"The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." Orwell
"“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Plato
"The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant" Robespierre
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Right Idea, Wrong Reality
Candidate Obama was right when he said real change comes to Washington, and not from it, implying it was the continued strong demands of the public that might actually make things happen. The proof of how right he was is in his failure to get Congress to do anything meaningful. It's not his fault: they're a bunch of idiots, all of 'em.
On the right side of the aisle, there is not only willingness to lie and distort; it's the overt and admitted game plan. Is there a one of them that hasn't referred to Obama's plans for health care reform as "socialism?" Are they not all marching to the microphones and claiming under "Obamacare" the government will be coming to the doors of seniors and demanding that they die?
On the left, there is disorganization, disconnectedness, and displays of beholden to the same special interests as those of the right. For the life of me, I can see no reason to base "reform" on the same old system of private insurers sucking money out of the system.
One side cries "rationing" while ignoring the fact that it happens every day as people lose their insurance or are denied coverage of a particular illness. They pound the idea of "government bureaucrats" between you and your doctor, when there are now countless insurance bureaucrats who actually ARE there, and whose only concern is to avoid spending money on you. Your money, I might add.
Meanwhile, all the media go for the story of the minute and the faux media trots out mouth after orifice to claim Obama hates white people, is an illegal alien, and is deliberately trying to destroy the economy as some sort of "reparation." For the injustices done to him, I guess: forcing him into good schools, making him president, stuff like that.
In other words, despite his absolute accuracy in his electoral assessment, and despite the rightness of his ideas, it's business as usual in Washington. Everyone continues in their designated roles. Why? Because, in the final analysis, we are not as great a people as Obama's formulation would require. We're NOT -- not in enough numbers, anyway -- able to keep the pressure on. We're NOT -- and never were -- able to sort through disingenuous (to put it most kindly) rhetoric that distorts and ignores the truth of things. The Republicans do what they do because it works. Their decision to be the party of "No" is as clever as it is cynical.
In the final analysis, we the people are too scared, too selfish, too thoughtless to carry out any plan that's difficult. The desire not to rock the boat, to avoid hard choices, to believe in magic (tax cuts increase revenue, deregulation solves all problems, "the market" will do what's right, god is guiding us) is simply too much a part of who we are, and has been since Ronald Reagan. (Okay, he wasn't that into god, but he was happy to pretend he was.)
Obama bet on our inherent goodness and intelligence, on our willingness to come together when the times demand it. Congressional Democrats hope it's not true so they can play their usual games. Congressional Republicans assume it's not true and base their very existence on it, steal from us on it, retire to Argentina on it.
Barack Obama's mistake has been to let Congress have its way; he's too much of an optimist, I think.
I don't consider him perfect, godlike, a savior. I do consider him right. His concepts were our last best hope. We are facing unsustainable health care costs, destructive dependence on fossil fuels, accelerating climate change, and the worst economic meltdown in eighty years -- if, with all this going on, the most charismatic and intelligent president we've had in decades can't rally the people enough to force Congress seriously to address our problems, then no one can, at no time, under no circumstances. If he can't get us to rise above ourselves, now, of all times, in enough numbers to be meaningful, it will never happen. Period.
This was our only hope. And, in letting Congress off the hook, in becoming distracted by false arguments, in falling victim to deliberate lies and scare tactics, rewarding with airtime and giving credence to the lying liars, letting the majority party fritter, we've blown it entirely. I really believe that. We are becoming a failed nation and it's too late to do a damn thing about it. For a moment there, it looked like we had a chance. President Obama didn't fail us. We failed ourselves.
I've been to war. I've tried and failed to save people from diseases. I've seen the premature deaths of wonderful people in my own family. I've lost half my savings. These things weighed heavily, nearly too much some times. But nothing has depressed and disappointed me more than the spectacle of how my country -- not every last person, but enough to make the difference -- has responded to the crises we face. The parade of idiocy and deceit on the right; the incompetence on the left; the absolute dereliction by the press; the easy manipulability of citizenry. In crisis, we did not rise up, we fell back. To paranoia, to victimhood, to small-mindedness. Selfishness. Magical thinking. Ignorant ignoring.
We were called to greatness. But we left the phone off the hook.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
To the extent that I've been able to stand it, I've been watching the Sotomayor hearings. I couldn't watch much of the first day, when the august Senators spoke numbingly to their respective bases; but the questioning on day two has been interesting. Being a proud Agno/Atheo-American of Caucaso-Judeo heritage, I have some certainty that my opinions are worthy.
Much is made of the "empathy" trope; in fact, I wrote about it in disagreement with President Obama. More is made of the "wise Latina" comments. And whereas it seems as clear as fine crystal that Judge Sotomayor's decisions have been based on existing law (and that, as far as I can tell, she's far less of a judicial activist than Scalia, Roberts, Alito, whose opinions are full of rationalization that have nothing to do with law), I do think there are interesting questions at hand.
Why is it that the Supreme Court, charged with interpreting and applying law, so often provides diametrically split decisions? And why is it nearly always predictable on which side of a case a given Justice will come down?
Clearly, "the law" isn't clear. If it were, there'd be no reason for judges. Even more clearly, people look at a set of facts and draw different conclusions. Invading Iraq was a brilliant idea, it was the worst decision any president has ever made. It's made us safer, it's weakened us tragically. Universal health care is a right, it's a privilege. Deficits are necessary at the moment, they will send us to ruin. Senator Kyl asked Judge Sotomayor if she'd ever made a decision for which she hadn't found a legal basis but relied, instead, on her "heart." (The context was his derision at President Obama's statement that 95% of the time the law gives you the answer, but 5% of the time you must rely on your gut, or heart, or whatever body part is most appropriate.) No, was her answer. As, I'm certain, would be Justice Thomas's regarding his lone dissent in a recent 8 - 1 court decision.
In saying what he said, and in her comments about her gender and ethnicity, President Obama and Judge Sotmayor were stating the obvious. "Obvious," however, and "uncontroversial" are far from the same thing. Nor, as we see hourly in our political discourse, are complex points -- ones that can't be reduced to five words and put on a bumper -- regularly submitted to deep thought. When the law is less than black and white (stop for a red light, go on green vs. "unreasonable" search and seizure, for example), people will differ. There's the 5%: when you must apply judgment and insight. Which comes -- ta da! -- from one's background and experiences. Hardly, it seems to me, the bailiwick of liberals any more than conservatives. And yet, here we are, listening to drivel from our elected officials. (Some of whom, it should be said, don't even try to hide the fact that they're applying a double standard.)
There's an implication, here, that others have stated better than I: white Christian heterosexual maleness is the "norm," the baseline, the objective standard. Neutrality. It's only those who differ from those descriptions that have prejudices or "agendas." And yet, Antonin Scalia and David Souter, both of whom are in the preceding categories, reliably disagree almost always. Maybe we need to add "conservative." Guess so.
We are who we are: the sum of family, life experiences, genetics, upbringing, schooling, uncountable other influences. To say otherwise is to deny reality; even dumber, perhaps, than insisting our planet is 6000 years old. If two highly educated and intelligent Justi can look at a case before the Supreme Court and come to opposite conclusions, how else to explain it, at least in part, than by preconceptions and prejudices, by their singular world-view? And why the assumption that the only people who assess facts based on the totality of their experiences are, by definition, non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-conservatives? It's simply a foolish proposition.
The difference between Sonia Sotomayor and the other justices now sitting is that she goes into it with a far greater judicial record than any of them had when nominated. It is, in fact, apparent, that she is a judge's judge. She's like my dad was: an applier of relevant law to the facts at hand. She's the opposite of a judicial activist. If, off the bench, she's said some controversial things, they most clearly are NOT reflected in her cases. Nor ought they be considered as controversial as some claim.
If the definition of judicial activism is going beyond law to advance an agenda, and if one measure of that is the striking down of existing laws and statutes, then the current court's conservatives are far more activist than the liberals. I'm probably not the best judge of the validity of such a standard; nevertheless, it's simply false on its face to suggest that there is a class of people -- any class -- who, by default and definition, embodies a form of intellectual purity from which all others diverge.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Happy Independence Day, everyone. At the end of a week in which the voice of the Republican party called for a military coup against our government, a frequent guest on Fox News, to the nodding agreement of one of its house idiots, hoped for a terrorist attack of cataclysmic proportions*, and when a former Bush diplomat called for the bombing of Iran for the third time in less than two weeks, it's nice to know there's still a party that believes in democracy and constitutional government, wishes for safety of its people, and advocates restraint in foreign policy.
Let's hope that one party thus inclined is enough.
* I have to add: as inured as I may be to the crazy one hears on Fox News, this may be a new low. We need an attack, he says, to wake people up to demand our government keep us safe. In other words, the longer we go without an attack the more evidence there is that we're not being kept safe from an attack. Even for the RWS™, that's pretty jaw-dropping. (Of course, hearing Sarah Palin say that staying on her job would be weak, and quitting is strong is right up there, as Orwellian as it gets. As are the wild huzzahs from the rightosphere.) If it were ever clear how badly our country is being served by the extremes of the right, and how much better off we'd be with a credible opposition, it's now. We. The people. Are screwed!
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