Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bush and Cheney: The Hippie Kings

Remember hippies? No, not those loveable, ditsy, daffy, dope-smoking Wavy Gravy wannabes. I’m talking about a species of hippie largely forgotten these days: The Evil Hippie.

You could find The Evil Hippie somewhere on the socio-cultural spectrum between Hell’s Angels and Jim Jones. If you’re of a certain age, you remember The Evil Hippie first-hand. I’m just on the cusp of that age, but I do remember the lingering influence evil hippies had on pop culture. I seem to remember them showing up a lot on The Mod Squad and Adam-12.

Of course, no evil hippie both epitomized and transcended the species’ defining traits anywhere near as spectacularly as Charles Manson did. Manson created the hippie cult of personality known as the Manson Family, which eventually committed several grisly murders in California based on perhaps the most egregious misinterpretation of rock lyrics known to history.

I’m going to use Manson as an exemplar of The Evil Hippie not (just) because his reign ended in the spilling of innocent blood, but because the particulars of his case are by far the best-known instances of Evil Hippiedom.

But first, a quick, necessary tangent on the evolution of the genus Hippie. The nearest ancestor of the Hippie, of course, is The Beatnik (although many hippies erroneously claimed a stronger genealogical link to The Negro). The mutation from Beatnik to Hippie was triggered largely by the campus counterculture of the early ‘60s, led by student activists such as Mario Savio, and organized in groups such as Students for a Democratic Society. Bill Clinton is a rare extant example of this early breed of hippie, the Utopian Intellectual Hippie.

Mutations are, of course, the engine of evolution. And mutations arise, in essence, from mistakes in transmission of genetic code – inaccurately relayed information. That’s how The Evil Hippie was born. Early hippiedom rejected corporate, mainstream mores in favor of lifestyles and ethical codes that provided for personal fulfillment, stronger communal ties and greater commitment to one’s society and environment. The ethos of the early Hippie was expressed in such slogans as “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” and “If it feels good, do it.”

Repeated transmission of the hippie code revealed rejection of the government's laws as a dominant gene, while almost no one inherited the recessive trait that obliged its carriers to adopt the code’s moral burdens. Thus, “if it feels good, do it” became an endorsement of short-term hedonism, rather than an injunction to ensure that your actions meet not just your sensory approval, but also your intellectual, logical and moral approval. “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” became a call to retreat from academia, the workplace and society, minus the prerequisite of “tuning in” to the broader, more meaningful society that lay unrealized in the future. And, “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” was seen as a simple urging “to live outside the law,” instead of what it was: A caveat that those who reject prevailing law must in that moral vacuum become even more scrupulous, and develop their own, more-exacting code.

From this replication error, the Utopian Intellectual Hippie swiftly gave way to the Hedonistic Drug-Addled Hippie, and its sub-species (marked by high rates of amoral ambition): The Evil Hippie. The Evil Hippie’s codes: “Turn on, drop out,” “Live outside the law,” “Do it.”

George Bush and Dick Cheney are Evil Hippies.

How can this be? How can such icons of mainstream, corporate, traditional America be hippies, of any variety? Don’t let the suits fool you. They’ve put clean shirts over the tie-dyes and tucked their pony-tails under their baseball caps so you’ll let them in the house to do odd jobs, never dreaming from their appearance that the real goal of these nice boys is to steal your Hi-Fi and drink all your Scotch. Remember, both Bush and Cheney came of age during the Age of Aquarius, uninterested in the philosophical challenges inherent in Utopian Hippiedom, but powerfully drawn by Flower Power, the appeal of both corporeal and ethical Hedonistic Hippiedom.

George Bush may be closer to the Hedonistic Drug-Addled Hippie than to the true Evil Hippie. But Cheney, clearly, defines the modern-day iteration of Evil Hippie. That this dynamic works well for the two should come as little surprise. It wasn’t unusual for a hippie commune to have a smiling, peace-and-love front man out on the porch, while real control of the operation lay with the surly, violent, sociopath who skulked in a dank, fetid, windowless room in the back. That’s the template for this White House: Dick Cheney is Charles Manson, George Bush is Cheney’s Bobby Beausoleil.

Like many of their fellow hippies, both Bush and Cheney had run-ins with The Man during their (extended) youths. Bush used to get into it with his uptight, straight-laced Old Man. And Cheney certainly wasn't the only hippie who had better things to do than serve his country: "I had other priorities in the '60s," he said. Hell no, he wouldn’t go. Bush couldn’t get out of it, but like a good hippie made sure he stayed far from all that uncool violence, man, hanging out stateside where he could skip out on his responsibilities and continue having a good time. "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada," he said, referring to the tactics of some of his more courageous hippie brethren.

Academically, Bush and Cheney both failed. One professor said Bush scored in the bottom 10 percent of his class. Cheney took Timothy Leary literally, and dropped out. Bush and Cheney also both failed when they tried to make it on their own in the business world. Bush again failed when he tried to become a part of The Establishment. (In this regard, Bush/Cheney diverge from Manson, who actually did succeed in creating a commercially viable product, namely the song, “Never Learn Not to Love”, which was recorded by The Beach Boys). Only when the Old Boys Network enabled Bush's Old Man to set him up in the family business could Bush pass himself off as a successful, card-carrying resident of Squaresville.

And today? Today, the Bush/Cheney Family has embraced and champions and thrives within the intellectual legacy of the hippies: Relativism, or deconstructionism, if you prefer. Kurt Andersen alluded to this in a recent column for New York magazine and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few years. Relativism (which I’m, lazily, going to use as synonymous with deconstructionism) is the philosophical analogue of the Hippie. It started well, with good, honorable intentions, but somewhere along the line it went awry, if only due to general misunderstanding and simplification of its principles.

Today, relativism has been misinterpreted in such a way as to make possible commonplace acceptance of such absurd corollaries as: We all deserve respect, It’s all a matter of perspective, and Everything’s relative. Well, we don’t all deserve respect, not all of it is a matter of perspective and not everything is relative (at least, not in every way). Relativism’s challenge that we rethink what we know and how we know it has led to the mistaken belief that we don’t know anything and we don’t know how to know anything. There's a principle in logic that if you can prove both a and -a, then you're entitled to conclude whatever you want. Relativism has been interpreted the same way, as if every proposition now carries equal weight, demands equal respect. That, initially, eradicated the left’s ability to challenge absurd ideas originating from the left.

Now, more dangerously, it's rendered the left impotent against absurd ideas originating from the right.

Thus, Democratic political campaigns eschew critical ads as "negative" or even "attack" ads. The media accept the bizarro notion that explaining creationism constitutes "balance." The media also never say what's demonstrably true; the most they'll do is quote whoever says that it's true. Bush's brand of Christianity is tolerated -- rather than subjected to rigorous scrutiny -- because everyone's belief system is entitled to respect. And so on.

Bush has taken this trippy notion of reality to extremes beyond the wildest phantasias of any '60s commune. Bush doesn't just have visions of an alternate plane of reality, he genuinely believes he's creating an alternate reality. How do we know this? A top Bush advisor said so, in a story written by journalist Ron Suskind:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out."
The quotation would have been no more clearly a product of The Evil Hippie if it had read, "We create our own reality, man."

Manson, the Evil Hippie archetype:
1. Created his own reality in which he was a divine presence.
2. Twisted irrelevant and benign information (Beatles lyrics) into a casus belli.
3. Launched an unprovoked attack with the intent of fomenting a larger war (the Tate-LoBianco murders were intended to spark a race war, from which the Manson Family would emerge as dominant survivors).
Bush, the Evil Hippie front man:
1. Has "this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do," according to what Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, told Suskind.
2. Twisted information both irrelevant (Sept. 11) and benign (Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities") into a casus belli.
3. Launched an unprovoked attack with the intent of fomenting a larger war (the neo-con group Project for a New American Century suggested that it would take
"a new Pearl Harbor" to justify war with Iraq, a war that Bush has openly said is intended to spark political, if not revolutionary, change beyond Iraq's borders).
Bush told his first ghostwriter he wanted the chance for war with Iraq so that he could accumulate political capital and "get everything passed that I want to get passed." Cheney continues to make money as a war profiteer. The disparity in their goals and in the results they reap again shows us Bush on the front porch, the Jesus Freak grooving on the godhead-trip, while Cheney the Lizard King sits in the dark counting the money.

We even find in both Bush and Manson an aversion to cities -- those marketplaces of ideas, where rivals will scrutinize and criticize you. Instead, they prefer private, insular communes where they can be surrounded by unthinking, uncritical followers, with no gay guys in sight, but a special emphasis on compliant chicks (and what bad-ass hippie commune would be complete without at least one lesbian and someone's Old Lady who had once killed a guy?) Like Manson, Bush even chose as his compound of choice a ranch that isn't really a ranch.

So, what does all this tell us about Bush and Cheney? It helps us predict how they will behave, for one thing. But more importantly, I think it suggests how they and their followers can be beaten. They can be beaten the same way the hippies were. Yes, the hippie lifestyle largely crumbled under the burdens of its own consequences. But we can't wait that long, or bear that burden. We have to assault today's Evil Hippie the same way the right once confronted every hippie.

We must call a space case a space case. We must reject nonsense as nonsense. We must assert that some things are nonsense, and provably so. We must reject the claim that every idea is equal. We must do for real what the conservatives claimed they did: Defend not just the implementation of prevailing law, but the morality of it. Demand accountability. Impose consequences. Reject relativism. Impose the reality that 2+2=4.

Only after we genuinely embrace and hold ourselves accountable to "traditional" standards - that there is right and wrong, that actions do have consequences, that punishment for wrongdoing is proper - can we then begin to apply those standards to the president and his hippie friends.


Roger Drowne EC and HIP said...

YIPIE - The Good - The Visionary - and the Peaceful... HIPPIE

SEE a ( Real Life ) Old... HIPPIE from the 60 ies...

Before they are all EXTINCT

Thank U, Another, OLD HIP HIPPIE EC
" IMAGINE " Still Live, living on Earth... Creating, Building A More Peace-Full Earth 4 All EARTH CITIZENS !

loki23 said...

I understand what you are trying to say, but deconstruction and relativism are not the same thing. There is a morality to deconstruction/ post-structural thought. Derrida worked very hard to bring distinction between pure relativism and his philosphies. Deconstruction works better as a model for examining interpretations, recognizing forces and drives(cultural, polical, etc.) behind conclusions (interpretations) people draw. Derrida was trying to expose facsism and tyranny in taken-for-granted-logic and interpretation. Bush and Chaney (as well as their ilk) do the opposite of this. Instead of promoting freedom, they stifle it, and for their own sake. If anything they are both reactionaries and products of the reaction and revulsion to freedom. A better cultural icon than evil hippie would be the evil frat guy. At least we can both agree about the evil part.

Petty Larseny said...

Hey Loki,
I tried to acknowledge that I was somewhat off-base in using deconstructionism and relativism synonymously. My point is not that Bush and Cheney embrace either of these stances, but that they, like much of the left, embrace bastardized versions of them. And while I'm defending my own simplifications, I think the frat boy analogy is somewhat too simple, as well. It may fit both Bush and Cheney, but I don't know that it illuminates them as much as (I humbly think) the hippie analogy does. Thanks for sharing your insights!

Bruce said...

The idea that Bush and Cheney are in some ways tied to hippies is the most convoluted notion on hippies that I ever read.

Yes there were people in the hippie movement that were criminal.

No, Bush and Cheney are not hippies. They are criminals.

Your reasoning seems to be hippies had criminals. Bush and Cheney are criminals. Therefore they are hippies.

Before you posit further augments like that, why not take a course in logical and critical thinking.

How dare you slander the good name of hippies with this garbage. You are misguided in your efforts to associate people like Bush and Cheney with hippies when their administration is trying to eradicate the mostly good effects that the hippie counterculture had in the Sixties.

Anonymous said...

Why over complicate things?

Both Bush and Cheney are simply military fascists, and con men, stealing Iraqi oil revenues and U.S. tax dollars.

Manson was crazy. But these two are nothing more than thieves masquerading as Republicans. Their cult of personality is with other thieves, who are also masquerading as Republicans. They resort to any means necessary to enrichen themselves. They don't care who gets hurt or who dies in the process.

They are not hippies, they are gangsters!


Petty Larseny said...


Sorry if I wasn't sufficiently clear about this -- but my point is that Bush and Cheney represent a perversion of all that is good and loveable and noble about hippies. That's why my thesis is not that they are hippies, but Evil Hippies. My argument, by the way, was not that they are Evil Hippies because they had confrontations with the law, but that they are Evil Hippies because they rejected The Man's law without developing a moral code of their own, as the hippie credo "to live outside the law, you must be honest," demanded of them. As for my educational background, you may not like the results of it, but it actually happens to include one college course in Logic and another in Computational Theory. (Full disclosure: I got a pretty poor grade in the latter, but a pretty good grade in the former.)

ceej said...

check out

How unpatriotic of this guy to not say something before the last election.

wapsie said...

I have some late "hippie" literature -- from 1974 or so -- and there are some stunning similarities between the ideas expressed in it and those of contemporary "conservatism." Gone from that literature: caring and concern for the environment and other people.

Kept: self-interest, disregard for common good or the public interest. Worship of any and all technology as a means to private "empowerment". Home schooling as the antidote to notions of citizenship and civic duty, regarded as poisonous to self-fulfillment.

Ah, yes, and pastoralism: Country folk good, city folk bad. Cities as poison to the soul.

And don't forget that hippies with their romantic ideas about peasant-style life were as sexist as hell. Guess who did all the cooking and child-rearing on those communes.

And don't forget the "Jesus freaks" -- the fundamentalist Christian hippies of the mid- to late 70s.

There is some interesting history tet to be written about this stuff, I think.

CitizenSteve said...

Hey there Jonathan,
You certainly have stirred the pot by bringing up Hippies. I'm taking your references to Hippies and Evil Hippies as allegory... that way it makes sense. ;-) What you've presented is a fine description of the media construct of Hippies and Evil Hippie. You've woven a good story. I like your evolutionary theory... "mutation from Beatnik to Hippie": from Maynard G. Krebs to Wavy Gravy.
I follow your Manson Bush comparison, but Charlie gathered and brainwashed his own followers (I knew a couple of them before they were drawn into "The Manson Family")while George has had his followers (some of them live right across the street from me) supplied by the Rabid-Right. Personally I think the cult-ish-ness elements are more relevant than the Hippie-esque-ness of Manson and Bush. But; Bill Clinton, Rhodes Scholar Hippie? What man, are ya trippin'? :-)

Chris said...

Awesome article, but I don't think that 2+2=4 is incompatible with Relativism. Relativism simply states that there are no privileged frames of reference, just as physics is based on the fact that there are no privileged frames of reference regarding motion in the universe. Physics works just fine under that premise, and similarly, I don't see why moral relativism should necessarily preclude statements of fact in ethics. We can be moral relativists and still call nonsense for what it is.

Anonymous said...

If you took the time to check any of the biographical data about Bush and Cheney, you would know that neither was a hippie of any sort. Get real.

Jonathan Strong said...

The analogy of the alteration of ideas as the alteration of a gene pool does not correspond very well with reality.

DocGonzo said...

Someone else, at the Daily Kos, just stumbled independently onto the truth that Bush/Cheney run "The Hippie White House".

اليوتيوب said...

well done i also hate those guys

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