Sunday, May 21, 2006

Knowing the truth, being set free

Start here (and you'll have to wade an advertisement, a la Salon, to see it; apologies). The TIME cover labels them "Radical Chicks." Really? Complaining about the President in public is radical, now? But the story is interesting, and the best part may be right here, in the reminder that these are Texas women:

Natalie Maines is one of those people born middle finger first. As a high school senior in Lubbock, Texas, she'd skip a class a day in an attempt to prove that because she never got caught and some Mexican students did, the system was racist. After Maines joined the Dixie Chicks, and the Dixie Chicks became the biggest-selling female group in music history—with suspiciously little cash to show for it—she and her bandmates told their record label, Sony, they were declaring themselves free agents. (In the high school that is Nashville, this is way worse than skipping class.) Now that she's truly notorious, having told a London audience in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas," Maines has one regret: the apology she offered George W. Bush at the onset of her infamy. "I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President," says Maines. "But I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever."


Whether the Dixie Chicks recover their sales luster or not, the choice of single has turned their album release into a referendum. Taking the Long Way's existence is designed to thumb its nose at country's intolerance for ideological hell raising, and buying it or cursing it reveals something about you and your politics—or at least your ability to put a grudge above your listening pleasure. And however you vote, it's tough to deny that by gambling their careers, three Texas women have the biggest balls in American music.
The story in Texas is that the Southern Baptist Convention, many years ago, decided to impose on all its churches the requirement that women be subservient to their husbands, as dicatated by the pseudo-Pauline passage in Colossians (we can discuss why that is pseudo-Pauline later). But the SBC has most of its churches in Texas, and although Texans are good Baptists, Texas women did not take kindly to being told to be quite that submissive.

And so a number of Texas churches left the convention. That's why I refer to the Dixie Chicks as Texas women. Now, compare that to this editorial by Richard Viguerie (yes, that Richard Viguerie):

As a candidate in 2000, George W. Bush was a Rorschach test. Country Club Republicans saw him as another George H.W. Bush; some conservatives, thinking wishfully, saw him as another Ronald Reagan. He called himself a "compassionate conservative," which meant whatever one wanted it to mean. Experts from across the party's spectrum were flown to Austin to brief Bush and reported back: "He's one of us."

Republicans were desperate to retake the White House, conservatives were desperate to get the Clinton liberals out and there was no direct heir to Reagan running for president. So most conservatives supported Bush as the strongest candidate -- some enthusiastically and some, like me, reluctantly. After the disastrous presidency of his father, our support for the son was a triumph of hope over experience.
Once he took office, conservatives were willing to grant this Bush a honeymoon. We were happy when he proposed tax cuts (small, but tax cuts nonetheless) and when he pushed for a missile defense system. Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and conservatives came to see support for the president as an act of patriotism.
Which is precisely the problem: when did support for the President become an act of patriotism? During the Great Depression? The New Deal? After Pearl Harbor? Vietnam? No. After 9/11. And now even Mr. Viguerie is disappointed:

In 2004, Republican leaders pleaded with conservatives -- particularly religious conservatives -- to register people to vote and help them turn out on Election Day. Those efforts strengthened Republicans in Congress and probably saved the Bush presidency. We were told: Just wait till the second term. Then, the president, freed of concern over reelection and backed by a Republican Congress, would take off the gloves and fight for the conservative agenda. Just wait.

We're still waiting.
Part of the disappointment, I would aver, is due to bad political philosophy. As Studs Terkel told Jon Stewart, this is America; we can tell the President to bugger off!

Viguerie is shaken, but not yet stirred. You can't expect him to have become a progressive, after all, although he almost sounds like one:

But conservatives don't blame the current mess just on Bush. They recognize the problem today is also at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

For years, congressional Republicans have sold themselves to conservatives as the continuation of the Reagan revolution. We were told that they would take on the Washington special interests -- that they would, in essence, tear down K Street and sow the earth with salt to make sure nothing ever grew there again.

But over time, most of them turned into the sort of unprincipled power brokers they had ousted in 1994. They lost interest in furthering conservative ideas, and they turned their attention to getting their share of the pork. Conservatives did not spend decades going door to door, staffing phone banks and compiling lists of like-minded voters so Republican congressmen could have highways named after them and so there could be an affirmative-action program for Republican lobbyists.
His conclusion is that the GOP is only interested in power, not in ideological (read "social") issues like abortion and gay marriage. Ironically, the angrier he gets, the more he sounds like a progressive; just one with a different agenda, but concerned about the same thing: "getting these corrupt bastards and their stupid, malignant ideology out of power, for good."

But complacency is bad, too. As Natalie Maines says:

Now when they talk about "the Incident," as they unfailingly call it, the Dixie Chicks try to write it off as an absurdity. Maines has powerful gusts of indignation and real disdain for a few right-wing websites and talk-show hosts, but what seems to linger most is disappointment in her pre-controversy self. "I think I'd gotten too comfortable living my life," she says. "I didn't know people thought about us a certain way—that we were Republican and pro-war."
And there's also an issue of control. Are musicians supposed to be popular? Or be good musicians?

"I'd rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it," says Maguire, "who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do."
And that's back to the issue of power. Popular equals powerful, we all say; that is, until the popular celebrity disabuses us of the notion they share our values, our politics. And good artists always have small followings, even if they are Picasso or Stravinsky. The rest of us know we are supposed to appreciate it, but somehow we never quite do; and while "A Soldier's Tale" or "Guernica" might teach us a great deal if we chose to study them, somehow we just don't. Which is fine; but those who do study it, can't expect the rest of us to be as interested as they are. And the recording artist has to decide whether to sell records, or to make music. As Maines says:

"It was awesome to feel those feelings again that I felt in high school: to be angry, to be sure that you're right and that the things you do matter. You don't realize that you're not feeling those feelings until you do. And then you realize how much more interesting life is."
So maybe it's not about being effective; maybe it is about "authentic being."

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