Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Joyce Carol Oates is a monster

From her recent contribution to the torrent of Ted Kennedy remembrances:

Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

Is this what it's become? The guilt for Oates and her like over loving Teddy has seemed to overwhelm a rather intelligent woman's last grasp on logic. We're now justifying the kind of callousness and negligence that led to a young woman's unnecessary death — and it's worth noting that she was a wonderful, liberal woman who had dedicated much of her short life to the cause of civil rights — by measuring what that person does with the rest of his undeservedly free life?

And then, this horrifying sentence from someone with much less of a Q rating (and hopefully influence), worse than anything I've heard usual whipping boys O'Reilly, Beck or Limbaugh say recently (though I'm sure they're scrambling now that the stakes have been raised):

Who knows -- maybe she'd feel it was worth it.

I don't suppose it's worth mentioning that Kennedy's worth as a politician is in the eyes of the beholder; one shouldn't need to point out to Oates and the HuffPoTroll (HPT from here on out) that there's a significant portion of the American population that wished he was locked up precisely to prevent his "second act." No, even if it were accepted by every person in America that Kennedy's contributions as a politician were positive, it would not aid their arguments in the slightest.

There is something so completely revolting about how easily Oates, HPT and many Kennedy defenders, have sloughed off the death of Mary Jo Kopechne as nothing more than a "nadir" of an otherwise great man's life. Perhaps Oates requires reminding that actual human lives aren't slaves to a narrative arc; Kennedy was no vessel for a fiction writer. He was a real man, who could have had the political career he did without Kopechne's death. And Kopechne was a real woman — do we really need to trot out the "somebody's daughter" bullshit to make this point? — who herself aimed to make a real difference in this country. Who knows? Maybe she could have been an even more influential figure in the civil rights movement than Teddy himself?

Maybe I'm expecting too much from the writers who clearly were trying to set themselves apart from the chatter. Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'm allowing my harsh summary judgement of Kennedy's political career — he is one of the leading proponents of the government as omnipresent force in my daily life — to cloud my dim view of Oates and HPT's rather cruel-sounding calculus.

But to accept what they've said is to accept that the ends always justify the means. And many of our worst sins as a country and a human race have been perpetrated using that very justification, including many of the sins we continue to commit today. And it also makes me wonder if Oates, and HPT, believe we should start searching our penitentiaries for more men like Kennedy, who simply needed their own "nadir" before doing great things. Because, surely, these lions of equality and liberalism don't believe such redemption is only available to the rich and privileged.