Archive for October, 2009


23 October 2009

I used to be politically active.  Then I went to sleep for a few years.  And then I woke up again.  What the hell happened to me?

It started in my teens, with a passion about Watergate and bringing the Nixon White House to its knees.  I grew up in a staunchly Democratic family, but one which valued an intelligent opposition.  With Nixon, we had only a compromised opposition, and I, along with my family and many of my friends were righteously outraged.  Political awareness became a constant in my life.

In my twenties, my political leanings moved farther left, and my activism grew.  I worked for the end of the US-sponsored wars in Central America, I marched for women’s rights and gay rights, worked on little ‘zines for lefty causes, helped keep my local women’s shelter open, read voraciously on the causes of my times, and spent endless hours hashing it all out with my friends and family. 

When I was about 30, I moved, along with my nine year old daughter and my girlfriend of five years, to a county and state that was deeply immersed in an intense battle over gay rights.  My daughter was entering public school for the first time (she’d been in parent-run schools up to that point), and I went back into the closet a bit.  I retreated from most of my political activity as well.  That retreat was in part due to worries about my daughter being targeted as coming from a gay family, and in part also to a very different schedule (new job, no extended family to share child-raising with).  And it was due also to a kind of weariness that comes over you at times.

And there’s no doubt that 12 years of Reagan-Bush was wearing me out.

By the time Bill Clinton came into office, I was working for a non-profit women’s health clinic, immersed in the struggle to help women obtain decent, respectful reproductive health care.  My clinic offered abortions among its many services, so I was also immersed in the abortion wars.  My activism was practical – helping women find information and services for all kinds of health care, publicizing the attacks on the clinics, fundraising and the like.  (An aside here:  it really made a difference when Bush Sr. exited the scene, and Clinton stepped into the White House – the gag rule was lifted, and we could give our clients better information and services.  In just that microcosm, you can’t tell me it makes no difference which party holds the White House.)

And then we got Bush Jr., the Boy King.  I groaned, but tried to buck up.  He was awful, inane, snotty.  He was an embarrassment.  I hadn’t liked his dad much, but at least Sr. wasn’t so embarrassing on the world stage (okay, I admit the vomiting-on-a-foreign-dignitary episode was pretty effing bad…) If I’d realized the power which Cheney and Rumsfeld were wielding, I’d have been more depressed, but as it was, I was keeping my chin up.  And then 9-11 happened.  And then Bush’s awful response, and the incredible war-mongering began, and the reactionary anger against anything Muslim.  And then the Patriot Act.  And then Afghanistan.  And then Iraq.  And then the awfulness of our dead and our maimed coming home, and the utter despair of knowing that even greater numbers of people were dead and maimed in the countries where we’d been making war.

It just kept getting worse.  And I kind of went into hibernation, politically.

I was hiding, but at the same time, it wasn’t that I wasn’t aware, or wasn’t angry, or far too frequently frightened about what was going on around me.  Still, I could not muster the political energy to do much more than vote.  Compared to my usual verbose self (this post proves my point) I could barely talk about what I thought.  I wrote almost nothing.  I made myself listen to the daily NPR reports with increasing grim determination.  I scanned headlines, but couldn’t bear to venture into the articles.  I let my newspaper subscriptions go.  I didn’t protest Bush.  I didn’t protest the war, at least outside of my circle of acquaintances.  The world was in the hands of mad men, and everything felt futile. 

I muttered, at times, to sympathetic friends on the source of my political frustrations.  We muttered and cursed and stomped our feet together, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling otherwise immobilized.  To come up against the paranoia of the Bush administration made me feel like any effort would make no dent in the brick wall I was banging my head against, and damage my head plenty.

But there was a dim light at the end of the tunnel. 

Continue reading

. . . so to speak . . .

22 October 2009

I watched an excellent Frontline episode (The Warning, aired Oct. 20th), and was poking around their website, reading interviews, looking at a timeline on the financial meltdown, and clicking here and there.  Clicked over to an interview with Barney Frank, featured in a previous Frontline episode, Inside the Meltdown, and found this nugget.  He is, in this case, talking about the difference between Republicans in the House and Senate and how it influenced the failure of the TARP bill when it first came before the House.

There was a difference between the House and Senate Republicans. The House Republicans have been more ideologically conservative. Maybe to win a whole state you can’t have quite the same ideological fervor. … And what you saw was conservative Republicans rebelling. [emphasis mine]

Now, I had marked in my mind that there is a higher proportion of extremely right-wing members in the House as compared to the Senate, but I had never thought about why.  I think this may be it.  House Representatives need only justify and explain themselves to their smaller districts, need only represent what may be homogenous communities, as opposed to a state-wide diversity in political and social values.

It explains why I can never envision a Michelle Bachmann or a Virginia Fox in the Senate.  Not to say they can’t sneak into that more austere body of 100 souls.  But it’s harder to envision, and harder for them to get there.

Seems rather obvious now.  Still, better understood late than never.

22 October 2009

Okay, I confess, I’m not so fond of all those LOL cat sites, but the lingo sticks, ya know?  … for sheer relief, I must post my latest goofy mantra.  It really does run around my head, repeatedly, annoyingly, persistently and yet heart-felt-edly (??), and it has ever since Jason Linkins introduced me to the plea in his Sunday Talking Heads Roundup back on September 13th.  With help from my kitty Sophie, we proudly echo the appeal:

I CAN HAZ PUBLIC OPTION PLZ?

Sophie wants the public option because she has constantly goopy eyes and is living with kitty dwarfism.  She hopes that by the time she develops the heart and spine issues related to kitty dwarfism, maybe the public option will extend to pets.  I want the public option because I believe it’s the only way I will ever have a chance at affording health insurance,. and because I believe it has the best chance of breaking the profit-motivated stranglehold on health care in our country.  Plz, o buddeez n Congress, make this happen!

By the way, if you are (1) curious about the Sunday political talk shows, but (2) can’t wake up that early due to work schedule, or (3) can’t drag yourself through the weird pontificating they promote, or (4) know that you will throw a brick strait through your TV if you are subjected to the voices of John McCain, Liz Cheney or David Brooks for long stretches of time, you can rely on Mr. Linkins for a weekly roundup of at least two or three of the shows.  A bit snarky, naturally, given that it’s Jason Linkins, but wonderfully summarized none-the-less.  Advised reading for all who tear their hair out when trying to wade through the oddity that IS the array of Sunday morning political talk shows.

1 October 2009

I’ve had a conversation on my mind for almost a month now. Just a stupid conversation-turned argument, in a bar I frequent for their good late night food and lights turned high enough to read by.

samsplace2-drybrush2My debate partner was a somewhat tipsy fella, known around the bar as a know-it-all.  Usually John pontificates on diverse topics such as “The Greatest Guitar Player in Rock n Roll” or “The Best Whiskey” or “Why Manufactured Homes are Superior to Stick-Built,” but this night’s topic was public education.  As in, “Why Education Sucks and is a Government Plot to Control Your  Children and Inspire Mediocrity.”  He, of course, picked the topic; that’s the way it works.  His take on public educations followed much the same drift as the folks at this rally on health care.  The gist? Government is bad, no matter what.  Teachers are louses. They’re lazy.  The NEA is communist (or socialist, or a bunch of fascists, or a bunch of dupes… take your pick).  Different topic, same arguments. 

All this from a fellow who had the benefits of enough income to send two children through private school and college, so that he could avoid the evils of public education.  (Note:  so he says; my bartender told me later the real family saga was a different story.)  I’d bet quite a bit on the likelihood that he shares the beliefs of many in the video featured all over the internet this past summer.  Distrust of every public institution, and disgruntled disgust at the hand life had dealt them.  I’d also bet he worked a job that never put in the position of being without health insurance.  But that’s another topic.

Still, it seems much the same to me:  assigning ridiculous claims about health care, or education, or other government programs, based on fear and assumption, rather than reality.  There are undisputedly logical concerns about education (or health reform) which should be voiced, and where merited, addressed.  But paranoid fantasies are not the same as valid concerns. 

I had to leave the education discussion (and my favorite bar) when the fellow insisted that ethics – the work ethic of teachers in particular – should be defined by "doing no harm."  The dude INSISTED, while hoisting his Budweiser, that if I would look it up in Webster’s, or "Google it" (which he seemed to think was the ULTIMATE in research), I would find the definition of ethics to be the question of whether someone would "do no harm."   I respectfully declined to agree.  He insisted.  Arguing that the "do no harm" thing was not necessarily a bad consideration, I patiently disagreed with him that this was implied, but not really the definition, and that in all probability, a yes-no question of whether harm was being done was unlikely to define ethics. 

No, John insisted, look it up; it would be there.  You’ll see.  Just look.  His body language at this point was that of the superior scholar, the knowing patriarch.  He wouldn’t drop the point.  He wanted me to agree with him; I couldn’t agree because I had serious doubts that he was right.  He was like a dog on a bone.

I knew, at that point, it was time to leave.  The guy just wanted to argue.  Turning to go, I thanked him for “an always interesting discussion.  I don’t usually agree with you,” I confessed, “but it’s always interesting.”  As I walked away, I could hear him bitching to the bartender about how I’d see he’d been right, wouldn’t that be a wake up call, etc etc etc.

Okay, so caving to curiosity about the actual definition of “ethics” (knowing full well the “do no harm” thing wouldn’t be in there), I looked it up at home 10 minutes later, and yes indeedy, in three dictionaries and good ‘ol’ Wikipedia, his staunchly-defended "do no harm" thing fell to pieces. 

Main Entry: eth·ic

  • Pronunciation: \ˈe-thik\
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Middle English ethik, from Middle French ethique, from Latin ethice, from Greek ēthikē, from ēthikos
  • Date: 14th century

1 plural but sing or plural in constr : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2 a : a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values <the present-day materialistic ethic> <an old-fashioned work ethic> —often used in plural but singular or plural in construction <an elaborate ethics><Christian ethics> b plural but sing or plural in constr : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group <professional ethics> c : a guiding philosophy d : a consciousness of moral importance <forge a conservation ethic>
3 plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) <debated the ethics of human cloning>

It’s not in there.  It might be a good idea to think about “not doing harm,” but it’s not part of the definition of ethics.  Sticking a misplaced definition in there is a kinder, gentler version of the need for invented death panels, and socialism, and a myriad of fantastical fears.  John’s posturing was him feeling backed into a corner, for no actual reason.  I wasn’t attached.  I gave him plenty of outs to drop his defense of his do-no-harm stance, everything from a polite “I disagree, but I’ll look it up,” to “well, we’ll just have to disagree on that.”  No go.  He was so sure of himself, or at least had to posture it that way.

Much like Mr. "USS Constitution" the argument fell apart with a small amount of fact checking.  The guy in the video above might  claim anything he likes, but for those of us who REALLY read the Constitution, and perhaps more than 3 whole times, we understand that this incredibly enlightened document defines an approach, not just particulars.  CheshireCat2The guy I was arguing with might say anything he likes, much as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.  But out here in the real world, we like to agree on what words mean, and stick to it.  It sooooooo improves communication.

In any case, the incident has stayed with me.  I don’t think it would have, except that the same aversion to facts and civil debate seen all over the country this summer seems to have affected the know-it-alls in my midst, tightening their grip on Reagan’s quip about government being the problem, whether its public education or health care or anything else.  The topics differ a bit, but the myopia is the same.

I’ve got news for the 15 million or so folks clinging to some kind of reactionary fear of All Things Publick, be it health care or education or the health of our economy.  We are the government.  You know, the old line, “We the people,” and all that?  Even if it isn’t you sitting in Congress or the White House, or the state and local branches of government, or the schools, it’s your neighbors, and perhaps even your relatives, however distant, and hopefully they represent you.  If they don’t, well, put the pressure on, but if you’re in the minority – however strong 15 million sounds, it’s still a significant minority – you might think about bending to the will of your fellow citizens, and figuring out how to co-exist, rather than foaming at the mouth about government takeovers and the need for The Blood of Patriots and Tyrants getting spilled all over the place. 

To bring it back to the debate in the bar, the gentleman I was arguing had a good point here and there (before he appointed himself the New Webster’s official representative), but the basic issue was that John wouldn’t concede that the system could accommodate good people, good efforts, or that there might be a range – some good schools, some awful school, some in between.  No, for him the whole system was malign, filled with lazy and crooked and socialist teachers and administrators, top to bottom.  No such thing as a talented, devoted public school teacher.

I beg to differ.  For someone like me, who was taught by and raised by such teachers, by people who truly invest themselves in teaching, thems fightin’ words! (My apologies to every English teacher I ever had…). Not being one to throw a punch, I went home instead of sparing over the offense.  But the parallels between his unwillingness to concede the smallest points, to allot any kind of humanity to someone working in a public position, echoes the mindset on display in the health reform town halls.  The echoes are gloomy, and make me cranky, and grumpy.  I’m left to grousing about my fellow citizens here on the internet.  Hopefully, having purged myself a bit, I’ll be able to move on to new heights of jaw-dropping disgust at the continued antics of the reactionary right.

Till next time, John!

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