Saturday, April 24, 2010

Shock To The System

In one of a pair of posts libertarian Julian Sanchez has written that has sparked a whole lot of discussion concerning what he terms "epistemic closure" (an inartful if technically correct description of the current right-wing refusal to seriously engage liberal and left-wing arguments), he offers the phenomenon of Constance McMillen, a teenage lesbian in small-town Mississippi, who petitioned to be allowed to attend her prom with her girlfriend. Specifically, he recounts the flood of emails received at a site dedicated to the issue from all over the world that, in essence, must have shattered their view of themselves as doing nothing out of the ordinary.

Let me tell my own version of this kind of thing, only from the other side.

In June, 1994, my wife and I were preparing to move to southern Virginia where she would take up her first appointment as pastor of Centenary UMC in Jarratt, VA. She was to be ordained a deacon under the old order of ordination at the Annual Conference that year, held in Norfolk. Her mother came out from Illinois, and we took a suite on the beach in Virginia Beach, just a hop, skip, and a couple jumps away. While staying there, I decided to pick up a copy of the Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, which would be the paper we would have access to while in Jarratt.

At the time, there was much buzz concerning a custody case in which a woman sought custody of her grandchild because her daughter, who currently had custody, was a lesbian (this case became the basis for a TV movie featuring Valerie Bertinelli). It should go without saying that I found the whole thing nonsensical; of course the woman had no reason or privilege under law to take a child from her birth mother solely because that woman was a lesbian. It was absurd on its face.

While sitting in my suite one morning, coffee slowly bringing wakefulness, I read an editorial that not only supported the woman's case, but did so in a manner I found blatantly dishonest. The editors' contention was that the child's mother was an unfit parent because she admitted, under oath, to breaking Virginia's sodomy laws. Without actually referencing the particularities, the editors said that, as an admitted violator of the law, this woman was, ipso facto an unfit parent.

My initial reaction - and I am being honest about this - was to consider the editorial a joke, a kind of National Lampoon-style hyperconservative argument to show how ridiculous it all really is.

Except, it dawned on me they were completely serious.

Now, I suppose that my own relatively young age (I was 28) and inexperience (I had lived my whole life sheltered from the far reaches of conservative ideas, and was in the waning days of four years in a seminary of a liberal mainline Christian denomination in the nation's capital) certainly played a part in the shock I felt. I still think the argument, at least as presented by the editors, was intellectually dishonest. After all, the "law" the woman "broke" was admitting, under oath, to performing oral sex on her female partner. Under this standard, what set of parents would be "fit", precisely because they, too, engage in "sodomy" as defined by the Commonwealth's statutes?* Their real objection wasn't that she was "an admitted criminal". They didn't like that she was a lesbian who had custody of a child. Everything else was nonsensical drivel.

When it dawned on me the editors were serious, it also occurred to me that they might not be outliers, but represent a good chunk of opinion, the thought of people in the area to which I was moving.

So, I sympathize with the folks in that little Mississippi town who realized, via the miracle of the internet, that their insistence that local traditions not be messed with in the name of oddments like "equal protection" and "respect for diversity" found themselves the target of so much vitriol. It can, indeed, be quite stunning to realize that not everyone holds the same set of ideas. It can be even more stunning to hear from people who hold your own views in contempt, as a sign of one's own malicious nature.

I do not know what the solution to this particular conundrum, if it is such, might be. A start might just be a willingness to move beyond caricature, and engage in substantive discussion, not excluding rancor but also not including a refusal to grant a certain benefit of the doubt to one's ideological opponents.

*I do not know for sure, but I think it probable that Virginia's overbroad sodomy statutes were invalidated when the Supreme Court declared such unconstitutional.

"God never tires of miracles"

The possibility of reconciled memory between peoples who have wronged and been wronged by one another is but another name for a church. - Stanley Hauerwas

I opened A Better Hope not quite at random this morning. I searched the table of contents and decided that, if I was going to read Hauerwas, I had better read something the title of which kind of irked me. The essay I chose was perfect in that regard: "Why Time Cannot and Should Not Heal the Wounds of History, But Time has been and can be Redeemed". Originally a presentation given in Northern Ireland at a conference entitled "A Time To Heal", Hauerwas offers the deeply theological, deeply cruciform idea that our most cherished desire as human beings - for community, even with those with whom we share a bloody past - must not and cannot be achieved through "forgetfulness". On the contrary, using examples from American history, the Balkan conflicts, and South Africa, Hauerwas is adamant that it is only through remembering, a remembering done in a certain context (the church) that real reconciliation is ever achieved. He calls the politics of this kind of real reconciliation, one that keeps alive the memories of mutual animosity and violence, that never quite erases the blood from our lives and lands, "illiberal".

The main point he is making is one that our too-often conflicted identities miss for its simplicity and clarity - it is God in the person of Jesus crucified and resurrected that redeems. Part of that redemption includes the redemption of time and memory. We learn to live together as we learn we pray together, he says at one point, and while that seems a facile statement in light of his insistence his essay that he wishes to overcome simplistic, superficial pieties, it really isn't. When we learn we pray to the same God, we are granting that we pray to the God who has made something that was formerly impossible - living together in the full knowledge of mutual hatreds - possible. It is God who redeems, who forgives, who makes not just the future possible, but the past as well.

His comments at the beginning of the essay are particularly interesting. Drawing on the American predicament of race, our peculiar modernist insistence that only through "forgetting" is reconciliation between black and white possible, is belied by the reality that we are a people for whom the past as history, sadly, insists it has no hold. Thus, the intertwining of our collective stories, black and white, as an American story is lost in a confused and well-meant but ultimately futile attempt to live forward without actually creating a vocabulary with which we can address one another in the fullness of our shared history. Thus, the endless cycle of resentment, guilt, fear, and rage becomes unbreakable precisely because, at a fundamental level, we continue to hope for a better future without acknowledging the on-going reality that the past still grips us.

I must confess that I picked up Hauerwas with reluctance. Part of me wants to hear what he has to say. Yet, part of me also finds him aggravating. Reading this essay, however, is a nice surprise precisely because I was inclined to reject it just from the title. Instead, I allowed myself to listen to his words, and to hear his insistence on the reality of God as the only true redeemer. As a critique of so much of the platitudinous liberalism that surrounds us, it is a marvelous theological statement. It is also humbling because it reminds us that we need to awaken from our dogmatic slumber, the dream that is the modern promise of a bright future with no past, in order to truly live as a people together.

Saturday Rock Show

At the Transatlantic show on Tuesday, in the midst of performing an entire album without a break, and three pieces each roughly about half an hour long, they performed this song, the title track from their second studio release. Neal and guitarist Roine Stolt performed a lovely instrumental duet while Neal sang.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rage Against The Machine

Feodor expresses his rage at what seems to be Divine apathy in the face of massive human suffering. Despite a certain Satanic advocacy on my part, I do understand. The earthquake that struck Haiti, the loss of life, the structural, political, and other impediments to recovery create even more suffering. It makes no sense. If we have a God that does, indeed, love us as we claim, how do we account for the absence of care when a people, already suffering the slings and arrows of centuries of imperialism, racism, exploitation, neglect, and (too-often imposed) despotism now have to cope with a quarter-million dead because of a natural disaster.

Rather than hector, I pose the problem without offering any answer of my own. The dead very often cry out for answers and we, the living, find ourselves voiceless in the face of their pleas. Thoughts?

The DaVinci Code On My Car

This is truly stupid. It's one thing for me to say this guy is kind of ignorant. It's another thing for me to be glad he parades that ignorance for all the world to see, rather than hiding his light under a bushel.

For the VA DMV to recall his vanity tag based on a kind of convoluted "symbolic message" . . .

Back when I lived in the Commonwealth, they DMV recalled a tag in the northern VA Washington suburbs that read "Two Dykes". People screamed and hollered, including myself. As far as I'm concerned, even if this is some secret code praising a German dictator against whom the US fought a war, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of human beings, if this dork in VA wants to drive around letting people know where he stands, so much the better.

You either allow vanity plates or you don't.

Sorry, but this is a free speech issue for me.

I drive a Kia. Next thing you know, people will find a secret message encoded in that word, or perhaps the model, a Sentra. This is truly, awfully stupid and bordering on unconstitutional infringement.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Owning Up To One's Collective Past

This post at Crooked Timber considers the question of "guilt-by-association" vis-a-vis contemporary "progressives" and their century-old counterparts using the same name who also pushed eugenics. Surprisingly, I have to say I disagree with the notion that we to the left on the political scale do not owe some kind of thorough explanation as to these more scabrous details of our heritage. In them lie the roots of much of the white, middle-class arguments for a pro-life position, i.e., they sound an awful lot like Margaret Sanger (a progressive, advocate for birth-control, and eugenicist extraordinaire) saying that we don't need all these poor, dark-skinned people overwhelming us with their babies. We should be adult enough at least to admit there is something disturbing about a bunch of upper-middle class white women claiming they are speaking on behalf of the poor and minorities who might have different opinions.

In any event, another reason I find this fascinating is that, over the years as I've been reading and writing on the internet, I have come across many, many examples of people who take the Christian Church to task for, specifically, the Crusades, the witch-hunts, various pogroms official and otherwise, slavery, racism, sexism, and other sundry things progressives reflexively find distasteful. I have argued that (a) the Church does indeed need to agree that granting tacit or overt approval to these and scores of other crimes needs to be repented in the active sense of acceptance and doing something to counter; and (b) there are denominations out there that are doing just that, and congregations within denominations, and persons within congregations, all working to make amends by acknowledging these things as part of our collective heritage, and working to erase the stain from our current lives.

Would, I wonder, these same folks argue that we need not acknowledge the role of liberals in slavery. Would they argue we no longer need to make amends for the ongoing consequences of liberal support for policies that discriminate against African-Americans, Indians, Latinos, Asians. As I support government reparations to the ancestors of slavery, and would go further and support the same policy for the ancestors of Chinese coolies who were, in essence, imported slave labor brought here to help build the railroads, part of that stems from a sense of current debt owed due to past injustice. A person, a society, a group needs to understand and own the entirety of her and their own collective past, and accept the bad with the good, in order to move forward. Indeed, part of the problem with the contemporary conservative movement (as evidenced from the post linked) is the refusal of contemporary conservatives to accept, for example, that the ideological divisions of a previous generation were not also partisan (thus the Republican nonsense concerning the role of Republicans in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, thus proving conservatives are not, in fact, racist).

Part of moving forward is a complete accounting for the past, not just those parts of which we are proud. This is true for individuals, parties, political movements, and whole nations. This is a lesson we forced on the losers of the Second World War; the victors of the First World War tried it a bit ham-handedly. In this case, I see no reason at all for we modern liberals to agree that, yes, progressive politicians and political activists of a century ago were, indeed eugenicsts. We should then take the next step and say, without shame, that it is remarkable how far our movement has become, indeed how scientific precisely because we are able, without any problem at all, to reject that kind of nonsense and embrace, and be embraced, by all sorts of persons precisely because they understand the goal of leftist politics is a better, more just society for all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Critics . . .

(via Scott on Facebook, with thanks)

Hold on to your hats and opinions, folks. Some authors, including those we love, get their asses handed to them. Sometimes by literary figures, sometimes by folks like Samuel Johnson who had more opinions than he should have. This is linked and copied in fun.
8. Charles Dickens, according to Arnold Bennett (1898)

About a year ago, from idle curiosity, I picked up 'The Old Curiosity Shop', and of all the rotten vulgar un-literary writing...! Worse than George Eliot's. If a novelist can't write where is the beggar.

9. J.K. Rowling, according to Harold Bloom (2000)

How to read 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone'? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.

11. Fyodor Dostoevsky, according to Vladimir Nabokov

Dostoevky's lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity -- all this is difficult to admire.

24. J.D.Salinger, according to Mary McCarthy (1962)

I don't like Salinger, not at all. That last thing isn't a novel anyway, whatever it is. I don't like it. Not at all. It suffers from this terrible sort of metropolitan sentimentality and it's so narcissistic. And to me, also, it seemed so false, so calculated. Combining the plain man with an absolutely megalomaniac egotism. I simply can't stand it.

And my favorite . . .
Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone. - Mark Twain

Justice Delayed But Not Denied

The link is to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, but I heard the story last night on BBC World Service.
Argentina's last dictator was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday for kidnappings and torture during the nation's 1976-1983 military regime.

Reynaldo Bignone, 82, was convicted along with five other former military officers in 56 cases involving torture, illegal detentions and other crimes in one of Argentina's largest torture centers, the Campo de Mayo army base.

These events, over thirty years past, seem more part of an historical record than the stuff of court cases. While the wheels of official justice occasionally grind slow, they do grind, and former General Reynaldo Bignone will spend the remaining time he has left on earth in jail.

For those who wish for the Obama DOJ to go after Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others for doing many of the same things, we should remember that sometimes, a full accounting awaits the comforting distance of some time. With this conviction, Argentina shows the United States how one deals with national "leaders" who flaunt the rule of law in the name security. It may take time, but at some point, a prosecutor will put at least some of those responsible in the tank for their crimes and we, the people, will be able to say that we have, finally and fully, restored the rule of law.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Music For Your Monday

The summer of 2001 I went on a music buying binge. During the days around the birth of our younger daughter, Miriam, I saw a CD from a band that included Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. Being a huge fan, I bought it because of him, and the fact they did a cover of a Procol Harum song, "In Held (Twas In I)".

The day Miriam came home from the hospital, I sat in our living room, with Moriah on one side, and a tiny Miriam on the other, and headphones on, listening to Transatlantic's SMPTe. The first song, "All Of The Above", is not exactly for the faint of heart. Thirty minutes long, it had better deliver something to keep one from hitting the "next" button. I sat and rocked my two daughters to sleep with that song in my ears, and was transfixed.

The band was a multiple side-project. Portnoy and Spock's Beard-founder Neal Morse (multi-instrumentalist and lead singer/songwriter) had asked bassist Pete Trewavas from the venerable British band Marillion and long-time Swedish prog-rocker Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings to gather together and put together some music. In the early 2000's, Morse became a born-again Christian and left both his own band and Transatlantic. But, it seems time has done its work, and they got together and released some new music last summer (The Whirlwind) and, now, are touring. Tomorrow night, they are playing the Park West theater in Chicago, and I will be there.

That funny looking guy with the long hair on stage in the last video is Daniel Gildenlow, leader of Sweden's Pain Of Salvation, hired as a side-man.

Lost In Space Program

Like his predecessor, Pres. Obama has announced ambitious plans in regards to the exploration of space. As I wrote last summer, I fail to see where any serious attempt at human exploration of Mars, absent other, practical reasons, makes any sense.

Part of the problem with all the talk of human space exploration misses a couple points. While it might be true that humans have always pushed the boundaries of exploration, they did so in the past either to flee various threats (the Huns, Magyars, and other eastern ethnic groups that started settling the eastern Danube basin in the times of the late Roman Empire did so because they were fleeing Mongol and Tartar oppression) or to search for exploitable natural resources (the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and British weren't exactly doing what they did in the 16th and 17th centuries for the good of humanity; they wanted to get rich). We are, slowly, becoming sophisticated enough politically to understand that we cannot flee current threats to human survival on earth, but need to address them politically. While escape certainly might seem an attractive alternative to some should those efforts fail, they still should be a last resort.

As a kid, I remember my older brother - an avid, rabid, science fiction reader - talking about the possibility of mining asteroids, mining other planets. It seems to me if there was money to be made doing that kind of thing, the mining companies and others would either be pressuring the government to get the ball rolling, or designing and building their own, private fleets for doing so. They aren't. Neither the Moon nor Mars (that planet that seems to dominate discussion of human exploration at the moment) have enough mineral wealth that would be exploitable without a serious investment in either terraforming or otherwise making life comfortable enough for those who would do the work.

The natural barriers to human space exploration are multiple. We are, like it or not, bound to earth by biology. The human body barely tolerates the stresses of space flight; zero-gravity leeches bone and muscle mass, and there is as yet no way to counter it. The assaults upon our bodies by unshielded cosmic rays are manifold.

Then, of course, there is the turn-around time involved. Even with improved technology, a trip to Mars takes months. The cost of keeping human beings fit and comfortable for the duration of the trip out and back, it seems to me, outweighs any gain that might come from actually planting our feet on Martia firma.

While I know there is something romantic, dashing, about the prospects of human space travel, I for one just don't see it as a viable policy initiative. Robotic space exploration has been extremely effective and even popular. I say, we should go with our strengths. While every President since the end of the Apollo program has iterated American commitment to human space exploration, the actual investment in it has been minuscule, for a very good reason - it just doesn't make sense.

Fifteen Years . . .

I was sitting down to check CNN as my lunch was getting ready. Like the day nine years before when the Challenger exploded, the scene before me made no sense, because my mind refused to countenance what I was seeing. Then, again like the Challenger disaster, it gradually sank in. Something horrible had happened.

What is most odd, and frightening, about our current climate is how this single event, rather than serving as a caution to those on the right to temper their rhetoric, and consider the dangers of talking about tyranny and the end of America and whatnot, has become a focal point of so much discussion. There are those out there who wish to own this event, and celebrate the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, as a great patriot. That should be enough of a caution.

Times are passing people by at such a rapid pace, the desire to turn the clock back to the previous decade seems overwhelming. Many desire a return to the prosperity of the 1990's. Some others to Republican ascendancy. Still others want to delegitimize yet another Democratic President by any means necessary. Our times are not theirs, however. Our challenges are greater precisely because we need to move forward rather than glance back at what has been.

Yet, we should never forget what one person, intelligent, resourceful, and bent on destruction, can do. The fallen in Oklahoma City - a city some of whose residents I have come to know and love - should be a constant reminder that "government" is not some abstract "thing", but people just doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Sometimes, "government" includes a space for the children of these people, and on April 19, 1995, there were children in the Murrah Federal Office Building. Faceless bureaucrats? Rather, our neighbors.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Am Better Than Everyone Who Criticizes Me (UPDATE I, II, III . . . VII)

Please note the following is a parody of a typical Glenn Greenwald column.

Because of my vast experience and superior understanding, there is not a single blogger, commentator, author, or other authority who can lay a finger on me. My arguments here, here, here, and here prove that to any disinterested reader and observer. That isn't enough for some, however. Rather than simply accept both my superior arguments and innate purity, they pretend to be offering arguments that substantively disprove my own claims. In doing so, however, they not only prove their own shallowness, but their willingness to serve the powerful at the expense of the Constitution. All the while, they attack me personally, making even more plain their own stupidity and lack of imagination.

The most blatant stupidity is offered as a serious argument.
I am he as you are he as you are me
and we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun
see how they fly
I'm crying
Sitting on a cornflake
Waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you've been a naughty boy
you let your face grow long

I am the eggman
they are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g' joob

Mr. city policeman sitting
pretty little policemen in a row
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky
See how they run
I'm crying
I'm crying, I'm crying
Yellow matter custard
Dripping from a dead dog's eye
Crabalocker fishwife
Pornographic priestess
Boy, you've been a naughty girl
you let your knickers down

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g' joob

Sitting in an English garden
waiting for the sun
If the sun don't come you get a tan
from standing in the English rain

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g' joob

Expert, texpert choking smokers
don't you think the joker laughs at you
See how they smile like pigs in a sty
See how they snide
I'm crying
Semolina pilchard
climbing up the Eiffel tower
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna
Man, you should have seen them kicking
Edgar Allan Poe

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g' joob
Goo goo g' joob
Goo goo g' goo
goo goo g' joob goo
juba juba juba
juba juba juba
juba juba juba juba
juba juba

Obviously, the ravings of someone who has not paid attention to my cogent argument here, let alone the substantive point I made in an interview here. Anyone who takes these criticisms seriously does not have the US Constitution in the forefront as their sole concern, as I do. Neither are they intelligent. Any mention of my political beliefs, no matter how obvious, is a clear indication they have no idea what they're talking about, because even though I know my own purity precisely because of my political and social stance, they cannot bring that up unless they are willing to grant that purity that lives in my heart forever.

Since I am the lone voice of true Constitutional wisdom in a world filled with neo-conservative hacks it should go without saying that their criticisms have the most base motives imaginable; they differ little from members of the Bush Administration, really, who all belong behind bars. Not because that has been adjudicated, but just because I say so.

The lack of recognition for my own simplicity, let alone genius, is evident in my opponents refusal to engage the central point of every argument I make - it's all about the law, except when it's about their own cupidity and blindness. My observations on my opponents lack of personal hygiene and truly horrendous ugliness is not at all an ad hominem, but rather the objective description of their current condition. Any mention of error on my part, however, is instantly recognizable as an incoherent attack on my personality.

So, being above it all does come at a price. I am attacked from all sides, even as none of the criticisms actually address my main points. I can take it, though, because I am a brave soul, fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.

UPDATE I: Obviously, this reader just doesn't get it at all.
And after calming me down with some orange slices and some fetal spooning
E.T. revealed to me his singular purpose,
He said you are the chosen one.
The one who will deliver the message.
A message of hope for those who choose to hear it
And a warning for those who do not.
Me, the chosen one
They chose me
And I didn't graduate from fucking high school!

You had better
You had better
You had better
You had better listen

None of this has anything to do with what I wrote. If this critic had been smarter, a better reader, a more careful observer, he might not have made the fundamental mistake of not understanding how clear I was in what I wrote above. What could be clearer?

UPDATE II: This discussion strays way off the mark. Perhaps the writer should learn English.

UPDATE III: To restate the obvious, this critic has no idea what I wrote.

UPDATE III: While I might be able to grant the possibility that there is some substance to this, doing so would undermine a key point - my own simplicity and purity, which makes all my arguments unassailable (as I pointed out here, here, and most cogently here).

UPDATE IV: Neocons need no answer other than the back of my hand.

UPDATE V: Finally, a worthy opponent!
Who let the dogs out
(woof, woof, woof, woof)
(woof, woof, woof, woof)
(woof, woof, woof, woof)
(woof, woof, woof, woof)

Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)
Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)

(woof, woof, woof, woof)

When the party was nice, the party was jumpin' (Hey, Yippie, Yi, Yo)
And everybody havin' a ball (Hah, ho, Yippie Yi Yo)
I tell the fellas "start the name callin'" (Yippie Yi Yo)
And the girls report to the call
The poor dog show down

Except, alas, it doesn't address something central to my position. So, yet another loser.


UPDATE VII: This commenter makes an excellent observation.
Go fuck yourself.

Need I say more?

An Appeal For Information

I read this review of a biography of C. Wright Mills, and a couple things occurred to me. First, that I really don't know much more than that he was a radical critic during a time of intellectual conformity (a pretty typical view, and one challenged by the biography under review).

Second, what occurred to me is that much of Mills description of the way the interests of the various sectors of American elite society intersect reminds me of my own thoughts on my first reading of Noam Chomsky. His description of the way consensus is formed on foreign policy in America is remarkably similar to the description of Mills' The Power Elite given in this review.

So, has there been any work done on the relationship between Mills and Chomsky? Are Mills' works still available?

Criticism, Free Speech, & Responsibility

I got thinking about the intertwining of freedom and responsibility, the Tea Baggers and our public discourse, and then I read some remarks Bill Clinton gave in Oklahoma City to honor the fallen from the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.
But I think that the point I’m trying to make is, I like the debate. This “tea party” movement can be a healthy thing if they’re making us justify every penny of taxes we raised and every dollar of public money we spend. And they say they’re for limited government and a balanced budget; when I left office, we had the smallest workforce since Eisenhower and we had four surpluses for the first time in 70 years.


... By all means, keep fighting. By all means, keep arguing. But remember words have consequences as much as actions do. And what we advocate commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City.

We owe it to keep on fighting, keep on arguing. They didn’t vote for me in Oklahoma in 1996. It was still a Republican state. But I loved them anyway, and I will till the day I die, because when this country was flat on its back mourning their loss, they rallied around the employees of the national government and they rallied around the human beings who had lost everything, and they rallied around the elemental principle that what we have in common is more important than our differences. And that’s why our Constitution makes our freedoms last – because of that bright line.

Just prior to this beautiful paean to the power of our freedoms to transcend the petty differences of politics, he also said the following, which puts these remarks in their proper context.
Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever in America in the early 1990s. First, it was a time, like now, of dramatic upheaval. A lot of old arrangements had changed. The things that anchored peoples’ lives and gave a certainty to them had been unraveling. Some of them, by then, for 20 years. ... And there were more and more people who had a hard time figuring out where they fit in. More and more people who had a very difficult time living with confidence and optimism in the face of change. It is true that we see some of that today.

... But what we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or reduce our passion from the positions we hold -- but that the words we use really do matter, because there's this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody.

But one of the things that the conservatives have always brought to the table in America is a reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.

Look, I'm glad they're fighting over health care and everything else. Let them have at it. But I think all you have to do is read the paper everyday to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled. We know, now, that there are people involved in groups – these “hatriot” groups, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the others – 99 percent of them will never do anything they shouldn’t do. But there are people who advocate violence and anticipate violence.

In other words, a certain amount of common sense should suggest to at least some people that, in w setting in which the inflammatory rhetoric of an unknown, angry citizen suddenly becomes the voice of an entire movement - how many times in recent months have we had the most extreme voices become The Voice of the Tea Baggers? - it might be wise to consider the possibility that all the talk of violence, of civil war, treating difference as moral error, obsessing on already-disproved nonsense like the Birthers and Obama's alleged socialism and ties to The Weather Underground; all of this might just lead some people to consider violence as a proper response?

This same rhetoric, turning difference in to moral error, has led to the murder of abortion providers and the bombing of women's health clinics. This same rhetoric has led to threats on the lives of law makers. This same rhetoric makes it impossible to discuss the merits or demerits of policy precisely because too many amplified voices on the right do not see merit in any policy offered by the Democratic Party. The current Republican members of the Senate display their solidarity with this view by blocking legislation and Administration political appointees. How far-fetched is it to wonder whether or not it might be possible for some who swallow whole the nonsense on the right to consider violence as a necessary evil to fight the threats to our freedoms?

Yet, Clinton here, and Obama on many occasions, and many others, have said the question is not the Tea Bag crowd, or the debate. Pres. Clinton expressly supports the Tea Baggers. I have no problem with them, either. I disagree with their policy stances, to be sure, but that doesn't mean they should be silenced; on the contrary, the more voices the merrier.

The issue is not the Tea Bag crowd and their legitimacy; it is understanding that with great freedom comes responsibility. I would add this goes for the Left as well as the Right. By highlighting the fringe elements of the Tea Party protest movement, giving the voices of racists and hate-mongers as the "leaders" of this still-nascent, coalescing movement, the Left too often falls in to the same trap. How often do we read scurrilous, sneering posts on the ignorance and silliness of the Tea Partiers? How often do we see, accompanying a story on this or that outrageous statement by an attendee at a Tea Party rally, the assumption that this voice is the voice of the multitude?

Many on the Left are comforted by the thought that, yes, indeed, these ignoramuses are all there is to the Tea Party. That makes us as much a part of the problem as those who voice these outrageous comments. We become part of what Clinton called "the echo chamber" - and to our peril.

So, responsibility extends not just to the Tea Party itself and its supporters in right-wing media. It also extends to those on the Left who get baited by instances of extremist rhetoric in to pretending, or actually believing, it is the voice of the movement itself. This further erodes the our public square, making it that much harder to hear legitimate voices of protest and questions of priorities. We can mock the Tea Party as nonsensical, violent, and extreme without considering the possibility they might have a point worth listening to.

I would extend the necessity of responsibility to those on the Left who wish to marginalize the Tea Party by playing this game. In our country, these voices should be heard and considered on the merits.

Virtual Tin Cup

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