Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scratch A Bully, Find A Coward

Somehow, when I read about the likes of Proposition 8 supporters and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wringing their hands publicly about democracy being destroyed by political advocates forced to live in fear, I can't help feeling that there's only one side of the divide that they're worried about.  I have no doubt that advocates of Proposition 8, the initiative that banned gay marriage in California, have been subject to verbal and physical harassment--or worse.  I yield to no one in categorically condemning such acts.

However, part of the reason I feel that way is that I have seen verbal and physical harassment--or worse--directed at gays and lesbians, as well as their supporters in the straight community (disclosure:  one of my relatives lives an openly lesbian lifestyle).  And, try though I may, I have yet to hear the condemnation of that harassment from Justice Scalia and the Proposition 8 crowd.

Democracy is for everyone, or it is for no one.  And the measure of your love of freedom is your willingness to stand up for the freedom of others, not your own.  If you are going to pride yourself on your toughness in the meantime, you should be fully prepared to receive whatever you dish out.  Otherwise, you leave yourself open to the judgment contained in this post's title.

That doesn't make me a hypocrite, folks.  It just makes me someone yearning for more people who, like Voltaire, will disagree with what I say, but will defend to the death my right to say it.

"Let's Finish This!"

If, like me, you again with Faulkner that, in the South, the past is not only not dead, it's not even the past, you might want to take a look at this.

The Civil War has never really ended, and that goes a long way toward explaining the political divide in our country today.  The people behind this Web site recognize that.  Hopefully, someday soon, the rest of us will, too.

Soft Power: A Win-Win Solution

Petroleum has not only the United States in its sticky grip, but also the peoples of nations enslaved to the oligarchs who live off of the petrodollars from their leading export.  Here's one example of how to liberate ourselves and others, through the use of "soft power," despised by conservatives but a thousand times more effective than all of our military might.  And this doesn't even touch on the issue of creating a new economy for the 21st century.

Hopefully, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf will help all of us to wake up and smell the oil--and then resolve to never have to smell it again.

Tea Baggers: The New Yippies

Someone out there reading this may remember David Frye, who, during the Nixon Administration, made a short-lived but very successful career out of impersonating His Trickyness.  On one of his comedy albums (yes, this was back in the days of vinyl), he performed a routine involving a conversation between Nixon and Jerry Rubin, one of the leaders of the so-called Yippie movement, dedicated to tearing down anything that might even be remotely part of the Establishment.  In this routine, Frye has Nixon asking Rubin what will he do when he and his fellow Yippies finally destroy everything they don't like.  Rubin replies "I dunno, man, maybe we'll all just lie around and groove on the rubble."

Ever since the so-called Gingrich Revolution, I've thought that what passes in America today for modern conservatism is little more than Boomers aging out of the Yippie phase and trying to mimic the lifestyles of the parents they used to rebel against--but still, at the end of the proverbial day, dedicated to grooving on the rubble.  As it turns out, unfortunately, someone agrees with me.

I hope we're both wrong.  I fear that we're not.

The Last Generation?

As I get older--I'm 53, for whatever it's worth--I have spent a lot of time thinking about the proverbial meaning of life.  Not my life exclusively, but the value of our individual lives.  As a more-or-less classic liberal, I've always believed that, no matter how great or small our individual accomplishments are, they can all have value if they contribute to some degree toward building a better world for future generations--for the human race as a whole, to put it another way.  Unfortunately, the more I see people, and Americans in particular, descend into the netherworld of unadulterated self-interest, the less inclined I am to believe that such a future is possible.  It surely is not possible without some degree of self-sacrifice, a willingness to put aside at least some degree of convenience for the benefit of others, including others we will never live to meet.

Is life worth living, in such a world?  Or should ours be the last generation?  Would the world, and perhaps even the universe, be better off without us?  This author has pondered the question, and decided with less than complete certainty that the answer is "yes."

I'd like to agree with him.  I think I do.  But, if I do, it is solely because I am deeply in love with the beauty and wisdom of what we will all lose if we all don't stop contemplating our navels, and start to understand that true self-interest lies not within our lives, but within the lives of others.

How Did Reagan Win The Cold War?

Well (as the Gipper himself would say), in the first instance, he didn't.  The Cold War didn't end until after he was out of office.  And it ended the way liberals like George Kennan foresaw that it would--by giving a corrupt system enough time to collapse in on itself, which is exactly what happened.  Conservatives always saw the Cold War in apocalyptic terms.  Liberals understood that Soviet-style communism could never reach the point at which the Apocalypse would be forced upon us.  They were right; it wasn't.

But this blog always gives the devil his due.  To the extent that Reagan could be said to have contributed to the end of the Cold War, he did so primarily by acting like a liberal.  He came into office as an ideologue, and left office showing that he had learned a great deal from the people with whom he disagreed.

Who would have thought I'd live long enough to miss Reagan, in that regard?  Not to mention Barry Goldwater, another true believer who made peace with the fact that not everything he believed was true.  If America needs conservatives at all, it needs conservatives like them--people who cared more about being Americans than they did about being conservatives.

How To Create An American Aristocracy

This is how.  Quite apart from revenue-raising, the estate tax has two enormous virtues:  it stimulates charitable giving, which benefits a wide array of non-profit institutions, and it prevents a family or group of families from acquiring so much economic power that they can achieve a stranglehold on the rest of us, effectively ending democracy.

What do you think the odds are that the tax will be reinstated next year?  Even if the "Democrats" in control of Congress are still in control of Congress in 2011, I can't imagine them having the backbone to do it.  Not after their sorry track record over the past 17 months.  And the Republicans aren't going to do it, especially with the Tea Bags in charge.

Why do we fear Big Government, which we can (theoretically) vote in and out of power every two years, but not Big Money, which needs a depression (a real one, not the near-miss of the past few years) to give the people any chance of fighting back against it.  Are we so in love with the idea of individual wealth that we don't mind having it wrapped around our necks?  Can't we tell when we're being subjugate by our own dreams?

These aren't rhetorical questions.  If you're out there reading, answer them--if not for me, then for those you love, and those you leave behind.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Does Personal Responsibility Have To Do With It?

If you're a Republican, or otherwise a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, absolutely nothing, as this recent column by S.E. Cupp in the New York Daily News proves.  In defending GOP Congressman Mark Souder from the charge of hypocrisy for preaching abstinence while practicing adultery, it doesn't seem to occur to her that, in modern politics, the messenger is supposed to be his or her own best message.  And, in any event, democracy allows, and even demands, that people expect a single standard of conduct for everyone, especially when it comes to an aspect of life as universal, and as personally challenging, as sex.

This reflects the curse of Ayn Rand on modern conservatism--the belief that there is an "elect" that can do whatever they want, at the expense of everyone else, because their accumulation of wealth allows them to be considered "productive," while everyone who is systematically denied access to that wealth is labeled a "consumer"--or worse, a locust.  This believe leads directly not only to Souder's hypocrisy, but also to Cupp's defense of it.  Both stem from the same rotten Rand ideology that selfishness is the solution to our problems, rather than being our biggest problem itself.

The "consumers" are the real Atlas.  Sadly, in our time and in this nation, they have seemingly forgotten how to shrug.  One day, I pray that they will remember.

... AND I'm Not The Only One Who Feels This Way

Here's one example.  And here's another.

A Lesson For Obama From Mandela, By Way Of Hollywood

Between lawyering and acting, I often don't see movies until months after they've been in multiplexes (I refuse to call them "theatres").  Thankfully, I have a stepson who, in addition to finding jobs at a time when few college graduates are able to do so, buys DVDs on a regular basis.  As a result, last weekend, I got around to seeing "Invictus," the Clint Eastwood film that depicts how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) used the sport of rugby and the World Cup tournament as a vehicle for bridging the racial and cultural gap in post-apartheid South Africa.  The film shows how Mandela's decision to do this, in some sense, was an act of desperation, a manufactured alternative at a time when there really were no others.  That it worked as well as it did lies in the fact that sports possesses two qualities that Mandela understood would help build national unity:  drama, and teamwork.

As I reflected on this, after the movie ended, I began to realize why so many people are disappointed in Barack Obama, and why the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf has become a kind of catalyst for that sense of disappointment.  For all of his rhetorical ability to inspire a crown, Obama seems to instinctively shy away from conflict, from strong emotions, from the kind of focused passion that is often needed for a nation to become greater than the sum of its people's lives.  Whether this lies in his upbringing, or in his genes, can and will be a subject for biographers one day.  In any event, it explains why he has largely functioned as an in-box-out-box President, checking off issues (the stimulus, health care, financial reform and so on), delegating them to Congress or experts (or both), and then announcing how pleased he is with the results.

But what is missing, in the process, is any kind of effort on his part to show how the results connect with the larger story of our history as a nation, and to show or tell us where he wants to take us.  Sadly, most Americans don't relate to politics through their minds, but through their hearts.  This is where a sense of drama, and a visible appreciation for teamwork, is invaluable for a President, regardless of his party or his politics.  F.D.R. demonstrated both qualities through his fireside chats; George W. Bush (to lesser ultimate effect) did it with a bullhorn amidst the devastation of the September 11 attacks.

What should Obama have done, as soon as the oil started spilling into the Gulf?  Get angry?  No, get involved.  Get everyone involved.  Go down to the Gulf, and invite everyone who wanted (and still wants) to help to come down and do whatever they can to help.  Let Bobby Jindal and the Army Corps of Engineers build barrier islands.  Let Kevin Costner try out his new oil-scrubbing technology.  Let Eric Holder and the Justice Department go full-tilt after BP for their criminal negligence.  Give the oil-eating microbes a chance to do their stuff.  Hell, even invite Sarah Palin down for whatever she can contribute, based on the Exxon Valdez disaster (if nothing else, it would have taken her off the Tea Party trail and put her on the spot for her "drill, baby, drill" rhetoric.  And yes, go down to the Senate personally (on national TV would be even better) and tell the World's Greatest Deliberative Body that they're not going anywhere--and neither is the House of Representatives) until they put a climate change bill on his desk that beings to wean us from our addiction to oil.

Drama.  And teamwork.  It's not too late for Obama to discover it and, for the sake of our nation, I pray that he does.  Perhaps this week's start of another World Cup tournament (this time in soccer) can help.