The Lileks Zone

Joe Klein Tries a Funny

Joe Klein. Time magazine superstar. Novelist. Hyperventilationist. Humorist! Here’s the start of a recent Time blog post:

The anti-Obama forces, it seems clear, are rooted in classic American know-nothing populism–nativist, isolationist, paranoid.

Oh, absolutely clear, Joe. Transparent to every sentient being on the globe. You can imagine him pausing as he wrote “populism” – hey, that’s a good thing, when it’s our guys . . . ah, know-nothing populism. Whew! And it’s a reference to 19th century politics, which makes me look all smart ‘n’ historical ‘n’ stuff.

Nativist? Simple: if you believe the word “illegal” in the phrase “illegal immigrant” is there for a reason, you might be a nativist. Isolationist? I can see that; all those critics on the right who are noting how Obama is alienating our international allies are probably just mad he’s not alienating them quickly enough. Paranoid? If you believe the Teepers are all Birthers who believe Obama’s a Crypto-Marxist Manchurian POTUS, I suppose they’d all seem paranoid. But if you believe it’s paranoid to complain about the government annexing this and that, then what did you call the people who fainted when they learned the Patriot Act would let Dick Cheney check their library records? Oh, right: patriots.

Today’s Exhibit A is from the Drudge Report, in which the newly designed $100 bill is slagged for, as the headline has it, “looking European.” Drudge links to this report from Bloomberg, which describes the reasons for the new look:

The new look, aimed at thwarting counterfeiters, has several new security features, including a “3-D Security Ribbon” and an image of a bell on the front of the note that, when tilted, changes in color from copper to green. The reverse side of the bill includes a new vignette of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

But…reasons? Rationality? Greater security against counterfeiters? Feh! It looks like a freakin’ Euro, which means it must be a precursor of socialism. That Obama is one sneaky crypto-muslim.

Dear Joe: let me tell you a little trade secret. There’s this thing called humor. I know you’re aware of the idea; it pops up in your own work from time to time, and I think you may be trying it here. But the other side has it too. So when Drudge smacks the O for the new 100 by saying “even his money looks European,” it’s like making a drunk joke about Dean Martin, and saying “even his Terrier is a Scotch.” It’s trading on the idea that Obama is regarded by many as a figure who transcends boundaries, eschews the cowboy mold, uses the word “eschews,” and generally appeals to the bloodless, technocratic model of the Brussels technocrat.

Having manufactured a premise – the anti-Obama forces are idiots who speak through Drudge whose Euro-crack is a dog-whistle for those who think Obama’s a Muslim – Klein looks at his word count, figures there’s more to be said, and figures he should type some more:

But then, the same sort of cosmopolitanism was suspected of Ben Franklin–one of our most secular humanist playboy founders–after he sampled the bright lights, and women, of London and Paris. I mean, isn’t it, like, suspicious that Obama would want this Christian Nation to continue to feature someone as insidious as Franklin on its $100 bill? Why not Billy Graham or Ronald Reagan? Or Tom Tancredo? Can’t we get some real reform around here?

Having failed to get a joke, Klein makes his own, which fails to be a joke. it has no truthiness. The Anti-Obama Forces, I’d guess, are fond of old Ben, either in his distilled Civic Virtue form, with the bifocals, maxims, kite-in-the-storm, and pursed-lip expression. If they know Ben as the rake and man-about-Paree, I doubt they care whether he dallied with a madame in the salons of the day. In Klein’s world, though, they’d be incensed if they knew the truth about Franklin. Because for Klein, and many on the left, there is an iron rule: People who care about the rate of taxation and the size of the Federal government are also deeply repressed sexual prudes.

At this point Joe’s thinking he has a comic masterpiece on his hands, so let’s hit the Teepers where it really hurts: right in their architectural preferences!

And, when you think about it, Independence Hall is pretty suspicious, too: it is a classical colonial building, clearly inspired by European building styles of the 18th century (one of the more suspicious and licentious periods in European intellectual history and arts).

What is this country coming to?

Again with the licentiousness; it’s almost as if he associates randy happy jiggy-time with enlightenment, but that’s a Sixties thing. Mind you, Joe’s not a know-nothing – he’s a by-Gosh know-something – but Independence Hall wouldn’t be described a a “Classical Colonial” style “inspired” by Europeans; it’s a Georgian-style building, named for the King. The “Classical Colonial” style is a distinct style for homes, and quite different.

As for the 18th century being a suspicious period in European intellectual history, I’ll grant him that; all the fine philosophes and their Enlightenment ideals managed to give us the French Revolution, whose noble intentions devolved quite quickly into the invention of the modern totalitarian state. But I say that as a no-nothing nativist paranoid fellow with a French brother-in-law and a keen interest in European history.

What is this country coming to? Oh, I don’t know, Mr. Klein. Its senses?

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