Tory Story 

Mallard Fillmore: one fumb duck

For weeks, I've wanted to revisit a particular dumbassery that marginal artist Bruce Tinsley contributed to the Fourth of July edition of the daily paper, but other issues kept getting in the way. Finally, here goes.

Let us proceed, though, with the understanding that reacting to anything from the mind of either Tinsley or his cartoon creation, Mallard Fillmore, is like getting into a debate with a sloppy drunk. The man is incapable of understanding any argument other than his own, and he believes that if he repeats his position enough times, or yells it loudly enough, we'll eventually come around.

Yet what Tinsley submitted for a Fourth of July message presents us with the opportunity to respond not so much to him—what's the use?—but to the absurd historical distortion (propagated among people who understand so little history that they end up conservatives) that today's conservatives are the direct heirs of that Founding Father spirit. That spark of Independence. That whole Minuteman vibe.

No, they are not. Today's conservatives would have been 1776's conservatives, too. Today's conservatives would have been yesterday's Tories. Royalist reactionaries. Benedict Arnold sympathizers. Craven kowtowers to the established form. Resisters to change and defenders of what was. They would have been old Mad George's favorite Americans.

But let us return to Bruce Tinsley and his statement and work our way forward. As you know, Tinsley is the stale imagination behind Mallard Fillmore, a comic strip so humorless it makes Sally Forth seem almost funny. It's a favorite with the shuffling tea-bag crowd because it provides them with what has to pass for wit in a basically witless environment. Tinsley and his duck are to right-wing comedy what Sarah Palin is to right-wing gravitas or James Dobson is to right-wing spirituality: i.e. the best they've got. The Idaho Statesman started carrying the strip some years ago because no matter what out-of-state outfit might own it at any given moment, that publication can't resist the whining of people who don't feel their views--no matter how stupid—are being represented in the paper.

On the Fourth of July, Tinsley had his static duck (the duck never moves—that would require a level of technical accomplishment that Mr. Tinsley has yet to achieve) standing before Old Glory, making some senseless connection between King George III and the "political correctness police." (Tinsley absolutely loathes political correctness. Every time he depicts President Barack Obama, you can almost feel the strain as he resists the craving to cry the "n" word.) The punch line to the comic is, "This flag has been annoying effete elitists for more than 200 years."

Get it? See, in Tinsley's version of events, even back during Revolutionary days, there were these pompous sissies around who had the snittles because the Founding Fathers would do such a thing as break from England and start up their own country. We must presume Tinsley means these "effete elitists" were the liberals of the era, as the words "effete" and "elitist" are always used to describe liberals and never used to describe pompous sissies like Jonah Goldberg or George Will.

In fact, most Americans first heard the word "effete" used in the late '60s by that paragon of conservative virtues Vice President Spiro Agnew. Speaking of the opposition to Nixon and the demented war that twisted man waged, Agnew was famous for saying, "A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."

After he was thrown from public office for tax fraud, extortion and bribery, we never heard much more from Agnew, and his most enduring legacy was to imprint "nattering," "nabob" and "effete" on our national consciousness. Mind you, it is no coincidence that "effete" and "effeminate" have such a common ring. Has there ever been a time when bullies, blowhards and buffoons didn't try to hide their own lameness of brain behind a disguise of superior manliness?

Ah, but the real joke within Tinsley's joke is the implication that we—we being the Americans who value thoughtfulness over the empty blithering of cartoon patriots and flag-humping fools—don't like America and never have.

Wrong again, duck. We like America just fine and always have. It's conservatives we don't like. We especially don't like the way they are choking the vitality out of America because they are perpetually stuck in the muck of their own fear. For all their crowing and clucking about freedom, conservatives don't revere liberty nearly as much as they revere order. And not just any order, but the old order. The order with them on top and nuts to the rest. The order that comes from kings and gods down, not from people up.

Truth is, conservatives, either then or now, are never on the liberating edge of anything. They, then and now, are followers, not leaders, and have always been at the butt-end of a historical narrative they can't comprehend. That's what makes them conservatives.

And to think they today compare themselves to the innovators, the progressives, the radicals who jerked the leash from George's grasp. Now that's funny.

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