Sometimes I wounder if Michael is delusional or oblivious or both and specially when is anchoring his CNN morning show.
Michael Smerconish is a mouse stomper. Let me explain. It's 1986 and I'm in New York to interview the Beastie Boys about their groundbreaking but incredibly sexist new album License to Ill. Early into our time together, one of them spots a mouse that he stomps on repeatedly. When this fails to kill the wee critter, the shrieking Beasties try to beat it to death with a heavy hardback book.
"It's still moving! Get the gun! Get the gun!"
The gun is gotten, and a Beastie stands over the mouse and pumps pellet after pellet into the rodent's still twitching ass.
Being a Brit, I remember thinking, "It's no wonder you guys lost in Vietnam."
Then just last week I read Michael Smerconish's book Muzzled, and the image of that poor mouse--its furry little corpse mashed to a disgusting squidgy pulp by these lumbering mammoths of rampant political incorrectness--sprung irresistibly to mind.
Instead of Becoming a Punk Like All the Other Misf its ...
This past week I have eaten, drunk and dreamed Michael Smerconish, who has a radio talk show from 5:30 to 9 a.m. on WPHT-AM 1210. I've seen him on MSNBC and Fox, where he's become conservative pinch-hitter du jour. I've barked angrily or nodded sagely at his Daily News columns.
Yes, I've stared long and hard into those icy blue timberwolf eyes set in a cheeky face that just screams out to have its jowls affectionately wibble-wobbled by oochie-coochie-cooing old ladies.
Brother Mike, I know your pain.
Though I know little of your formative years, you must have realized early on--as I did--that you'd be excluded from all the ace jobs in life--sports star, movie star, top male model, etc. And so you read and talked. And talked. Talked so much, in fact, that you were always being told to shut the eff up, to stop being so freaking opinionated.
Oh how I've walked in your shoes, Mike.
I too was a massively unshaggable, totally uncool, fat-faced teen freak at the cusp of the '70s and '80s, ranting about politics and the state of the world while my cooler peers were dressing up like dogs' dinners on acid and destroying their minds with amphetamines, glue and the irritatingly addictive stomp-rock music of super-bouffanted English bricklayers dressed like Liberace on steroids and gay drugs.
Amazing time to be a teenager, wasn't it? I still recall the blazing hot summer of 1977. You remember that summer, Mike? That last glorious, never-to-be-repeated explosion of youth culture at the tail end of the baby boom? When heavy metal excess and prog-rock pretension were being swept away by the stutteringly primal primitivism of punk rock?
This is where we parted ways, Mike. I threw myself head-first into the punk vortex, absorbing its exhilarating antifascist rhetoric (running street battles with moronic National Front Nazis) and its brain-exploding sexual liberation--the whole wonderful messy experiment-cum-no-brakes-cultural-rollercoaster-ride streaked through with righteous antisexism (and of course, like all the best youth moments, queer as hell).
Where were you, Mike?
This was to be your moment. Your graduation, your Woodstock, your prom night, your loss of virginity, your Altamont, your bar mitzvah and your holy communion all in one big, spiky, laughing, enlightening, educating, liberating, empowering lightning ball of anarcho-Marxist free love.
You were 15 in 1977, Mike--17 in '79, the year punk flashbacked to the States and mutated into hardcore. It was incredibly exhilarating, an amazing time to be young, ugly, massively overopinionated and full of creative spunk and a hugely inflated sense of importance.
Punk rock was your birthright, Mike. Where were you?
Heart on: Smerconish drooled over Ronnie Raygun.
... You Became a Republican!
Good God, man.
A mod would've been bad. A headbanger or a goth or a skinhead--that would've sucked.
But a young Republican? Wow.
It's like you got the chance to bone Debbie Harry, but you ran away screaming and stuck your dick in a pig. You fell in love instead with an aging, avuncular born-again Christian ex-cowboy actor and corporate spokesperson with twinkly eyes, a black heart and a mouth oozing satanic syrup.
While the rest of us were bewitched by the twitching swagger of walking corpse Sid Vicious, or the hypnotic ferret-eyed Dickensian cynicism of John Lydon, or the subverted S&M; ice-queen proto-goth chic of sinisterly sexy Siouxsie Sioux--you fell in love with the stiff Antichrist, the suburban Satan, Mr. 666 himself--Ronald Wilson Reagan.
And this is the bit I really find hard to understand, Mike. You were--and still are--a practicing Catholic, with a keen sense of right and wrong.
Yet you saw nothing wrong with the wholesale slaughter of liberal Catholic clergy by Reagan administration-trained Central American death squads.
You saw nothing wrong with Reagan's support for squalid antidemocratic right-wing dictatorships in Central America and elsewhere (including our good friend Saddam Hussein).
You saw nothing wrong when, on March 24, 1980, the Reagan-backed El Salvadorian dictatorship shot down Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero for daring to call, in the name of Christ, for an end to the repression.
Or when, just 11 months later, the same Reagan-backed regime (funded by Washington to the tune of $1 million a day) sent a U.S.-trained and -equipped "antiterrorist" death squad to the village of El Mozot, where they massacred 800 men, women and children (after first torturing the men).
You saw nothing wrong when Reagan declared that the "dirty war"-fighting Contra terrorists were "the moral equivalents of our founding fathers." Or with Reagan's support for the right-wing government in Honduras that murdered more than 200,000 indigenous people over a 36-year period.
But hey, they were probably all communists or something, right?
So when your peers, your fellow politicized punk-era gobshites--like Joe Strummer and Jello Biafra--were ranting and raving in horror and disgust at the torture and murder of all those innocent men women and--God help us, Mike--children, where were you?
Busy, by your own admission, voting for every swivel-eyed psychopath-supporting Republican presidential candidate that came trotting down the turnpike.
For shame, Mike.
Which Means You Embraced Ronnie Raygun ...
And even today--with hindsight and all those books and newspapers and blogs you've read and keep reading, with all that education you've stuffed into that sexily shiny head--you still don't see anything fundamentally wrong with Iran-Contra Ronnie. Never mind evil. You even gave your kid the middle name Wilson to honor his memory.
Hell, those sure are some fancy blinkers you've got there, Mike.
Maybe you've rationalized it all away to yourself. The way Stalinists explained away the gulags, or right-wing revisionists explain away the Vietnam War massacres. Like the way you rationalized the alleged massacre of unarmed Iraqi civilians at Haditha as an unfortunately covered up but perfectly understandable overreaction.
"Isn't it conceivable" you wrote in the Daily News, "that the Marines, under attack or believing they were under attack, shot up the area with their automatic weapons, mistakenly killing innocent civilians in the process? Then, fully understanding that the media would vilify them for their mistake, they compounded their error and lied."
Meaning the liberal media was to blame. So that makes it all right then.
Or when you airily dismiss the shameful and nauseating Abu Ghraib photos with sentiments like, "Hey, it was half-dozen dopes out of 140,000; we're sorry, now give it a rest."
Or when you still claim--totally straight-faced--there was enough real, solid evidence of a link between the Al Qaeda-hating Saddam Hussein and 9/11 to justify risking the lives and limbs of coalition troops in an unprovoked invasion.
(More than 2,500 American dead and nearly 19,000 wounded at the time of this writing.)
Or when you snuggle up in the same political bed as the fundamentalist Protestants who passionately worship a god they sincerely believe will condemn you and your family and indeed all Catholics--along with all the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, environmentalists and of course gays--to burn for all eternity in a lake of fire.
How can you do that? As a Christian? As a Catholic? As an intelligent, rational, thinking human being?
Don't these deluded bigots--the very heart of the Republican core vote--scare the hell out of you? Don't they turn your stomach? Don't the "radical Islam"-hating hairs on the back of your neck (assuming you haven't shaved them all off too) rise up in horror every time you see Dubya cozying up to their equally bigoted (abortion-clinic-bombing, gay-hating, women-loathing, medieval-minded and stone-age-moraled) Christian equivalents?
Wow, Mike, for a good Catholic boy, them blinkers are wicked big, bro! They come with surround sound?
... Which Led to Your Passionate Hatred of All Things PC
"I recently passed a woman in an airport who was wearing a 'Buck Fush' T-shirt," you wrote in a recent Daily News column. "I thought to myself, has she no regard for the fact that lives are at stake? Has she no decency?"
She has decency, Mike, by the bucketload. She has "regard for the lives at stake" by the ton. That's why she's wearing the T-shirt. If you had one iota of punk in your 44-year-old bones, you'd know that.
There's another T-shirt now doing the rounds. It's made by the always wonderfully politically incorrect manufacturer T-Shirt Hell. With your passionate hatred of PC (and your oft-repeated conviction that the lack of racist jokes on TV makes us a soft target in the war on terror), you'd love these guys, Mike. They don't give a tinker's cuss whom they offend. They get spittingly angry letters of complaint from blacks, Latinos, women, Catholics, Protestants, bald guys with glasses, feminists, Democrats, tree-huggers and peace activists.
One of their latest shirts--and remember, Mike, this is in an America you seriously claim is so up its own PC ass that everybody's too scared to say anything that might possibly offend somebody else--reads: "I'M READY FOR A FEMALE PRESIDENT (TO SIT ON MY COCK)."
Did you laugh, Mike?
I know I did. And I'm the sort of pinko douchebag sissy who watches Commander in Chief and cries tears of real hope (while wearing a strap-on man-gina, hugging a bit of tree and setting fire to a tiny American flag while thinking bad things about our troops). And so did my feminist wife.
And here's T-Shirt Hell's latest bestseller. It reads: "THE LATEST PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL RATING POLL SHOWS THAT NEARLY 1/3 OF AMERICANS ARE FUCKING IDIOTS."
And on http://www.tshirthell.com a picture of this T-shirt comes with the explanatory text: "Which is why I smack 1 out of every 3 people I see with a sack of batteries."
Did you laugh, Mike? Or was it not politically correct enough for you?
Whistling dixie: And Nugent rocks his world. Getty Images.
And Worst of All, an Affection for Yes ... and Good Lord ...
Thing is, one-third of Americans--despite the lies about the nonexistent links between Saddam and 9/11, despite Halliburton, despite the sleaze, despite the failure to capture bin Laden or to find any WMDs, despite the outing of an active CIA operative, despite the incompetence over New Orleans, despite the advocacy and use of torture and the horrific and horribly un-American excesses of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, despite the awe-inspiring failure to control the national debt--would still vote for GWB.
If Dubya personally visited each and every one of these demented motherfuckers and shot their dogs, he'd still get their vote.
Curiously enough, this one-third figure almost exactly matches the proportion of the U.K. electorate that voted for the burnt-out, utterly discredited, sleaze-ridden, corruption-riddled, scandal-crippled and massively hated British Conservative Party in the 1997 election that first swept Tony Blair to power.
Does this mean one-third of any given population is evil? Or stupid? Or deluded? Or some combination of the three?
And if so--which is Michael Smerconish?
You know what, Mike? I don't think you're any of the above. I think, not so deep down, you really, really want to change sides, to embrace truth, justice and the American way, and--like Saul on the road to Damascus--to finally, joyfully and with tears in your eyes, embrace the light side of the Force.
Okay, so it'll be 20-plus years too late, Oh, if only we'd managed to lure you away from your horribly conservative hair-rock with the opening chords of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" back in the day.
When we open the official Michael A. Smerconish website (mastalk.com), we find all the evidence we need for just how badly things went during Mikey's missing punk years.
Under the heading "Michael's Favorites" we find a link to the official website for Kansas--a poodle-haired bunch of soft-rockers so hideously bland that I defy anybody possessed of the merest smidgen of taste, cool or self-respect to stand more than 10 seconds of the bone-achingly atrocious ballad that ambushes the site visitor.
Also linked is the official Ted Nugent site. And a campaign to have City Council declare Aug. 7 "Yes Day in Philadelphia" in tribute to the horrendously pretentious and autoproctological prog-rockers who were one of the main reasons we needed punk rock in the first place.
Good God almighty, how do we start a campaign to have a No Day?
I'm not saying there's a definitive link between a taste for shit hippie music and a penchant for sadly reactionary politics (although one should note that fellow right-wing opinionist Ann Coulter is a wicked keen Deadhead), but check out the mastalk.com intro page, and you're greeted with the hairy cocaine-stutter of the intro to Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."
Then the back of the Smerconish skull flashes up. It's not a spectacularly interesting, sexy or beautiful head. I mean, if you had to pick the back of the slightly shiny Smerconish cranium out of a lineup of similarly white, male, 44-year-old, middle-class slap-heads (all shaved to disguise the still rather obvious onset of premature male pattern baldness), you'd be hard pressed to pick him out unless you recognized his head from the ads plastered all over the backs of SEPTA buses five years back.
This shiny head is Mike's logo. The Smerconish brand differential. It says, "I might look and sound exactly like your dad. I may well be a conformist, status-quo-reinforcing former Bush administration employee, as well as being yet another liberal-bashing, dead-horse-flogging, fish-in-a-barrel-shooting, PC-mocking conservative radio host, but heck, I'm so out-there living-on-the-edge crazy, I let them take a photo of the back of my freaking head!"
And that's why I love the choice of mock-rebellious poodle-metal as the theme music for the Smerconish site. It steals the clothes of rebellion. It has all the poses and postures of radicalism down pat, but ultimately it's the most conservative of music forms. It comes on like the love child of Emma Goldman and Che Guevara, all the while choking on cheesy corporate cock like the forelock-tugging lickspittle it really is.
And speaking of heavy metal faux-rebels, here comes Smerconish's friend--the wizened old ax-spanking-turkey-cock-dressed-as-spring-chicken Ted Nugent. Nugent--who once defended the apartheid regime in South Africa on the grounds that Africans "still put bones in their noses, they still walk around naked, they wipe their butts with their hands [and if] you give 'em toothpaste, they fucking eat it"--is a huge fan of Smerconish.
Eargasm: No Philly Billboard gives better head.
On the back of Smerconish's book Muzzled Nugent calls the author "my American Blood Brother of status-quo-obliterating defiance" against the "cockroaches of political correctness."
And This Thing You Have About Arabs, Mike ...
Ah yes. Political correctness.
After defeating Nazism and smashing Communism, the United States of America is in moral danger of being destroyed from within by an evil coalition of femi-nazis, bin Laden huggers and the stormtroopers of gay liberation.
This is of course the most appalling nonsense--a mountain of flyblown bullshit on rhinestone-studded stilts. And yet, Mike, you've managed to write a whole book about it.
On the cover of Muzzled you appear gagged by the subtitle. Oh yeah. A right-wing, conservative, suck-up-to-the-Republicans, don't-rock-the-dominant-ideology-boat American radio host--gagged. Do we really need to waste any words on the almost surreal, inverted absurdity of that image? Nah.
The basic premise of Muzzled is that America has been so sissified by political correctness that young Arab males are being allowed to walk through airport security unchallenged by staff hamstrung by PC rules and regulations. (Muzzled shouldn't be confused with Mike's last book Flying Blind. Which was about exactly the same thing.)
Muzzled's main (make that only) point--PC equals more 9/11s--was perhaps dealt with most succinctly by Patrick Smith over at Salon, who counterargued that "the trouble with using profiling to secure our airports isn't that it's racist or discriminatory--the trouble is that it doesn't work."
Smith goes on to mention the Indian Sikh terrorists who blew up Air India Flight 182, the pregnant Irishwoman who tried to smuggle explosives onto an El Al flight, the 34-year-old white American who carried out the first ever successful sabotage of a commercial airline in 1962, the American woman who almost succeeded in skyjacking a DC-10 and crashing it into Federal Express corporate headquarters in 1994, and finally Samuel Byck, an unemployed white Philadelphia tire salesman "who stormed a Delta Air Lines DC-9 at Baltimore-Washington Airport, intending to crash it into the White House, and shot both pilots."
And Mike, what was the one thing these terrorist batshit-eaters all had in common? Not one of them was of Middle Eastern or Arab appearance.
... It Doesn't Suit You. Remember, the Brokeback Mountain Boys Were Red-Staters
So can we leave this fascinating argument and get back to the rest of the book--specifically Mike's rather curious obsession with PC?
The rest of Muzzled (we read it so you don't have to be bored catatonic) is taken up with various examples of PC zealotry. All of which you've heard about before--endless times if you're a listener of right-wing talk radio--and all of which have been extensively covered and mercilessly ridiculed by all sections of our supposedly PC-constrained liberal press.
But even you, Mike--something of an expert on this sort of thing--have tremendous difficulty making your examples fit into some vast left-wing conspiracy. Bill Hicks was banned from Letterman for mocking the wearing of the Christian cross? A Wall Street whiz kid was canned for okaying an ever so slightly risque photo?
Are these examples of left-wing political correctness? Or good old-fashioned cowardly middle-management second-guessing and bureaucratic bungling? The same tedious, pig-headed bullshit that Jaroslav Haek and Franz Kafka ridiculed so savagely and so cleverly back in proto-Nazi-riddled and hideously anti-Semitic post-WWI Prague.
Political correctness has always been with us--and most of it has always been, and still is, of the right-wing variety.
Remember the racist outrage when Kirk kissed Uhura back on Star Trek in 1968--American TV's first biracial kiss?
Before your time, Mike?
Well then, what about the Christian pressure group-orchestrated outrage when T.O. got mildly amorous with a white TV actress in a TV commercial in 2004? Or the insane hurricane of horrified gasping that supposedly swept America when it glimpsed Janet Jackson's carefully tasseled tit at that same year's Super Bowl?
If you still think PC is a left-wing disease, Mike, print up bumper stickers reading "Fuck Our Troops" or "This Flag's for Burning," then stick 'em on your car and see what happens. Go on. I dare you.
The only difference now is that we live in ever so slightly more enlightened times where, now and then, an excess of prudery or political zealotry might come from the touchy-feely liberal left--rather than, as it did in the 1950s, almost entirely from the embittered proponents of racism, sexism and homophobia.
Ah yes, the good old days, when white Americans could walk the streets with banners demanding white children be protected from the dangers of "jungle music" without fear they might be told to shut their stupid racist mouths.
'Sup, Mike? Didn't you get the point of Pleasantville? By the way, here are a few other cultural pointers you might've missed in the past 40 or so years.
The Sheriff of Nottingham, Captain Hook and Darth Vader were not the good guys. You weren't supposed to laugh when Bambi's mother got shot. Those two strapping red-staters in Brokeback Mountain were both gay, and the savages who beat one of them to death for being gay? They were almost certainly not liberals.
But Wait, Is There a Punk Yearning to Be Free ...
There's a chapter in your Muzzled, Mike, where you rant for 12 pages about one lone busybody's silly attempt to ban ladies' night in a New Jersey bar. You quote a judge as saying that such campaigns are "a little like stomping on a mouse in the kitchen when there's a tiger at the door."
Uh, okay. Like what kind of commentator--living in a city like Philadelphia, with its racism-related problems of crime, poverty, housing segregation and educational apartheid; living in an America where women are still underpaid, underrepresented and the victims of rape, assault and murder at the hands of men; living in a world where, for the first time in human history, we actually create a surplus of food, and yet people still starve--takes time out to stump so vigorously and for so long on the shrilly squeaking mouse of political correctness?
A conservative commentator.
A brave tilter at windmills, courageous flogger of dead horseflesh, ruthless executioner of trapped marine life and merciless stomper of tiny little baby mice. (Eek, eek, eek!)
But also maybe one who's actually becoming increasingly less conservative--maybe even one who's seriously contemplating defecting to the forces of truth, righteousness and enlightenment?
Mike, you've shown signs of this before. Like with the sordid coffin-jumping antics of your fellow pro-lifers in the Terry Schiavo case. You saw the hypocrisy, and said so. It was an act of common human decency that not only earned you the ire of fellow Republicans but also got you smeared in your local parish newsletter.
(And Mike, it's true, isn't it, that you're for gay marriage, and that you even contrived to sit on the fence over the intelligent design fiasco.)
And Mike, admit it, you recently attacked your fellow conservative commentator, the odious shite-hawk Ann Coulter, calling her "appalling, irrational and indefensible."
And perhaps most revealingly, in a recent interview with Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, you even went so far as to suggest you're having serious second thoughts about the disastrous foreign policies that led to 9/11--polices that can be traced all the way back to your beloved Ronald Reagan and are continued today under your latter-day hero George W. Bush.
"Only the village idiot or a neoconservative could fail to see that we abjectly failed to estimate the impact on the Muslim world of a U.S. occupation of Iraq," says Scheuer.
Amazingly, Mike, you don't contradict him.
In fact, you go on to paraphrase Sheurer's arguments in a manner that can be described only as sympathetic.
"Says Scheuer, what motivates radical Islam is American foreign policy. It's our support for Israel, our troops on the Arabian Peninsula, our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, our support for Russia, India and China against their Muslim militants, our pressure on Arab energy producers to keep prices low, and our support for tyrannical Muslim governments."
Er, like, yeah, Mike! Hey, is that the sound of the rusted, mildewed punk penny finally dropping?
... and a Yearning to Swing Leftward?
But Mike, the real evidence you're irresistibly morphing into a Main Line Menshevik is the increasingly shrill and desperate tone of your ever less frequent bursts of balls-out right-wing rhetoric.
You topped and tailed your Scheuer interview with puffed-up macho posturing about "killing" terrorists. And you finished Muzzled with one of the saddest chapters ever published in any book. Titled "Epilogue: A Letter to My Son," the chapter imagined a future America ruined by PC liberals.
Sex-changed teachers stalk the classrooms, homosexuals run rampant in the Boy Scouts, eight of the 10 commandments are illegal, Monica Clinton is first lady, former president Hillary Clinton hung a picture of Jesus Christ smeared in elephant dung on the Oval Office wall, and the entire country is occupied by the U.N.
It's sad, Mike. Really sad. It reads like the desperate attempt of a wavering, drawn-to-the-light backslider trying to keep in touch with his perceived misogynist, homophobic, tinfoil-hat-wearing right-wing-radio-listening fan base. It reads like a cry for help.
Hey, Mike, we're not the only ones to have noticed your glacial leftward slide. Wayne Lutz--editor, publisher and chief writer of the nutty right-wing mag The Tocquevillian--recently bellowed, "For crying out loud, Mike, grow a set and wear 'em with pride, will you?"
And most damningly of all, on your website Ted Nugent refers to you as a "moderate" conservative.
It's Time, Mike. Cross Over. You'll Be Safe. Honest
Jesus, JFK, Jello Biafra and Joe Strummer are waiting for you in the light, ready to hose you down, oil your feet and remove that vile crown of thorns you've made yourself wear for all these long, lonely decades.
And they've got a shitload of great records for you to catch up with too.
You're gonna love X-Ray Spex.
So whenever you're ready, Sunshine, we're ready to embrace you.
Just walk toward the light.
Steven Wells (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes the On the Radar column.
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