The False Dichotomy Between “Progressives” and “Centrists”

Those left of Right in the U.S. seem to possess an unerring ability to divide and defeat themselves, and in addition to Jim Crow voter suppression and gerrymandering, this flaw helps keep the White Supremacist Republican Party in power.

For example, I was treated recently to the ghastly spectacle of Intercept comments regarding AG Barr’s declaration that there was no collusion between Trump’s campaign and malevolent Russians.  Glenn Greenwald and his enthusiasts trumpeted the “destroyed credibility” of Rachel Maddow and “corporate media.”  They barked and meowed ad nauseam about “accountability”–without ever having read the Mueller report. They equated Rachel Maddow’s “delusion” to the propaganda that led to the Iraq invasion, an imbalanced comparison, as Colin Powell, a cabinet official, lied about weapons of mass destruction, and Rachel Maddow is merely a conversationalist; also note that implicitly, we are instructed to disbelieve Powell and believe Barr. Many comments attempted to push back, creating further spectacle and making me lose what hope I had that those left of Right might embrace solidarity, common ground, and (wait for it) a relentless determination to excise Trump from power. To read some Intercept comments, you would think Maddow was a graver threat than Trump, and I’m not exaggerating.  Why bother to advance a liberal-progressive-centrist agenda when, as with 2016, you are doing more to elect Trump than the GOP is?  The Supreme Court went full White Supremacist because McConnell pulled his Jim Crow stunt but also because Hillary Clinton lost.  If you thought/think Clinton is the same as Trump, then you haven’t considered evidence and outcomes.

The dichotomy between centrists and progressive is largely false, and even where it isn’t, it can be bridged.  Both C’s and P’s accept the scientific consensus about climate change. Both favor civil rights, voting rights, and immigrant rights. Both want to make voting easier. Both want much broader access to healthcare. Both support women’s rights. And so on.

How can those left of Right best insure winning at the polls? To me this is a far more pertinent question than whether MSNBC is a deluded corporate medium. How can those who label themselves progressive and those who label themselves centrists [does anyone label themselves that?] find common ground so as to (wait for it) get stuff done? I’m all for speaking truth to power, but I’m more interested in those left of Right taking power.

The most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  They did not run against the center because they wanted to win. For some reason, they viewed the McGovern example as a bad one. Go figure. Clinton did odious things and pursued some odious policies, and Obama continued some policies that were less than optimal.  But they got elected, and they advanced a progressive agenda in many areas.  They were an obvious improvement over George Bush I, Robert Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.

Who is actually getting elected–White Supremacist lunatics or those left of Right? Once elected, who is actually getting stuff done, sometimes by means of bridging gaps and reaching some temporary compromises for tactical reasons while pursuing long-game strategies? Inflaming, indeed largely inventing,  the progressive/centrist is not responsible because it helps Trump and his thugs.

 

Christopher Hitchens on Reparations for Slavery

In a debate at Boston College about reparations for slavery, Christopher Hitchens supported them and also gave an excellent lesson in rhetoric that he labeled “don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”  A link to a video of his remarks (and, if you like, contrast Hitchen’s discourse with Trump’s rhetorical vomit):

Hitchens on reparations

My Advice to the GOP

I like to give advice to people who would never, in a million years, take it because then I can’t be held responsible. So, after what seems to have been a mild debacle (oxymoron?) yesterday for the GOP, here is my advice:

1. Vary the haircuts. Seriously. Both GOP men and women have that look–the men’s hair is too perfect, with that kind of Trent-Lott helmet thing going on, and too many of the women have that Texas, big-hair look (which in Texas looks just fine). Nothing like a fresh new “do” to make you feel better and to project the sense that you are not all in lockstep.

2. Realize that President Obama is just a guy. Sure, he’s president, and that has to piss you off. Yes, he’s Black, and that may bug you. Why, who the hell knows. Blacks have been Americans since 1619.

But seriously. He went to high school in Hawaii. He was rather handsome, but still, he looked like we all did in high school: kind of goofy. He married his sweet-heart, and they have two kids. He’s very ambitious, but then so are you. He drinks beer and smokes cigarettes and, like most men, knows way too much about the minutiae of the NCAA basketball brackets. He likes the blues, R&B, and country. He’s a little tedious when he gets wonky, but so are you. He eats hamburgers.

Assert yourself against him politically if you will. That’s entertainment! But just flat-out give up on the socialism, Muslim, Kenya, Manchurian candidate stuff. It didn’t work, for one thing. And it’s silly, for another. Read any definition of socialism. Then check how closely Obama resembles Eisenhower re: policies. He’s just a guy.

3. Don’t elevate guys like Paul Ryan to be your intellectual leaders. Ryan seems like a good politician, but he’s not an intellectual. Nothing wrong with that. He just isn’t.

4. Tell the people who act like they’re Rip Van Winkle and have awakened in an unfamiliar century to chill out or get out. You know who they were. Invite Bachmann to get help, and hint to Palin that the gig is over. Send her to Hollywood. After all, what has either of them done for you lately? End Rove’s long confidence-game. Hasn’t he bilked you enough? Haven’t you bought quite enough vinyl siding?

5. Go back to basics: Make deals and bring home the pork. Be corrupt in the usual American congressional ways; drop the new ways. If Demo Senator X will vote for fixing your highway, then vote for Demo Senator X’s microscopic tax-increase on millionaires. Get in touch with your inner Everett Dirksen.

6. More broadly, fix stuff. The place is falling apart. Highways, bridges, sea-walls, the electrical grid, schools, universities. Your job is not to bore people with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, just as no one wants to read some Dem’s latest book of verse. You’re supposed to fix stuff in your state and in the country. How did you forget that?

7. Get out more. Go clubbing. Hang out with a broader range of people. Have some laughs–laughs that don’t hinge on racist jokes, anti-woman “humor,” or gay-bashing. Surprise yourself. Go to some festival in your state that no one would expect you to attend. Show off that new hair cut.

The Unintended Literature of Politics

Here is a brief quotation from a story in the San Jose Mercury News about Senator Santorum’s quitting the primary-campaign:

Bridget Nelson, a Tea Party activist who co-hosted a March 29 fundraiser for Santorum in Alamo, spoke with him Tuesday and said she’s “bummed” but will soldier on.

“I felt that for the first time in a long time, here’s a presidential candidate the conservatives can get behind who loves God first, country second,” she said. “He just said he wants to be involved still in politics and hopefully in the future possibly running again in 2016, but right now this is the best decision for him and his family.”

If this conversation were depicted as “overheard” in a novel like WAR AND PEACE, we’d be fascinated by all the ironies and nuances. Consider just the mixture of language itself:

“Tea Party,” “Alamo,” “bummed,” “soldier on,” “loves God first, country second.” The first two samples are often interpreted simplistically, but anyone who looks carefully into the Boston Tea Party and the defeat at the Alamo will ponder the unintended complexities in Ms. Nelson’s statement. Then comes “bummed,” straight out of “bum trip” or “bad acid trip,” from the 1960s. “Soldier on”: voters as PFCs. And finally, “loves God first, country second.” I don’t mean to be difficult, but shouldn’t all voters want a candidate who respects the country and more or less keeps his or her faith to himself? Aren’t a hefty number of Americans perturbed by some Muslims, who indeed love God first and country second, as their faith instructs?

If you haven’t read the first page of WAR AND PEACE in a while, you might give it a go. There’s a party going on–a high-class one–in St. Petersburg. War is about to happen. But the odd entanglements of language, egos, and petty desires–as they often do–intrude.

Metaphors Matter: “Safety Net”

Today Mitt Romney is having to answer easy questions about the following quotation, taken from an interview he did with CNN:

“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

Facebook and other social (as opposed to anti-social) media are active with the quotation and comments about it.

Quickly, a few points on the matter:

1. It would be easy to ignore the statement before the quotation, but let’s not: “I’m in this race because I care about Americans.” I think journalists should now be authorized to say, in response to such statements, “Knock it off.” Why must we endure such empty statements from politicians? Romney’s is one of those non-statements that’s at once true (one assumes he cares about more than one American) and false (that’s not why he’s running for president, and even if it were, the statement would be as true of any other candidate as it would be of him–that is, Newt Gingrich probably cares about three Americans, at least.).

2. I maintain we should all thank candidates, not punish them, when they tell the truth, partly because it is the truth and thus a rarity and partly because we can be sure about who the person really is. So when Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond in an obviously racist way, he was forced to resign his leadership, as if we didn’t already know he was racist? Everyone should have said “thanks for telling the truth” and then gotten to the business of asking why the GOP is, in important ways, still the party of Dixiecrats. That is the problem, not Lott’s truth-telling. Of course Romeny doesn’t care about the poor.

3. The matter of the “safety net.” It’s an absurd metaphor, and yet candidates still get away with saying it. A safety net is used in the circus for acrobats and in construction for workers who toil at heights. It’s there “in case.” Programs like unemployment benefits and food-stamp distribution are in place because of deeper structural reasons; it’s not as if most people stumble accidentally into poverty. Education, ethnicity, gender, the “global” economy, the famous “business cycle,” and other structural issues have enormous bearing. By referring to the in-apt “safety net,” candidates are allowed not to talk about the deeper issues. I recall that “safety net” was a favorite metaphor of Reagan’s, as was “trickle down,” about which this blog has opined. The short version is that getting trickled upon, especially (but not exclusively) in matters of economics cannot be a good thing.

OF COURSE Romney doesn’t care about the poor. How many politicians do? How many presidents got elected by emphasizing how much they care about the poor?

Coda: If he believes the very wealthy are just fine, then why is he opposed to taxing them a bit more so as to remedy the deficit and to be able to inject cash into highway-projects and the like? Oh, journalists, please ask such questions.

Drowning Government

One of two most famous quotations from Grover Norquist, who is not only famous for being famous (thank you, Woody Allen, who popularized Daniel Boorstin’s thinking in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America) but also powerful for being powerful, is . . .

“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  http://www.rightwingwatch.org/ content/americans-for-tax-reform

[This quotation competes with a variant on Mr. Norquist’s witticism: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” http://www.npr.org/templates/ story/story.php?storyId=1123439]

If I interpret his waggery correctly, Mr. Norquist wants to murder the American government.  I’m certain that persons of a moderate political persuasion would think (do think) such a statement is extreme.  Mr. Norquist is in the news again, and being criticized, because the Super Committee is about to report and because he met with some “Patriotic Millionaires” who want to increase the tax-rate for millionaires. Apparently one of these millionaires told Norquist that if he wants to live in a country with no government and no taxes, Somalia is available. Money speaking truth to power? Hmmm.  [See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/ 11/17/patriotic-millionaires-grover-norquist-somalia_n_1098473.html]

But what I have not heard or read is a critique that suggests that either version of  Mr. Norquist’s famous quotation is unpatriotic, treasonous, or anarchically radical. If a member of one of the “Occupy” groups were to say, “I want to kill the U.S. government,” imagine how “news”-droners on Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC would react to the quotation. But because Norquist’s language is couched in the acceptable nest that Reagan built–government is bad–Norquist is given something close to a free pass. Reagan’s operation was pretty good at creating the empty signifier into which people could pour their frustrations and thoughtless reactions; hence “big government,” which Reagan pronounced “big gubment.” Of course, Reagan rightly counted on the fact that his followers wouldn’t notice how much he swelled the Pentagon’s budget, for example. Or the country’s deficit. Imagine that! You reduce revenue by cutting taxes, and the deficit increases. Why, it’s like quitting your job but still using your credit cards. Louis in Casablanca would be “shocked.”

At any (tax) rate, it is potentially amusing to realize that an “Occupy” event intended in part to suggest that the super-wealthy should pay more taxes is portrayed as radical or disruptive while the expressed desire to kill the American government is portrayed as “conservative.” So it goes in the pseudocracy.

For similar “wit” from Mr. Norquist, cringe at http://thinkexist.com/ quotes/grover_norquist/.  Mr. Norquist personifies the sort of bombast that has become acceptable to some citizens and some media.  Indeed, Mr. Norquist passes for a pundit in some circles.

 

 

Another Bad Analogy: Social Security = Ponzi Scheme

Wild Bill has this to say (to write, actually):

I had assumed that, when Ann Coulter(geist) asserted that “Social Security is a governmental Ponzi scheme,” that such an assertion would resound only among the unschooled and the feverish. Now that Gov. Perry has taken to repeating the claim, I guess I should direct you where to read up on it “economically.”

Please read the contributions at

to see how deficient Coultergeist’s proposition was.

However, take cautions.

First, Coulter and Perry have repeated a talking point. Talking points resemble Pavlovian cues more than civic propositions. They are not true. They are not false. They neither enlighten nor clarify. They are shibboleths — expressions that mobilize “us” and demonize “them.” It follows that to engage the talking point is to succumb to misdirection and to mistake eristic disputation for rational discourse. [I am of course sorry to inform you that Ann Coulter is neither engaged nor interested in rational discourse.]

Second, Coulter and Perry have spoken/written in metaphoric language. They thus may retreat into similes or similar defenses. “Social Security much resembles a scam” or “There are many elements of Social Security that are common in or to Ponzi schemes” are merely two of the retreats available to them.

Third, please do not imagine that, if Social Security were a Ponzi scheme or nearly a Ponzi scheme, Coulter’s or Perry’s contention would necessarily have relevance or consequences. If retirees were long ago taken in by a Ponzi scheme, they would have been victims of con men in high places. The misplaced reliance of our elderly on schemers would NOT justify cutting or eliminating Social Security benefits.

An appropriate reply to “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” would be “You may want to study up on Ponzi schemes so that you can learn why Social Security is different from Ponzi schemes and why likeness to Ponzi schemes has few or no implications for policy.”

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