Barack Obama’s presidency is a disaster. But however low the Dow drops, however high unemployment goes, however many more times we engage in dubious foreign policy adventures like the Libyan war, one thing is for sure: Conservatives will never call for the assassination of the president. Not the way one leftist writer did in August 2004.
That was when Knopf published Nicholson Baker’s novel “Checkpoint.” The book has been largely forgotten, and justly so. It is a thin little piece of snot that imagines a conversation in a Washington, D.C. hotel between Jay and Ben, two friends. Jay, a former teacher, wants to assassinate President George W. Bush. Ben tries to convince him otherwise.
That is to say, Ben sort of tries to convince Jay not to shoot Bush. As Jay boils with rage at his impotence at stopping the war in Iraq, calling the president a “Penisfucker,” Ben slips and asks Jay how “we” plan on carrying out the deed. It’s clear that he sympathizes.
With President Obama whining about “incivility” because people have called him a socialist, it’s important to recall “Checkpoint.” It’s important to remind ourselves how deeply and pathologically the left hates.
It’s important to recall that, when the left accuses the Tea Party of violent rhetoric, in August 2004 one of the oldest and most prestigious publishing houses in the world published a sympathetic portrayal of a man who wanted to murder George W. Bush.
Dear reader, ponder for a moment the reverse happening today. Imagine if, say, Regnery or some other conservative publisher issued a novel that depicted two people talking about killing Barack Obama.
Imagine what Chris Matthews would do.
“Checkpoint” received uneven reviews. Leon Wieseltier kneecapped it in The New York Times, calling it “a scummy little book.” But others were sympathetic. John Freeman in the Portland Phoenix said this:
Plenty of political thrillers have revolved around plots to assassinate a president, but the odd thing about Checkpoint is how real and how current are the frustrations which push Jay over the edge. Sure, this is a short book, but it references everything from Halliburton to the odd disappearance of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
See, the frustrations that push Jay over the edge are “real and current.” Feel the crazy verisimilitude. Before “Checkpoint” was issued, Linton Weeks in The Washington Post filed this report:
The novel, says Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards, “is a portrait of an anguished protagonist pushed to extremes. Baker is using the framework and story structure as a narrative device to express the discontent many in America are feeling right now.”
Bogaards says: “It is not the first time a novelist has chosen fiction to express their point of view about American society or politics. Upton Sinclair did it. So did John Steinbeck. Nick Baker does it with more nerve and fewer pages.”
Think about what The Washington Post would say if the target were President Obama.
In “Checkpoint,” Jay confesses that what he is feeling is “a new kind of anger.” About this he is right.
Today’s raging left is different from the old left. As thinkers from Christopher Lasch to James Hitchcock and Charles Krauthammer have observed, today’s left is debilitated by psychological problems, not just political grievances. Living in Washington, the epicenter of political demonstrations, I have had the opportunity to witness an unhinged Tea Party member or two, like the dude screaming about communism because Obama wants to raise taxes.
But there is something different about the crazy left. For one, I think there are more of them, and that they get a pass in the media. Note how Karl Rove and others are often the first to renounce dumb and violent rhetoric on their own side, like Rick Perry’s recent “lynching” comment.
Secondly, conservatives, unlike liberals, do not have an investment in creating a utopia on earth. We are not disciples of the religion of Progress, which holds that the cosmos is working towards some grand New World Nirvana where pain and suffering do not exist.
We also understand Neuhaus’s law: When orthodox and core values are made optional, sooner or later they are proscribed.
We understand that the left is never satisfied. (Seriously, how long before a church gets sued for not performing a gay marriage?)
Therefore, we do not fly into a tantrum when the Great Grand Cosmic Progressive Design is thwarted by a governor somewhere who cuts taxes by 1%. We’re just not that politically religious.
And, of course, there is the problem of pathological narcissism. This is not self-love, but its opposite: a gaping hole in the person where his or her core self should reside.
If children are not properly raised, disciplined and socialized, they retain crude, monstrous images about the world in their psyches. They see ogres in everyone who does not respond to their needs, and potential disaster in every dispute — especially when that narcissism is commingled with the religion of Progress.
Of course, there is narcissism on both sides of the aisle. But conservatives haven’t written any fantasies about killing the president.
Mark Judge is the author of Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.