Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Our Hearts Are Broken…

January 13, 2011

I concur with President Obama’s words here; such senseless violence is always disheartening. I wasn’t going to write about the Arizona tragedies. There are more capable, qualified writers to handle such matters and I thought I’d leave it in their hands. I don’t pretend to be a political commentator (or at least I try not to pretend); beer, music, and poetry is more my world. Yet I can’t seem to help myself.

First off, I do not think that this is any individual’s fault–we can’t put this on Sarah Palin’s shoulders, or Sharron Angle’s, or any other individual’s. But wouldn’t it be a sad state of affairs if such an incident doesn’t at least cause us to reflect on the culture surrounding the event? I have been wondering why it is OK for the Right to attack, for instance, the rhetoric of hip-hop and rap as having very dangerous, tangible consequences in terms of violence and misogny, yet in this case we can’t try to point out equally dangerous political rhetoric. And don’t get me wrong; I think dangerous political rhetoric is pervasive on all sides–it’s not just the domain of the Right. But it is the Right in this instance who wants to argue that it’s inappropriate for such societal self-reflection even as they have engaged it for decades.

Those of you who know me, know I’m no fan of Sarah Palin. A friend of mine astutely said today that the current debates around political rhetoric were actually a chance for Sarah Palin to be a hero. If there were ever a chance for her to stand up and show her true leadership abilities, this was it. She did not have to claim responsibility for this event; nor did she even have to say she was wrong. What she might have done that would be leaderly, though, would be to say that such an event does in fact warrant a high level of social and political self-reflection, to simply say maybe she has crossed the line and she should give it some thought considering the seriousness of this event. By doing that, she could then point out that this is the responsibility of everyone: regardless of political persuasion, we should be investigating the kind of society we create by the way we engage in political discourse. What kind of world are we helping to create? She could help begin this kind of self-reflection and discussion without having to admit to any wrongdoing.

Instead, we got Palin comparing her situation to that of the Jewish community facing “blood libel,” the justification of centuries of horrific persecution of the Jews. Really Sarah? Is that really your situation? It’s like you almost went out of your way to prove your point that the language you use need not be responsible. As if to say, “you want irresponsible hyperbole, here try this one on.” I’m not saying that the Left and the media isn’t engaged in its own irresponsible rhetoric, but this was an opportunity for Palin and what we got to my mind was inexcusable.

It’s as inexcusable as Sharron Angle suggesting that people could rightfully take up “second amendment remedies” to current political situations. Look, the idea of the second amendment is not about a way to remedy political ideas you disagree with; this isn’t what the Founders meant. They were talking about tyranny, and when a party was rightfully elected to office and is still supported by a large portion of the population (even if the left lost seats in the last election, it’s not the overwhelming landslide the left wants to believe. Isn’t the Senate still Democratically controlled? The simple fact is we are a politically divided country. I don’t think anyone at this point can garner a true mandate) then we can’t call it tyranny; we call it political disagreement. So who in their right mind would say that someone like Angle suggesting these “remedies” is being responsible? The problem is that somehow actions can be judged quite clearly. No one disagrees that the Arizona shooting was wrong (well, no one disagrees whom I really want to talk to). But somehow the first amendment makes any judgment of speech off limits. We can judge and criticize speech, though, even if we guarantee the right to be irresponsible. OK, Palin has the right to say what she has said; Angle has a right to say what she has said. But it doesn’t make it responsible. An incident such as this is a great opportunity to at least think about these things. We should absolutely allow any speech, but does that mean we can’t at least say “this is the kind of speech I think is irresponsible,” or “this is what I think civil discourse should look like?” Or do we throw our hands up in the air and say freedom of speech, freedom of speech, as if that means we can’t criticize.

The real problem behind much of the rhetoric that I see isn’t necessarily the violent imagery behind it. It’s the insistence on an us and them mentality. There is a “real” America and the others (regardless of the fact that the “others” are half the population–thus the divided politics). There are “real” Americans who need to “take back” their country. From whom? The very implicit notion here is that those who don’t fit a particular image or political idea of America do not have any right to the country. And this is where the notion of tyranny comes in: if these “others” have gained control, then the real Americans are being governed by aliens, by non-Americans. This is the rhetoric that needs to change. Because as long as one side of a political argument is allowed to feel that they have the monopoly on the American identity, they will feel righteous in the cause of violence. And that’s just downright scary.


Sarah Palin and the Reality TV Politics of ’12

November 27, 2010

“I just love being out here and being free.” I haven’t watched Sarah Palin’s Alaska show (nor do I imagine I ever will) but I have seen this line in her promo.  Yes, I love being out in the mountains and “being free,” too. But the phrase has this completely Palinesque quality to it when she says it; it’s not just about a love of nature, it’s an American statement. And in her world, she can define who is free and who is American–the real freedom and the real American. It’s the way that word freedom gets tossed around these days. Say it enough and it will do the work for us, rather than really getting at what we mean by freedom. Sarah Palin: politics by catch-phrase. It’s like the whole “let’s take back America.” Take it back from whom? Oh, that’s right, all of those people who live in cities (how “un-free” can you be in her world) or on the coasts or who believe that intellectual skills are actually a reasonable expectation of our leaders aren’t really Americans, are they? It’s a disturbing rhetoric that would suggest that a  majority of Americans are not actually “real” Americans.  Who gets to define American? And who gets to define being free?

But this isn’t really what I called you here today to talk about. What I find really amazing is that the producers of the Sarah Palin show can actually say it’s not political. This is the woman who is vying to be the very voice not only of conservative values but of America, the leading figure in an ongoing culture war. This is also the woman who could well be positioning herself to be the Republican candidate in 2012. (In many ways, I’d like to see her actually run; I think that it would force her to say something other than the hollow cliches she’s been spitting out for two years, and I really think that if she were forced to actually say something then even conservatives would see she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. But I also think she’s well aware of this and won’t run–it’s much more comfortable in the world she lives in now where she can make more money than she would as president, can shape the tone of the cultural debates, yet never have to really say anything of substance). But even if she doesn’t run, the show has incredible political weight–it’s not only a free commercial for her, it actually pays her to keep her in the spotlight. I mean, if she had actually declared as a candidate, I think there would be a question of political contributions and who is paying for the show. Now, I know that’s not the case since she hasn’t declared, but that’s not my real point. I mean, I don’t begrudge the producers or the station for doing this–yes, I know it’s the essence of free speech. But can we please call it what it is? To keep Palin in the spotlight, in a place where she can banter about “freedom” without having to actually discuss the issues isn’t political in this ever-divisive political climate? If you believe that, then I’ve got a bridge to nowhere I’d love to sell you.

Network Meets Bartleby

October 31, 2010

with thanks to Christine Gaites


January 21, 2009

Sam Cooke sang it long ago: “It’s been a long time comin’, but I know a change gonna come.”

It’s a big burden for our new president, but I have faith he’s the start of the change we need.  The hoopla’s over. Today, the work starts toward a new world.

(thanks to CBD for correcting the date here!!)

What’s a Guy like Bush to do?

July 8, 2008

He’s made it very clear for years: no timetables in Iraq. No cut and running. As long as Iraq wants us there, we’ll be there until the job is done (although “the job” remains frustratingly undefined). Nope, no sir, no way, not gonna happen. Only now it appears that Iraq doesn’t want us there. Iraq is requesting, at a minimum, that we commit to some sort of timetable for American troops to leave Iraq. So, President Bush, can we take you at your word now that you’ll leave if asked to leave? I know it’s difficult for a tough cowboy like you to leave a job unfinished but certainly you wouldn’t want to overstay your welcome would you?

What’s Up With the Polls?

January 11, 2008

So, I know that polls seem to mostly be at least close to what actually ends up happening in an election, but I’m usually mystified.  I understand their +/- percentage points, but it always seems to me that, given the small sample we’re usually talking about that such polls could easily be further from reality than such percentage points indicate.  New Hampshire was clearly a case in point on Tuesday.  But what I always struggle to understand is why the need for media to sound so sure about their polls.  Why is it that we need such assured predictions?  Especially when such predictions actually affect the elections which are being predicted.  That is, can we be sure that polls aren’t close to what happens in an election precisely because the election merely reinforces what the polls tell the voters?  As a recent Iowan, I have just experienced my first caucus and on the whole I’m less than pleased with the process (see below).  What I do think is good about the caucus, though, is that you can actually see support (or lack thereof) before you cast your vote.  How many people won’t vote for Kucinich (or whomever) if they’re told they don’t have any support?  If you walk into a room, though, and see people standing in a corner for Kucinich a possible voter might say, hmmm, maybe it is worth casting a vote.  The polls are the exact opposite; we are given solid predictions (which may or may not actually represent the larger populace) and most voters will cast votes accordingly.  The media direct our elections and thank god for New Hampshire to remind us of this fact–how many speechless pundits have you heard in the last two days?  They don’t know what to do now.  I actually heard several pundits admitting “I don’t know…”  Slow down media, take a breath, realize we don’t know and adjust your coverage accordingly.  We don’t need your predictions.

On another horrifying note, I realized this morning that for perhaps the first time I actually have agreed with Jonah Goldberg.  I’m with him: all the myths about Iowa being more prepared for the civic duty of leading the country into the elections are myths.  Until this caucus, Iowa averages 6% attendance at the caucus.  Do you really believe that Iowa is the only state that can muster such pathetic attendance for the all-important kickoff event?  I didn’t think so.  And the caucus system itself is outdated (and the notion that this is some long standing tradition that must be upheld is also a myth: the Iowa caucus is a relatively new phenomenon).  Move the leadoff geographically around the country.  Or, hold regional primaries which could also move.  We’ve already got Tsunami Tuesday.  Let’s break it down a bit more evenly and have a midwest primary, a southeast primary etc.  And shift which region goes first so that everyone gets a slice of the pie.   OK, I’m done with politics for awhile.  I’ve got a Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout going, mmmmm…..  Back to you later.


Caucus, caucus, rah, rah, rah

January 4, 2008

I do not consider myself a political person although I am deeply concerned about the state of American and global politics. I have experienced first hand Vermont Town Halls, Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, the Florida debacle, and now I am living in Iowa. Tonight, my first caucus.

So, I’m here to say I don’t get the fuss. Grassroots? I don’t get what that even means in this context. My experience was that I went in to the caucus, voted for the candidate I would have voted for but spent a good hour and half standing against a wall to do so. There were 450 of us crowded into the Washington high school cafeteria in Cedar Rapids. We actually counted off, one by one through the crowd to determine the crowd so that we knew how many people it would take to confirm a candidate as “viable.” A candidate, it turned out, needed 68 people. Obama was clearly viable, but none of the others were that clear. So we counted off in groups, one by one, until we were sure. I stood with the Biden group who had 64 people. A few of us cajoled others from across the cafeteria to join us until we had 68. We counted ourselves off. We counted again. People yelled at other people across the cafeteria. The Richardson and Dodd group dissolved and joined others. I had heard so much about the debating, the civic engagement, of the caucus, but this was counting with some indecipherable yelling across the room. It was chaos, and although I loved to see the people out en masse, I must say it was fairly boring. My legs got tired. I was waiting for the impassioned speeches, the real debate. We voted pretty much as everyone had originally voted. But it took a good hour and a half of annoying chaos. The one actual “speech,” given by a John Edwards caucuser to sway a few people to keep his candidate viable rather than having to dissolve (stunning given the numbers across the state, but yes Edwards was not going to make it in Cedar Rapids) was completely inaudible for half the room. Hmmm, this seems like great democratic discourse I thought.

I know, I know, it’s heresy to say in this state, but this seemed like the most inane, backwards system I could imagine. Turnout apparently was good this year. Last I heard, we were in the 20% range. Fine, but why so much emphasis on this state then? Iowa has roughly 9% of the U.S. population. The number participating in the caucus, then, is roughly 1% of the U.S. population. The caucus system itself keeps people from voting rather than encouraging it, and it then ends up being a less than representative sample of a less than representative state. Furthermore, the candidates chosen in the caucus rarely end up as either party’s candidate, let alone the actual president. What Iowa does then is winnow the field rather than bolster the leader. Mike Huckabee just won the Republican caucus. Raise your hand if you think he’ll be the Republican nominee. I thought so. If what we’re doing is winnowing out potential candidates, don’t we want a few more people involved in that process? I’ve heard all the arguments about this being some purer form of democracy, but I’m sorry, it feels like feel-good backslapping to me. There is nothing I just experienced that said this was any different than walking into a booth and casting my vote (and, again, judging from what happened in my precinct, this is exactly what 99% of the attendees did, walked in and waited around to cast the vote they knew they were going to cast). In fact, if the system actually keeps people away, it’s worse. Barack Obama says that it’s a much more direct system: if the first state were a larger state then it would be all about money and advertisement but I’ve yet to see the difference here. We’re supposedly more savvy in Iowa because we’re used to the attention of being first, but the debates seem just as hollow, just as based on sound bite as I’ve seen anywhere else I’ve lived. Just like everything, it comes down to money and Iowa understandably doesn’t want to give that up. But come on country, we’re a small state–no one can come up with the argument to change the power we’ve got in our hands?