Reviews

Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait by Midge Dector

Vince Carducci

Dector has said that Rumsfeld is her attempt to speak directly to the American people over the heads of the media. But she's only interested in telling them what she and her fellow neocons want them to hear.


Rumsfeld

Publisher: ReganBooks
Length: 240
Subtitle: A Personal Portrait
Price: $24.95 (US)
Author: Midge Dector
US publication date: 2003-10
Amazon
God's grace is . . . as impossible for those to whom He has granted it to lose as it is unattainable for those to whom he has denied it.
� Max Weber

Christmas seems to have come early for US Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. It takes the shape of Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait by Midge Dector. A conservative commentator and author of such books as The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women's Liberation, Dector makes no pretense of objectivity. She wants all of America to know why she feels "Rummy" is, as she recently told NPR, "the right man for the right time."

It would be easy enough to toss off this book as piece of ideological hagiography. It reads like the profiles of entrepreneurs that appear regularly in Fast Company and Inc--a little too breathless, a little too baldly showing the all-too-pat unfolding of backstory to explain current success. But scratching below the surface of Rumsfeld reveals some of the talk points of the conservative sales pitch, delivered just as the retail rollout of the 2004 reelection campaign gets under way. It therefore merits attention.

Most important for Dector is that Rumsfeld, like all members of the current administration, is a true mensch. (Bill Clinton, on the other hand, is merely a "clever boy.") Hard-working, plain-spoken and resolute, Rumsfeld epitomizes the highest ideals of the American Republic; he's a living, breathing example of the Protestant ethic in action. He's filled with the stuff from which dreams of manifest destiny are made.

Rumsfeld's story is ideally suited for the campaign trail. A son of the American heartland, he was born in Chicago, married his high school sweetheart and pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to succeed in business and in life. A champion wrestler at New Trier High in Winnetka, Illinois, at Princeton and in the Navy, he's always practiced a brand of self-reliance that would do Ralph Waldo Emerson proud.

Besides serving up tropes for weaving personal biography into cultural mythology, the details of Rumsfeld's Midwestern roots serve a practical political purpose. Conservative commentators like to note that George W. Bush won the geographic election if not the popular one. The red states (those of the 2000 Republican victory) aren't located on the nation's coasts, they're in the central regions, making Rumsfeld a native son. In the polarized environment in which the next national election portends to play out, mustering the traditional base of support will be decisive. In other words, it's important to convey that Rummy's a good ol' boy, dontcha know, not one of them East Coast "high hats" or West Coast "tree-huggers." He and his pardners'll do the job that needs to be done inside the Beltway. Like those other Chicagoans, the Blues Brothers, he's on a mission from God.

Dector takes the opportunity to use Rumsfeld to make other progress on the conservative agenda. One objective is to distance the current Republican regime from the legacy of Watergate. This is done by noting Rumsfeld's distrust of Richard Nixon's White House staff (i.e., reinforce the "character" issue), which Dector claims may in part explain his decision to get out of Washington in the 1970s by seeking a NATO ambassadorship overseas. Another is to lay responsibility for the Iraq War battle plan squarely on the shoulders of the military (hedging your bets never hurt) and promote the idea that the most important reason for unseating Saddam Hussein was to help achieve the long-term goal of promulgating the American way around the globe. (Don't worry about WMDs and yellow cake; be happy about the prospects of drowning our SUVs in a flood of low-cost petroleum thanks to the invisible hand at the spigot of a gas pump hooked up to a democratic free-market Iraq.)

And of course, there's the requisite jabs at Clinton, who took his eye off the geopolitical ball while attending to the "peccadilloes" of his personal life. (Not that the conservatives had anything to do with that!)

Dector has said that Rumsfeld is her attempt to speak directly to the American people over the heads of the media. But she's only interested in telling them what she and her fellow neocons want them to hear. Hence she glosses over, for example, Rumsfeld's bagman days in the early 1980s (documented by the Institute for Policy Studies), shuttling between San Francisco and Baghdad at the behest of Ronald Reagan to negotiate on behalf of Bechtel with Hussein on oil pipelines and such. This occurred even as the evil dictator was using chemical weapons in battle supplied by his then-friends in the West.

One of Dector's more disingenuous tactics is her recurring motif of Chicago as a place of down-home family values straight out of Middle America, a place where a "can do" attitude is all that's needed to enjoy the just rewards of one's industry, regardless of race, creed or color. Anyone who's walked the wood-paneled corridors of privilege at places like the private Chicago and University Clubs or the corporate executive suites perched atop the Art Deco skyscrapers in the Loop knows better. Dector's reveries on the City of Big Shoulders are even more ludicrous if one remembers her position securely ensconced at the highest level of the East Coast intellectual and political elite.

Dector repeatedly coos in Rumsfeld at the Secretary's status as a People magazine "sexiest man" and she peppers the book's pages with anecdotes of women beaming in chaste admiration and men paying all due respect. But caveat lector! Rumsfeld isn't a gift to a manly man from a not-so-secret Santa; it's a Trojan Horse set at the feet of the American electorate by a shrewd and cunning pundit.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.