Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mark Steyn on Governor Brian Schweitzer and other sophisticates

(A quick note on the photo: MH has long maintained that Jag is a good Republican dog doing his best with what has been served up. As always, we wish him good health and long life.)

So, not only does Montana’s Governor Brian Schweitzer have to suffer the ignominy of not being able to dodge questions even in friendly environs like David Letterman’s show regarding his “polygamy commune” jab at Mitt Romney, he now gets to play the leading man in a Mark Steyn column at National Review. Quite a week of auditioning for the governor's next gig -- is this really a good strategy for maneuvering Sen. Baucus into retirement to open up that seat?

We had the “dog wars,” where the fate of the Republic apparently depended on what Americans will find more viscerally repulsive -- a President who ate dog meat as a boy or a would-be President who transported his dog in a carrier on top of his car. Who “won” that debate? It’s hard to care, really, and the fact that the Obama camp picked the fight and the Romney camp finished it isn’t particularly meaningful, let alone gratifying, to anyone but the most hardened partisans of either.

Neatly pivoting from that bit of statesmanship, we have the President’s coterie dispatching one of his surrogates (any governor making public statements of this sort is a surrogate -- we may be simple folk around here, but we’ve figured that much out,) casually bringing up Mormon polygamy in the Romney family tree. Only the obdurate would refuse to acknowledge that if you scratch anyone of old-Mormon blood, polygamist lineage will be found somewhere underneath. It is as remarkable as observing that a resident of the District of Columbia votes Democratic.

What is quite remarkable, however, is that the Obama camp should choose this moment, when they are grumpily complaining that young Barack didn’t have any choice about eating the dog set before him, to use something over which Governor Romney had even less control (children have been known occasionally to refuse to clean off their plates, while LDS time-travel has yet to be invented) to prod at a culturally sensitive spot for Mormons, in what can only be an initial probe to see whether this dog can be hunted... to return twistedly to a previously mentioned theme.

We, being sensitive sorts around here, really do have some sympathy for the governor in this matter -- it was a dirty job that someone in the Obama campaign wanted done, and it is perhaps an indication of the esteem in which the governor is held by the administration that he was selected to do it. The conspiratorially-minded might see the hand of long-time Baucus aide and ally (and current Obama campaign manager) Jim Messina in this assignment -- but we digress.

Suffice it to say that surrogacy is a sometimes slimy business -- recall, if you will, Mitt Romney sending out surrogate U.S. Senators to blast Rick Santorum for voting for bills they themselves had voted for. The higher you are on the campaign’s totem pole, the more positive you get to be in your media appearances advocating for the candidate, and the lower you are, well, the more likely you are to get stuck with mud-throwing bits like the polygamy beat, figuring out how to blend in a poll that (newsflash!) says 86% of American women don’t approve of polygamy.

Steyn, characteristically, avoids all of this nice analysis and goes straight for the jugularic facts:

Just for the record, Romney’s father was not a polygamist; Romney’s grandfather was not a polygamist; his great-grandfather was a polygamist. Miles Park Romney died in 1904, so one can see why this would weigh heavy on 86 percent of female voters 108 years later.

Meanwhile, back in the female-friendly party, Obama’s father was a polygamist; his grandfather was a polygamist; and his great-grandfather was a polygamist who had one more wife (five in total) than Romney’s great-grandfather. It seems President Obama is the first male in his line not to be a polygamist. So, given the “gender gap,” maybe those 86 percent of American women are way cooler with polygamy than Governor Schweitzer thinks. Maybe these liberal chicks really dig it.

And again, Steyn being Steyn, he has some other uncomfortable observations that really are more directed at smugly multi-cultural liberals than they are at anyone’s political campaign:

...self-loathing cultural relativism is so deeply ingrained on the left that any revulsion to dog-eating is trumped by revulsion to criticizing any of the rich, vibrant cultural diversity out there in Indonesia or anywhere else.

Most polygamy in the developed world has nothing to do with Mormons: It’s widely practiced by Western Muslims, whose plural marriages are recognized de facto by French and Ontario welfare departments and de jure by Britain’s pensions department. But “edgy” “transgressive” leftie comics on sad, pandering standup shows will reserve their polygamy jokes for Mormons until the last stern-faced elder in Utah keels over at the age of 112.

In the United Kingdom, 57 percent of Pakistani Britons are married to their first cousins, with attendant increases in their children’s congenital birth defects. But the comics save their inbreeding jokes for stump-toothed West Virginians enjoying a jigger of moonshine and a bunk-up with their sisters.

The editor of Washington’s leading gay newspaper was gay-bashed in Amsterdam, “the most tolerant city in Europe,” but by Muslims rather than the pasty rednecks who killed Matthew Shepard, so liberals don’t have a dog in this fight.

Being on the receiving end of selective ridicule should be familiar territory for us Republicans, who are, by definition, less sophisticated than our liberal betters, and hence deserving of satire. Columns like Steyn’s won’t change any behavior on the left when it comes to deciding who can be lampooned safely and who needs to be tiptoed around. In fact, if ever any proof was needed that supposedly irrational gun-clinging Americans really aren’t that terrifying to the washed, contrast the kid-glove treatment of Muslim sensibilities with the steady diet of redneck ridicule coming from the clever set.)

Still, columns like Steyn’s serve a certain purpose: they confirm that, no, we aren’t crazy -- there really is a double-standard when it comes to the left’s self-proclaimed pieties of treating other cultures with respect.


Anonymous said...

I hesitate to "explain" humor, but if you don't see any difference Romney's ancestors and Obama's, don't quit your day job.

I think the difference has something to do with a concept that the proprietor of Montana Headlines ought to know something about: American exceptionalism. There is nothing inherently funny about a Pakistani or a Sudanese practicing polygamy. Likewise with Obama's father. We understand that people in other countries and other religions do things differently.

But to have a handsome, successful, country-club Republican whose grandparents lived in a polygamous commune? Comedy gold! It just turns all our notions of what is modern and civilized on their head. Imagine the fun you would have here if, say, a Democratic presidential candidate's parents had lived on a wife-swapping hippie commune.

American exceptionalism, I tell ya. It's kind of like criticizing Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves while not being quite so hard on contemporaneous slaveholders elsewhere. We criticize Jefferson precisely because he did live here, and because he professed beliefs that should have made slavery abhorrent to him, even after making all possible excuses for having lived in a different time, etc.

Montana Headlines said...

All very interesting, all of that American exceptionalism stuff, a concept that gets mixed reviews around here, we being old-fashioned sorts who believe that vagaries and weaknesses of human nature do their work on these shores as readily as elsewhere.

One assumes, though, that your main point here is that the good guv is actually a late-night comedian who somehow found himself elected to the top office in Montana. There are many in Montana who would agree with you.

After watching the Letterman performance, though, I am concerned about the long-term trajectory of his career as a stand-up. Mike Huckabee was able to parlay his Baptist-preacher-turned-governor skills into a minor (about a million households tune in) weekend talk show that so far is watched enough not to get cancelled.

I'm not as sure, after seeing him on the big stage, whether Schweitzer has the high comedy chops to make it in the big time, but we'll see...

Ed Kemmick said...

That comment was from me, and I apparently am so unused to hanging out at blogs anymore that I don't know how to sign in. Even more confusing is that I had just read about Jimmy Kimmel making comic hay over the Mormon polygamy business, and that's what I was referring to when I talked about comic gold. Wow. I definitely need the long vacation I'm about to embark on.

Montana Headlines said...

Well, that would make sense, my not having heard about Kimmel. And a well-deserved vacation it is, I'm sure!

I quite agree that a Republican blue-blood with a tie-in, however distant, to a "polygamy commune" is far funnier than is joking about matrimonial practices in Pakistan.

Steyn, to be fair to him, doesn't make that comparison -- in the portion I quoted, he restricts his comments to things going on right here in the modern western world, contrasting how comedians deal with these oddities. After all, both the Appalachian redneck and the Pakistani immigrant are swimming in the same Western European/North American ocean -- neither are a particularly advantaged group.

I think it is a reasonable point that Steyn makes: if inbreeding is funny when it happens in the rural American South, it should be roll-on-the-floor hilarious when it takes place in London or New York.

Ed Kemmick said...

OK, one more comment. You say: "I think it is a reasonable point that Steyn makes: if inbreeding is funny when it happens in the rural American South, it should be roll-on-the-floor hilarious when it takes place in London or New York."

Here we are back to my original point about explaining comedy. It's like one critic said about trying to dissect a Wodehouse novel: It's like eating a souffle with a shovel.

There is no such thing as "should" in comedy. Something either is or it ain't funny, and for reasons perhaps umplumbable, it ain't funny making jokes about Muslim immigrants' matrimonial practices.

Montana Headlines said...

Fair enough. Perhaps no-one would find jokes about consanguinity in Pakistani-Americans funny, although I doubt it, given the breadth of subject matter of stand-up comedy I have sampled over the years on XM radio. The key is that the audience has to be given cues to know that it is socially acceptable to laugh.

But then I also find jokes about toothless American hillbillies distinctly unfunny -- perhaps because I've known more than a few in my time. But it is socially acceptable to laugh at such jokes.

I therefore think it is a bit facile to say that the latter is intrinsically funny while the former isn't (and I do understand you've restricted what you say tickles your funny bone to the juxtaposition of blue-blood Romney with "polygamy communes.")

The point is that when even hard-bitten comedians shy away from taking a shot at certain subject matter, it seems reasonable to ask whether there is more at work than whether they think there is something funny there.