Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday Night Rock Show

What do you get when you put together a reggae drummer, a bassist influenced by Bootsie Collins and Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone, a heavy metal guitarist, a classically-trained pianist turned keyboardist, and a lead singer who is a cross between Anthony Kedis and Run-DMC? Why, you get the best band to emerge in the late-1980's, Faith No More.

I actually "heard" of them before their initial national release. On the cover of Metallica's Garage Days Revisited EP, I think it was James Hetfield is wearing a Faith No More t-shirt. When I saw their video for "Epic" - the one with the flopping fish - on MTV, I realized why Hetfield liked them enough to publicize them that way. Their first major-label release, The Real Thing, is probably the single best LP the majors released up to 1990, with Jane's Addiction's first album tying or a close second. One problem I think the general public had with them was their refusal to have a coalescent sound - at times their songs sounded more like jams rather than well-rehearsed compromises among their various members - which is why their later recordings kind of fell below the radar. Before there was Nirvana, however, I would submit the real "alternative music" thing began with them.

My friend Jim told me once that he thought Metallica's "Master of Puppets" was the best song about cocaine addiction because it neither preached nor celebrated, it just described. I think the the title song, "The Real Thing", does for heroin what "Master" did for cocaine. In its explicitness - it doesn't hide behind metaphor and innuendo the way, say The Red Hot Chili Peppers "Under the Bridge" does - it slaps you in the face. To me, the bass glissando, mimicking the needle insertion and injection, is just about the most awesome musical moment from a decade bereft of them. Here it is:

The Cult of the Amateur of The Defense of the Dinosaur? Andrew Keene Doesn't Like What The Internet is Doing to America, and He's British

I heard the promo for the interview this morning, but missed it so I went here and listened to the interview with Andrew Keene, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture. In the interview, he sums up his thesis by saying that the Internet "fundamentally undermines the authority of the mainstream media." I could dismiss such a statement with a snarky one-liner, or I could examine it in detail. I guess I shall try to do both: This is a bad thing?

The mainstream media, which Keen defines as "professional journalism, professional recorded music, newspapers, television, radio, and publishing", is indeed undermined on a broad front by the rise of user-generated content - wikipedia, YouTube, etc.; Keen describes them as "often corrupt" (a pretty heavy charge which upon which he refuses to elaborate) - but one wonders what, exactly, the problem is. Keen fails to defend his position substantively, except to say, in an example of great importance, that one compare the blogosphere and newspapers. This is the perfect example of setting up a straw argument. With the exceptions of Talking Points Memo, the live-blogging Fire Dog Lake did at the Scooter Libby trial, and the on-line editions of various newspapers and periodicals, blogs are not news organs, but commentary organs. They are, to use Joe Klein's infelicitous phrase, "parasitic" upon the mainstream media to the exact same extent that the pundits are. The difference, however, is that few of the blogs, whether left or right, of which I am aware, pretend to do anything other than discuss things that are already out there (I suppose Michelle Malkin's site is the exception that proves the rule; she pretends to cover news, and in doing so, undermines her own credibility, but not that of the rest of us because she is the object so much scorn and derision precisely because of her pretensions). It might be wise to compare, say, the op-ed pages of a random paper with the blogs, but then we are getting in to a realm where subjectivity reigns - one likes or dislikes these things based upon one's aesthetic and political preferences. While many mainstream pundits are taken to task for their analytical ability and adherence to certain norms, this is solely up to the discretion of various blog commentators, not a widespread phenomenon.

Keen argues that by undermining the wisdom of our cultural gatekeepers, the professionals, what we have left is "opinion, chaos, a cacophony". Here he is venturing in to territory covered 2500 years ago by Plato, who also disliked discordant public debate. Plato made a distinction between "opinion" and "truth", the former being the unreflective view of the polloi, the latter available only to an elite after the difficult work of dialectical reasoning and debate with others. To the truth so revealed by the professionals there could be no rebuttal because truth was eternal, reflective of those never-changing forms of which all that we encounter was merely a shadow. Keen, it seems, is a Platonist, preferring eternal truth to the wonderful chaos of democracy unbridled. He makes no argument for the alleged wisdom of the professionals. It is an assertion rather than an argument.

Keen refuses to address a question on the idea of cultural gatekeepers, insisting that such an argument is "neo-Marxist". Indeed it may be - it certainly has roots in Marx's discussion of the superstructure; Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukacs both discussed cultural issues extensively - but that does not mean it does not have a great deal of truth to it. There are non-Marxist reasons for questioning the wisdom of our "cultural gatekeepers" as well, not the least of them being the sorry state of our public discourse, the limited nature of much of the music available through major record labels, and the often odd publishing decisions of the major publishing houses. One point of contention Keen discusses is the demise of the independent bookstore as a result of the rise of Amazon (of course the rise of Border's and Barnes & Noble Booksellers aren't discussed at all), and Keen quotes, not favorably, that the shuttering of our independent book stores is "roadkill". This begs a question that can be argued back and forth, over the issue of capitalism and culture: Do we support the changes capitalist innovation (and sometimes the abuse of power brought about by the concentration of economic power) or do we use various state and non-state powers to uphold an antiquated cultural status quo? It would seem Keen would prefer the latter.

I hardly know what to say to the argument Keen makes in this interview (I have much too much reading to do to claim I will buy his book and read it anytime soon). What his argument comes down to, it seems to me, is this - People have the audacity to take control of the cultural life of the nation, rather than leaving it to those unelected, unappointed individuals who run our major cultural institutions; the result is a jumble of voices and views, with no end in sight. This is unacceptable, and we need to return to the days when our cultural decisions were made for us by those who were paid to make them for us.

Is this awful stuff or what?

Holy Tracts of Silliness

Over at ER's place he features three posts on those classics of theological literature, the Jack Chick tract, a sample cover of which is to your left. Whether you have consciously been aware of them, I am sure you have seen them; I usually find them in bathrooms - rest areas, restaurants, airports - either left by someone who had read it, or by someone from a church where spreading them around is part of their evangelizing.

In the course of his discussion, the good Mr. Redneck offers one point with which I would disagree. He insists that, as hokey as they are, the tracts are allegories, simplistic, yes, but bearing a truth nonetheless. By calling them "allegories", I do believe that ER is saying that Chick does not understand his little stories to be literally true, but rather representative of larger truths (a point he makes in his latest post). I believe that Jack Chick's little comic books are representative of the reality he lives. It is for that reason I find his attempts at proselytizing through these little books so hilarious.

If the folks who published The Onion took themselves seriously, we would worry about them. In the same way, Chick Publications takes itself, and its mission, very seriously. To try to let them off the hook by saying that these are modern parables and granted some elevated status does a disservice to Chick. This is his beliefs, in the same way that I have mine, and others have theirs. Sad to say, this makes them funnier - this is the way Jack Chick actually sees the world, from Satanic hippies sacrificing children to the Divine viewing booth where we replay our lives on the big screen. While ER's attempt at a sympathetic defense of Chick is admirable, I do believe it is ultimately misguided, because I think he is in deadly, earnest seriousness, portraying his own interpretation of Biblical truth as it encounters the world. In that respect, the tracts are reduced to parody.

For an example of a tract, if you never had the pleasure, Chick has a website!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The River is Indeed Wide and Deep

I am currently thoroughly engaged in reading the second volume of Gary Dorrien's The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity. The first volume, subtitled Imagining Liberal Religion, covered the Unitarians and Emerson, as well as the emerging liberalism of the evangelical movement best represented by Horace Bushnell and the religious philosophy of Parker Bowne of Boston University. The second volume, covering the first half of the 20th century, covers the various strands of American liberal theology - the Boston Personalists, the Chicago School pragmatists, and the social gospelers influence by Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf von Harnack - as well as the more radical criticism of the liberals by Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich (why he is counted as an American I am not sure; the others are clearly trying to articulate a uniquely American theology, despite the various German influences; Tillich remained until his dying day a thoroughly German theologian).

Reading history is always a good way to humble oneself. It is all well and good to say, "You know, Christianity is bigger than this or that dogma or party line," and quote the differences between, say Aquinas and Bonaventure or Calvin and Luther. To see the various theologies and arguments just within the past one hundred years of American theology - and make no mistake, these are all distinctly American thinkers, looking to contextualize all sorts of sources - is a heartening and humbling experience. While Dorrien's claim, which he is to make more forcefully in the third volume (subtitled Crisis, Irony, and Post-Modernity), that liberalism as it has traditionally been understood is currently a marginal phenomenon in theological and Christian thought, it should be clear that, unlike the trendy radicalism or brain-dead fundamentalism we too often encounter, it has a richness and depth that should feed us should we be willing to drink from this particular stream.

Did I say stream? The three volumes comprise close to 1600 pages of small-print text, with hundreds of pages of end notes and references. This is no stream in which our ankles might get wet should we wade. We could swim, dive deep, and find ourselves cast downstream before we know it were we to enter this "stream". Like the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, the Susquehanna, and other great American rivers, we have here a mighty force that is part of what has made America.

For myself, I am much too influenced by both my own Wesleyan heritage and the neo-orthodox revolt against complacent liberalism to suddenly convert; this does not mean I subscribe to Karl Barth's idea that theological liberalism is devoid of anything meaningful or fulfilling. I think, however, we need to be reminded that we Americans have a far richer heritage, a far more diverse and wonderful, life-giving heritage, than is represented in too much of our discussion on religion in American life. If for no other reason, despite its occasional divergence in to dense theological and philosophical territory, I would highly recommend this entire trilogy to anyone interested in discovering the lost gold mine of American liberal religious thought.

Pardon Scooter!

I feel a bit like one of those Marxist hard-liners who refused to back social democratic reforms because they only delayed the inevitable revolution. The position was that, by mitigating the contradictions of capitalism, they acted as a smokescreen for the interests of the governing class, providing certain creature comforts to the workers and giving them the illusion they had a greater say in their own rule. Marxists insisted that such half-measures deferred the inevitable triumph of the workers, and the freedoms offered by social democratic reforms were illusory because they did nothing to alter the fundamental realities of the structure of economic relations that determined power. Like those Marxists, I will not argue that Bush should refrain from pardoning Scooter. In fact, I look forward to it. The display of support from all sorts of Washington Establishment types (including James Carville) rushing to defend one of their own from the depredations of our justice system offers a wonderful display of how the system really works; a pardon would just be icing on the cake.

I believe that Bush pardoning Scooter would be the last hammer blow to the final nail on the coffin of the Republican Party. The fact that a pardon is supported by most of the candidates on the Republican side only highlights the distance between the Washington elite and the rest of the country. We have to consider, also, that Bush is like every other recalcitrant child in the world; people who push and tug at him only make him dig in his heels and insist he will do what he wants, regardless of the advice given him by people both more intelligent and understanding than he is. I think the public furor will only strengthen his resolve to do whatever it is he was planning to do, so go on, Mr. Boy President, sign that pardon paper, and kill off the Republican Party for good. Make your friends happy, make the insiders happy - and guarantee a Democratic majority for a generation to come.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Are We Not Men?

The title comes from "The Island of Dr. Moreau", a classic horror film in which Moreau is found to have attempted to speed up evolution, attempting to create human beings out of lower animals. The creatures have a kind of noble ethic; led by Bela Lugosi, they recite their mantra like catechists at class, which begins always with Lugosi shouting, "Are we not men?" The end of the movie has the creatures meting out rough justice to Moreau.

I think the phrase, in fact the entire context, is more than apt when reading today's post by Glenn Greenwald. Apparently, last night Chris Matthews went all bubbly over Fred Thompson and his sex appeal (typing that sentence actually hurt my fingers). From there, Greenwald goes on to highlight the macho yearnings of such stalwarts of machismo as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Reynolds. The litany of desire, a kind of liturgy to recover lost true-manliness that Greenwald writes about - not in some attempt at psychoanalyzing them; rather he hoists them upon the petard of their own words - is not only embarrassing and sad, it also gives one a sense of relief when one considers that we are nearing the end of the reign of Rush over our national discourse. Indeed, at one point, Greenwald notes that, while formerly much of what is now explicit was implicit, what makes all this gushing over guys by guys so odd is its blatant nature. The easiest explanation, and I believe the most true explanation, for this phenomenon is simple; these folks hear, dimly yet growing louder each second, the tolling of the bell that signals the end of the reign of lugubrious idiots such as Limbaugh, self-promoting non-intellectuals like Reynolds, and just plain oddballs like Matthews. This is the equivalent of ripping off the masks at the end of the ball in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" - it's put up or shut up time, and these folks are putting up before they are forced to shut up.

Greenwald ends his piece as follows (I would encourage all to read it in its entirety, even though you may want to rinse in cool water afterwards):
None of this is about psychoanalyzing anyone. Unfortunately, all of this comes explicitly from their own mouths, and is tragically unavoidable. And there is simply no way to understand our degraded political discourse and the radical militarism of the last six years without thinking about these twisted character traits, which their carriers tout quite overtly and even proudly.

One of the points Greenwald makes, and it is unavoidable, is that the three men he highlights - Limbaugh, Reynolds, and Matthews - carry on about true masculinity, fearing the wimping out of men and boys across America, and urge a new cult of manliness upon us all even as all three are poster-children for what happens when boys don't play sports as children. Glenn Reynolds is a self-professed nerd, preferring time in his basement with electronic toys and gadgets to interacting with people. Limbaugh is, well, Limbaugh, smoking fat cigars and going to sex-tourism spots with bottles of Viagra that aren't his (there would be so much there for a therapist to work with . . .). Chris Matthews just seems to advertise his desire for a macho man to lead him. None of them, however, possess even a smidgen of the qualities they insist real men in our society must have if we as a nation are to survive. Like Hitler going on and on about the greatness of the Nordic race, all those blonde-haired, blue-eyes supermen, while Hitler was of average height, has brown hair and eyes, and despite several years in the military (one can say what one wishes about him, but Hitler was no coward when it came to battle), had a softness about him in his later years, including a noticeable paunch that no amount of tailoring could hide - these three men insist that others gain qualities that are quite obviously beyond their own capacity to gain at this point in their lives.

These three are the grotesque creations of a broken media and national dialogue. These last dregs from the bottom of the barrel that make up the "substance" of much of there talking and writing only show how sad, pathetic, and really risible they are. Yes, they cause us all to cringe with embarrassment. Yes, one refrains from doing all sorts of armchair psychology only with severe self-restraint. Yes, most of us wish they would all just fade away, like all old soldiers do (except, of course, none of them were soldiers). We are left, jaws agape at the the sheer audacity freedom grants these men, night after night, day after day, to advertise to the entire world that they, the true arbiters of truth and heterosexuality, desire nothing less than an entire generation of real men to admire and to whom they can surrender all.

How sad.

On Torture: Other Voices

The good folks at Faith in Public provide a link to an article in the Port Huron Times-Herald by the Rev. Charles Hottacher, an Episcopal priest and former community columnist for the newspaper. The article does a good job summing up the salient history of the Bush Administration's exercise in creative law breaking, then offers the following:
In response to these developments, more than 100 religious organizations have joined together to form the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to ensure the United States does not engage in torture or the cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of anyone. NRCAT seeks legislation that prohibits any exception to U.S. adherence to the human rights standards of international law, the practice of apprehending suspects and transporting them to countries that use torture as an interrogation technique, the existence or use of secret prisons for U.S. detainees anywhere in the world, and the use of evidence derived from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in the determination of guilt or innocence of a charged offense.

NRCAT also supports legislation that would mandate International Red Cross access to all U.S. detainees around the world; restore habeas corpus protection for all U.S. detainees, citizen and non-citizen alike; and initiate an independent investigation of the role of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of U.S. detainees after Sept. 11, 2001.

A bill titled Restoring the Constitution Act contains many of these provisions. It has been introduced in both houses of Congress. NRCAT urges the House and Senate Armed Services Committee include the provisions of RCA in the upcoming Department of Defense Authorization Bill for 2008.

RCA deserves the support of all Americans of faith as well as other citizens of good will. The soul of our nation is at stake. Consider what Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has said:

“The deliberate torture of one human being by another is a sin against our Creator, in whose image we have all been created. The practice should not be condoned or allowed by any government. It must be condemned by all people of faith, wherever it exists, without exceptions.” Consider also this insight from Major Gen. Kermit D. Johnson, retired U.S. Army Chaplain:

“What we must face squarely is this: Whenever we torture or mistreat prisoners, we are capitulating morally to the enemy; in fact, adopting the terrorist ethic that the end justifies the means.” (emphasis added)

The bill, S. 576, was introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd and currently has 11 co-sponsors (you can get all the information on the bill, and its House counter-part, HR 1415, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler with 55 co-sponsors, here), essentially re-writes the horrid "Military Commissions Act" the Republicans ramrodded through the Congress last fall to ensure that we adhere to the Constitution and our treaty obligations. I urge you to write or call your Senators and Representatives to get behind this bill, co-sponsor it, if possible, and get action on it. The victims of our war on terror deserve nothing less.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eric Alterman Sings My Song

This will be short, sweet, and to the point. For a while now, I have had nothing good to say about the misrule of George W. Bush. I wish to quote Eric Alterman, from today's edition of his Altercation blog:
George W. Bush and company -- of whom the Post has been so enamored and to whom its pundits, particularly "Dean" David Broder, have been so sympathetic -- have screwed up everything about this nation's governance so profoundly that it will take incredible amounts of courage and imagination merely to restore the most basic form of balance to our foreign policy, to our military, to our economy, to our science policies, to our environment, to the protection of our constitutional liberties, to the very meaning of government in our lives.

I have said these very things for months now. I have used almost these very words.

I feel wise. I feel like a song-writer who hears his song on the radio sung by - whom? The Mills Brothers? Frank Sinatra? David Johanssen? Tom Waits? - pick your poison, at it were.

On Torture III: Summing Up and Violating Godwin's Law

About a decade ago, a book came out the central thesis of which was that the entire German state and population was responsible for the horrors of the Nazi multiple genocides against Slavs, Gypsys, gays, Catholics, and Jews. It was almost immediately trashed on a number of levels. I fail to imagine why. Let us consider the topic from the perspective offered by Richard Rubenstein and John Roth in their book Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and its Legacy. We shall borrow the simple example of what was involved in shipping by train thousands of human beings from various places around Europe to the killing centers in Poland. There the bureaucrats who had to devise the plans. There were the engineers who drove the trains. There were the firemen who stoked the engines. There were the station-masters who had to keep tabs on the trains. There were the negotiations between the rail companies and the government over compensation - what they would be paid for their human cargo. There were the thousands who stood on train platforms as these trains passed by. There were the legal theorists who made all this above board. There were those who witnessed the mass arrests and the loadings of human beings in to boxcars. There were the accountants who had to ensure the books were balanced, with line items for the various human beings being labeled properly (the Nazis were nothing if not meticulous). Just from this one example alone, there are quite literally tens of thousands of typical German citizens involved, either actively or passively, in the process of eliminating whole populations. The idea that somehow an entire generational cohort of Germany is not at fault is easily gotten rid of by an examination of modern logistics. Then consider all the other aspects necessary for supporting an infrastructure for official murder, as well as the on-going official dehumanization of the various victims and the notion of limited accountability and responsibility to state officials become nonsensical.

In the same way, we can not pretend that we neither know of our nation's continuing reliance upon torture as official policy nor that the simple-minded claim that as neither I nor others actually tortured individuals we bear no measure of responsibility for doing so. Regardless of ideological support or rejection; regardless of protests official or unofficial - we, all Americans share a measure of responsibility for this nightmare. We do not share blame, which is limited to those who actually commit these acts, and the officials who endorse them; we do, however, share responsibility.

For an ethical individual, one way to atone is to speak out. We have to make "torture" a campaign issue. We might, were we honest, even include the possibility of turning soon-to-be-former officials over to some Third Party who might want to take an international legal interest in them. At the least, we need to put the word and practice before the American public without apology. We need to force people to see and understand the ugliest reality of the Bush years - and offer ways for us to atone for this collective crime.

Michael Gerson Makes Things Up

Over at Faith In Public there is a link to this article by Michael Gerson, an article that has to be read to be believed. In Gerson's imagination, there is something called "the political center" which most Americans occupy, and under a variety of pressures, the two parties are fleeing:
Among the presidential candidates, Bushism is under siege. So is Clintonism. And there is no reason to celebrate the downfall of either.

The immigration debate is a reminder to the memory-impaired that President Bush ran and won in 2000 as "a different kind of Republican" -- meaning the kind that isn't libertarian or nativist. Bush was orthodox on tax cuts and moral values. But from the earliest days of the nomination contest, he set out policies -- a federal role in improving education, humane immigration reform, Medicare prescription drug coverage -- that borrowed more from Roman Catholic social thought than from Friedrich Hayek.


The criticism was insightful. Clinton had run and won in 1992 in much the same way, calling himself "a different kind of Democrat" and reaching out to middle-ground voters early in the primaries when his image as a candidate was still plastic. Will Marshall, one of the main theorists behind Clintonism, recalls that "every time we were down in the polls, and Clinton talked about 'ending welfare as we know it,' he would rebound." Clinton supported the death penalty, promoted global trade and signaled centrism on national security. All these were intended as early contrasts to Mario Cuomo's liberal fundamentalism.

Today, in both parties, fundamentalism is again the fashion; authenticity is the prime directive. Talk-radio conservatism assaults the most obviously Catholic elements of Bushism -- a role for government in compassion and a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. "Purity" is defined as the empathy of Tom DeLay and the racial sensitivity of Tom Tancredo.

Authenticity on the bitter blogs of the left means a revolt against the centrist, Democratic establishment -- a ritual patricide to establish the ascendancy of the politically hungry and uncompromised. On trade and globalization, Clintonism is the enemy. On foreign policy, "blame America first" has become "blame America exclusively."

Should you have missed the impact of this beginning, please go back and re-read it. In Gerson's imagination, Bush had some kind of intellectual heritage. In Gerson's imagination, indeed, Bush won in 2000. In Gerson's imagination, Bill Clinton's intellectually dubious "Third Way" offered a serious alternative to the hard-line neo-cons and the emerging lefty consensus that is available on many left-leaning blogs. In Gerson's imagination, the left-leaning blogs are "bitter", we engage in "ritual patricide" (sic; the word is "parricide", Gerson), and we "'blame America exclusively'" (as if we had responsibility for the actions of other countries).

This set up, creating all sorts of fictions that allow Gerson to mourn our current political discourse, is so wrong on so many levels, one can only imagine that its source lies in discussions Gerson had with colleague David Broder, who is also wedded to the fiction of a political center.

Let us dispose of one thing right away, and that is that emerging theme of "authenticity". Should one care, Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has a piece today on the way "authenticity" becomes a narrative trope with which Beltway pundits can beat Democrats. "Authenticity" is a word that journalists can use to sound profound, but it all comes down to questions of perception, style, and preference, rather than substantive issues of governance, competence, and policy. It is the media that is obsessed with "authenticity"; we polloi are much more concerned with questions of substance than style. To introduce this non-sequitur into the discussion is a tell-tale signal that Gerson is writing from some Beltway perch, full of all sorts of hand-wringing over the sorry state of our current political discourse, in which people are passionately engaged precisely because there is so much at stake.

Let us be brave and read on, shall we?
Republican and Democratic candidates have generally avoided the most extreme expressions of these movements but seem content to drift in their currents. Few have offered policy proposals that reach toward the middle by challenging the orthodoxy of their party. Mitt Romney has distanced himself from his own innovative Massachusetts health-care reform -- fearful that his hidden virtues of creativity and bipartisanship might be exposed in public. Barack Obama is a teller of uncomfortable truths as a stylistic matter, but he has yet to take stands that defy liberal fundamentalism in the way Bill Clinton did. None of the main candidates for president, including one named Clinton, is attempting to win office in the same way that the last two two-term presidents won office.

There are reasons for this shift. Unlike 2000, Republicans are struggling with an unpopular war that has resulted in an unpopular incumbent president; merely rallying the base seems a large enough task. Unlike 1992, Democrats are reacting to what they believe is a massive Republican failure, not the massive Democratic failure of the Mondale/Dukakis exile; there is little appetite for the politics of introspection and self-correction.

All this may be part of a natural political cycle that alternates consolidation and reform. But this does not change the fact that something is being lost. The centrism of 1992 and 2000 eventually yielded welfare reform, education reform and prescription drugs for millions of seniors. Similar bipartisan efforts are objectively necessary to extend health insurance coverage and to stabilize our entitlement systems. The early stages of the presidential season offer few reasons for hope on that agenda.

The abandonment of Bushism and Clintonism is also leaving many Americans ideologically homeless: Catholics who regard themselves as pro-life, pro-immigrant and pro-poor; young evangelicals more exercised by millions dying of AIDS in Africa than by the continued existence of the Education Department; liberals who do not find their liberalism inconsistent with national strength or opposition to Islamic radicalism, the most illiberal force on Earth. All this alienation may, in a saner time, be the basis of a movement that mitigates polarization instead of glorying in it.

In the meantime, we are left with an odd spectacle: a field of strong, accomplished candidates who seldom say anything that isn't entirely predictable. Instead, they cheerfully reconfirm destructive stereotypes of their parties that Bush and Clinton labored mightily to change.

Let us move backward through this snippet. First, the destruction of Bush Republicanism is welcome precisely because it is itself destructive in practice (outside the kind of fuzzy inconsistent rhetoric Bush engaged in during the 2000 campaign) of pretty much everything in the American Constitution, American law, tradition, history, indeed our very social fabric. Somehow, this all goes unsaid because to take these realities in to consideration would be to be "bitter" rather than realistic. To the description of the candidates in either party, but especially in the Republican Party as "strong" and "accomplished" made me throw up in my mouth I laughed so hard. The media's favorite, Mitt Romney, was described accurately by Barney Frank as the most intellectually dishonest person in the race. The current GOP front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, is a borderline sociopath whose mouth and sphincter seem to be interchangeable. Giuliani's appeal, it seems, comes from the fact that he talks all tough; that is what makes so many of us in the rest of what is called the real world so nervous. We have had enough of this feaux-macho nonsense. He may offer red meat to Republican primary voters, but he sends up red flags to the rest of us.

As for all those millions supposedly ideologically homeless, all I can say is this: who are they? I realize Gerson lists who they might be, but I want to know who they actually are. If this imaginary center were so powerful, where has it been since January, 2001? Why is it not represented in Congress more strongly? Why have neither party appealed to it, except in the recently failed and unlamented immigration "reform" bill? The reason is obvious, except to Gerson - it doesn't exist. The evolving political alignment - most clearly demonstrated by the public unhappiness with Democrats in Congress for failing to stand up to the President on setting a time-table for Iraq withdrawal - is not one pivoting around a center, but rather pitching to the left on a host of issues precisely because of the failures, multiple, continuous, and most likely perpetual, of what he calls "Bushism" and the rest of America knows as "conservatism". Good riddance to bad rubbish.

The idea that none of the candidates in this election cycle seem to be running from some imaginary center, from which, in Gerson's world, both Clinton and Bush ran two successful campaigns, is because it doesn't exist. Clinton ran from the "center" because he was campaigning in a period of Republican dominance. Bush ran from the "center" because he and his campaign were intellectually dishonest. We live in changed times, as Gerson notes (albeit grudgingly, and without a thought that changed times might warrant changed approaches to politics), but he insists that there is some huddled mass out there, missing out on what it yearns for - what Arthur Schlesinger once referred to as "the vital center". It no longer exists, if indeed it ever did, and our politics is a reflection, not of the imaginary polarization due to outside influences, but the very real polarization due to our current situation.

This is the kind of Insider punditry that makes one's blood boil and one feel sad, simultaneously. So full of nonsense and unreality, it cries out for our major media organs to offer commentary that is consistent with the reality offered up by the news pages, not the least of which are poll results. Gerson's piece is but the latest in a long line of Washington elite pieces that desires something that doesn't exist - a kind of status quo ante bellum in which the elites who made the opinions which the insiders used to govern was dispensed for our ritual consumption without question, comment, or interference from the real world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Searching For A Savior

In the comment section of this post yesterday, frequent visitor and commenter Democracy Lover writes the following:
While I would like to share your optimism, I think voters are looking not just for a change from Republican rule, but a real vision for the future. As you say, they want someone who "will actually work in their interests".

It is indeed unfortunate that no leading Democratic Presidential candidate, or indeed no remotely likely candidate, offers that vision or will actually work in the interests of the people.

I offered an initial response in the comment section upon which I would like to expand. My basic thesis is simple and follows: The desire for a person to lead who clearly "articulates a vision for the future" is a kind of hero-worship that is deeply anti-democratic, and contrary to the best traditions and history of America. More to the point, it is, in my view, contrary to the trends in our country currently, and such a political savior would be viewed with distrust by a majority of American voters regardless of political persuasion. It is precisely these qualities that our current President exhibits - a kind of Messiah complex - that makes so many wary of him, not just here at home but around the world.

With the exceptions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and perhaps FDR in the first months of his first term, there have not been Presidents who have acted far ahead of the stated desires of the constituencies who elected them. Indeed, what makes these three men of historical importance was precisely the unique abilities they brought to the office of the Presidency, and gave them the strength and courage to work against a variety of factors to succeed at what they determined were the most vital tasks they confronted. I suppose, for the sake of honesty I should include Richard Nixon as a negative example, as well as George W. Bush - they followed or follow their convictions without regard to public opinion; look what they got for their troubles.

There is no doubt we live in troubled, perhaps even dangerous times. There is little disagreement, should one consult the polls, that our country is headed in the wrong direction, led by a clique of elites who have no desire to do anything but maintain their own power at all costs. The unresponsiveness of our current system seems to cry out for someone who will actually heed the call of the American people for leadership. Except, of course, it isn't really leadership that is called for; rather, it is the ability to follow, to do what the vast majority of the American people want done. To insist, as DL does in his comment, that we need someone to "articulate a vision for the future" ignores the fact that the candidates of both political parties are doing exactly that. The question is begged, of course, concerning the nature of that vision, and its relevance to our current situation.

For example, Tom Tancredo has a vision for America. So does Rudy Giuliani. John McCain's vision for America is as clear as day - he is a journalist's favorite candidate because he rarely closes his mouth. On the other side of the political fence, we have the various visions of Sen. Christopher Dodd, of former Sen. John Edwards, of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and former Rep. and Ambassador Bill Richardson among others. We are not bereft of vision, or visions, should one choose to accurately describe the situation. What is missing is a synching up, as it were, of such a vision with the wishes of the person decrying the lack of any such vision. Because DL feels none of the major party candidates do so - indeed, he does not see an alternative on the horizon - he bemoans the lack of leadership, of serious choices in the ensuing Presidential contest.

Such a criticism is, I believe, behind the media-driven desire to see Fred Thompson enter the Republican race for the Presidency. I heard former Sen. Minority/Majority Leader Tom Daschle on the Bill Press show this morning talk about Thompson, including the fact that Thompson's work ethic, how can I put this delicately, left something to be desired. Along with inoperable cancer, his long-running ties to various K Street lobbying firms, and his rather conservative voting record, I doubt that Thompson, despite the fawning of the press corps, will do much after an initial burst of enthusiasm should he decide to enter the fray in earnest. Yet, it remains a fact that it is the lack of a single candidate with all the qualities Republican voters desire in a candidate, most important of all being the ability articulate a vision, to be a hero to the huddled masses of disgruntled right-wing voters, that lies at the heart of Republican discontent.

At its core, the desire for a single person to emerge who clearly articulates a vision for the future, round whom we can all rally, is the desire to transfer responsibility for this vision from the people to the person in whom we can invest all our hopes, desires, and fears. As someone deeply distrustful of the very idea of hero-worship, I cannot state strongly enough that such yearning is dangerous, regardless of political pedigree; I would much rather trust the American people - even when they make the occasional boner, such as re-electing George W. Bush - than an individual no matter how clever or intelligent, and no matter how much that person's vision coincides with my own.

It is elitist and anti-democratic in the extreme to dismiss American opinion and the occasional failures of judgment, seeking instead the wisdom of an articulate philosopher-king who can give us what we lack. While not satisfied at all with the current crop of candidates, I rest my faith in the eventual outcome of next year's election upon the dissatisfaction of the American public with our current situation, and the innate abilities of any of the Democratic candidates to outperform any of the Republicans in the field. While this does not satisfy earnest ideologues, it does satisfy my own preference for the wisdom of the American people. In other words, I subsume my own ideological preferences to the great mass of the American people, even when they are wrong, because they have been ahead of elite opinion time and again over the past fifteen years. Time will out for the truth, as they say.

I have no desire for a political savior. I have no desire for a national savior. I have no desire for the magic bullet of one person to deliver us from the evils of our current situation. Rather, I trust the people to force the candidates to move toward them, to answer their plea for something so simple, so banal, and so uninteresting, as simple competent governance. I realize this is hardly the stuff of legend or a slogan to call the troops to rally round the flag; it is, however, the desire of the American people. My vote will go to the person who, no matter how inarticulately or confusedly, manages to show that he or she will respond to the American people, doing competent work, and understanding the difference between governing and leading.

May the most able person win.

Richard Rorty, RIP

I was saddened to learn, just now, that Richard Rorty, the preeminent American philosopher of the past generation, passed away on Friday after a bout with cancer. I will post soon on Rorty and the impact upon me when I first read him fifteen years ago. For now, may I just say that we as a nation have lost a valuable intellectual and, yes, (despite his avowed atheism) spiritual resource. He embodied the best of the American spirit, and it flowed through his writing like a deep river. He shall be missed.
In a tribute written by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, Rorty is quoted as follows on his idea of the "holy" (you can find the entire text of Habermas' encomium here):
My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Music Monday

From R & B to funk to hip-hop, African-American music rules the world, shapes the way we think of pop music, and gives us all a chance to dance, make love, and party. The world is a better place because Americans of African descent have offered their songs and stories to the world.

I am an unabashed Motown fan. I refuse to get in to discussions over the relative merits of Motown versus Atlantic versus Stax/Volt. Each is important, each made major contributions to American music, and each had its own controlling ethos. At another time, I will discuss the other labels, but Berry Gordy's desire to sell African-American pop to the whole country as "The Sound of Young America" did as much to break down racial barriers as any March on Washington. The Miracles' "Ooh, Baby, Baby", as I understand it, began its life as the background to some between-song patter Smokey Robinson was giving an audience at the Apollo. Audience response to what the Miracles were vamping was so overwhelming, Smokey wrote an entire song centered around it - it moves through the whole song, even when it isn't sung, the unseen guest at this party. It is a beautiful love song.

George Clinton began as a hanger-on at Motown, doing some gigs as a studio musician. He went on, using the inspiration of acid and cannabis, to create the huge sound of P-Funk, with the best bassist in the history of music, Bootsie Collins, providing the groove that made anyone want to get up and dance. I can't get enough of P-Funk; they just make me smile and want to party. This is "Tear The Roof Off This Sucka":

There are few contemporary songs that are guaranteed to get people dancing more than the next one. While not a huge hip-hop fan, one can hardly argue with the success Usher has had combing rap and R&B. His clear high tenor voice, combined with the insistent beat and unabashed sexuality make "Yeah" a crown pleaser from the get-go. Plus, it's just got such a great hook.

Torture II: From Abu Ghraib to the Council of Europe Report

I consider myself pretty politically savvy, which is why I chastise myself for my naivetee in the initial aftermath of the Abu Ghraib story. When the reports first started coming through, and snowballed in the ensuing weeks, I thought, "Here's something the Republicans in Congress can't give the Bush Administration cover for. Now we'll see where party loyalty ends and defense of America begins." I honestly thought that. Standing on the other side of that breaking point, I still wonder what I was thinking. How could I have thought, all evidence to the contrary, that the Republicans in Congress would actually step up to the plate and take down their own, after massive evidence that the Administration's own policies and directives led in a clear line to the kind of horrors detainees experienced at Abu Ghraib?

The truth is, since the early days of post-September 11, the question of torture has reared its ugly head in a way that should have made all of us sit up and take notice. When noted defense attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz argued that we needed to allow room for torture, he was roundly shouted down (or at least the attempt was made); what should have been noticed was that the Administration was actually carrying out Dershowitz' ideas. From John Yoo's pro-torture memo to Alberto Gonzalez' description of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint, we should have realized that all the complaining in the world wouldn't change the truth that the Bush Administration considered itself above all law and morality. The results are the horror stories that stretch from Abu Ghraib through "extraordinary rendition" (a horrible buzz phrase that hides the fact the US sends "terror suspects" to third-world countries to be tortured) and Guantanamo Bay prison camp to the recently released report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe on CIA-run prisons in Poland and Romania (available for reading at Talking Points Memo). There are other highlights, or perhaps lowlights as well.

One such - and I have to apologize for not finding the link; some help in this area would be appreciated - is the story of the US "detaining" the children of one terror suspect for use as leverage. The children in question, pre-pubescent at the time of their capture, would still be barely in their teens. Their whereabouts and status is still unknown; their condition, according to sources that have what little information is publicly available, is horrific. That the United States would even consider such a move shows the lack of any clear moral center in our on-going War on Terror. A willingness to use children as bargaining chips shows who the real terrorists are.

One of the lowlights of the entire business of torture, extra-legal detention, and our various prison sites, is the prevalence of suicide. When reports first surfaced of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay killing themselves, the general in charge preferred to discuss the topic as a method of terrorist war-fighting - those terrorists were killing themselves to make the US look bad - rather than as a direct result of our own, ahem, lack of hospitality. Again, we are treated to the horrors of a lack of any moral center whatsoever - these human beings, none of whom have been charged with a crime, indeed been accused of anything other than being "really bad people" by the Administration, are apparently hanging themselves, or slashing their wrists in a systematic display of "asymmetrical warfare". Such a euphemism hides hideous crimes on the part of American authorities.

From the early days of post-9/11/PATRIOT Act mass arrests and the on-going revelations of the torture of prisoners in American custody, one has to ask oneself: What will it take for us to end this? The Administration is clearly beyond control; they neither recognize any outside authority as controlling its behavior, nor consider any constitutional, legal, moral, or historical restraints as binding. Public opinion means nothing. Congressional measures, laws, resolutions mean nothing. The Administration is completely out of control, and to pretend otherwise is to engage in the ostrich-like behavior of hiding one's head in the sand. We can no longer pretend that there are any acts that are beyond the pale for the Bush Administration.

When Mitt Romney says, as he did during a recent candidates' "debate", that Gitmo should not be closed but actually expanded, rather than let the comment pass, he should be pressed on details, not the least of which is the question of torture. When Mike Huckabee says, as he did recently, that Guantanamo Bay prison is better than the prisons in his own state of Arkansas, this raises all sorts of questions, not the least of which is whether Arkansas is in the habit of incarcerating people en masse without charge, without access to legal counsel, and where the prisoners regularly commit suicide in acts of "asymmetrical warfare" against the state. While I have no doubt that the right has lost whatever moral credibility it might have once had, and that comments such as these are pleasing to the Republican base - a part of the electorate that is simultaneously scared out of its wits and willing to destroy the tattered remains of American reputation in pursuit of ridding itself of that fear - the press should be doing a better job of asking specific questions regarding the realities such phrases seem to endorse. There is enough information in the public record concerning conditions at Gitmo, extraordinary rendition, and now the Council of Europe report to force the candidates to respond to realities rather than feed "red meat" (that's really red because it is full of the blood of the innocent) to Republican primary voters.

The deaths and detentions will continue until the entire structure is dismantled, and orders are given to end all the practices in question. None of that will occur until the Bush Administration is out of office, through election or some other form. I believe it is high time that the issue of torture take its rightful place as topic number one for discussion. Doing that might actually put impeachment back on the table, as it were. The victims of American fear deserve no less.

New Realities and Realignments VI: After Ideology

When the Cold War ended, there was much discussion over the future look of American politics. With the big bad Soviet bogeyman gone, how would American politics face the challenges of a world without clear-cut ideological boundaries? One reason conservatives hated the Clinton years was that the answer they offered was the kind of wonky, policy-driven tinkering that disdained discussion of the deep roots of social and political questions. All their disdain for what they continue to call "the nanny state" have to do with the kind of minutiae the Clinton's loved to discuss in detail, and for which they were amply rewarded with more than moderate popularity. While conservatives continued to control Congress, grand, controlling conservative narratives - from the PNAC group that wanted to re-fight the Iraq war, to the impeachment nonsense - were roundly rejected by the American people. Conservatives felt the American people needed a new controlling paradigm, a battle cry to rally folks around the flag. The American people, with more than a little justification I might add, felt they had a controlling paradigm, one that disdained grand, world-changing schemes and plans and focused on the modest proposals for tinkering with social betterment at home.

The alternative the conservatives have offered - and despite the many differences among various groups we should never forget that conservatives rallied around Bush until it was clear they were backing a hobbled loser - has been on display since January 20, 2001. I clearly remember the summer of 2001, in those halcyon days before the terrorist attacks, when it seemed Bush would be limping to the finish line of 2004, with America ready for a change. Indeed, lest we forget how miserably awful they were back then, the reaction among many voters that is commonplace today - i.e., we would rather be rid of them sooner rather than later - was already in place before the end of that long, hot summer. Had the terrorist plot been foiled, or had it not happened at all, we would be looking back on George W. Bush as a one-term President, the memory of which would be more the source of jokes than cause for national embarrassment.

What we have now, however, are the tattered remnants of conservative ideology still controlling much of our elite discourse. Part of the disconnect between much of what passes for political commentary these days can be written off to elitism. A large part, however, revolves around themes that are still part of conservative ideology, which, unless the polls are lying, has been rejected by the American people. That is, while our elites continue to shuffle the deck chairs on the sinking ship of state, the people are safely rowing away in life boats. It might be all well and good for conservatives to bemoan the lack of moral purpose the American people seem to share with them; that disguises the fact that the "moral vision" conservatives continue to try to sell lacks a serious moral center, and the American people are much wiser than our elites, preferring a certain pragmatic anti-ideology to the idea that we need grand controlling narratives in order to survive.

Part of the reason the Republicans will lose next year's Presidential election - and they will lose, no matter who they nominate - is the Republican candidates continue to debate and argue within a very narrow vocabulary, a vocabulary most voters understand does not describe the world they inhabit, and serves no function whatsoever other than an ideological one. I for one am tired of those on the left who see dangerous spooks and specters behind the possibilities for Republican dirty tricks stealing the election next year. All one need do is consider the fact that the Republicans seem ready to support a borderline sociopath - Rudy Giuliani - for the Presidency; said man has all the self-destructive characteristics of those same ideologically driven men and women who currently infest our federal bureaucracy, and are held in lower esteem than used-car sales personnel. The only thing better for the Democrats than Rudy getting the nod would be for Newt to enter the mix next fall; I know of fewer people whose entire careers center around their own fantasies of being the white knight of American history.

The American people are a practical lot; while our pundits and journalists look for the Great American Hero to rescue us from our malaise, they look for the next person who will actually work in their interests, and respond to their desire for actual policy-making. This is not the stuff of great political narratives, to be sure. We have lived, however, for the past six years, within a bad political novel centered on a failed political narrative, a vocabulary of nonsense and criminality that has driven the entire country a bit beyond the brink of despair. I believe a time of relief from ideology is in order. Pragmatism is not the stuff of great novels and heroes. I think, however, the American people no longer need heroes, or need to be the director of world-wide salvation. I think all of us yearn for something so banal our pundits refuse to accept it - a little practical governance.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Torture I: Some General Comments

Just putting that title on this post makes me angry, sad, and embarrassed to be an American. It isn't bad enough that Bush has pretty much left the Constitution in tatters here at home. What little was left of our international reputation, all that goodwill that came pouring in to us as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks is gone. In fact, it is noteworthy and newsworthy that of all the places Bush went in Europe during his G-summit round-robin, the only place he got anything like a warm reception was . . . Albania. Not to knock the Albanians, but the simple fact that our old allies - Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium - want nothing to do with us, are in fact enraged at the current administration for its serial failures should lead us all to ponder where we are as a nation.

In the run-up to the summit, there were some revelations concerning the presence of CIA-run prisons in Poland and Romania, prisons where the United States engaged in torture. Now, we can bicker over details - the right-wing loves to bicker over details, and get all lawyerly over questions of definitions and questionable cases, especially when its pet projects are in question. In order to clarify things a bit, I shall repeat - along with Abu Ghraib, where the United States engaged in torturing Iraqi prisoners; along with Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, where prisoners are housed so they are deliberately outside the jurisdiction of the courts; now, there are revelations that even here in the US, at some military installations, prisoners are being held in conditions that are, well, um, OK, fine, I'll say it - it's just torture all around! - but the fact is the United States has engaged, since the beginning of this nonsensical, completely messed-up "War on Terror" to seek not only to replicate the "Bad Guy", but to be worse than they are.

I will site just one example here. Everyone with a shred of decency understands that the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 was a horrible incident. Broadcasting a video of it over the internet added emotional insult to injury. Prior to his death, in other video captures, it was quite clear that Pearl had suffered a great deal of physical trauma. All of this is indisputable, and horrific.

Consider, as a counter-claim, Jose Padilla. Held since late-2001, early-2002 on a rotating series of charges that never quite stick, Padilla's mental and physical condition have so deteriorated due to the treatment he has received in US custody - indeed, it is believed he has suffered permanent mental and intellectual incapacitation due to the treatment he has received - that he can no longer seriously participate in his own defense. Think about that for just one moment. Padilla, a US citizen, was pulled out of an airport on hearsay evidence, declared an "enemy combatant" by the President of the United States, had moved from prison to prison even as the charges against him were dropped, changed, refiled, forced to change again and again - even the story about what he was doing has changed with the circumstances - and he is now a mental cripple because of the way we treated him. I say "we" because he was in US custody, his tormentors bought and paid for by our tax dollars. Unless you refused to pay your taxes this past year, a penny or two of your money went to those who "stood guard" over Padilla.

Now, as horrific as Pearl's experience was, it is over. Padilla's experience continues even now, with no let up in sight, even in the midst of a trial, a trial five years in the making (a trial, by the way, the Administration seriously hoped to avoid). He continues to suffer, and will suffer the ill-effects of incarceration for the rest of his life. Remember this, as well - Padilla was not even charged with a crime until the Supreme Court forced the Administration to, in a word, fish or cut bait, charge him or let him go. He was simply an individual, in prison, being tortured to the point his mind broke. And he has done nothing wrong. Think about that.

Tomorrow, with a bit more time available, I shall go in to some detail all the evidence of a variety of ways we have engaged in torture. For now, all I wish to say is, I hope God's grace is with us, because the world's justice can be harsh. Were this a sane world, we would have been long past the question of impeachment; prosecutors at the World Court in The Hague would be filing briefs on war crimes and crimes against humanity against all the major figures in the Bush Administration, and Cheney, Bush, Gonzalez, Yoo, Rumsfeld, and the rest of them would be looking forward to a long spell in orange jumpsuits in The Netherlands.

Silence in these matters is complicity, and I for one no longer wish to be complicit in these horrid crimes. Starting tomorrow, I want to put all the scattered pieces of evidence together. God please have mercy on us all.

New Realities & Realignments: Blogs, Pundits & the Changing Face of Our Public Discourse

If you check out this post at Hullabaloo, and scroll through the comments, you will see that I wrote a comment that someone else actually noticed. I rarely comment on the blogs I read - I suppose that's wrong, since that's part of the point of all this; the more popular blogs, however, have too many regulars with too many on-going arguments irrelevant to the point at issue (plus you have to add in the whole troll factor) to have a serious dialogue - but I was moved to do so because Digby was using the media uproar over Paris Hilton's in-then-out-then-in jail experience as an entry point to discussing the banality and absurdity of our present media culture. The point I made was two-fold:
(I) Yes, our old media culture - television "journalism", print "journalism", talk radio - is broken, most likely irretrievably broken. Critiques of the media based upon our own frustration, and that alone, do nothing but feed a sense of helplessness and apathy that, in the long run, are detrimental to forging new ways of doing public discourse.
(II) Lest we forget, this entire discussion is happening within a medium that is quite literally rewriting the rules of who is and is not a serious player in our national conversation. We need to remember that we bloggers, even the bad ones and little ones, are part of a larger phenomenon that had already changed the way we discuss politics, and discuss discussing politics.

I am, quite frankly, amazed at the frustration, even rage, such established pundits as David Broder and Joe Klein feel towards the liberal blogs, with their constant criticisms and carpings. Were these and other pundits more honest, they would understand that what they wrote was never for popular consumption at all. Rather, they were part of a small clique of influence peddlers, traders in Washington conventional wisdom, the main purchasers of which were the various behind-the-scenes figures in Washington who move the levers of power like Frank Morgan behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. They should be ignoring our criticisms, because we were never supposed to read what they were writing in the first place.

Of course, perhaps that is part of the source of the anger - the great unwashed are rising above their stations, commenting upon things for which we have only limited understanding, voicing opinions when our task is to imbibe their wisdom. The disconnect between established pundits and the left-wing blogs demonstrate that, far from being the arbiters of wisdom and deep thoughts, our pundits are fallible human beings, entrenched in ideology and occasional sycophancy, while the huddled masses post to breathe free of the the suffocating mass of irrelevant verbiage. We bloggers show a greater grasp of relevant detail, of the import of various stories, and of nuance than is too often demonstrated by our elite opinion-shedders.

It is all too easy to become frustrated with the failure of analysis and logic, the fantasy-mongering, and outright duplicity of too many of our establishment political opinion commentators. If we focus too long upon them, however, we can forget that we bloggers occupy a unique space in a pivotal point in our nation's history. I don't subscribe to the theory that the left-wing blogs are monolithic; indeed, if they were, there would be fewer of them, and even those few would rarely be of the quality one finds among quite literally hundreds of examples soaring through Ted Stevens' intertubes. Yet it is all too easy to find great writing, sound analysis, keen insight with a simple click of the button - and great arguments as well over fundamental differences, a good sign that this is indeed a movement, and it is in its infancy, struggling for identity.

We also need to remember that we bloggers, more I think than any other single factor, have changed the face of our public discourse. In fact, while I doubt it could ever be shown empirically through social science data, I believe that the liberal/lefty blogs are the major factor in the decisive election held last November. By refusing to concede even an inch to the failing narrative of the Republicans and their co-dependent media partners, I am convinced that the Democratic victory is due to the insistence that the controlling narrative of our public discourse was no longer functional, and we liberal/lefty bloggers are rewriting our national script each and every day.

So, along with hauteur of the courtier dismayed at the rabble proposing what the blessed should be disposing, we also might weigh in that most insidious of the old seven deadly sins - envy. The pundits are mad as hell that their attempt to assert control over our national dialogue continue to fail. David Broder can spin his tales of fantasy all he wants; Joe Klein can continue to pretend he has wisdom and understanding of public policy out the whazoo (that's a technical term, by the way); Thomas Friedman can continue to pretend he knows anything about foreign policy in reference to the Middle East; Charles Krauthammer can continue to claim that George W. Bush is Winston Churchill reincarnated. All these things and more can continue to be written, but their relevance is exactly - nil. These people, and all the rest of our typing class, no longer tell us what to believe or think or how to vote. Indeed, one doubts they ever did, yet because there was no feedback mechanism through which critical voices could be heard, they could pretend that they did so. Such pretending is futile now.

To be as succinct as possible here, let me give a bit of a battle cry for all of us bloggers, from level "A" to level "Z" - we are the future. We are the bearers of the narrative of who and what we have been as a nation, and more important, who and what we are to become in the future. The future of America is in our quite capable keyboards. I do believe we should stop whining about how crappy the old media is (although we should never stop calling them on their nonsense) and get on with the business of taking our country back.

Virtual Tin Cup

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