First and foremost, if you haven’t already, go vote. Obviously I care passionately who gets elected, but your vote is yours, not mine. I’m not entitled to an opinion about how you vote, only about whether you vote. Even if you and I have diametrically opposed political views, I still think it’s critical that we both vote. Call me idealistic, but I never thought the way to winning elections was to discourage the people I disagree with from voting. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Context for people who don’t live in Oregon or Washington: All our elections are 100% vote by mail. We don’t have Election Day polling places, though the county offices are open for ballot drop and for people who had trouble with their mail-in ballots. It’s a clean, simple system that seems to optimize turn-out with virtually no fraud at all. Sometimes there are problems with people who’ve recently moved and may have two addresses, but that amounts to a literal handful of votes statewide in any given election cycle. I don’t why all fifty states don’t adopt this system — virtually all the nonsense about voter ID laws and limiting early voting simply vanishes with this system. It also eliminates all the issues around polling places and staffing and having the right forms and so on. Clean, simple and fair.
If you favor universal suffrage and high turn outs, this system should be a model. If you don’t favor universal suffrage and high turn outs, then we don’t have a lot to talk about because I don’t agree with your profoundly undemocratic and unpatriotic values.
Note, per a brief discussion in comments yesterday with ericjamesstone, that I do not favor some sort of permanent single party liberal-progressive government. I have no equivalent vision of the GOP’s triumphalist Permanent Majority. We need a balance of viewpoints and opinions in government, simply because no one is right all the time, and solutions which are sensible under one set of circumstances can be destructive under other sets.
Whether that balance is best provided by a two-party system is another discussion entirely, but that’s the system the United States has today. The only path I see to meaningful multiparty democracy in this country would involve a complete shattering of the Republican coalition. While I think that given the current nature of the Republican party that would probably be very good for the country, I find it unlikely to actually happen. There’s way too much money tied up in GOP interests, and the media is too deeply invested in both conservative aims in general, and in their own conservative ownership and management.
My issue with the GOP and the conservative movement isn’t their existence, or even necessarily their nominal aims as parsed through the lens of pre-Reagan conservatism. My issue is with the scorched earth, spoke-in-the-wheels style of politics the GOP practices in lieu of actually governing when they are in office. My issue is with the eliminationist politics of resentment the GOP absolutely relies on for votes, poisoning society and culture as a whole. My issue is with handing government over to people dedicated to drowning it in a bathtub, to people who believe that government is incapable of competence or effectiveness, and therefore govern incompetently and ineffectively.
The modern Republican party doesn’t have a different vision of government than I do. They have a contract out on government. If they were interested in reform, or an alternate vision for the future, we’d have something to talk about. But despite the high minded rhetoric they throw around to make themselves feel good about decades of wholesale political and social vandalism, the GOP is a party that wants to destroy the village in order to save it. A village we all have to live in, regardless of whether we vote or who we vote for.
To put it in SF nerd terms, the GOP has become Frank Herbert’s BuSab. And that’s good for none of us. Not even the conservatives so busy setting fire to the village they live in.
So, yeah, I voted for Obama. Because I’d like there to be a functioning American government tomorrow, and next year, and next decade.
[politics|repost] Voting totals, the myth of the Golden Age, and the righteous independence of America’s beautiful minds
Something worth remembering, depending on how the election plays out tomorrow. In 2000 Bush lost the popular vote (0.5MM less than Gore) but won the Electoral College. This was just fine with the GOP back then.
I am absolutely certain the justly famed intellectual consistency of the conservative movement will prevail should Obama win tomorrow on the same terms. After, conservatives are about nothing if they’re not about principle.
So much of conservatism and libertarianism thought seems to rely on the myth of the Golden Age. This is the basis of William F. Buckley’s famous declaration to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop” — the idea that things were better than they are, and that change is dangerous. It’s a fundamentally emotional proposition, that strikes me as driven more by fear than any sense of opportunity or growth.
She was about 30 at the time, divorced, living with her boyfriend who worked shifts in emergency services. She was an art director at the ad agency where I ran IT and production. She lived in a conservative exurb of Austin, attended an Evangelical megachurch on Sundays, and came in every Monday grumbling about how liberals were ruining America, about the Clintons and their crimes, and whatever else her preacher had railed about the day before from the pulpit. Her constant theme was how much better things were in the 1950s when the streets were safe, everybody had jobs, and America was powerful and secure.
I finally got fed up with this and asked her how much she knew about the 1950s. Did she know anything about the African-American experience in those days? What about other non-whites? The unemployed? When I pointed out that in the 1950s she wouldn’t have had the job she did because it would have been given to a man who needed to feed his family, and that she wouldn’t have been allowed in the door of her church as a divorced woman living in sin with another man, she got upset with me and said that wasn’t what she meant.
She wanted the good parts of the myth of the Golden Age without having to acknowledge or accept the prices people paid for them. I’ll bet good money this woman today is a Sarah Palin fan and a Tea Party member, because that’s the depth of thinking I see from conservative America even now. Not all conservatives everywhere, but from those in political power and those with media voices.
I still think about her sometimes, because how the heck do I, as a liberal-progressive, even get her to see where her own thinking goes awry? She’s like those Christians who demand literal subservience to Biblical truth, except for the inconvenient parts. There’s no logic or coherent philosophy, only wishful thinking wrapped in justification.
Some of it is education and worldliness. One reason academia and journalism are so stereotypically liberal is people in those disciplines generally have to look at the world critically and think about the facts on the ground; at least if they’re going about it properly. It’s difficult to maintain my friend’s level of denial and wishful thinking while engaging in intellectual honesty. Contemporary conservatism is a lot more about denial and wishful thinking than it is about intellectual honesty — look at the issues that drive votes: evolution denial; gun fantasies; fears of gays; climate change denial; magical thinking on taxes.
The myth of the Golden Age is as old as history. Children were always more respectful, the language always more well spoken, and times always better in the previous generation. But confusing the myth of the Golden Age with the reality of life is misplaced at best.
How to address that? Surely not through my rantings. But I’m not sure how to be more thoughtful in the right ways.
Added in November, 2012: The really weird thing about conservative longing for the past is it skips over their own recent political history quite conveniently. Anybody who cares in the slightest about fiscal policy, national security, defense, jobs or the economy cannot possibly want to return to the policies of the Bush administration, which manifestly failed on all those fronts by any objective measure. Yet this is precisely what Romney is running on — a return to and intensification of those same failed policies.
From a related post in 2007, I also produce this squib, which I believe has a lot of relevance to current conservative attitudes:
safewrite mentioned in comments to one of my recent posts a bumpersticker which read “Imagine the world without liberals.” I think that’s a fabulous idea. You’d also have to imagine a world where women didn’t have the vote, couldn’t own property, couldn’t get divorced without their husband’s full agreement, where there were no protections from or recourse for domestic violence, where there were no weekends, 40-hour work weeks or paid vacation, no child labor laws, no workplace safety standards or workmen’s comp, no clean air and water requirements, and a whole lot of other evils of liberalism. ETA: All of which were strongly opposed by conservatives, many of them with outright violence in their day.
I think even the most dyed-in-the-wool Bush conservative would just as soon enjoy many of those benefits.
If we had a meaningfully liberal media in this country, these would be top stories. Every voter would be aware of them. Just as every voter would be aware of Romney’s astonishing stonewalling on tax returns, his reversals (sometimes in the same day) on every topic from abortion to disaster aid to foreign policy.
We live in a country where the most recent experience of conservative government was the most enormous economic disaster since the Great Depression and the most destructive foreign policy disaster since the Vietnam War, where conservatives running today are lying about almost everything they stand for, and bragging about doing so, where conservative ideas have so little merit they can’t be discussed in detail prior to the election, and still the Republican Party is very close to winning this thing.
And no one cares.
It’s through the looking glass, living in the GOP’s post-truth world. Once again, given that millions of my fellow citizens seem to prefer outright, knowing chicanery to political reality, maybe we are getting the government we deserve. But I can’t help think we deserve a hell of a lot better than what the modern Republican Party is offering us — anger and resentment and lies and deception. They’re not even pretending any more. And it’s working for them.
And no one cares.
All of us, even the most severely conservative, deserve better than this.
I’ve assumed all along this is typical political manipulation, the deeply cynical approach pioneered in its modern form by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes largely to get the GOP past the political disaster that was Richard Nixon, then perfected by Karl Rove, and maintained on a daily basis by FOX News (which has in the past explicitly sued to protect their right to lie on First Amendment grounds).
However, I am realizing with dawning horror that it’s quite possible that Romney actually believes whatever he’s saying, whenever he’s saying it. That this isn’t cynical opportunism, but an actual detachment from reality. A cognitive issue, or perhaps indescribably terribly judgment.
Certainly over the past decade or so, the conservative movement has made a concerted and self-conscious effort to opt out of the reality-based community. Many American conservatives have convinced themselves that when the facts disagree with their ideology, the facts have been biased or distorted by liberal sources. That’s the relentless daily message of FOX News, for example. And that thinking lies behind everything from evolution denial to climate change denial to supply side economics — all cherished conservative positions with no objective basis in the real world.
When as the conservative movement has done, you demonize and disparage intellectual achievement and the validity of real world data and experience, intellectual consistency really does stop being a concern.
The Romneys are people who believe their experiences of unemployment and financial struggle connect them with everyday Americans. And they seem genuinely offended when others don’t accept that self-assessment. In this, they both are hideously detached from reality. And it’s only small example of what seems to go on in Romney’s mind.
This doesn’t precisely qualify Mitt to be president.
I’m starting to be far more frightened by the idea that Romney believes his own words than I ever was by the callow cynicism I’d assumed in him up until now. Admittedly, the nation will survive his presidency if elected. We survived the charismatically veneered Alzheimer’s of Ronald Reagan, and we survived the dry drunk, entitled incompetence of George W. Bush, after all. But the idea that anyone takes this man with his shallow, inconsistent ideology and cognitively fractured worldview seriously is just frightening. The idea that tens of millions of my fellow citizens take him seriously is just depressing.
[politics] A little thought experiment regarding Romney and taxes
Regardless of your ideology or political beliefs, here’s a little thought experiment for you.
What do you think the media reaction would have been if Obama had refused to release his tax returns? (Or Clinton, if you will.) Do you think the issue would have essentially vanished by now? Remember, this is the same Liberal Media that hounded Clinton for years over Whitewater and a blowjob.
Likewise, what if Mrs. Obama (or Mrs. Clinton) had said “We’ve given all you people need to know.” What reaction do you think that would have gotten? Especially the dismissive “you people”?
Does the treatment of Romney over this issue really strike you as balanced? Do you truly believe that his tax returns are a non-issue, in the face of forty years of standard behavior for presidential candidates, as initiated by Romney’s own father when he ran for president?
And do you think if Romney is elected, we’ll see a “Taxer” movement the way we’ve seen a “Birther” movement?
I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what was so dreadful that the Romney campaign thought it was worth withstanding the pressure they did come under. Luckily for them, no one really cared in the end. They gambled and won on this issue in a way that no Democrat could ever have gotten away with.
I’ve commented before that the contemporary American conservative mindset appears to be a failure of both empathy and imagination. I’m not talking about the limited government/strong defense/private enterprise axis of political thought, all of which are perfectly legitimate ideas about which I have varied opinions. I’m talking about the current social and political mindset of many Republican voters, as expressed in the party platforms they support, the candidates they select, and the leaders they elect.
In another part of this country lives a friend of mine with whom I have significant political differences. Not particularly relevant to our friendship, as we simply don’t talk about politics much. He’s an intelligent, thoughtful, generous guy who genuinely cares about the people around him, enjoys his life, and wants everyone else to enjoy theirs. Yet one day in a discussion about healthcare reform, he said to me, “I worked hard to buy that big screen television. Why should I give it up for someone else who doesn’t work as hard as I do?”
Meaning, in effect, why should he pay taxes to support someone less hard working or fortunate than he is?
To me, that’s a profound failure of both empathy and imagination on my friend’s part. He doesn’t see that someone not born into middle class white male privilege would have a much harder time achieving what he has achieved. That for the same amount of work as he’s put in, and frankly quite a bit more, some people can barely pay the rent and keep their kids fed. He doesn’t see that someone who gets sick and isn’t inside our country’s dubious healthcare safety net can so easily lose everything no matter how well they’ve followed the rules and how hard they’ve tried. He doesn’t see that making sure everybody has a decent education and good health and positive working conditions and the right to vote benefits him just as much as it benefits the rest of society.
What he sees is people who don’t work as hard as he do, taking his money. Benefits going to the undeserving at his expense.
And that perception has rendered one of our two major political parties into a cesspool of mean-spirited anger, resentment and punishment. Romney’s 47% remarks were surprising only in their candor, not their content. What he said is implicit in nearly every state GOP party platform as well as the national platform, in the entire process of the Republican presidential primary, the GOP positions on everything from healthcare reform to women’s health.
It’s because people like my friend can’t imagine themselves in a position of need or dependency. And they don’t seem to be able to empathize with those who are. This results in a system where even when help is available, the processes put in place to screen out the undeserving overwhelm those who need help most. (See my multiple posts on the paperwork issues in my healthcare journey.) We prioritize compliance over need every time, precisely because of the need to cater to the conservative failure of empathy and imagination when designing those public programs. And that is when the system is working as designed. God help those people who can’t check all the right boxes.
The real dialog should be over how we solve those problems. Not whether they are legitimate, or whether the people who need help are moochers. It isn’t about the 47%. It’s about being human beings in a humane society. Almost half our country has lost its moral compass with respect to anything beyond its own large screen televisions, and making sure the undeserving don’t get more than their share.
A friend responded via email to yesterday’s post about the media, political perceptions, and my views on the Komen Foundation. It’s worth reposting, though they specifically requested that I omit attribution. They’ll see any comments people make here, and can covey responses through me if need be.
Regarding Komen, I’ve got mixed feelings. I have some warm fuzzies about the group. My mom did a short walk before her diagnosis. The wife of one of my old sources and my source walks it every year and sometimes when they are training their route comes by my house and we chat. So it’s warm fuzzies. People I know do the walk.
But I’m really feeling critical about Komen group. There’s a lot of reasons for me to think that they aren’t a group I’d put time and money into. It’s not just the Planned Parenthood snafu.
They sued other charities for using the words “for the cure.” (To me that’s almost as bad as the Washington Shriners sued the Campfire girls trying to break a 100-year lease on land that the Campfire Girls gave the Shriners. So group that benefits kids sues kids’ group. WTF? Cancer-fighting nonprofit goes after other nonprofits over intellectual property over words that anyone writing about cancer would use. WTF? It’s like the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee suing a brewer for creating 2002 the unofficial amber forgetting that you can’t trademark a year.) I think a nonprofit should take the high road and not worry if someone wants to use the same prepositional phrase.
There’s some concern that more money is being spent on marketing, masked as education (34 percent of the budget page 13 in the FY2011 Annual report, more financial info here. However, I have not looked at their tax statements, which are public record, and compared them to other groups’ statements, such as the American Cancer Society.
There’s also a concern about Komen not recognizing certain carcinogenic as carcinogenic. Jezebel would have it be a red/GOP conspiracy. I’m not so sure about that; I suspect it’s Komen board not understanding science. (That’s my take based on watching some of the lawmakers argue about the science when they were working on outlawing BPAs in Washington.)
[personal|politics] Polling my negatives, and how the media rewires my brain
I’ve been thinking lately about the way media reporting changes my perceptions and political opinions even without me being consciously aware of it.
Sometimes I change my perceptions and political opinions based on reasoned argument. For example, I used to be very strongly opposed to the home schooling movement. I am still fairly uncomfortable with it for a variety of reasons, but an extended set of dialogs on this blog some years ago helped me see that my ideas about home schooling were incomplete and not well-founded.
Other times, my views change without me taking conscious note of either the process or the outcome of the shift until something brings it to my attention. I had the experience of being in the airport security line in Omaha behind a Catholic priest last summer. I found myself with a visceral dislike and distrust of the man simply based on his attire. (And yes, I am aware that he could have been Episcopalian or some other denomination that uses similar clerical attire.)
This baffled me, as I’ve always held a benignly positive view of the Catholic church. I mean, nuns, hospitals, parish schools, Catholic universities — regardless of one’s denominational politics, they do a lot of good in the world. I realized my reaction was due to my persistent disgust with the church’s generations-long gross mishandling of pedophile priests, an institutional corruption in the Catholic church that extends from the base all the way to the top and would likely draw racketeering and conspiracy charges against any secular organization that behaved so. Combine this with the U.S. Catholic bishop’s current vile (and misleadingly baseless) anti-woman political activism with respect to healthcare reform, and somewhere along the line I’d come to see the Catholic church as force for evil in society.
I also realized that if I were traveling with the_child and we were seated with this priest, I would ask to be reseated. I don’t want her exposed to a representative of such a profoundly anti-child, anti-woman organization as the Catholic church.
Is this an appropriate reaction of mine? Absolutely not. For one thing, the Church’s institutional problems are not reflected in its individual members, be they parishioners or priests. For another thing, I appear to have wandered into the mental and emotional space of harboring a religious prejudice, something I have a horror of for both personal and philosophical reasons. It’s very important to me to be fair minded in all things.
The important point here isn’t that I have work to do in how I view the Catholic church and its people. The important point here is that persistent media messaging had changed my thinking without my even realizing it.
Likewise, yesterday morning Ace Jordyn and I were walking in downtown Portland when we came across Portland’s Komen Race for the Cure. Until this past year, I’d always had a strongly positive view of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I’ve supported friends who participated in the Race for the Cure with pledges. I mean, who can be against breast cancer research? Except this year the Komen Foundation politicized itself with a hard right wing turn to move against any perceived support for abortion through their screening activities with Planned Parenthood. So seeing all that pink just irritated me. Insofar as I was concerned, I was being immersed in right wing shills with a profound anti-woman bias.
Is this fair? Again, absolutely not. For one thing, the Komen foundation, albeit grudgingly, has moved to correct their overreach. For another thing, the Portland chapter almost certainly has nothing to do with the errors of the national organization. And certainly almost none of the thousands of women and men running in pink shirts and hats had the forced pregnancy movement on their minds. They were out there supporting friends and loved ones with breast cancer.
Again, the important point here isn’t that I need to carefully consider my views of the Komen Foundation. The point is how much the media reporting of their misdeeds has influenced my thinking without me being especially conscious of it.
When I apply this realization to the wider world of American media, especially the constant drumbeat of liberals-are-traitors messaging coming from the right wing voices that dominate, is it any wonder so many of my fellow citizens profoundly misunderstand the liberal-progressive agenda? I’m pretty self-aware, and consider my opinions on a regular basis, and that doesn’t save me from falling into the trap of media messaging, especially media messaging that addresses my confirmation biases. Can I expect more for others?
[religion|politics] The Biblical definition of marriage
I was amused in thinking about something recently. The apparently now-faded Chick-fil-A kerfuffle hinged on a remark by company president and COO Dan Cathy about support for the Biblical definition of marriage. (What he actually said was “Biblical definition of the family unit”, but this has generally been read by all sides as referring to marriage.) Everyone involved from any ideological perspective seems to understand Cathy’s words as encoding for “one man, one woman”.
The New Testament, and therefore the New Covenant has a lot of different things to say about marriage without being especially precise. including Jesus’ very clear statement in Luke 18:29-30 that any man who leaves his wife and children behind for the sake of the Church shall be rewarded all the more in heaven. Sounds a lot like abandonment or divorce to me. The traditional one man, one woman form is quite clearly assumed or explicated in the various texts, but not inviolably so.
But since Christianist opposition to gay marriage hinges substantially on Leviticus 18:22, which is in the Old Testament, it seems to me that any effort to understand the Biblical definition of marriage should rest on the same foundations. This is simple fairness and intellectual consistency, after all. (With respect to the New Testament, Romans 1 26:28 is often cited, but if you read the whole passage and apply a little bit of context, it’s a larger discussion of idolatry and turning away from God and a fairly long list of things which are disapproved of, including pride, boasting and backbiting. It’s certainly not the explicit legalistic prohibition against homosexuality found in Leviticus.)
And Biblical marriage in the Old Testament is a messy, complicated thing.
In Genesis 11 through 25, Abraham rocked it with Sarah and Hagar. Definitely not one man, one woman. For bonus points, Sarah was his half-sister. Admittedly, he wasn’t formally married to Hagar, but this three-way relationship was pretty clearly part of God’s plan.
In Genesis 25 through 50, we learn about Jacob. He rocked it a lot harder with his cousins Rachel and Leah, and various servant girls, all of whom the Bible clearly states were given over to him in marriage.
In the story of David recounted in 1 Samuel and 1 Kings, the foreskins of the Philistines are named as a bride price for his wife Mical. Later on, David arranges the death of one of his generals so he can marry Bathsheba, the man’s wife. Neither of these seems to an approved modern method of courtship. He ultimately winds up with eight wives.
In 1 Kings, Solomon is described as having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Definitely not one man, one woman.
In the book of Ruth, Ruth’s relationship with Naomi is described using the same Hebrew words that describe Adam’s relationship with Eve. Even through millennia of selective editing, this seems highly suggestive of a same sex relationship.
This doesn’t even get into the issues around Lot’s daughters, for example.
All of which to say, Biblical marriage is not clear cut. Since my Christianist friends place so much weight on the Old Testament condemnation of same sex relationships in defending traditional marriage, I think it’s only fair that the place a similar weight on the Old Testament’s highly colorful and varied definitions of marriage. One man, one woman isn’t a simple ideal, and it certainly isn’t God’s law.
Doubtless there are detailed theological arguments that richly justify how one picks and chooses which Old Testament verses to defend to the death as inviolable holy writ, and which to blithely ignore. I’m just as certain that once you take even one step away from the moral absolutism of Biblical inerrancy, for example, by wearing mixed fabrics, you lose the right to call upon individual “clobber verses” as being the final arbiters of God’s will with respect to whatever particular argument you wish to make.
Me, even as an atheist I’m a lot more in favor of the New Testament’s messages of love and fairness and non-judgmental inclusion than I am in favor of carefully selected Old Testament prescriptivism. I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point of the New Covenant. Which would seem to argue for a much broader Biblical definition of marriage than my Christianist friends insist upon. Or at the very least, a much kinder and more tolerant treatment of people of whom they do not approve.