Tuesday, December 15, 2009
But such constructions prove odd to the point of absurdity in light of one of our dearest held ideals and beliefs: that ours is a government of, by, and for the people. If we are the government, yet are profoundly distrustful of it, then it follows that ultimately it is our very selves upon whom we look with such suspicion. In psychological parlance this affliction might be labelled an oddly paranoid crisis of identity. Certainly a mark of low self-esteem. Writ large across an entire culture (or at least half of one) it is giving rise to some pretty bizarre behavior.
In August we watched in jaw dropping astonishment a political process exhibiting signs of what could only be described as derangement. We were treated to the antics of birthers, deathers, tea-baggers and just plain haters high-jacking what should have been a productive (if lively) discussion on the complex issues of health care concerning us all.
But no conversation could heard over the shouting of mobs (town hollerers) intent not on fostering discussion, but rather on silencing it. The tactic has had mixed reviews, for while it certainly halted the reasoned, measured discussion Americans deserved, it also exposed an ugly vein of racially tinged hostility running through what passes for the GOP these days. Precisely the kind of hostility that has been known to cause independents to run screaming away from any party perceived to be so consumed.
Oddly, the syndrome noted by Thomas Frank in his prescient 2004 book "What's The Matter With Kansas," seems if anything to be more profoundly in evidence today. The central insight of the book was that the conservative leadership in America had found a way to compel their constituents to vote with machine-like consistency against their own economic, and social interests. This was accomplished by hammering on the most emotionally charged issues in any given political cycle thus raising conservative animus against liberals to such a fever pitch, that they would ignore even the most blatant of self-harming policy agendas put forth by their leaders. It worked then and scarily, it's working again.
In much the same way that Calvinism in the past issued draconian rules against anything bearing the faintest whiff of pleasure, extreme conservatism has come out against health care reform. Calvinists were driven by the mere chance that somewhere, somehow, someone out there might be having fun. And if they weren't allowed to have fun, no one else should be allowed. Today's conservatives similarly rail against the possibility that somewhere, somehow, someone out there might receive needed assistance from the government. It is a notion predicated on an peculiarly hypocritical denial of reality. Such denial wants to believe that "If I can control my life and destiny, everyone else can as well!" In truth, we control little if anything in this life. Without a moments notice events can overtake us, leaving us diminished, harmed, even destroyed. Conservatives like to suppose that it is weakness to admit this. Grownups accept it, make accommodation, and move forward.
We all tacitly trust government to handle threats to our security and safety. Who do we call upon to put out a blaze that threatens to destroy our home in a fire? Don't we depend on the police to protect us when real threats are perceived against our communities and homes? We create institutions like these and put them in place because we recognize that sometimes, events can overwhelm even the well prepared among us. Guess what folks, essentially that's socialist. And do we want the decisions of Fire and Police Departments to be subject to the corporate concerns of cost analysis and annual profits? Would you consider yourself and your family as safe?
Frankly regarding health care in America, our fateful wrong turn occurred when we allowed business and the profit motive anywhere near the profound and uniquely human issues of health, life and death. Because with health and disease, as with the above issues of crime and disaster, events can overtake us to devastating effect. If so much is provided to protect person and property by Fire, Police Departments and disaster relief, how much more important is protecting the health of the very bodies inhabiting the homes that we defend?
The right is great at the art of branding. They have given us the "Death Tax," "The Patriot Act," and now in a political sneer that would make Lee Atwater grin ear to ear, we have "Obamacare." I'd like to try my hand at the art by suggesting a new name for the health care system now in place in America that allows upwards of 4000 citizens to die annually simply for the lack of affordable health insurance. I dub such a system "Corporocare."
For the record, liberals will admit that a total governmental takeover of health care in America is socialist when conservatives can admit that a health care system completely beholden to the bottom line of remote corporate share holders is fascist. Returning to the subject of those failed discussions we endured in August, the time has come for reasonable people to find accommodations that, while allowing room for corporations to exist, will always refuse to cede human life and dignity in doing so. We need health care for all, we need it now.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The overwhelming response received from LNJ letter writers (and one forum columnist) regarding my column of Sept 12 titled "Taking Our Country Back From the Hatemongers," was impressive for the sheer variety of concerns that were aired. Let me say that I appreciate the time and effort expended by these citizens to join a conversation that we've clearly needed to have. That said, while I applaud these commentators for their passionate embrace of the right of free speech, none of the counter-arguments offered has managed to move me one iota from my original thesis: that hate-speech is decimating public discourse and civility in America. Inadvertently, the responses of these writers, which were pretty much all over the lot, have made my point for me. The question remains will we allow it to continue, or move decisively to end it?
Since my column had a relatively tight and simple focus, it begs the question - what were these people responding to? - I suspect the generalized, toxic mental environment that hate speech gives rise to and nourishes. One respondent asked whether my intention was to "extinguish free speech." Nothing could be further from the truth. Another intimated that I somehow desired the "eradication of conservative Christians," but no such phrase appeared in my piece. Finally, a forum columnist sought to divert attention from Glenn Beck's hatemongering in a clumsy stab at smearing President Obama as a racist using the threadbare tactic of guilt by association. Why this writer became fixated on race perhaps he could best explain, but race per se was never my focus. Hate speech was. Despite the well meant (if uniformly off-base) efforts of the respondents, it still is.
David Neiwert's book THE ELIMINATIONISTS deserves further mention in the context of this discussion. Only those who haven't read it could characterize it, as did one writer, as "polemical." In it, is a good working definition of hate-speech, or as he calls it, eliminationist speech. Two main features set it apart from the normal, lively back and forth of oppositional political language. First, it is focused on an enemy within, constituted by entire blocs of the citizenry. Secondly, it advocates the excision and extermination of those blocs by violent or civil means. In other words, the purveyors of hate speech are not content merely to oppose those with whom they differ. They mean to eliminate them.
In July of 2008, Jim David Adkisson entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church and gunned down two elderly congregants. Officials told reporters the next day that Adkisson had been motivated by his hatred of the liberal movement. A search of the attacker's home in Powell, TN yielded guns, ammunition, and books by leading conservative pundits Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. Also found was a "manifesto" written by Adkisson which was, according to Neiwert, a "distillation of these works."
Abortion provider Dr. George Tiller after being mentioned on FOX's "The O'Reilly Factor" on 28 occasions with such nicknames as "Dr. Tiller, the Baby Killer," was gunned down as he attended church in Wichita, Kansas in May 2009. When confronted about his coverage, O'Reilly, Pontius Pilate-like, washed his hands of the matter. Recently, at the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Forum, O'Reilly was awarded the forum's first ever "Courage" award. The trial of alleged shooter Scott Roeder, begins in January.
This summer, in Phoenix at a speech that Barack Obama gave on health care, a man identified as Chris Broughton showed up outside the venue toting an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun. The day before he'd heard his pastor, Steven L. Anderson, deliver a sermon titled, "Why I Hate Barack Obama," in which he explained why congregants should pray fervently for the President to "die and go to hell." I'm still waiting for the "inevitable" public outcry from those conservatives who still rail against Barack Obama's erstwhile minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
As a liberal, I often peruse the comments expressed by Maddow, Franken, Olbermann, Dowd, Rich, Letterman, Rall, Maher, Pelosi, The Daily Kos, and The Huffington Post. Strange though it may seem, such content has not once caused me to desire or advocate doing physical harm to my conservative fellow Americans. It was a fair criticism of my previous column that it was sparse on examples of left-wing eliminationist rhetoric, but it is equally fair to note that recent incidents like those mentioned above known to emanate from the liberal community have been very rare. If my detractors can produce such examples, I'd be happy to consider them. Until then, I continue (as does Neiwert) to view hate speech, and more importantly, the violence it increasingly incites, as a predominantly right-wing phenomenon.
In light of all this, one would expect moderate conservatives (assuming any are left) to quickly move to decry the hate-speech occurring daily within their ranks in order to avoid the stigma it justly carries, taking responsibility and action where appropriate. Unfortunately, what we've seen from politicians, national pundits, and alas, the respondents to my column has been, for the most part, obfuscation, deflection and finger-pointing.
That's disappointing, because the situation we face is becoming dangerous and ever more deeply embedded in our civic discourse. The local response to date has been to reject the search for solutions in favor of partisan inertia and misplaced bravado. Ultimately, this is to settle for being a part of the problem.
Below are links to the column and letters in response to my August 23 blog post:"Civility Strikes Back!"
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Italics are Trudy
Anderson's list was incomplete
Really? The only person Taylor could manage to come up with in completing my list of hatemongers was President Barack Obama? Now even a cursory glance at my piece will show the average reader that it was inspired by those who use the outsized megaphones of TV and talk radio to spew an unrelenting stream of vile, hate drenched demagoguery into the ears (and minds and hearts) of people too dull or desensitized to realize its harmful effects. And it was willful obtuseness to deflect attention from these purveyors of hatred by dragging out the fusty old ghost of Jeremiah Wright. The matter of Wright was laid to rest in the campaign. Obama broke ties with his erstwhile minister and apparently America was satisfied. After all, America did elect him President. Its foolish, and transparently vicious to equate the likes of Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk with Obama.
Glenn Beck is a buffoonish political entertainer who has recently found his niche taking shots, sometimes very accurate ones, at an administration which has apparently declared open season on itself with its unwillingness or inability to shepherd its own minions.
In the spirit of seeking common ground with those who differ from me on political issues, let me say that I agree with Taylor's assertion that Beck is a Buffoon. Beyond that bit of detente however, I have to disagree.As stated in my column, and in David Neiwert's book which I referred to, it's a mistake to let people like Beck and Limbaugh off the hook with the "entertainer" dodge. I guess what liberals and conservatives consider entertainment just doesn't jibe. Beck referred to the country's first African American President as a "Racist," and said that Obama "had a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." This doubtless would have come as quite a shocking surprise to Obama's white mother and grandparents! Nor can I find anything "entertaining" about it, especially in light of this country's anguished history of political assassination and home-grown terror. But hey, conservatives apparently get their jollies in different ways than we liberals do.
May I also remind Durren that eight years of hysterical name-calling and nastiness was standard operating procedure on his part while President George W. Bush was in office; the bulk of which was due to erroneous frustration at a perceived stolen election. The likes of which did real damage to the office of the presidency, leaving our current occupant even more vulnerable to slights and misjudgments from opponents.
This Orwellian double-speak is the strangest comment of all. And frankly, it cuts me to the quick to have my writings over the last eight years reduced to mere "hysterical name-calling." I prefer to think of it as eight years of deploying some of the most exquisite sarcasm, ridicule, and satire that LNJ readers have seen. All of it "reality-based" and richly deserved. Bush was elected under a cloud that included such stark images as the Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida that intimidated vote counters into stopping their work, and a conservatively stacked Supreme Court that ratified those rioters. This is all well documented in Vincent Bugliosi's book, THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICA. Look it up.
Bush did lie us into a war with a sovereign nation that never attacked us. He did lie about the depth and the full extent of illegal wire tapping of American citizens. He did lie about the horrors of detainee torture carried out in the name of the american people. These lies and others are laid out magnificently in David Corn's exhaustively researched, "THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH". So I would differ with the statement that mere "name-calling" has damaged the presidency. Rather, it was the remarkable lack of ethics, morality, and respect for the rule of law which characterized the Bush administration that did the damage.
Nice try though, Trudy.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The latest manifestation of right-wing craziness has hit the airwaves. It seems that "President Obama is after our children!" In a fit of conservative paranoia in a season that has seen more than its share of the same, right wingers, stoked on a tad too much FOX news, are preparing to yank their kids in droves from school on Tuesday to prevent their hearing a special address to the nation's youth by the President. Spoon-fed on fear by conservative talking heads such as Michele Malkin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh et al., parents nationwide are moving to head Obama's speech off at the pass. The speech, purported by conservative pundits to contain mind-altering messages about the wonders of socialism, has caused dozens of East Texas Schools to announce that they would not be showing the speech to their students. I can recall no finer civics lesson on censorship in the annals of American education. The lone standout unfazed by the hysteria gripping the region is the Longview Independent School District. Hats off to that oasis of rationality in East Texas.
Funny, I don't recall liberal parents yelling "Katie bar the door!" when Ronald Reagan gave a similar address to school children during his administration. Perhaps that's because liberals are just not as susceptible to the wild speculations, not to mention manipulations that irresponsible "journalists" and news "entertainers" traffic in these days. Beyond that, liberal and progressive parents seem to have a clearer understanding of the importance of a presidential address to the nation's youth, regardless of the politics of any given executive in any given year. It's the President, people! What is to become of us when we don't trust the individual elected by way of a thorough, legitimate democratic process to lead our country? I see this as the logical conclusion of a longstanding propaganda campaign that has reached its critical mass of "catastrophic success." After all, it was Reagan who famously opined that "Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." Strange words from a man who invested so much to become the head of "government."
George Herbert Walker Bush also spoke to the kiddies when he held the tiller of our ship of state. Again, liberal parents didn't grab up their young'uns and head for the hills. Did liberals agree with the policy agenda of G. H. W. Bush? No, we didn't. Did we ascribe wisdom and clarity to his philosophy of governance? Not a chance. But neither did we attribute to him powers of persuasion so acute that he could, in the course of one speech, brainwash our little ones. Indoctrination is a long, drawn out, tedious affair carried out over years through a program that encompasses every level of society. One speech cannot possibly accomplish what these pitiful conservative parents hold in their fevered imaginations. That is giving President Obama way too much credit. One begins to think that in their minds, Obama has crossed over into some mythic realm of existence wherein all are rendered powerless to withstand his flights of oratory and his natural charisma and charm. Lighten up folks, he's just a guy like the rest of us. Seriously folks, it'll be alright. The children are OK. Really they are.
Finally, there's W. On that fateful day in September 2001, he was reading to school children when the planes hit the buildings in New York and Washington. Even though this same president would leave office when the nation's financial future was teetering over the abyss, when we were engaged in wars on two fronts, and all other economic indicators were flashing red, I still can say that the little ones to whom he read "My Pet Goat," received a rare historical treasure. If I disagreed with the father's policies, I abhorred the son's. That's to be expected in the adult world of politics. Yet few of us, including I suspect, President Obama, are capable of allowing politics to compel us to meddle with the innocence of a child. I have no trouble imputing integrity on this question to Republicans just as I do to Democrats. We have come to a sad and sorry pass when it becomes impossible to see our political opponents as decent human beings, or as being incapable of restraining themselves from tampering with the minds of other people's children. We forget at our peril that those on the opposite side of the aisle are not only our political opponents: they are Americans, too.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
“This President has, I think, exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is [...] I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. He has a…This guy is, I believe, a racist."~ Fox television host, Glenn Beck
Sometimes things happen in the world of American politics that give me hope. In response to the irresponsible, and incendiary comments above, spoken on the air by Glenn Beck during a segment of the FOX & FRIENDS news program, advertisers are pulling commercials and the millions they represent from Beck's show. Some of the companies pulling the ads carry a lot of clout in American business: Wal-Mart, Geico, Proctor & Gamble, and Radio Shack are just a few of more than 20 such businesses, and the list continues to grow.
ColorOfChange.org is spearheading the effort to put these and other businesses on notice for providing financial backing for the purveyors of corrosive and inflammatory language. The results have been surprising to say the least in a time when the public has become inured to hyperbolic commentaries which have slowly become the norm in our discourse. I am proud to say that I am a signatory to the petitions that ColorOfChange.org has forwarded to the business community. And the effort has paid off in another way, Beck has been asked by News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch owned company that runs FOX, to "take a week off." Like I said, sometimes there is cause for hope.
While this story may represent a refreshing example that civility is not yet dead in our public discourse, it would be premature to think that on its own it can bring us out of the dark place at which we've arrived. It has taken us a decade or more to get here, and it will take a lot of hard and sustained work to get back to civility and mutual respect. The way ahead won't really become clear to us if we fail to understand the steps that have brought us to this sorry pass.
Those wanting to retrace the steps that have placed our public conversation in peril will be doing themselves a favor if they read "The Eliminationists," by David Neiwert. The book's subtitle indicates that it is both a cautionary tale, and a rallying cry for restoring the respect and decency that has gone missing from our political discourse: "How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right." In the reading, it proves to be an accurate, chilling rendering of recent developments in culture and politics that have led inexorably to the situation we find ourselves in, one in which hate speech no longer exists on the fringes of public life, but has taken up residence comfortably in the mainstream.
Neiwert provides a quietly irrefutable gathering of evidence drawn from news reports, scholarly works, and interviews which make the case that extremist language has for years been drawn from the darkest, hate-filled corners of society, repackaged for mass consumption, and released into the mainstream. The effects can hardly be denied. Frankly, the fallout resulting from Beck's stupid irresponsibility has been stunning not because it was well deserved, but because it happened at all. That is how desensitized we have become to rhetoric and demagoguery that in times past would have been worthy of the strongest condemnation.
Neiwert's book is important in that it identifies a poisonous element in our public discourse that has not only been allowed to flourish by all of us, but has actually been encouraged by some really bad actors in the fields of media (Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter), culture (Robertson, Falwell, Dobson), and from those in positions of political leadership (Lott, Tancredo, Palin). Once the source has been identified, it becomes the duty of every citizen, be they Republican or Democrat, to stamp out this infection wherever it rears its head in public life. Our very ability to preserve democracy depends on good citizens standing up for civility. That is precisely what ColorofChange.org has done.
It needs to be the beginning, not the end of the fight to restore the public square that hatemongers have stolen from us.
Update: Since this post was first published, the number of businesses that have pulled their ads down from Beck's show has grown to at least 50.
Monday, August 3, 2009
The French have a term that describes monstrous children; l'enfant terrible. But in the case of Liz Cheney, daughter of the former Vice President, one gets the feeling that in Dick Cheney's eyes, the more monstrous the child, the better. Indeed, the comment above and others uttered by the younger Cheney in defense of torture, sketchy wire taps, and the glories of Guantanamo, surely must warm the cockles of dad's heart. Or whatever Cheney has that passes for one.
Liz Cheney's fallacies are easy enough to dispatch. Left unsaid in her outrageous statement is the fact that if America has a President, then by definition she has a Commander-In-Chief. Someone please inform Liz that his name is Barack H. Obama. What Cheney is really signaling is her own preference regarding the style in which the office is handled.
This apparently doesn't penetrate Cheney's one-dimensional (and aggressive) worldview. Thus, in interviews and panel discussions she continues to channel dear old dad by advocating the American President if you will, as a sort of "Global Community Destroyer." This was clearly one image of our country and its leader that the world, and more importantly the American voter recently rejected. But Cheney will not be deterred by the mere facts of an election.
She is fond of trumpeting the canard that the Bush administration "kept the country safe for eight years," conveniently omitting 2001, the year that they didn't. Remember, 3000 innocent Americans died on their watch. By that measure alone, Obama's doing a better job. And don't even get me started on the Bush/Cheney non-response to Hurricane Katrina.
Yet instead of feeling humbled or shamed by these failures, both Cheney's continue making the rounds demanding a respect that is hardly deserved, all the while impugning the patriotism of citizens and leaders who are doing a better job than did they in the field of foreign policy and diplomacy. So how does one wrap this up as politely and as succinctly as possible?
Liz Cheney is full of crap....Yeah, I think that works for me.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
But home is not always the most welcoming of places if in your politics, your religion, and I suppose just in your overall view of reality itself, you tend toward the liberal outlook. In that sense, I would have to say that I don't fit the profile of a home grown East Texan. That said, I am absolutely committed to claiming my place at the table here at home.
Somewhere along the way I escaped the insular mind-set so typical of East Texas, but I didn't escape, nor would I wish to escape, the natural beauty of this place. So "loving it or leaving it" is simply not an option here. No, I am absolutely inclined to stay and claim my rightful place as a native son, and raise my voice loud and clear and speak my piece. Furthermore, I would suggest that other liberal East Texans stand up and do the same. After all, what good is American free speech if Americans are too timid to use it.Here in East Texas its common upon entering restaurants, book stores, doctor's waiting rooms, and coffee houses to find ubiquitous televisions tuned to FOX news. There is an unspoken assumption here that the public is OK with news that is so slanted to the right as to no longer deserve the title of "news." I have on occasion raised objections with businesses just to let them know that the "assumption" at least from my point of view was off base. I wonder how it might level the playing field of our public spaces if other liberals quietly, yet firmly spoke up.
Believe it or not, I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (I'm not proud of it, but there it is). At the time I was a fundamentalist Christian and I wholeheartedly bought into the idea making the rounds in those days that "Good Christians" voted Republican. Time has changed my view considerably. Now, after being a practicing Buddhist for some 24 years, I would find it quite difficult (if not impossible) to vote that way again.
But liberals who happen to be Christians obviously can (and do) vote Democratic. Let's face it, the GOP did quite a number on religious people for a number of years by co-opting the Christian message in order to win elections. But ownership of the "Values Vote" has come into serious question in the wake of a rash of high-profile sex scandals of late, and the light being admitted into the room seems to be waking religious Democrats to the truth that they have (and have always had) values aplenty. I don't think we'll be falling for that one again, and that's good for liberals. It's good for America. As Linda Seger writes in her 2006 book "Jesus Rode A Donkey," no one has a corner on Christ.
We live in a place caught in a moment of transition between the rural values of a fading past, and the new exigencies of a fast paced global environment. The landscape features farmlands, antiquated water towers and derricks, as well as microwave towers and satellite dishes affixed to thousands of rooftops. We attend our various houses of worship on Sundays and spend our evenings surfing the web. Liberals have a stake in making our home welcoming and comfortable for everyone regardless of their particular set of values, opinions, and loyalties.
Sure, East Texas will always bear the marks of the conservative values and families who settled and developed the land, but liberals have been here all along and have worked and contributed mightily as well. We should never accept second class status in our own home. Conservatives may outnumber us, but we liberals are free to speak our minds and to stand firmly on principle when it's called for. Know that, and live accordingly.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Consider this: If Brian Coulter in his Longview News Journal July 25 column was correct in insistencing that President Barack H. Obama is a socialist, then in November 2008, the American people elevated a socialist to the highest office in the land. If you find such an odd scenario to be highly unlikely, I'm with you. If you believe, as does Coulter and others on the increasingly hysterical right, that Obama achieved the presidency by hiding his "socialism" under a cloak of deception and guile, then you come perilously close to being relegated to the conspiracy obsessed fringe that has variously labeled the President a "Stealth Muslim," a "Manchurian Candidate," or an "alien born," illegitimate usurper ensconced in the Oval Office. Let us know how that works out for you.
The socialist tag is not new, in fact its "sell by" date has long since passed. That train has left the station. Yet Coulter et al. cling to the fallacy with a desperation that defies all evidence to the contrary. The smear emerged with a vengeance during the 2008 campaign, along with other rather transparent attempts at "Swift-Boating" then candidate Obama. Their spectacular failure, aided in no small part by the ineptitude and down right silliness of the McCain/Palin ticket, was given resounding emphasis in the margin of the President's victory.
Also dragged out to make the rounds in Coulter's column are the fusty old campaign ghosts of William Ayers (another socialist out of the woodwork?) and ACORN. Again, if these failed PR stunts didn't seriously damage Obama back then, what could motivate their use now? Apparently it's the same type of fixation that drives those coteries of conspiracy which disbelieve that we landed men on the moon, that the government has been completely forthcoming about Area 51, or that Elvis has indeed "left the building."
It bears asking, how could John McCain, a respected long time Senator and war hero, lose the presidency (and our country) to a socialist? The answer is, he didn't. He lost to an American Democrat, no more socialist than Franklin D. Roosevelt, who enacted one of the most lasting, effective governmental programs in our history; Social Security. At the time of his administration, Roosevelt also endured specious accusations of fomenting a socialist dismantling of capitalism and the nation. Yet amazingly, here we are decades later, functioning as a capitalist society. To the extent we are locked, as Coulter writes, in an abysmal cycle of governmental growth, unemployment, and precipitously increasing debt, is it really feasible that in less than one year, Obama has caused all the chaos? Not very likely.
The non-existent governance of the previous administration still bears the lion's share of responsibility for our present plight. Recall that the bailout of the financial institutions was an idea that sprang Athena-like from the head of George W. Bush. And by the way, if Obama is so anti-capitalist, why did he endorse a plan spawned by the unquestionably capitalist Bush administration? Bush was so fixated on war and terrorism that he neglected to govern. The mess Obama inherited has been the driving force behind the more controversial (and necessary) of his policies, not a blind commitment to socialist ideology as Coulter persistently and wrongly claims.
I take exception to one comment from Coulter's column which really gets us to the crux of the matter: "That Obama could cherry pick attractive collectivist elements of the socialist platform and enact them never occurs to Anderson..." Wrong. In fact, that idea is not difficult to attribute to Obama at all. If an idea is attractive to Obama, I suspect it is so because he believes that it will ultimately help, not hurt the country. And the President has proven his openness to all solutions, and shown a remarkable penchant for synthesizing seemingly disparate ideas into fresh approaches. Like Bush, Coulter seems averse to "nuance." His deficiency in knowledge about the diversity of thought on the left is revealing, as is his projection onto the left of the same monolithic lockstep that characterizes the right.
If you must have a label for Obama's economic philosophy, it could more precisely be called, Social Democracy, which is a specific anti-socialist movement born out of the left's response to the ascendancy of Capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a Summer 2009 essay in DISSENT magazine, Columbia University associate Professor, Sheri Berman provides the proper placement of Obama's economic philosophy in historical terms. She writes that the success and resilience of Capitalism long after its emergence caused the left to split into three distinct camps. The first (and the first to fall in the face of Capitalism's success) was Leninism, which advocated the use of force to advance its economic/social model. Other leftists, uncomfortable with such violence, chose to keep to a democratic path.
It was a further schism in this second faction that would lead to the economic model that comes closest to Obama's ideas: Social Democracy. Unlike the other two factions of the left, represented by classic Marxism/Leninism and Democratic Socialists, the Social Democratic division believed in a compromise between the best of Capitalism and Socialism, and sought to reform the former rather than eagerly awaiting or even hastening its demise. The "Unheralded" battle between these factions of the left, Berman writes, is the great untold political story of the 20th Century.
Social Democracy, far from attempting to dismantle Capitalism, actually seeks both to strengthen and reform it. This has been in Berman's words, a process of "encouraging [economic] growth while at the same time protecting citizens from capitalism's negative consequences." In fact, the model has proved to be successful in Denmark and Sweden, and Berman believes American leftists should strive to emulate it.
Of course Coulter will concede none of this because it wouldn't advance and preserve his prejudices to do so. His all encompassing obsession seems to be the libeling and maligning of the executive. Meanwhile President Obama, and I might add we as Americans, have serious problems to face down and conquer. We must leave naysayers like Coulter to do what they do best, which is to complain rather than offer realistic solutions.
Read Coulter's column in its entirety at: http://www.news-journal.com/opin/content/news/opinion/stories/2009/07/25/07252009_forum_coulter.html
Friday, July 10, 2009
Conservative's who wish to become equally educated about the ideology of the left may have their work cut out for them. Even I struggle to recall ever seeing a compendium of liberal thought that exists under the title say, of "The Liberal's Handbook." I haven't found one yet, but I do own a copy of Eric Alterman's 2008 book, "Why We're Liberals," which bills itself as a political handbook for a "Post-Bush America."
Then there is Ted Rall's entertaining "Wake Up...You're Liberal!" which purports to show independents and even many Republicans just how unwittingly liberal they actually are. Neat trick, I'd say.
There are more such tomes weighing down my shelves here at the homestead, but I'll only mention one in passing since it probably hasn't seen a lot of publicity due most likely to it's admittedly wonkish presentation and the general anti-intellectualism that prevails in our time. The book is "The Second Bill Of Rights," by Cass R. Sunstein and it offers a compelling argument in support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's rarely discussed, though brilliant State of the Union address of January 1944.
I suppose my point here is that while conservatives have had the commendable foresight to compile their ideological touchstones in an accessible volume and in clear, simple terms, liberals have to search far and wide to piece together the core beliefs that drive their movement. George Lakoff has done much to crystallize these ideas through such books as "Don't Think of an Elephant," "Moral Politics," and "The Political Brain," but more needs to be done.
While we await our one volume compilation of all things liberal, maybe we should be about the business of identifying and codifying them for ourselves. Conviction however, need never wait upon finding the right book. Our liberal values are inscribed in our hearts and minds already. Just look to the basic morality, fairness and compassion that characterizes humanity at its best. Surely our values as liberals are enshrined there at least in rudimentary form. Not insignificant is the fact that the word humane has as its root "human."
Monday, June 29, 2009
In a column appearing under the heading "Obama Is His Father's Son," the writer opens with a lengthy and unsourced quote which he apparently viewed to be "scandalously socialist." The quote, we come to find was spoken not by President Barack Obama, but by his father, Barack Obama Sr. The quote, which Coulter identifies as the theoretical musings of a Harvard-educated economist and "avowed Marxist socialist," seems rather mild in the reading, a fact which does little to quiet the paranoid jeremiads of the extreme right. His point of course, is that these socialist ideas were handed down from father to son.
First of all, it's comical to state a benign fact with overly ominous fanfare. Whose son could Obama be if not his own father's? Secondly, anyone acquainted with even the barest outlines of the President's story knows that the Obamas were divorced when the President was still a very young boy, and that his father was known to have visited his son only once in 1971 very briefly. I find it hard to believe in the few short weeks that Obama Sr. spent with his son, that he possessed either the will or the wherewithal to transmit to his young son's mind, the entirety of his socialist, economic philosophy. Nor does it seem possible, as Coulter seems to suggest, that said philosophy lay deep, dormant and patient in the convoluted strands of the President's DNA.
But such a tenuous connection is apparently no impediment to the unquestioning mandarins of laissez-faire capitalism who easily blow it out of all proportion into a complete embrace by Obama of the main tenets of socialism. Again, pesky facts say otherwise.
If Obama is a socialist, it's news to Billy Wharton, editor of "The Socialist" magazine, appearing on Common Dreams on March 14, 2009: "Obama's No Socialist. I Should Know." In his piece, Wharton states succinctly, "The funny thing is, of course, that socialists know that Barack Obama is not one of us. Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal. Socialists understand him as a hedge-fund Democrat -- one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committed to free-market policies."
Wharton goes on to demonstrate through issues of national banking policy, health care, and the prosecution of wars just how far Obama is from his notion of a socialist leader. So how has he morphed into a harbinger of socialism in the minds of neoconservative wing-nuts, Libertarians, Randians, and some of the other unhinged members of the ultra-right? Its hard to say exactly, but the fact that few of these people are knowledgeable about what socialism actually is, clearly plays a large part.
Journalist/author Richard Wolff concurs: On Common Dreams, he gives a detailed list with descriptions of the main types of recognized socialism, concluding that "Obama has endorsed precisely none of these major definitions of socialism: not Marx's -- focused on the social organization of the surpluses in production, not the Soviet or Chinese models of state ownership of most industries, and not the European notion/model of significant state intervention (e.g. state production of gas, oil, transport; state subsidization of education and national health care; subsidized housing, and so on).
In an irony certainly lost on the writer, Obama is every bit (and quite possibly more) the capitalist that Coulter is himself. The socialist tag seems to have emerged from the strangely desperate final days of John McCain's failed campaign for the presidency. In classic conservative fashion, the socialist smear has gained traction simply through the myopic, zombie-like force which phrases sometimes gain through mere repetition. It matters little that Obama is as committed a capitalist as the next guy.
Which may explain why Obama is so frequently attacked and savaged on the World Socialist Website. The strong denunciations of Obama found there might prove to be an eye-opener for Coulter should he ever risk taking an unblinkered look and listen beyond the insular world of his beloved conservative echo-chamber. The loss of dearly held illusions is difficult but necessary. Everyone should attempt it at least once in a while. This would deny the writer his phony platform from which to kick around the President. It would also beg the question, if he's not attacking Obama for being a socialist, why is he attacking him?
The President is no leftist, which shouldn't be surprising since he never claimed to be one. None other than [the conservative scholar and writer], Kevin Baker has recently confirmed this in a piece written for Harper's magazine, July 2009. In it he criticizes the President not for being too radical, but for not being radical enough to suit the times. Stunningly, as Coulter and others of his ilk castigate the President for being much too radically egalitarian in his policies, Baker, [the great eminence grise of the Republican Party], indicts the President with the charge of "timid incrementalism." He writes, "The question is not what can be done but what must be done."
Finally, John R. MacArthur gives the lie to the "crypto-socialist" charge that Coulter et al. are selling. Writing in The Providence Journal, he calls the claim absurd. Obama, in his estimation is no raving left-leaning liberal. Like Baker, he sees the President as a creature of the center of American politics, ultimately unwilling to challenge the accepted ecomonic wisdom laid out by conventional "experts." Thus, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin and others who played significant roles in the policies (or lack thereof) which led to the economic collapse, take center stage in creating the policies needed to get us out of the ditch. Socialists? I don't think so.
The harsh truth that Coulter just cannot seem to face is that if Obama is, as he believes, a socialist (he's not), then the election proves that the American electorate desired a bit more socialism in their lives. If he changes tack and raises the specter of the President as a kind of "stealth socialist," he runs a serious risk of being consigned to the conspiracy fringe that quaked and quivered unnecessarily over Obama's imaginary "stealth Muslim" status.
Which brings us at last to the real antecedents of Obama's predilection for egalitarianism and compassion. To explain it, readers need look no further than the main thrust of the progressive values of both the left and right, with perhaps a bit of religion thrown into the mix. Obama has never signed up to be a member of the American Socialist Party, but he has been a practicing committed Christian for many years. Perhaps what we see reflected in his policy agenda (conventional as it is) are the values he gains merely from being a Democrat and a moral man.
Granted, it may not be nearly as sexy and conspiratorial as the craziness offered up by Coulter, but chances are it's the truth.
Coulter's column in its entirety is at the site below
Update: An earlier version of this post had identified Kevin Baker as "None other than the conservative scholar and writer" and "the great eminence grise of the Republican party," but I was confusing him with another writer, Kevin Phillips. Baker is a novelist and "a contributing editor to Harper’s magazine as well as a columnist with American Heritage magazine, and a regular contributor to The New York Times and The New York Times Book Review." from wikipedia.org My apologies to the readers of this blog.
Friday, June 19, 2009
As Barack Obama and his coalition of democrats, independents, liberals, and a few disaffected republicans attempt to clean up the foul mess left in George W. Bush's wake, it can be said that none have done more to bring about this sea change than rigid, shortsighted conservatives themselves. With such unbridled power at their disposal, could anyone have doubted the inevitability of the GOP landing us in dire straits? Regarding Bush, the past, as they say, is prologue, and he had pretty much failed at every endeavor he'd undertaken before becoming president. It's amazing how the abject fear attending the thought of another four years under a criminally inept executive can focus the mind of the electorate. If the GOP is experiencing a spot of bother as they seek their erstwhile mojo, perhaps it's merely a function of truth's well known bias against blatant phoniness.
The mandarins of the right are on to something, one feels, when they wring their hands and mutter and mewl about their failure to take seriously the implications of demography. The young shifted in droves to the democrats in the last election, and the reason is that Obama fired the political imaginations and hopes of an entire generation in 2007. In the heady aftermath of electoral victory, they seem sufficiently engaged to remain a force to be reckoned with for decades. Name almost any demographic group, and Obama bested the republicans with said group in 2008: women, Hispanics, African Americans, college educated and working class whites. Indeed, the only group staying home for the GOP are Southern social conservatives, the same group that Richard Nixon advised that the party "nurture" in his so-called "Southern Strategy." Now republicans must sleep in the shrunken bed they have made. It is good to keep the base happy, but everyone knows that you can't win national elections with the base alone. The GOP's dilemma lies in the fact that if they moderate their crazy rhetoric at this stage in order to reach out to independents, they run the risk of losing the base. They have been hoisted on their own petard.
Going forward, I see one danger. Our system is one that relies on a healthy if occasionally contentious conversation between the party in power, and the loyal opposition. Because conservatives have painted themselves into a very bad corner, the administration may get the idea that it can do what it pleases. Regardless of who is at the controls, that's not a good scenario. Liberals have watched in dismay as the administration has made decisions which run counter to our values. Obama seems to have made purely political calculations on questions of torture which leave out a vigorous pursuit of accountability. He has sought to suppress photographs which would give a clearer picture of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" engaged in by our intelligence agencies. He can do these things in large part because of the ineptitude that has stricken the loyal opposition. Democracy requires grown ups on both sides of the aisle to keep everyone honest. While I can admit to the guilty pleasure of watching the GOP stumble in the dark attempting to find political true north, at some point it is in everyone's best interest that they right their veering course.
I just don't see it happening in the foreseeable future.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
My hope for this new venture, or 'adventure' in blogging is that it will become a place where liberal-minded folk in the East Texas area can come to for views that are consistently well thought out, well written, and above all, passionately liberal. Thus, this blog announces itself as being unapologetically liberal. Not "progressive," but liberal. The conservative noise machine has done a terrific job of trashing that word over the past decade, and if we can make a small contribution towards the rehabilitation of liberalism's prestige and cache, then our efforts will not have been in vain.
For some time I have been a proponent and advocate of my fellow liberals growing a spine. It can be argued that the lack of said anatomical feature has contributed mightily to the horrid state of affairs in which we now find ourselves. The previous administration has laid waste to the true values of the country, such that we are currently having to endure the bizarre and morbid spectacle of a former Vice President of the United States extolling the virtues of torture! How might things have gone if somewhere along the road one or two brave liberals had raised the warning flag and taken a stand upholding the American prohibition against torture?
Clearly, there are consequences to craven inaction as well as to the reckless actions of those few who would undermine all that we hold dear as a people. It shouldn't take hurricanes, misbegotten wars and nefarious domestic skulduggery such as the unwarranted, politically motivated firings of nine U.S. Attorneys to awaken a population to the moral turpitude of its leaders. But alas, this is where we have arrived. If it is to be turned around, it will take a clarion liberal call that rings from the highest levels of American government to the humblest venues of town and country.
To that end, we launch ETLR as a dim outpost of liberalism here in the piney woods of East Texas. Our targets will be all of those instances of conservatism run amok that are everywhere evident in the surrounding region. As a native son, I am well aware of the rigid authoritarian stance of the ultra-conservative. I've seen it all my life. I intend to take aim at that mentality whenever and wherever it comes across my path. The mentality of ultra-conservatism has infiltrated East Texas at every level; socially, culturally, and politically and needs to be challenged accordingly.
We will ferret out this corrosive mindset whenever it boldly rears its ugly head in the public square and administer the appropriate smackdown. No sacred cows will be spared. Any organization or institution providing a public forum in the community which seeks to foist a conservative POV on the rest of us may find itself in our crosshairs: newspaper letters & editorials, television, radio and internet content, billboards, church marquees...We expect to find no shortage of things to write about.
Anyone, liberal or conservative, who can reasonably articulate an idea can join the conversation. Hatemongering, emoting, partisan bloviators, however, are not welcome. As liberals, we will not shy away from a lively exchange of ideas. But we will show respect to, and demand it from those who wish to be included on the blog.
Finally, it bears saying that our liberal opinions are certainly of no more inherent moment or worth than anyone else's. But when you are an isolated island of liberals adrift in a vast sea of conservative culture and opinion, you appreciate the few kindred spirits you find on the journey. As fiesty liberals, that is to say, liberals who have found the strength of our convictions, we want to do our small part in the struggle for the American soul. If you are liberal in your politics, your religious views, and your values, welcome to ETLR, an oasis of liberal thought in this arid conservative desert that we call home.
For us this represents a first attempt at utilizing the medium. We hope you'll bear with us as we learn and as the blog evolves. Thanks.
The previous column was screaming in my head as I read the latter. Unity? I believe his words of unity and turning God-ward are code telling fellow Christians to stand against those he condemned in his earlier column. If I were a believer in this God the Reverend prays to, I think I would worry more that God might punish this country for its un-Christian response to 9/11, taking our "shock and awe" war into a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, a war the Reverend has somehow decided to support as a just war. I would think God would be a mite upset about so many Americans heaping hatred and prejudice on much of the Islamic community everywhere. I know I would find it hard to believe that God would listen to the prayers of a Reverend who goes out of his way to promote that kind of prejudice and glorification of war in his local newspaper.
We should be encouraging all religions to continue to evolve, embracing compassion, understanding of each other, and acceptance of other religious beliefs, not building resentment and separation. You would think a Reverend would know that better than anyone else.
You can find the Reverend's columns at: