In The News
Beneath the hype, readers need to catch the ‘Drift’
Rachel Maddow brings her talkback and autographed copies of “Drift” for each $32 seat to Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21.
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted April 13, 2012
The right-wing’s main devil praises Rachel Maddow. In a nifty bit of counter-programming, the back of the “Drift” cover jacket features a “must read” blurb from the heavyweight guru of FOX News, Roger Ailes, though even he can’t avoid harrumphing that MSNBC’s most popular radical leftie “never makes the case that war might be necessary.”
What? Did he even read it? The entire point of “Drift” is American citizens no longer have to wrestle with that basic question.
While the Founding Fathers set up an elaborate system to curb the executive war fever, to make war difficult and subject to excruciatingly hard thinking, the US can now go ballistic without interrupting any of our multiple entertainment channels.
Congress can’t stop it, citizens don’t have to ask as they did in WWII “Why We Fight?” because there's no why, and millions screaming on the street fail to dent the drift.
Maddow’s book, subtitled “The Unmooring of American Military Power,” exposes how neither left nor right planned this, how we got to this state with the best of intentions, flying concerned flags about our families, our economy and even our values. One disturbing suggestion is how love of toddlers fostered privatization and a paid army of mercenaries to shift us further away from a time when citizens had to leave work and hearth to go fight. Now we don’t have to leave the sofa. Talk about mission creep!
Deftly Maddow lifts the curtain on what led society to abandon built-in protections. Flashing the wit, asides and intellectual style that make her sentences dense but shrewd, her Oxfordian commentaries the most surprisingly popular element of her news shows, Maddow shows both a breadth of analysis and a relish of history. She pauses to explain how death-inflicting drones from Pakistan are made possible by rich sheik devotion to falconry. But mainly she dissects the American psyche from the inside.
We hate war, but we love warriors. We can abandon our reluctance over bloodshed when our bloodlust is triggered and fears are ignited. We believe in the leader on the white horse when he’s brandishing a gun. While we agree intellectually that people should find it horrible to kill, we grab for any trick to buy our way out of trouble, much as abolitionists were happy to pay their way out of Civil War service.
Some of this sounds obvious when a reviewer sets its down, but Maddow earns these conclusions with her analysis of history, producing much ironic laughter – and “oh, Lord” moments -- along the way. It’s “Pogo” revised, putting life behind cartoonist Walt Kelly’s famous observation that “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
Without giving up her liberal tone and credentials, Maddow plays it honest to both sides as she watches us drift into adventurism from our founding to Vietnam to the Persian Gulf to today. You can’t pretend that her disbelief and dismay aren’t the most full blown exploding the Reagan era with its bizarre secrecy, “unitary” warping of presidential powers and mainly Keystone Kops excesses – such as Grenada where our mighty military couldn’t handle a compass, killed mental patients and misplaced hundreds of confused American college students.
But even here she looks underneath and beyond Reagan to explain why citizens were so eager to throw our principled democratic baby into the ashcan. She does not spare Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton or Al Gore, particularly over the trend to bloated and corrupt privatization. Even today citizens look the other way at Croatian and Afghan ditch-diggers and meal providers. Privatization almost by definition means we are paying someone big money to do dirty things in our name, yet American taxpayers still don’t grasp the waste in treasure, reputation and soul in sparing “real Americans” from supply lines and mess-hall KP.
Wait! Is Maddow saying we have lost our way but can still restore the real America, and the solutions have little to do with the partisan ferocity that keeps her and cable news flourishing? Frankly, yes.
It is the lingering paradox. We still don’t know how easily we have shredded the safeguards, the checks and balances, we still don’t fathom the hidden price of neglect and indifference. Gently, humorously and surgically, she’s trying to wake us up – and it’s much deeper than reducing our defense budget.
“Drift” right now is going through all the suspicious promotional huzzahs of our celebrity age – New York Times best seller devotion, praise from Leno and other talking heads, endless publicity tours, all the stuff that gains media attention while raising skepticism about temporal flightiness.
The book is better than that. It is not a quick read to forget, like a pop song flourish or a Donald Trump punchline. It’s bright, requires mulling, moments to put it down and think. There are chapters to revisit that transcend our current partisan cable wars and jingoism (hear that, Roger?). Keep it handy.