Tuesday, January 07, 2014

We Should Never Feel Discouraged

This morning, like most mornings, I sat and read some things on the Internet while sipping my coffee.  I have really enjoyed reading the blog Lawyers, Guns, & Money.  Their posts are smart, the comment threads interesting and often very funny, and unlike the other quasi-academic blog Crooked Timber there is far less pretentiousness afoot.*  This morning's read included this, a look at a couple columns from two right-wing writers, David French and Victor Davis Hanson.  I read the originals and the comments and, as has been my wont over the past few months, I became bone-deep sad.  Not for the writers, certainly; their nonsense about unhappy liberal men and . . . whatever point Hanson was aiming for and missed (liberals watch reality shows to make fun of people that Hanson spends a couple paragraphs ridiculing because it makes liberals feel superior to the rubes Hanson spends a couple paragraphs calling rubes; that was all I got from whatever-it-was Hanson wrote; again, doesn't The National Review have editors that could have handed this back to him and said, "Victor, there's a germ of an idea here.  Come back to me after a couple more rewrites."?)

I wasn't sad, either, because two men flaunting their neuroses, with little coherence, are getting paid for it.  That's why it's called "wingnut welfare", after all.  At least they're gainfully employed, and Hanson, for one, certainly doesn't seem to relish the thought of driving trucks over frozen lakes or crab fishing in the Bering Sea (neither do I; I wouldn't spend time and energy belittling them, the work they do, or the combination of local weather and climate conditions, and social and political conditions that make their jobs horrific; I have nothing but respect for these people, while Hanson . . . not so much).

No, I was and am sad because far too much of our public discourse seems stuck in trivialities.  Liberal men are unhappy?  OK, I'll accept the survey findings.  As not a few commenters at LGM noted, French doesn't make any distinctions based on the racial make-up of respondents.  Assuming that "liberals" would include a healthy dose of African-Americans, Jewish voters, Hispanics, and other minorities, it might well be that liberal unhappiness has something to do with systemic, institutionalized racism and less with emasculating harpies masquerading as women?  Another point the folks at LGM didn't note is liberals tend not to be bombarded with the near-constant alternative-reality of FOXNews and other right-wing news sources** and we are therefore dealing with a crappy economy, the frustrations of a broken political system for which there is no immediate fix, and, obviously, the right-wing noise factory that never shuts down.

Last week, 1.3 million Americans lost their unemployment insurance benefits.  Congress is intent on gutting the Food Stamp program.  Republican Congressman and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan wants to take one of the most successful social programs we have, Medicare, and destroy it by turning it in to a voucher program.  We have many, many things that need doing, or fixing - which is also doing, I suppose - and far too much intellectual energy is spent talking about emasculating feminists (as if that particular trope weren't a bit dated) and elitist liberal snobs (again, old and busted stereotype).  Our soldiers, airmen, and Marines keep dying in Afghanistan toward no end that seems clear, at least to me, and people are still carrying on about Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty.  To employ a cliche I despise, the oxygen is sucked from the room by trivialities.

Of course, some folks are talking about things not only I believe are important like people having enough money to feed themselves and their families and pay the rent, but things that really are important like people having enough money to feed themselves and their families and pay the rent.  Far too few, alas, seem interested in getting busy and changing things so that folks have money to feed themselves and their families and pay the rent.  It's much easier to get carried away by something Melissa Harris-Perry said, or the latest serving from that word-salad bar manager, Sarah Palin.  Frustrated by the inability of our public discourse to move anything forward, we take aim at easy targets, supporting or decrying something some marginal public figure said in order, at the very least, to assuage our frustration at accomplishing anything else in the public sphere.  We can't get Congress to reinstate UI; we can at least make clear how silly the latest FB post from Sarah Palin, highlighted by Media Matters for America for liberals to laugh at, really is and just how silly she is as a public figure.

This is why I'm a sad discouraged liberal.  I know I shouldn't be.  I have a full, rich life; a beautiful wife and family I love and who love me back despite everything; a job I enjoy that fulfills me (and frustrates me, as all jobs do).  While I type this, I'm watching a woodpecker at our suet feeder, a few juncos on the ground pecking at seed, and evidence the seed corn I put out yesterday for the rabbits and squirrels has been put to good use.  These are things to celebrate, especially as the upper Midwest is only slowly shoving that arctic air to the east and I worry about the animals and birds trapped outdoors.  I shouldn't be discouraged for all sorts of reasons.

And I've forgotten, due to lack of use, how therapeutic writing can be.  Becoming busy over the past six months, I've forgotten how much better I feel after the exercise of taking my inner frustrations, giving them some kind of shape on a computer screen, and putting them out there for others to share.  I have that in common with French and Hanson, at least; the difference, I suppose, is my self-awareness that this is what I'm doing.

*With the possible exception of contributor Erik Loomis's occasional posts on craft beers.  I have decided that, at least in the US, treating beer like we used to treat wine is a class-marker.  I'd love to take the time to make clear what this means, but for now, just go with the image of early-20th century white upper class Americans enjoying "The Charleston" while stripping away the context that actually made early jazz such a dangerous music.

**Two things.  First, Fox is on everywhere you go.  Doctor's offices, dentist offices, hospital waiting rooms.  Hell, I sat for a couple hours in a small airport in northern Florida in September and there were monitors there playing . . . Fox.  Last spring, for work I had to swing over to FOXNews online and sat in wonder reading headlines that were as bizarre as anything I'd ever read.  The world described by Fox isn't the world in which any people actually live.  I'm surprised folks who watch Fox manage to get out of bed without injuring themselves and others.  I'm being serious here; the level of disconnect is profound, and not a little disturbing.  It's why FOXNews isn't carried on Canadian cable; the Canadian government has this quaint rule that states you can't call yourself a news service in their country and promulgate falsehoods.

Virtual Tin Cup

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