Tag Archives: liberals

Obama / Warren

My preliminary thoughts on the choice of Rick Warren for the invocation at Obama’s inauguration are that he [Obama] has made a good choice.  That’s not to say that I am any special fan of Warren’s; I find the entire “megachurch” phenomenon to be a bit undesirable mostly for personal theological reasons (i.e., I don’t like a democratized church).  Nor do I find myself able to subscribe to his positions on homosexuality, but it’s important to remember that they will be the views of *any* evangelical, and are held by many, if not most, Americans over the age of, say, 35.

I am not any more thrilled than anyone else on the left about some of the cabinet picks or some of the conservative policies we’re likely to see from Obama.  But the fact is, we voted for a man who campaigned on the idea of bipartisanship.  Now, I don’t know what most progressives consider to be “bipartisanship,” but apparently some think it means “stacking the new administration with leftists.”  Again, I’m as eager as anyone for every neoconservative bungler in Washington to be booted into the welcoming arms of the Weekly Standard before we get involved in a nuclear conflagration with Iran, Russia, and whoever else feels like joining the “axis of evil.”  But as much as I fear the cowboy policies of the modern right, I value more the idea that dialogue and compromise will give our nation the ethical center it needs.  Yes, I agree with the leftists on many things, but one of my sharpest criticisms of the current administration is its inability to understand any subtlety or any opposing perspective.  

By choosing Warren, Obama has angered the gay rights movement, no question.  But then again, Proposition 8 and the debates showed that, unfortunately, this is not yet the time for equal rights.  That’s not a universal indult or anything, but there’s no sense in which Warren (easily the most popular evangelical alive) can single-handedly deprive gay couples of anything.  So, for reasons entirely unrelated to gay rights, I think that Obama’s choice puts an important new nexus on the map: an alliance of reasonable evangelicals and non-doctrinaire leftists, one which will (hopefully) help the Christian right to stop stigmatizing social justice as some kind of threat, and the left to relax its ardent support for, say, abortion on demand or the ardent prosecution of innocuous 10-commandments tablets.

Thoughts?  A wholly quixotic idea?

Advertisements

Political Correctness?

I’m teaching Argumentation to my students this unit, and one of the things I’m emphasizing is definitions of terms.  In interest of that, I want to talk about this issue of “political correctness.”  I discussed this on another blog, but the issues surrounding this election (specifically the recent racial tensions on Baylor’s campus, on which more later) force me to break my silence again.

Let me make one thing clear.  One of the definitions of political correctness – which I suppose we could circumscribe as “mandated castration of vivid language to remove possibility of offense / dissent” – describes something truly vile, truly Stalinist.  When language as such is “policed” for conformity to a state-defined ideal, then language has died.  I could not agree more, and I oppose such silly coinages and “sanitation engineer” or “vertically challenged” as much as the next person.  They’re patronizing and not seriously used by the interest groups they are supposed to flatter.

However, I feel that something else is at play.  In the wake of Conservative punditry’s revolt against some of the sillier neologisms of the Left (and/or the academy – let’s talk about rhetoremes in homosocial discourse communities!  Anyone?) and of the election of Barack Obama, heralded as a neo-Marxist jacquerie even by members of our own Senate, some individuals are using this heroic stance against “political correctness” as a justification for all sorts of xenophobic slurs.  Uttering a non-politically-correct phrase becomes such a holy grail that pundits are now willing, from time to time, to simply throw (say) the entire population of the Middle East and North Africa under the culture-wars bus.  “Barack Obama is a terrorist,” they say, crying “foul!” when somebody tries to tell them that dark skin and passing acquaintances with U of Chicago education professors does not a Fedayeen make.  “Just look at the mandarins of PC trying to shut me up.  Well, I’ll tell it like it is, blah blah blah …”  No, you won’t.  You’ll inflame the passions of the electorate on both sides, making it more and more difficult to reconcile after the dust has settled.

“Barack Obama is an Arab,” they ignorantly declare, only to be told “no.  No ma’am.  He’s a good family man.”  The irony of that statement is intense, considering that values-focused white middle class “real Americans” have a divorce rate that dwarfs that of Arab nations.  That’s not supposed to be a value judgment on the two cultures.  It’s just ridiculous that “family man” is now the opposite of “Arab” in our culture.  It really, truly alarms me how much the American mind has united “Arab” and “Muslim” with “terrorist.”  It’s a hideous piece of xenophobia absolutely unworthy of polite discourse, the discourse of the “polis,” which is the ultimate root of that Political in Political Correctness.  Speech that is gelded by thought police is one thing; speech that is decorous and apt for the agora is another thing entirely.

Americans, our “polis” is made up of a lot more than white-bread, bourgeois, mainline Protestant four-person families.  Almost everyone I know drops out of these categories at some point.  Some of you don’t like this; some of you (and I am addressing pundits here, because I’ve only heard this from them, not actual friends of mine) wish that this were otherwise, that immigration had been restricted to white Europeans because they accommodate to our “values” better.  Check out the writings or statements of Tom Tancredo, Pat Buchanan, Rep. Virgil Goode, and others for this idea.  It’s quite real.  But listen: first of all, this is unjust because the Native Americans never got polled as to whether our Mayflower forbears adhered to their “values.”  Second, this is manifestly ridiculous from a historical perspective: I think it’s safe to say that more than half of my readership is Catholic, and have you heard of the Know-Nothing party?  They hated Catholic immigrants because guess what?  They didn’t conform to American values (and were probably spies for Catholic monarchies to boot).  But I’m willing to bet that you are glad to be living in the US now, and glad moreover that the Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants have brought so much richness (and so many Cathedrals) to the cities of America.  I certainly am.  So: to push the boundaries of the debate to reflect skin color or some even more nebulous set of social memes, instead of religion, is madness.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction of fear on the part of whites: fear that someday, somehow, they will no longer be the dominant voice of the American Polity.  Well, I have news for you: cultures change.  People move.  Birth-rates adjust themselves.  But if you really think you’re going to be ruled by some Black Panther Politburo or a revanchist Aztlan-themed Mexicocracy, you might just want to consider being a little nicer to your future masters.  They may eat you second-to-last as a thank-you.

I think I just got onto a rant.  Oops.  Anyway, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re at least interested and will leave a comment.  I honestly don’t think anybody I know thinks this way.  If you happen to have written odious editorials, though, please take this to heart and think about the historical lunacy of your exclusivism.  And please, everyone, don’t use the anti-PC mantle of Orwell to justify odious things.  Right now Baylor students are using that very argument to justify the instigation of a shouting-match with African American students after the election.  That’s not anti-PC; that’s horrible.  Overtures toward our own mini-Kristallnacht.  Please join me in speaking up against these backward ideas, and oppose the real Political Correctness, not the kind that just means being civilized.

History and its discontents …

I was truly happy at the election results last night.  I think that our nation truly has made history, reached a landmark of tolerance, and rejected much of its racist past.  This may be the most important part of the 2008 election.

Furthermore, I am confident about foreign policy.  No, Barack Obama’s presence will not prevent other countries from acting like jackasses, but whichever way you slice it, America has a new face.  Even the tolerant young people of my generation tend, consciously or subconsciously, to “otherize” non whites in a host of (often offensive) ways, and by declaring with our votes that what we had considered “other” we now consider “us,” we also tell the rest of the world that there is hope for their marginalized status.  And by electing a man who values common ground so deeply, we have a chance to kick out the neoconservative hawks that have driven us into costly, irrelevant wars once and for all.  Hopefully neoconservatism will just go away before 2012; if so, I might remember why I was a conservative for so much of my life (even if I don’t exactly renege my apostasy).

A quick perusal of Facebook will show that I’m a minority voice among my friends.  That is, of course, what a democracy is all about — sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  But honestly, these status updates are killing me; we’re hearing things like:

X is lamenting the death of a Free America

Y is kissing all of his money goodbye

Z is lamenting the 30 billion babies Obama is going to murder

Q’s cells have been liberated from the Strong Force and have flown apart into the galaxy

W is pissed off and moving to Ireland/Italy/Canada (?) / Europe in general (?????)

Honestly.  What?  A couple of things I’d like to say: (1) your opponents have had to live through eight years of a decisively neoconservative president, and four of them were dubiously granted him by the Supreme Court.  Calm down.  It’s someone else’s turn. (2) The loss of your candidate is not the end of democracy.  It is, in fact, an inevitable part OF democracy.  (3) If you object to Obama because he is a liberal, good luck with the rest of the western world.  The United States is dramatically further right than any European country (with the possible exception of Poland).  If it’s social conservatism you’re looking for, may I humbly suggest Qatar?  Forget gay marriage; you won’t even see ladies shamefully exposing their ankles there. (4) You are not going to lose any money!  American leftist fiscal policies do NOT involve “taking everyone’s money” and “giving it to bums.”  It involves a graduated income tax, which we already have; increasing the grade will mean — considering that you are all young and probably middle class — that you pay LESS.  Okay?  Your savings is not going to be raided for the Soviet Common Larder.  Honestly, get over these puerile equivalencies between Stalinism and Nancy Pelosi.

Apart from these rather silly accusations, I’m completely aware of good reasons to oppose Barack Obama.  Nothing is certain in a democracy; I cast a vote for Bush in 2004 and wish now that I hadn’t.  I hope that won’t be true this year.  But I hope that the country will set aside its election-season divisions, just a little, and work toward a better reputation and a more just society that leaves nobody out in the cold, either suffering without insurance or dead in a ditch in the Middle East.  And I hope that everyone realizes how much more powerful grassroots activity is than the executive branch; so get out there and work for what you believe!

(untitled #168)

Yes, I just can’t think of anything to call this post.  I wonder if this is true of the many abstract artists whose work gets titles like Contrast #231, and there literally are 230 other Contrast paintings beforehand.  I can’t quite get behind that; why not just call it “Dypsomaniac in a Confessional Booth” or “Trophy-Belt, Strung with Invertebrates”?  Hmm.

Okay, question du jour: are gas prices really going down, or did I have a minor stroke induced by Waco drivers?  My news reading has been a little less pervasive due to the damned lie about my apartment having internet (it doesn’t), but I thought this would make a headline.  I guess it’s not BAD enough.  And on the topic of petrol, how many of you honestly think we should be going to all lengths to reduce prices at the pump?  I’m speaking as a fairly frequent driver here, so I’m not just hectoring from the window of a Portland lightrail car.  I’m serious.  If oil companies see a decrease in demand and have to invest in alternatives to be profitable, not just nice, might that not be better for us all, if we take the long view?

I’ve also begun to think, in the past couple of weeks, that the U.S. must be an incredibly conservative nation.  It boggles my mind how many conservative analysts think of America as some kind of post-Christian wasteland of leftist atheism.  Notice that both candidates have moved right since the general election race began?  That’s right.  A centrist, maverick Republican vs. a fairly liberal Democrat with a talent for cross-partisan work would seem like the ideal face-off after the hardline right-wing Bush administration, right?  But instead, McCain has moved closer and closer to Bush, retaining a token belief in global warming as a distinguishing feature, while Obama has thrown distinctive beliefs over the bulwarks like water from a sinking lifeboat in a hasty attempt to seem like a center-right Democrat.  I find this all very disappointing, not because I want the country to be leftist instead of conservative, but because I think we desperately need balance to keep a check on the torture, spy, and invade view of security that is currently so pervasive in our government … is it seriously just the hard left, and me, who wants something truly different, saner, and more humane?

As said by the immortal someecards.com, “the X-Files were a lot funnier when the government wasn’t actually spying on us.”

Dear U.S. of A …

Well, it’s your birthday again, the big 232.  Sorry I didn’t write earlier; I was at work.  Yeah, on the Fourth.  Nope, no extra holiday pay.  It kinda sucks.  

Anyway, I know how you worry all the time, so I’ll just say it right off: YES, I still love you.  Yes, I’ve not been the best guy — we’ve already been over the times I’ve said some mean things about you in front of my friends, the fling with Italy, a couple of one-night stands with Canada.  I’m not really sorry; after all, you’re getting awfully fat, and there’s a lot you could learn from Italy and Canada (and a lot they could learn from you – let’s be fair here).  But we’ve been over all of this. 

On the bright side, America, you do look amazing for your age, and listen, you’ve had the same government for all these centuries.  That’s more than we can say for just about anybody out there, friend or foe.  Your people are still freer than just about anybody, especially in the speech department, as the recent hate-speech trial of Mark Steyn has shown us (come on, Canada).  We’ll have to just overlook those couple of citizens (and a friendly software guy visiting from Canada) who happened to have the same names as terrorists and got stashed in secret prisons for a couple years.  Let’s face it, they aren’t typical.  But how many times do I have to tell you, just because someone’s named “Mohammad” or “Hussein” doesn’t mean he’s an Islamofascist Axis of Evil Mujahedeen?  Just like you keep saying everyone named “Britney” is a ditz.  You can’t say stuff like that, and I don’t care how many airheaded Britneys you know.  Got it?

You mentioned me giving you the “silent treatment” in your last letter, but I’m not going to apologize for that either.  I think I should’ve done it more, especially four years ago when you served up one of the worst electoral Catch-22s ever.  I still can’t believe I took the path of least resistance and voted for Bush.  Look where that’s gotten us.  Listen, I don’t want to have to give you the silent treatment again.  I liked Barack Hussein Obama quite a bit.  Is it you who’s forcing him to waffle on all his distinctives, or is that his own damn idea?  

Listen, 232 is old enough to hear a little tough love.  I don’t mean to be cruel.  I really only have two things to advise you on.  Number one: don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little.  Yeah, we might need to drill a little for some offshore oil, but seriously, we can get free of our addiction to Hummers and smoldering heaps of coal.  We can give tax breaks to green jobs, and to working people who need them most because their wages never keep up with these prices.  We don’t have to react the *exact* same way to every rogue state.  Sanctions, saber-rattling.  Saber-rattling, sanctions.  Maybe we could give a little more money to artists and universities and things that can help make everybody’s lives better, and a little less to corporate tax-breaks and all that supply-side hogwash.  Maybe we could think about offering paid maternity leave to all women, and health insurance to all children, kind of like every other G8 country, and, oh, you know, Pakistan.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But think about it.  If Norway beat us to the idea by a couple decades, it can’t be that horrendously difficult.

Here’s the second thing: please try to think way back to when you were little, and these States were just a huge crazy experiment, a kind of strange new blend of an Enlightenment utopia and the New Jerusalem, mixed in with a huge dose of common sense.  That’s what we’re supposed to be celebrating tonight, right?  Even if all the rednecks with the fireworks never read the Declaration of Independence, it’s still the point.  So think way back and tell me: what did patriotism mean back then?  Did it mean fighting in a war or having the biggest army?  Saying certain words and waving certain symbols?  (See this very thought-provoking article in Slate).  Or was it the idea of freedom from tyranny?  From things like taxes we have no say over, like getting soldiers billeted in our houses without compensation, like getting tangled up in French-and-Indian Wars that have nothing to do with us?  Wasn’t it something to do with a just government with checks and balances?  Weren’t you guys really terrified of the president, even forbidding us to call him (or her) “Your Excellency” because of that whole imperial tendency?  The whole idea of having a place where you can speak out and not have to worry about getting put on a “list” or having your mail opened or getting “disappeared” in the middle of the night by goons?  

The people you’ve put in charge of you for the past half-century, for the most part, think that patriotism is about having the biggest army, kicking some ass overseas, and storming hills.  Now, we’ve stormed some impressive hills in our history when we had to to do things like, oh, save the world from fascism.  But that’s what we have to do, not what we’re all about.  What we’re about is freedom: freedom to speak, assemble, bear arms, read, make love, live, pursue happiness.  Guantanamo and the Patriot Act notwithstanding, you’re doing a great job of that.  Just don’t let the other guys – the Machiavellians who want us to be all about threats and guns and torture and whatever else is “necessary” – win out, okay?  At least promise me that, and I don’t care if it’s the Republicans or the Democrats who win (see me sometime after work – I’ve got some great ideas for third or fourth parties).

And just in case you think I’m being a little harsh, listen: I’ll always love you to death.  I’m telling you this because of that, not for any other reason.  Hey, finish your cake.  You can work it off tomorrow riding your bike somewhere.  Hey, did I mention these gas prices are killing us?

Happy birthday!

Love,

Robert

Two ways of looking at National security.

When asked if the President can break the law, presumably in the interests of National security, incumbent Attorney General Michael Mukasey answered: The president has “the authority to defend the country.”  

Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, declared that “if the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

Both of these quotations, though I’d heard them before, were called to my mind by Senator Chris Dodd’s recent speech on the retroactive immunity bill, which even most of the Democrats are about to let slide.  I myself was a bit unsure about the bill before reading his speech — I’d been told before that the wiretapping had only gone on overseas (not true) and wondered if the telecom companies could really be held liable when the Justice Department assured them that the presidential injunctions were legal.  Well, turns out that if this bill is defeated, that is exactly what would be decided in our courts of law — the way legality is usually determined in this country, last time I checked.  The bill, however, would exonerate the telecoms behind closed doors, barring access to the case for ever and aye.  And, as far as I can tell, would essentially consist of the (Democratic) congress voting “yea” to legality being determined by executive fiat.

A good classicist or historian would know that the Roman Republic, aware of the need to balance security and liberty, had an “emergency dictator” position that could last for a set number of years in a crisis to ensure authority and military coordination, and then expire.  But Julius Caesar, citing the dangerous times, decided that the position would have to be lifelong, thereby ending some 500 years of liberty from tyrants.  No, I’m not saying that George W. Bush is Caesar or plans to extend his term for life.  But the constant harping of the executive branch and its neo-con allies that the war on terror is “unprecedented” and therefore necessitates extraordinary measures, is not unprecedented at all — it is terribly, regrettably, and frighteningly banal.

Now, on a lighter note: the top movie of this week, Get Smart, is absolutely hilarious and takes a fantastically lighthearted view of the workings of federal security agencies.  I went to see it because I’ll watch anything with Steve Carell in it, and because the trailer was really funny.  I wasn’t disappointed, and was placed in the awkward, but even more funny, position of cracking up by myself in a movie theater.  

Highlights included the Vice President boasting about his “new pacemaker,” the president falling asleep during the finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and The Rock stapling a piece of paper to a coworker’s head.  It’s great — one of the few recent comedies I’ve seen with a screenplay that is more witty than sophomoric.  So, especially if you’re sick and tired of hearing pompous talk about National security, go and see this movie.  It’s an apt and not at all bitter satire …  

May I recommend …

I just read Barack Obama’s Father’s Day speech, and it is quite good.  Liberals, in their quite just desire to see the end of repressive social pressures and cultural norms, can sometimes overlook the fact that we humans are both determined and free, that there is nature as well as nurture, that sometimes your troubles really are your own fault.  Obama clearly shows himself here as a true centrist: he completely avoids this potential liberal blind spot, urging fathers (in this case) to cowboy up and be there for their families, something that conservatives have been (also justly) calling for for decades.  But neither does he assume that all problems are just the business of those who have them, resorting to the conservative default that personal problems should lie well under the radar of the general polity and be cured by some mysterious updraft of capital.  Here’s a nice quote that sort of sums up this truly bi-partisan (or a-partisan) oration:

Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities. 

But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one. 

Not bad, eh?  I really recommend the whole text.  It seems to be aimed exactly at the point where red and blue states intersect, and not in an insincere or bet-hedging way.  I keep liking this guy more and more.