was ignoble and at times pathetic. Greenwald acidly notes, "John Wayne flamboyantly paraded around as the embodiment of courage, masculinity, patriotism, wholesomeness and warrior virtues" when in fact he was a Lothario who went to great lengths to avoid military service during World War II. (Worse still, Wayne inflicted "The Green Berets" on the movie-going nation in the 1960s, a cinematic crime that can never be fully forgiven.)

You'll want to take special note of Greenwald's none-too-subtle code language that has the Duke "flamboyantly parading." Throughout "Great American Hypocrites," neocons and other Republicans are reliably "prancing" or perambulating in some less than manful way. Greenwald stretches with both holding up John Wayne as a Republican idol and all his talk of prancing. For what it's worth, in my conversations with neocons, I've never heard a single one of them mention John Wayne. I've also noticed that they seldom "prance" let alone "flamboyantly parade." Well, maybe a couple do, but they are the exceptions.

This childish provocation aside, Greenwald's larger point about hypocrisy among conservative ranks is worth considering. I can't claim to be as bothered by hypocrisy as Greenwald is; I certainly wouldn't write a book on the subject. We all fail to live up to our expressed values on occasion, and thus slip into hypocrisy. (In fairness to Greenwald, he makes this precise point in his book.)

But it's worth pondering whether the hypocrisy among Republican politicians has reached a tipping point the past few years. We've seen purported family values champions looking for love in bordellos, airport restrooms, and instant message chats with teens. The concern isn't that these men are merely hypocrites, but that their rhetoric is nothing but a hollow means to gaining office.

If that's the case, then they can't be trusted once in office. As we saw with the contingent of round-heeled Republicans who wanted to beat a retreat from Iraq as soon as the Iraq Study Group gave them the cover to do so (and with sufficient time to reap the benefits for their 2008 reelection campaigns), character matters. If the GOP wants to govern effectively, it has to upgrade the quality of its elected officials. That is one of the clear lessons from the past few years, and conservative activists should take note of it.

That's it for "the good," on to "the bad." One of the problems with Great American Hypocrites is that the terrain it covers isn't particularly fresh. Although Greenwald makes the chicken hawk argument with more creativity than you'll find anywhere at the Daily Kos, we're not exactly breaking new ground here. Nevertheless, Greenwald loves the chicken hawk stuff and makes his point with needless length, a trait familiar to critics of his blog.

Also striking a familiar chord will be a certain slippery disingenuousness that sometimes creeps into Greenwald's writing when he tries to make a point. Take this quotation regarding Ronald Reagan:

"Ronald Reagan, depicted as the epitome of salt-of-the-earth, manly courage, avoided combat during World War II, remaining instead in Hollywood as a coddled actor."