Monday, April 20, 2009

The Rise Of The Assholes

(image via globaandmail)

The enduring America's Summit image of Hugo Chavez perambulating over to Barack Obama (see above), giving him a friendly pat, and handing the 44th President of the United States an anti-colonial book has generated tremendous buzz. It was, to be sure, an asshole move. What U.S. President has ever been more subtly anti-colonial than Obama? That assy maneuver also puts the United States President in an uncomfortable position, empowering his enemies, and generally, we cannot fail to note, working at odds with the Venezuelan President's foreign policy objectives vis-a-vis the most powerful nation in the hemisphere. Hugo's maneuver was the diplomatic equivalent of farting in an enclosed space shared by many prominent geopolitical players. Like school on Saturday: No class.

Then again, farting -- figuratively and literally -- is the sort of thing that assholes do (Dry cough suggesting a keen, ironic detachment). And assholes, if you can forgive the pun, appear to be on the rise. Such boorish behavior is being rewarded by the zeitgeist. Ass-holiness, the spirit of this blog post hopes to prove, is next to Godliness. Even Proto-Asshole Andrew Cuomo -- remember what he did to his ex-wife? -- has come back, seemingly from the political dead, to be the virtual Governor of New York.

"AfPak" Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a massive asshole by any knowledgeable account, is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts. His endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Democrat party primaries came, it seemed, to a crashing dead end with Obama's victory. By June 2008, Holbrooke's absence among Obama's foreign policy kitchen cabinet grew more and more conspicuous. Governor Bill Richardson -- another quite accomplished asshole -- pushed (because assholes like to push) for Holbrooke's inclusion and, as they say, the rest is history ..

A State Department colleague spoke Time magazine in 2005 of Holbrooke, "Dick is very abrasive and arrogant, but he is also a brilliant conceptualizer and tactician." And therein lies the reason for the ascent of assholes at the tailend -- no pun intended -- of the first decade of the new millennium. To paraphrase another Hillary Clinton '08 loyalist Tina Fey -- assholes get things done.

(Deeply accomplished asshole Bill Maher, mocking mawkish non-assholes via kansascity)

And what about Bill Maher? Maher, a lapsed Catholic, would appreciate the obvious ironies of Psalm 118 concerning his media fate: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." Immediately following 9/11, Bill Maher was fired from ABC for essentially being an asshole. After September 11, the country was on what can only be properly construed as "Asshole Lock Down." Lippy people got fucked up, media-style. Being an asshole is certainly not a crime, but those times, according to the response by Disney's "House of Mouse," demanded the pink slip and required a scapegoat. And so the then-host of "Politically Correct" was fired for being .. well, politically incorrect (Averted Gaze).

(Bill Maher, asshole vindicated, at Michael's in 2005/ NYSocialDiary)

The pendulum swings. That asshole, now residing at HBO, is unmuzzled, as acerbic as ever, potty-mouthed and, mirabile dictu, profoundly buzzy. The newly-minted First Amendment superhero rockstar is the toast of both coasts. His most recent guests have included: National Book Award winner Gore Vidal, Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, Ellen Page and, unfortunately, Joe the Plumber. Bill's having a nice life, being, as always, The Asshole when on break from shooting "Real Time," frequenting, by way of leisure the Playboy Mansion (Averted Gaze).

Whither "Rahm-bo"? Rahm Emmanuel, a perfect asshole before 2006 (Salon's Mike Madden called him "Obama's designated a--hole"), has emerged in the aftermath of his re-taking of the House from Bush Republicans as one of the most powerful insiders in Obama's cabinet. Rahm remains, to be sure, a spectacular asshole. Emmanuel has also gone, in record time, from being the 4th most powerful man in the House of Representatives to President Obama's "Bad Cop" -- the gatekeeper of that all-important Presidential Face Time -- President Obama's Chief of Staff. From Salon, immediately following the 2008 election:

"For one brief moment over the summer, it seemed as if Barack Obama was ready to start throwing his weight around, the way a man who would soon be President of the United States -- even if it wasn't assured at the time -- is entitled to do. On the Senate floor during a vote in June, he spotted Joe Lieberman, who had just conducted yet another conference call organized by John McCain's campaign. Doing his best LBJ impersonation, Obama dragged Lieberman over to a corner, then backed him up against the wall and lectured him on his advocacy for the Republicans.

"That one story stands out because during the rest of the 2008 campaign and all its twists, it's hard to find another example of Obama acting aggressive toward anyone. His new White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, doesn't exactly have that problem.

"Emanuel -- or, as he's universally known around D.C. and Chicago, Rahm, or sometimes 'Rahmbo' -- comes into the new gig with a well-earned reputation as one of Washington's toughest operators. The guy's favorite word is 'fuck' and its many variations; he's a brilliant, if ruthless, tactician who helped put House Democrats in control two years ago, then moved up in leadership and helped keep them there this week."

What else distinguishes the Asshole? Being an Asshole, it seems, is not wholly limited to the Progressive Mindset or, in the case of Maher, the Libertarian side of the aisle. Rush Limbaugh is almost certainly asshole. His opinions are willfully delivered in a sulfurous, divisive manner. Assholes are to farts what Limbaugh is to gassy rhetoric. Arguably, the Obama victory in November 2008 has -- far from making the radio talker weaker -- transformed him into something of a titular head of the Republican Party, an oily discharge of the Right. Limbaugh's rib-busting rhetorical ox-strength is based, clearly, on his unfettered, caustic speech --unencumbered by a fealty to the party hierarchy -- and his 20 million listeners-plus with pitchforks at the ready, waiting to wage hand-to-hand electoral combat on command.

(image via wilybadger)

Nor is being an asshole the monopoly of the male gender. Quite the contrary. Ann Coulter, who fancies herself a bitch, can only be properly construed as an Asshole. Mo Rocca, who is almost certainly not an asshole, lamented:

"We know the drill:
1. Ann Coulter writes a book.
2. Ann Coulter says something incredibly stupid.
3. Ann Coulter becomes a best seller.

"Why do Americans support Ann Coulter?"

That question will have to be answered by a blogger more insightful than I. But Coulter, qua: woman asshole, is not alone. There are others. Judge Judy, lecturing from on-high, is a total asshole. Chelsea Handler, the vodka-loving, Tori-bashing, Imus favorite, is definitely an asshole. Elizabeth Dole, in the waning days of her Senate campaign, was absolutely an asshole. Don Imus, who is something of an asshole-Hall-Of-Famer -- an Arbiter of Ass, if you will -- likes to anoint assholes (apologies for the thoroughly obscene mental image that that last sentence evokes). Don Imus loves, for example, Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, who is an infamous asshole. Matt Taibbi is such a colossal asshole that even the New York Chattering Class -- his intellectual home -- pretty much hate his goddam stupidface.

What makes the perfect -- capital "A" -- "Asshole"? An Asshole has strong opinions, delivered with profound gusto. They are neither silent nor deadly, if you will. You should definitely want to punch an asshole in the face after hearing their dungy take on issue-of-the-day x, y or z. Their views are, oftentimes, calculated to rasp; Assholes create money out of controversy. Democratic capitalism is a fertile, volcanic soil for the asshole's moist issue. Gene Simmons -- who just scored a national "Dr. Pepper" commercial -- is definitely facepunch-worthy, if only for the sheer disdain which he shows his fans and for his mercenary attitude towards the rock-and-roll which God gave to everyone. Simmons also, ass-holishly, keeps Polaroids of all his sexual "conquests." Presumably, Diana Ross and Cher are not included in that sorry-ass scrapbook indeed. The deeply assy Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who almost derailed the first African-American President out of jealousy and gnarled resentment, is presently embarking on the lucrative lecture circuit. Asshole? Si.

What else distinguishes an asshole from, say, a "Dick," a "Prick," or even, for that matter, the errant "Bitch." Assholes, primarily, are not self-conscious about Power nor are their squeamish about its exercise thereof. In fact, assholes are not even remotely self-conscious, period. They regard people who blush or balk at direct talk of ambition as existing under the category of Sucker (tm). Assholes often seem to be governed entirely by the reptilian brain stem. Real Chimpanzee-DNA shit. They eschew meditation, glorying, instead, in raw materialism, and are always aggressively in-the-moment. On. They are alpha females and alpha males, gravitating, knuckles a-dragging to the top of their professions which usually -- but not always -- involve a lot of Power, Money and $elebrity (AKA, PM$). Jacob Zuma, the most prominent asshole in South Africa, is about to become the nation's President. Zuma, who has been mired in corruption allegations, was cleared of a rape charge in 2006. He is regarded by many as South Africa's "OJ Simpson." Still, in contrast to the icy, bloodless Thabo Mbeke, Zuma is the very embodiment of warmth and down-to-earthiness. Rape overturn be damned!

(Zardari, asshole, marrying for PM$)

Assholes, oddly, often have second and even third acts. Audacity and lack of shame precipitates these dramatic returns to Power. At the macrocosmic level: Charles Taylor went from being a prisoner in a small Massachusetts jail in 1985 to becoming a billionaire Tyrant responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Sierra Leonians. Assholes, alas, almost always triumph (pun intended) in the end. Since the concept of "Justice" is relatively subjective to the Asshole, they are tremendously elastic (Eew), bending conventional morality into whatever shape will hold the weight of their ever-upwards advancement. Henry Kissinger, one of the most prominent goddam fucking assholes of the 20th Century, has twisted the very meaning of the word "Realism" into pretzels with his political proximity to neoconservatism, which is, theoretically at loeast, its philosophical opposite. Asif Ali Zardari, "Mr. 10 Percent," who rose to the Presidency of Pakistan upon the corpse of his assasinated wife, defended himself against The New York Times magazine's account of his past life as a corrupt wastrel: "this description you give — who is fun-loving, who is easygoing, who is consumption of Scotching and wining and dining and dancing — why would that kind of man opt for a life that he knows for sure that he will have to go through a lot of trouble and tribulation?" Scotching, indeed.

(image via socal)

Finally, some assholes, despite their oily dischargy nature, are compelling. Denis Leary, a self-proclaimed asshole, is the star and co-creator of FX's "Rescue Me." This show, despite the crassness of Leary, is angry, sexy, profane and, quite frankly, fantastic. This blogger cannot help but like this show no matter how much we'd really rather not. Then again Leary, on the opposite end of the Asshole Cosmoic Continuum from a Charles Taylor, appears to be not wholly committed to disdaining the concept of Justice or even civility. Reading Leary's bio, though, it is not inconceivable that background plays a lot in the composition of the asshole's membrane. Leary came from a poor Boston background -- his mother was a maid and his father, now deceased, was an auto mechanic. It is not inconceivable that background makes the asshole. But at some point free will and civility ought to kick in and override those adverse origins. Nothing will change, though, if we keep rewarding asshole behavior. And if the present is any indication as to the trajectory of the future, we are presently "in the shit" of a High Asshole Renaissance.


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