It’s one of the simple realities of American politics that conservatives get to make fun of liberals’ folkways without penalty, but when liberals belittle conservatives over theirs, they’re being out-of-touch elitists.
There was a famous attack ad against Howard Dean made by the Club for Growth back in 2004, in which an older white couple deliver themselves of the opinion that Gov. Dean should take his “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs.”
The ad was credited as damaging Dean badly in Iowa. No liberal group, needless to say, has ever made an ad that I’m aware of advising that some Republican candidate should take his rich-worshipping, government-killing, moonshine-swilling, steak-eating, pickup-driving, Guns & Ammo-reading, arm-tattooing, Jesus-loving right-wing freak show back to Alabama where it belongs. Such an ad would be considered one of the most boneheaded plays of all time.
So I know what I’m walking into here, but the hell with it. Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock are totally classless people. First of all, hats in the Oval Office. I think that’s appalling. I’ve been in the Oval Office (though not while a president was there). It’s awe-inspiring to walk into that room. Peopled though it’s been with crooks and drunkards, it’s humbling. I could no more wear a hat in that room than take a piss in Chartres Cathedral. They’ll say this means I don’t understand their culture. I say it means they don’t understand respect. What a couple of low-rent mofos.
Just imagine that picture not with Trump and Nugent and Kid Rock, but with Obama flanked by, oh, Russell Simmons and Jay Z, and both of them wearing hats. Zoom! It would have been an outrage for days. I mean, forget hats. When a photo emerged once of Obama not wearing his suit jacket in the Oval, a right-wing freakout ensued.
Then there was the famous “hip-hop barbecue.” This was an Obama birthday party that also sent the right into convulsive shock because some hip-hop music was played (as was some Motown and other stuff) and some dancing ensued (gasp!). And because one quasi-hip-hop artist performed. (And Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock too!) I have it on good authority that other actual black people were in attendance.
In England, back during the John Profumo sex scandal of 1963, the serious broadsheet papers covered sexual details more frankly than the tabloids, which employed euphemism, leading one wag to quip that sex was all right as long as you’d been to university. Our contemporary American corollary: Disrespect is all right if you’re a white redneck expressing it toward liberals.
Now we come to that photo with Hillary’s portrait. They’re making kind of obscure hand gestures. Nugent told the Times that one of the party (he wouldn’t say who) actually suggested they all give the portrait the finger. Nugent, not known heretofore for his sense of restraint, thought the better of it, and they did not.
Even so, it should have occurred to them—and it certainly should have occurred to the person who was escorting them around, who may have been Donald Trump himself, at least according to what Nugent told the Times—that this was totally inappropriate White House behavior. Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, or today giving a speech attacking Trump, is one thing. Savage that Hillary all you want. But Portrait Hillary Clinton on the White House walls is our history. Nancy Reagan wasn’t my flavor of danish, but I sure wouldn’t pose for an insolent picture in front of her official portrait in the White House. Why? Because I’m not 14 years old anymore.
Now before conservatives sniff, “Well, Tomasky, you didn’t care when Bill Clinton sullied the Oval Office,” I note that I did care. I wrote at the time that his actions were wrong, and in my recent book on Clinton’s presidency, I called his behavior “unfathomably irresponsible,” “reckless,” and “selfish and out of control.” I just thought it and his lie about it weren’t grounds for impeachment.
No party has a monopoly on public rectitude or manners. But the permissible bounds of our political discourse are such that one side can get away with the kind of childish stuff the Trump-loving troika got up to, while the other side can’t. I can’t change that. But I can call them on it when they’re being nincompoops.