Shining some light on the dark underside

January 13, 2011

I read the text of President Obama’s speech in Tucson last night and watched it just this morning.  If you haven’t actually listened to it yet, you probably should.  It is, as he’s given to from time to time, a remarkable performance–humble and sad, visionary and inspirational, humane, all the characteristics of the Obama that drew us to him during the campaign and all too often get washed out by the noise of daily politics.

From cruising around the blogosphere last night after the speech, I gather that even some of the more conservative punditocracy were praising the speech.  I haven’t seen any reactions from Republican members of Congress, but when Charles Krauthammer gives a Democrat the nod, the Democrat must have done OK.  So let’s just say, for the sake of conversation, that Obama’s call for renewed civility and decency in our political discourse made a mark on the people with the loudest (that is, the most mass mediated) voices: elected officials and pundits.

Then I made the mistake (or, faced the demon–choose your metaphor) of beginning to read comments sections of stories about the speech.  I don’t know if YahooNews draws an especially nasty crowd or what, but it didn’t take 2 minutes from the end of the speech before screeches of “traitor” and “communist” and “worst President ever” and “he wasn’t even born here” showed up.  Today, out of the first ten comments, two of them say, “Google FEMA Concentration Camps and find out what Hussein means to do to YOU!”  Nobody explicitly calls for his assassination or violence directly against him, but let’s just say that his call for decency seems to have fallen on some deaf ears.

One of my favorite bloggers, Ed at Gin and Tacos, wrote the other day that one of the big problems in our current political scene is that nobody seems willing to call out the crazies.  What the hell is wrong with them?  How can anybody listen to a neighbor (much less a Congressperson or respected “journalist”) propagate the kind of insanity that we’ve come to take for granted without responding to it?  And I’m not just talking about the militaristic metaphors and the “climate of hate” that’s been flying around for the last few days.  I’m talking about somebody I defriended on Facebook because they thought it was hilarious when Barack Obama got his lip split playing basketball and said something like, “Damn, I wish I’d learned to play basketball so I could have smashed his face in.”  About the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!  If one of us peaceniks had said anything of the sort about George W. Bush, we’d have been accused of being TRAITORS (gasp).  In fact, some of us did say terrible things about George W. Bush (if there were an emoticon for a raised hand, I’d use it here) and were routinely called traitors.  Of course, we were also called traitors when we said nothing at all about GWB, but that’s another story…

Anyway, so my question for now is this.  If the big voices in our country got the message last night, and have begun to realize that the way we talk to each other is counterproductive, horrifying, unworthy of us, call it what you will, how do we get that message to the people who really need to hear it–our neighbors and co-workers, the people stockpiling weapons caches in case they need to revolt, the people who hide behind anonymity to threaten others’ safety and well-being, and so on?  There’s an argument to make that it took decades of building up to this level of anger and viciousness and that it will, therefore, take decades to build it down.  We don’t have time for that.  How do we accelerate that process?

I guess another way of asking the question: how do we, as activists, organize in our own communities (physical, virtual, professional, …) to support a more productive, humane discourse?  How do we even begin to talk about rebuilding trust, believing that what people who think differently are doing isn’t automatically an attempt to destroy us?

Once trust has been breached, it’s very difficult to rebuild.  At least right now, that’s the biggest challenge I see.

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When We Do It, It’s Democracy; When You Do It, It’s Tyranny

January 12, 2011

[Let me make perfectly clear, at the outset, that I’m not laying specific blame for Jared Lee Loughren’s actions at the feet of Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck, or….  Not that I expect this disclaimer to matter much.  As I’ve been reading blogs and comments sections over the last few days, it’s pretty much impossible even to mention one of the right-wing heros without drawing immediate defensive responses that have little or nothing to do with what actually got said.  But hey, it’s worth a try.]

An extended version of a discussion that just started on my Facebook page when I posted a link to Sarah Palin’s statement re: the Giffords’ shooting.

Apparently, in Palin’s world, exercises in vicious rhetoric are “healthy debate” and “democracy” when Republicans do them.  Witness–

Some signs from Tea Party rallies (there are zillions more of these, of course, but I’m trying to make the point quickly)

When Rush Limbaugh says, “What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country. He’s sitting there in jail. He knows what’s going on, he knows that…the Democrat party is attempting to find anybody but him to blame. He knows if he plays his cards right, he’s just a victim. He’s the latest in a never-ending parade of victims brought about by the unfairness of America…this guy clearly understands he’s getting all the attention and he understands he’s got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he’s not convicted of murder – but something lesser.”

When Sarah Palin herself posts an advertisement with crosshairs over the districts of Democratic incumbents whose politics she doesn’t like.

When Palin’s spokesperson denies that the crosshairs are gunsights.

When Joe Wilson yells “You lie!” at the President of the United States during a speech in front of the entire Congress and nation.

When Sarah accuses then-candidate Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists” (Former Weatherman Bill Ayers)

When Sarah adopts the riff of “real Americans” as a central campaign theme in 2008, as if to suggest that anybody who’d vote for Obama isn’t a real American.

Endless criticisms of mainstream media for “gay-friendly” depictions of relationships, leading to the degradation of marriage, the evils of children everywhere, wars (oh, hi, Westboro Baptist freaks!), and so on.

Referring to the Affordable Healthcare Act as “socialist” and claiming that it will install “death panels”

The orchestration (largely organized by Freedom Works, although many Tea Partiers may not know that) of disruptions all over the nation at health care Town Hall meetings

This list could go on and on and on and on and on.

You could (I won’t, but it’s possible to) make an argument that, in fact, these are healthy exercises in democratic process.  As Palin herself puts it, democracy requires vigorous debate and exchanges of ideas; if you don’t like what somebody does/says, vote ’em out!  And that’s true.

The problem with Palin’s statement is the double-standard it applies.  That is, it’s fine for Republicans/conservatives to depict Obama as Hitler; to blame entertainment and news media for the collapse of “family values”; to disrupt Presidential speeches by accusing the President of terrible things; and so on.  But it’s “irresponsible” (gasp), unconscionable for anybody to explore the possibility that the extremely vitriolic, vicious, violent language that she and her ilk (Beck, O’Reilly, Limbaugh and the gang) deploy at just about every opportunity, might have had even the least bit to do with what happened on Tucson on Saturday.

So when you and your friends say it, it’s democracy.  When my friends and I say it, it’s “irresponsible,” or as you and Rush often like to put it, tyrannical.

As I concluded the Facebook post this morning (this is about as concisely as I can say it, which is why I’m just using it again)–

Be quiet, Sarah. Unfortunately, the same arrogance that makes you think we care what you say keeps you from understanding when you need not to talk.


Moderates and “Extremists”

October 31, 2010

Just read this piece on cnn.com and it prompted me to post for the first time in, oh, almost two months–

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/10/31/avlon.rally.sanity/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

I didn’t go to the Stewart/Colbert “rally,” and as I read more about it, I’m glad I didn’t.  Although it sounds like it was probably fun, and while I respect Stewart and Colbert as much as you can respect professional entertainers’ political work, the more I read, the more I realize the rally seems to have reinforced one of the great misnomers (read: bullshit) of this political period.

In simplest terms, the notion that “extremists at both ends of the spectrum” have hijacked our political discourse is crap.  Total and complete crap.  No, that’s an insult to crap.

Yes, there are extreme leftists.  Chances are, unless you’re one of them, you’ve never seen or heard of any of them.  There’s simply no equivalent on the left for the lies, hatred, vitriol, distortion, power-hunger, lies, lies, hate, violence, lies, and violence and hate of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner (who, if he’s not one of this gang sure seems to want to be), Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe, …  the list goes on and on and on and on.  None.  Amy Goodman?  Who does a radio show that about 43 people listen to?  At least she doesn’t make shit up out of whole cloth to suit her agenda.  Michael Moore?  He’s a clown, and nobody on the actual left much listens to him anymore (if we ever did anyway).  Barack Obama?  You’re an idiot if you think he’s a liberal.

The facts are quite simple.  Our political discourse has been hijacked by bad people who spew whatever shit is convenient at the time in order to scare people into ceding power to them.  It doesn’t matter if the shit they spew is the same shit they spewed last week, or last year, or whether the new shit as antithetical to the old shit.  These people will say anything (read: ANYTHING) to maintain power for themselves and their friends, no matter what the cost to the nation or the world.  And it’s THEM, along with their corporate-media lapdogs, who propagate the myth that “extremism” comes from both directions.  It doesn’t.

We’ve seen this strategy before.  Conservatives are very good at accusing liberals of doing whatever conservatives are actually doing; it allows them to deflect attention from the fact that they’re the ones doing it.  That anybody actually believes the shit they spew is, quite simply, a bonus.  Their primary purpose is to generate noisy, horrible-sounding static; the goal is to make people stop listening.  And it’s working.  Yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity was, by most accounts, a pretty much content-free feel-good session from which nothing at all emerged.  Yay.

What it will take to send the rightwing extremists back where they belong is simply to shut them off.  I don’t mean that those of us on the left should ignore their existence.  I do mean that we have an obligation to put their hate-filled shit in its proper context at every turn.  Don’t debate them head-to-head because they never, ever listen; and neither do they have any actual commitment to the positions they take, so changing their minds isn’t really a goal.  Instead, we have to make sure that the larger swath of the public, who isn’t firmly committed to left or right (they call themselves “moderate,” while I call them “uncommitted,” but that’s a topic for another day), doesn’t hear the shit unchecked.  Call out the lies.  Call out the flip-flops.  Don’t let their hypocrisy, hate, and lies slip down the memory hole.

If leftist extremists EVER have the kind of bully-pulpit the right currently does, we can talk about finding the “center” and extremism from “both sides.”  Until then, the insistence that it’s coming from both sides is simply right-wing propaganda.


President Obama and the House Republican Caucus

January 30, 2010

So, I didn’t watch this meeting yesterday (Fri, 1/29) but have read several articles reporting and analyzing it.  And I’ve read some of the transcript, and understand that I may have to update my thinking about this once I’ve gotten through it all.

In the meantime, though…

First reaction: I’m glad they did this, and did it on live TV.  There’s so much (mutual) sh*t-talking among our major parties these days that it seemed important to get them face-to-face, in a room, in front of cameras to see how PrezO and the Rs would react to each other in real time.  Whatever else I have to say about this, now or later, it’s a (sadly) momentuous event in US political history, and I agree strongly with the calls for more of it, with both Republicans and progressive Democrats.

Notice that because I’m echoing the call for PrezO to meet with progressive Democrats, I’m contending (and will until almost all his policy stances change) that Obama IS NOT A PROGRESSIVE, much less a socialist or any other such nonsense.  The jury has long been in agreement on this, and the only people who say otherwise are those who are saying it simply to be inflammatory.

At any rate, although I don’t have especially high hopes that one meeting will change the tenor of Washington politics, I do think a couple of things about the outcomes of the meeting.  First, I think PrezO clearly established himself as the voice of reason, at least up against the barbaric attacks he’s faced in the last year and change.  That was already true, of course.  Even though I disagree with his policy positions on almost everything, he’s certainly more reasonable (as a listener, thinker) than just about anybody else in the public domain right now.

When Republican opponents of healthcare reform, for example, accuse him of turning a deaf ear to “the American people” (who they routinely proclaim to speak for, even though almost every single national poll disputes this notion), they’re simply lying.  It’s very clear that he wanted a very different package, had he been able (well, willing) to script this process himself; instead, he sold various pieces of the package to a variety of constituencies in the name of being open-minded, fair, and committed to democratic practice.  Whether that’s exactly why he did it we’ll never know, of course, but to accuse him of “not listening” is, not to put to fine a point on it, bullshit.

A second outcome from yesterday’s meeting (I hope): a retreat from the brinksmanship (apologies for the gendered term!) that has passed for discussion/debate in the last 5 years, maybe longer, in this country.  Not that I expect the Republican party machinery to ratchet down their (so far successful, depending on how you measure such things) strategy of complete negation.  But it seems, from the reports I’ve seen, that even some Republicans demonstrated a sense of calm reasonability during the meeting.  We’ve suspected all along that there were still members of the party who think the Tea Partiers and Palinites are dangerous, wrong, and need to shut up; a couple of them might have shown their faces publicly yesterday.  Let’s hope the Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh/Fox News machine doesn’t flush them all down the Memory Hole once again.

One problem I’ve had with coverage and some discussion of this event: I see too many Democrats and PrezO supporters proclaiming it a “beat down,” a “victory,” a “smash,” and other fightin’ words.  This troubles me on two levels.  First, while the reptilian core of my brain likes to exact painful revenge just like most people do, I like to think that what we saw was instead the first real moment of actual exchange that PrezO’s been calling for since he started his campaign.  Second, and closely related, I don’t imagine that PrezO himself would either use these kinds of terms, or be happy that anybody else is, to describe what happened in Baltimore yesterday.  That is, even if in the dark recesses of his brain he enjoyed the clear control he exhibited over the Rs, he’d NEVER say so out loud, and he wouldn’t want anybody else to talk about it that way either.

It serves no purpose except to re-inflame the exact nastiness that made it so newsworthy in the first place.

Short version–I strongly recommend, especially to PrezO supporters and Democrats, that you BACK OFF a little from the victory dance many of you seem to be doing.  That kind of oppositional discourse does little except to reinforce itself; as many of us pacifists say, violence only gets more violence.  Same principle here, folks.


I feel like I’m home again

November 5, 2008

It’s hard to describe the feeling this morning.  Most of it, I think, at least in its early stages, is relief.  Relief that Sarah Palin will go home; relief that John McCain can’t advance the interests of the wealthy and powerful on the backs of the poor; relief that the discourse of hate and anger didn’t win the election.

It’s that last one, I think, that I hope is the ultimate legacy of this election.  To put it bluntly, the US told the Ann Coulters, Laura Ingrahams, Rush Limbaughs, Hannitys and O’Reillys and Liddys of the world, to SHUT UP!!!!!!  Our country, the one that belongs to ALL of us, not just the people who agree with you, has had it up to here with your hate and anger.  You gave it your best shot; you unloaded all the sleazy lies and innuendos you could think of; you spent hours and months, and millions of dollars, trying to generate a wave of hate, and that wave broke on a voting public that didn’t buy it. 

For the first time in at least 8 years, probably more like 20, I feel like I live in my own country again.  I didn’t wake up this morning wondering what the next phase of the coup (which inserted GWB into the White House) might look like.  Although I disagree with Barack Obama on a great many issues, I feel like he not only understands the issues facing the citizenry, but more importantly that he’s committed to energizing participation in our democracy–not just in the voting booth, but in our homes, schools, religious institutions, social service agencies, and everywhere else. 

The “change” Obama promises isn’t change in specific policies, although there are some policies that will certainly change.  The change he promises is in the whole ethos of how our nation governs itself, how the citizenry participates in its own governing, how the *process* of deciding what’s best and then doing it gets done.  I didn’t vote for Obama because he’s a Democrat (emphasis on the capital D).  I voted for Obama because he’s a democrat (small d), which means I believe his goal is to give the country back to the people, where the power belongs.


Nancy Goldfarb has her own blog; don’t post her loonytunes stuff here

November 2, 2008

Among the many wingnuts out there distributing silly (well, it’d be silly if the stakes weren’t so high) lies about Barack Obama, Nancy Goldfarb is one of the “best.”  She’s good at making fragmentary and circumstantial evidence, padded by some outright fabrications, sound like big problems with Barack Obama’s candidacy.

There have been several attempts to post her disinformation on this blog and the blogs of several of my friends and blogger-buddies.  Enough.  If you want to read her blog, read it, but I will no longer allow postings that link to her blog from here.  What’s the point?  None of her minions are saying anything new.

[UPDATE: In the one hour since I posted this, Nancy and two other people have tried to repost the link to the same old lies I told them I wouldn’t post here.  Amazing.  No, not really.]


Ted Koppel flashback

November 1, 2008

As I was walking home from school yesterday, I kept having this flashback to an episode of “Nightline” right before the 2000 election.

With all the GOTV hype in high gear, Koppel ended the episode with a remarkably brave commentary, something along the lines of, “Yes, voting is essential to democracy, but if you don’t really understand who or what you’re voting for, stay home.  Don’t cast a bad vote just because you think you’re supposed to.”

I can’t help but think about that commentary as I read/hear news that many likely Republican voters believe the most bizarre things, and are likely to cast their votes based not just on a lack of information, but on actual misleading information.  Some believe Barack Obama is a closet Muslim radical; others believe he and Bill Ayers are plotting some kind of terrorist attack; others believe he’s laying the groundwork for a revolution; some believe he supports socialized medicine, or a government-sponsored revenue-distribution system.  And those aren’t the really weird ones.

So, inspired by Koppel, I want to revive his plea.  If you don’t have real information on which to base your decision, stay home.  Pretty much everything the Republicans have said (or helped shadowy activist groups say) about Barack Obama over the last 2 years is a lie.  Al Gore was right during his speech to the DNC; the reason the Republican Party lies so much and so nastily about Obama is that they’re very, very scared of him.  And not scared of his race.  And not scared of his religion, or his charisma, or his public-speaking ability.

The Republicans, at least the ones who really run the show, are terrified that he will give our country back to the citizens, instead of a small group of ultra-wealthy elite who have been pillaging our souls and our treasury for the last eight years.  They like being in charge and being able to steal with impunity, and they’re scared that an Obama presidency will end their game.

They should be scared.  They should be even more scared when millions of voters who have tired of their theivery show up at the polls to oust the Republican party from the White House and Congress.

If you don’t understand, because you don’t have enough good/true information, why that needs to happen, stay home.  A vote for the Republican ticket is NOT a vote for your own self-interest unless you’re ultra-wealthy.  A vote for the Republican ticket is NOT a vote for the collective good of the country, which they couldn’t give two shits about and never have.  A vote for the Republicans is NOT putting “Country First.”

And if you think it is, you’ve been misinformed.  So stay home.