Sunday, January 27, 2008

Democracy in America Revisited

We face the radicalization of the obvious. The zeitgeist demands that we deny what is right before us and give reality all manner of euphemistic descriptions and evasions. And so we want simple answers for everything. But, on the other hand, the social reality is not so complicated that we cannot speak of it. We stand on the self-destroyed scaffolds of the New Right and the ashes of the New Left, generations removed from the promises of social democracy and looking toward an uncertain, chaotic future, mindful of the need to rise above the tired categories of “left” and “right” and demonizations of the Other. My generation has enslaved itself to trendy, escapist and cynical patterns of thought, as we, to borrow the language of Port Huron, look uncomfortably to the world we inherit from our vantage in college dormitories.

We have so many opportunities ahead of us and are so privileged. Social change on an institutional, systemic level is a moral imperative that rests on our shoulders. This should not be of academic interest, or the province of “change agent” elites, but the work of ordinary citizens. We are a republic only if we can keep it, to borrow Benjamin Franklin’s words. I have no doubt that my words will be given some or other ideological sign or tag. We can ask what were the tags appended to the proponents of the American Enlightenment and revolutionaries who resisted colonialism? It is surely recognizable.

So we must proceed from elementary facts. One of these is that we have betrayed the Founders in word and spirit, for which we ought to be deeply ashamed and embarrassed. The second is that even acknowledging that fact is illegitimately tarred radical. Orwell, at one point in his life an anarcho-syndicalist fighting fascism in Spain, wrote that to “see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” What faces us is a bald-faced betrayal, a usurpation of American liberty and the Constitutional order that has thrown us, atomized, confused and self-deluded, into a denial of the reality before us. To speak honestly, the litany of high crimes perpetrated by our government need not be reviewed here. Have we been awake?

It should suffice to say that we cannot afford to approach the world as liberals or conservatives, terms now more worthless than international peacekeeping missions. “Liberal,” for example, when not a pejorative term of abuse and derision, means in an operative sense accommodating of neocolonial foreign policy and “centrist” management of the domestic polity in an arch-regressive, statist direction for the sake of political expediency (Clinton). It can at times take on a charismatic form (Obama) or fashion itself as populist (Edwards), but all are a far cry from traditional Enlightenment notions of freedom and equality. “Conservative” has been deformed beyond recognition.

Tocqueville wrote admiringly of the impressive “equality of conditions” that gave meaning to freedom in the United States. No big government enforced such conditions of life; the society was structured along the contours of small townships and direct participatory democracy was realizable. Much has obviously changed, like industrialization—not altogether a bad thing—but some things, thank God, do not. The preamble to our Constitution still speaks of a strange concept called the “general welfare.” What of it now? Does it even remain coherent or sensible to talk of American society, when the dominant culture encourages us all to think only of ourselves so we can “get ahead” by climbing over everyone else’s backs as we all ascend the same pyramid?

I believe in the power of individuals, and think of myself as an individual with the rights of an individual and, hopefully, a free mind. So, for example, my attraction to democratic socialist theory, a school of thought obvious enough at several points (i.e., the insane idea that people, as human beings, ought to own themselves and not submit to state or corporate power), is tempered by several caveats. Yet politics has discredited itself. But we avoid any and all things “political” at our own expense, and at the peril of generations unborn, in these times.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Charlie Wilson’s War?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Your application was intriguing … What you didn’t have was the strong news reporting background of many of the other candidates. [I actually submitted a dozen or so pieces from my college paper] … You clearly have many of the instincts that a very good journalist should have. In particular, we applaud your curiosity and your commitment to search out your own truths, rather than to swallow a party line.”

Excerpted from my rejection letter from the Washington, D.C. bureau of The New York Times for this summer’s Rosenbaum editorial internship. If it’s a good thing to not be a partisan...?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Here’s my problem with much of the post-N.H. commentary with regard to the Clinton “victory.” Particularly, with third-wave “feminists” like Gloria Steinem, who wrote in the New York Times the day before the primary a gushing, grotesque article about HRC that made me briefly consider the wisdom of throwing up. (I did not.) Lemme pull it out of the trash bin, just a sec… here we go. January 8: “Women Are Never Front-Runners.”

Right out of the gate Steinem is playing the ‘gender card’ at full tempo, without any shame at all. The biggest illogic of the whole thing is the insinuation that opposing Hillary Clinton means I am opposing the advancement of women in politics. And that’s flat-out absurd. Yes, there is no question that women have it tougher, that they have a higher hurdle in the political arena, and that there are popular stereotypes they have to overcome. But that’s not the point: HRC is not as polarizing, unpopular and shrill and power-mad and self-congratulatory as she is because she’s a woman, but because she’s Hillary Clinton. It is actually, in a way, sexist of Steinem to suggest, ever so implicitly, that Clinton represents all women. No, not all women, but a subset of career-oriented women who are not really that interested in equality but more intent on shaming men into thinking they are automatically “sexist” or “misogynistic” because they oppose individuals like Hillary Clinton. In other words, it is sexist to argue that opposing her candidacy is perforce sexist.

Here’s Steinem: “I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate [not if you count Obama’s service as a state senator], an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training…” Wait, stop, stop right there. On-the-job training? Are you kidding me? She is not getting hired; this is an election, not a job selection process. Steinem concludes that “[w]e”—i.e. women—“have to be able to say: ‘I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.’” (her emphasis) The first part is dubious at best, and the second is completely patronizing. It’s like saying that I support Joe Lieberman—and I certainly do not, for several reasons—because he’s Jewish. Just ridiculous.

NOTE: It is interesting to take a look at the letters published in Thursday’s Times. The best came from two men and two women writers (because, unlike the Steinem-type feminists I am interested in equality; there was a feminazi forum at my college some time ago, whose breakdown was three women speakers and the token guy).

Daniel Grossman of Clifton, NJ writes, “It is unfortunate that the Clintons continue to resort to this type of manipulation [Hillary had gotten a tad choked up the day before NH]. … Victimhood is not a sufficient criterion for being president.”

Karin Kimbrough adds: “As a black woman and a feminist, I find it depressing to see Gloria Steinem set up this tired, false debate as to whether a black man or a white woman is more disadvantaged in national politics. … My parents (who are Ms. Steinem’s age) vividly recall racism in the Deep South, including barriers to voting as well as the barriers to many other supposedly granted rights like eating in restaurants, staying in hotels and using public facilities. These were all rights white women actively enjoyed.” I’m reminded of the Carlin rant about how feminists like Steinem “don’t give a shit about black women’s problems, they don’t give a shit about Latino women, all they care about is their own reproductive freedom and their pocketbooks.” Then he goes on to agree about their characterization of men as moral monsters and how it’s terrible that women “put on a man-tailored suit with shoulder pads” and “imitate the worst habits of men”—like, tada! Hillary Clinton!

But I digress. Phillip Ruland from Laguna Beach (CA) chips in with the fair-minded sentiment that “such a self-regarding emotional display”—I believe a good paraphrase can be something like “oh, look I’m about to cry, can’t you see how you should agree that I’m entitled to be your leader?”—“is hardly the type of character trait one desires to see in a presidential candidate—man or woman.” And Marilyn Kiss of Staten Island writes that she has been “firmly in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s camp” until she cast a vote in favor of authorization of use of force against Iraq in 2002. “For me,” Ms. Kiss—couldn’t help it, sorry—“international peace trumps national feminism, since it also takes into consideration the lives of women and girls in Baghdad and beyond.” Need I repeat what Carlin said?

Alas, we cannot expect everyone to be levelheaded, male or female. This is Carolyn Kirkland of Fort Worth, Texas, who makes this asinine statement: “Gloria Steinem ... may have ... helped turn an election. I am amazed at how many of my women friends e-mailed her Op-Ed article to their friends because she put into words what so many of us feel in our bones.” Oh, how long, oh Lord, how long?

[Addendum, Jan. 11: in her 1983 book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions Gloria Steinem made the ominous foreshadowing, “One day, an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, p. 218), er, the Democratic nomination.]

(Photo credit Zombie/AP)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

...and CNN calls it for Hillary. Damn.
The goddamned Associated Press and NBC just called New Hampshire for Clinton; CNN still thinks it is too close to call. Which it is. Looks like a dead-heat. Have the college-town votes been counted yet? They cannot just ignore 30% of the precincts can they?
STOP HILLARY NOW. Come on, college kids!
Our voting machines still do not have paper; and there are -- still -- questions about their reliability. This is some ridiculous shit.

Friday, January 04, 2008

“I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there’s at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven’t known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace. Now I’m facing some very real consequences of that decision; who says life doesn’t have a sense of humor?

“But for those who knew me and feel this pain, I think it’s a good thing to realize that this pain has been felt by thousands and thousands (probably millions, actually) of other people all over the world. That is part of the cost of war, any war, no matter how justified. If everyone who feels this pain keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time.”

— Andrew Olmsted, a soldier and a blogger, who was killed on-duty in Iraq on January 3 (courtesy Obsidian Wings)

God rest him in peace.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

It’s time to seriously consider doing this, as a sensible and prudent measure to end the Iraq war. If our Congress can’t de-fund it, the American people can. I’m not sure how this can be legally, or if it will be successful in crippling the war machine and its efforts to suck more and more of our sons and daughters to their assured slaughter for no intelligible reason or end in sight, but it may be worth a try to check it out. I’m not a pacifist, but this is not a just war and our soldiers need to come home. Make it a New Years’ resolution.

These are heavy times, and it’s easy (and understandable) to want to just tune out and wait it out, hoping for the “opposition” to roll in and fix everything. But we need to make sure that future generations know that we didn’t all just sit around and wait; that we cared about our country; and that we knew that the times were too serious for frivolous campaign games and electoral chicanery to not stand up and defend our Constitution, and indeed our way of life. Privacy International just released a massive study that troublingly points to the conclusion that the United States has joined the ranks of the “endemic surveillance societies” of the world; our status over the past year has been “deteriorating.” Russia and China are also listed as endemic surveillance societies, obviously.

It ought to inspire shame that we’ve managed to join them — and they’re totalitarian societies, no less. We did it in a democracy. But there is still much to celebrate, and I hope everyone had a wonderful New Years’ Day. I will never be afraid to say I love my country.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year.