Friends Whom I Dislike

It’s funny to see John McCain realize, so late in the game, that he really does want to be president”€”even more than he wants the editors of Washington monthlies to admire him. For most of this campaign, he has behaved like the kind of insufferable goody-two-shoes who in student council elections would talk about “€œcivic duty,”€ and refuse to vote for himself”€”while the budding Irish wardheeler running against him is spreading rumors that he’s gay.

In going after Barak Obama’s connection to a seedy old 60s terrorist, McCain is finally tapping into the same ruthless ambition that long ago led him to dump the wife who”€™d waited for him and raised their kids while he was a POW”€”for a skinnier, younger heiress who could fund his rise to power. Of course, his marital gambit required less tough-mindedness than cold-heartedness, and those qualities aren”€™t quite the same.

I can”€™t help laughing that a candidate who peddled an immigration amnesty by slandering its opponents with charges of intolerance has waited this long to point out that a candidate who is, er, close friends with rabid, anti-American terrorists just might not be the right choice this year. I mean, you could decide to hire an arsonist as your city’s Fire Commissioner”€”on the theory that he knows the field better than nearly anyone. He just looks at it from the opposite point of view.

But Bill Ayers isn”€™t the first unsavory acquaintance a candidate has had to throw under the bus this year. We all remember Jeremiah White Wright, the pastor of the Marxist-inflected, pro-homosexual church that gave Obama his solid, “€œI”€™m not a Moslem”€ credentials. No, Senator, I believe you aren”€™t a Moslem. There are moderate Moslems. Senator Obama stands in quite a different, distinctly American tradition: He belongs to a crank religion. Trinity United Church of Christ is a fire-breathing congregation of pro-gay, leftist racialists with no more claim to the Cross than some Christian Identity (“€œWE BELIEVE the White, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and kindred people to be God’s true, literal Children of Israel.”€) chapel surrounded by razor wire in Idaho.  It’s amazing that Sen. Obama managed to clean off the stench of these long-time comrades. But this is the year of shedding appalling friends one picked up along the way….

Senator McCain no sooner gained the endorsement of Rev. John Hagee than he had to start crabwalking away. An oleaginous maniac, Hagee views Catholics as “€œJohns”€ who inhabit the womb of the Whore of Babylon, and denies that Jesus was the Messiah. He is also a leading advocate of Christian Zionism”€”the theory that Jesus gave nukes to American Christians so we could use them to help secular Israel recreate the Kingdom of Solomon, the better to spark a worldwide war with a billion Moslems that would bring the Antichrist to power. Now, call me an adherent of Realpolitik, but I don”€™t think that’s good public policy. Hagee is too refined to refer to an older woman like Gov. Palin as a “€œMILF,”€ but I”€™ve no doubt that when he looks at her son he sees a GILFSI: a “€œGentile I”€™d Like to Send to Fight for Israel.”€

Let me warn Rev. Hagee’s neighbors: In case of Rapture, all those snakes he handles are likely to crawl out of his Quonset hut and into your yard. Best ready yourselves for the End Times: Fast, pray, gird your loins, and buy a mongoose.

I know how the senators feel. Over the years, as a die-hard activist in right-wing and Catholic circles, I”€™ve accumulated my own collection of folks whose doings and sayings don”€™t hold up in the light of day. Since I”€™m not running for president, and what reputation I had has been ruined for good by these columns, my reasons for backing away from all these people are not political. It isn”€™t business, just personal.

I”€™m not here acting like Norman Podhoretz, who issued his book Ex-Friends like a papal interdict, attacking political enemies. Instead, I refer to the kind of acquaintance everybody picks up in the course of life, and somehow feels saddled with”€”sometimes for years. This creature I call the FWID, for “€œFriend Whom I Dislike.”€

Come on, you know what I mean. If you”€™ve spent much time at all promoting minority views in hostile territory”€”sticking up for Western civilization at a liberal arts college, Latin liturgy in the Catholic Church, or conservative principles among Republicans”€”you”€™ve come across people who share some of your views, and spent hours in their company trading ideas. Smoking cigars. Calling each other up to complain about the New York Times, and compile a lengthy response no one will publish. In fact, you might not even have to finish writing it; just sharing it with a kindred spirit helps you feel less like a lone gunmen, and more like part of a burgeoning conspiracy against the Kennedies.

The further you squirrel yourself away in an ideological hole, the more time you”€™ll find yourself spending with folks like this. You”€™re brought together not by affinity but by a common cause and sense of persecution”€”which is often entirely imaginary, since your program is so obscure that no one bothers. You dream of the day when the FBI would deign to try and infiltrate, and check the Southern Poverty Law Center Website once a week in the hope you”€™ve been denounced. You Google-tag yourself, and thrill when a bisexual blogger at Goucher College calls you “€œa threat.”€

You get in fierce disagreements with FWIDs, of course”€”in large part because they (and probably you) are inherently disagreeable. But these take the form of ferocious disputes over minute points of principle, or details of implementation. The names each of you have on your list of “€œPeople I”€™d exile to the Aleutian Islands”€ don”€™t always match up, and you differ on the necessity of parents stoning rebellious children. Whatever. This dance of dogma conceals the fact that you”€™ve come to hate your friend”€”like a beauty queen you”€™ve dated for months, whom you”€™ve finally realized is in fact a violent sociopath. Not that this is a deal-killer, of course….

Then the moment comes when you realize: “€œAbsent ideology, I wouldn”€™t ride in an elevator with this person. But he’s officially my “€˜friend”€™? I guess I”€™m trapped.”€  It stinks, but Platonic relationships don”€™t offer the simple out available in dating (or if you”€™re John McCain, in marriage): “€œI”€™ve met someone else.”€ Equally useless is: “€œI think we should see other people,”€ and “€œI only slept with you in the first place because I was drunk.”€  

The disagreements mount, particularly if you”€™ve glommed onto a paranoid narcissist who has pulled down an obscure ideology and sprayed it all over himself like a hobo with a perfume tester in Bloomingdale’s. Except that you can”€™t call Security. This guy is your friend. And you”€™re a loyal sort of person. Why should you let your personal feelings get in the way? You are comrades in arms, together with backs against the wall facing off the neocons/modernists/altruists/libertines/Buddho-fascists, and there are more important things at stake. Like getting back all the books you lent him, and keeping him from sending you emails on your work account that footnote the Unabomber.

In the end, you invent a dogmatic excuse for getting rid of the person. Or better yet, play up the micro-disagreements you know are most likely to get him pounding on the table, and gradually teach your FWID to suspect that you are not really “€œsound.”€ It’s best if he gets the idea that you”€™re an agent provocateur, a plant sent by the Other Side. That way, he”€™ll flounce off on his own”€”probably making one heck of a scene in a public place”€”and spend the next few years denouncing you on his blog. I call it cheap at the price.

Since I”€™m not interested in ruining anybody’s good name by associating theirs with mine, when I run down the following list of FWIDs that I have known, I”€™ll stick to generalities. Over the years, I”€™ve cultivated, and later had to cull, the following:

“€¢ A coke-crazed Randian musicologist who used to walk around shirtless (he didn”€™t have the bod) wearing a Walkman, air-conducting Bach cantatas. When he wasn”€™t sitting by the women’s room, subjecting hapless undergrads to a long, unblinking stare, he was hurling empty vodka bottles from his fifth story dormitory window, denouncing “€œLooters!”€
“€¢ An Ivy-trained Egyptologist who became convinced he knew the identity of the Antichrist: It was a tag-team of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Based on numerological readings of the Book of Daniel, he “€œdiscovered”€ that the Second Coming would take place in September, 1994. So he put his life and his fiancée on hold for two years, while he waited. When the Big Day passed, I called him up to observe, “€œWell, that was subtle.”€
“€¢ A middle-aged convert from Wicca to Catholicism who offered unlicensed “€œtherapy sessions”€ in her East Village garret, and kept on trying to drag me to Brazilian Pentecostalist exorcisms. Sometimes at Sunday brunch she”€™d offer “€œhealing prayer”€ and “€œlaying on of hands.”€ (Did I mention that she was kinda hot?) One Christmas party she threw was full of recently homeless psychiatric outpatients and “€œcharismatic”€ Catholics”€”including one who claimed to speak in tongues. Except that he stuttered.
“€¢ A gaggle of failed seminarians who were turned away from the priesthood, they insisted, because they rejected the vernacular Mass. The truth came out eventually”€”or rather, they did. 
“€¢ A paleocon theoretician who alternated between high-minded discussions of Spengler and rants about the “€œn***ers.”€ The breaking point came when he took umbrage at something silly Pope John Paul II said about immigration”€”so he filled up the tape of my answering machine with the phrase “€œF*** the pope!”€ repeated over and over again. When I stopped returning his calls, he sent me a detailed critique of my behavior. It was 17 pages. With footnotes.
“€¢ A self-proclaimed Catholic reactionary and violent alcoholic, who claimed he was “€œfighting the Protestant work ethic and the Judeao-Masonic economy by drinkin”€™, and refusin”€™ to work.”€ The last time I saw him was at a New Year’s Eve event organized by a sweet old lady from our parish. When I expressed pessimism about the likelihood of overturning Roe v. Wade, this 6-foot rugby hooligan answered: “€œSo you wanna kill unborn babies?”€ And tried to strangle me.

If you”€™re still nursing a FWID or two, don”€™t feel bad. These folks are mighty persistent, and their egos are bulletproof. The only sure repellant is to grab their favorite hobby horse, and beat it to death in front of them. The process isn”€™t pretty, but it just might save your life.

If any of my old FWIDs is reading this, and recognizes himself in one of these descriptions, please don”€™t take offense. Keep in mind that I really am an Ideological Plant Who Works for the Other Side. But most of all, remember: That restraining order is still in effect.



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