Saturday, 28 August 2004

Am I Too Gentle?

From the perspective of my more outspoken friends and colleagues, my writings here on the whole are pretty soft. Do I pull too many punches? Give too much credit to "the other side"? Watching Kerry, the DLC, and other Democrats give up so much ideological ground to Republicans has been maddeningly exasperating, and I don't want to be guilty of the same thing. Howard Dean was refreshing because he didn't mince words. That was misconstrued by some as being "far left", though anyone who looked at him honestly would see a centrist, who on economic issues was actually to the right of center.

For me it's important to be honest about my views, but also to acknowledge that other views are important.
Nothing will be solved in this world if everyone screams their passions and nobody listens to views different from their own. Still it's cathartic to let it all out sometimes. Garrison Keillor, that mellifluous voice that has entertained middle America for the last two decades from Lake Wobegon, has done just that as he observed the upcoming election:
Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy: the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.
Similarly, Bill Moyers has spent years of his life building a reputation for reason and even-handedness, and in the last three years has been spending some of that capital on his PBS show NOW telling us what he really thinks, all the while retaining a respectful discourse with a myriad of voices across America and around the World. Reasoned people can disagree with their opinions, but to deny that they speak from a deep moral center would be blindness.

Thursday, 26 August 2004

10 Partisan Myths

There was a nice discussion, thanks to Lance Finney, of Peter G Peterson's new book, Running On Empty : How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It over on WatchBlog several weeks ago, which I somehow missed when it was current. [End of Post]

Wednesday, 25 August 2004

The Power of a Personal Connection

Vice President Cheney, who many of us in the Democratic camp now see as one of the more intractable ideologues in the Administration, at least with respect to foreign policy, surprised many yesterday when he distanced himself from Bush's support of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Cheney told an audience that included his daughter. "With the respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone ... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to. "
Hmm! Forgive me if I suspect that the reason our leaders are so out of touch with regular folks is that there is an unnatural dearth of connection between them and, for example, American wage earners who punch a clock and struggle to feed their families, scientists who understand that global warming is a reality the world needs to reckon with, Iraqi civilians whose health is being compromised by the depleted uranium peppering their communities, families struggling with mentally ill relatives whose treatments are denied by insurers who stand to benefit from the stigma that mental illness is somehow the sufferer's fault, relatives of lifers in prison whose third strike, like their first two was a non-violent felony, and the list goes on.

If you fill your administration with friends and colleagues from the corporate boardroom, it's hardly any wonder that the needs you will relate to will be the needs of corporate America. In fact it seems that gaining access to this administration, or even to Bush's campaign appearances, requires one to be fully vetted as not belonging to the class of individuals that may cause discomfort. It's as if the Administration seems to realize at a subconscious level that exposure to these sorts might cause their ideologies to fall like a house of cards. Dissenters may be dangerous subversives and therefore must be seen as a security risk.

But Cheney's daughter is gay, so he 'get's it' on that issue. How sweet.

Friday, 20 August 2004

"The Country Will Be Lost!"

Every election cycle there are those who predict doom and gloom should the country elect the "wrong" President. Never in my lifetime though, have so many been so earnest in their belief that the "wrong" result in November bodes terrible ill for our nation and our world. It may be that the extent of the concern is overblown, but I am sure from my conversations with people on both sides of the fence that the concern is genuine and heartfelt.

Though I attempt to observe American politics phenomenologically, I am also a participant and actor and feeler in the political process. As a feeler, I understand at a personal level the urgency driven by the fear of what a Republican victory could mean. Visions of an encroaching Big Brother, further sell-out to big corporate interests, and megalomaniacal plans for world domination laid out by the blueprint of the Project for a New American Century, drive me and others to a concern that we may pass a point of no return in which dissenting voices are silenced and the great American Experiment will be lost. For my own part, I see that as a plausible concern, but by no means a foregone conclusion should Bush win reelection. Regardless of November's result, I will not give up hope for a better world.

The concerns of the right are just as vivid, whether they see a moral collapse or an economic one, or an unwillingness to stand up militarily if necessary to very real threats from outside our borders. The craziness of the world today coupled with the potential for technological destruction can feed a palpable fear regardless of one's point of view.

So the concerns are real and exist of their own accord, but there is political advantage to be gained by stoking those fears, especially when there is a sense that one is behind. Whether this is seen as shining a light on the truth or demagoguery is largely a matter of perspective. When ran their ad campaign at the end of last year, and solicited our contributions to pay for them, those of us who participated felt we were exposing truths about Bush & Co. that the mainstream media was too timid (or too owned) to report on. Now that Kerry appears to have gained a slight upper hand, it is the Bush campaign which is selling the idea that Kerry isn't willing to stand up to the forces of terrorism, and would make military decisions based on political expediency. Of course it is very convenient for the Bush campaign that as a Senator, Kerry is constrained to an up/down choice on any bill. If, for instance, the Democratic rider, which would have funded the $87 billion military appropriations bill, had not failed due to the threat of a presidential veto, then indeed Kerry would have voted for the appropriations.

In evaluating the political claims of a campaign or its supporters, it's important to see them in context, seek opposing viewpoints, and especially to seek the views of those without a vested interest in the cause. FactCheck is a website I recommend which calls out the deceptions of both campaigns. It's also wise to avoid guilt or innocence by association. If a claim is debunked, it does not mean that all similar claims are untrue, nor does it mean that causes or candidates supported by those who made the faulty claim are culpable. In looking at the current Presidential campaign, I see politicians, all of whom play politics with facts, and I wouldn't expect it to be any other way. I also tend to dismiss claims that suggest that one or the other candidate is primarily inspired by an evil plan for the future of our country. They are after all human beings with faults and merits like anyone else. From my perspective, however, the preponderance of evidence points to the current administration being guided by precepts and advisors whose primary agendas are at variance with many of the values I hold closest. While I may not be especially convinced of the forthrightness or convictions of Kerry, his campaign's deceptions strike me as fundamentally and consistently less egregious than those the President's campaign is willing to stoop to, such as those used to justify the war with Iraq. We would be fools to expect to have saints as candidates for President in this age of media sound bites and influence peddling, but I think we can expect better than the current leadership. I have come to my views earnestly by examining evidence, relying on my own values, and on my gut, but that doesn't preclude me from respecting those who have reached differing conclusions.

Many of us tend to move in circles which reinforce our own predilections. This has a tendency to insulate us from reasoned opinions which run counter to our own. It makes it all too easy to generalize about those who disagree with us, without thinking of them as independent thinkers who may actually share many of our own values. My own circumstances tend to create this insulation for me, and it takes effort on my part to "deinsulate" myself. Joining WatchBlog as an editor was one such effort, but online interaction is not enough--I need personal contact as well to nurture respect for a diversity of opinion. I have joined a conversation cafe locally, only to find that its membership is currently seriously lacking in conservative opinions. Their rules and principles are sound, however, and I would encourage others to seek this type of interaction. A recent cross-country trip to visit in-laws put me in touch with intelligent thinkers of various political opinions. I know that it is healthy and energizing for me to engage in conversations with serious Republicans and Libertarians as well as fellow Democrats. It may be exhausting to do so all the time, but insulation is surely unhealthy.

In conclusion, I certainly can't claim to know whether Bush's reelection would truly threaten American democracy on a long term basis--I certainly hope not, and I'm very confident that the right will remain strong as an opposing force even if Kerry wins and the Democrats take both houses of Congress. But I would advise my readers, when you feel hysteria beginning to overtake you, take a deep breath, remain calm, and be willing to speak your truth to many audiences, and be willing to truly listen to those of differing opinions who argue with reason and in good faith.

Friday, 6 August 2004

Summarizing the case for deception

I've read a fair amount of material defending the choice to go to war in Iraq, from the jingoistically absurd, to well-reasoned opinion pieces on the necessity for bold action. Through it all, though, I've been appalled by the willingness of so many, especially in the mainstream media, to accept with only superficial questioning what appeared to me to be such transparent deceptions employed by this administration in making the case for war. It's always seemed that the only defense ultimately, is one that claims the stakes are so high and the cause so necessary that deception was necessary, because it was the only practical means to a necessary end. All claims that they really did believe all their assertions, and that there really wasn't any deception, struck me as unbelievable, but it wasn't trivial to explain just why that was so. I was recently pointed to an article which very nicely summarizes the case that willful deception has been the ongoing modus operandi of Bush and Company from the outset. [End of Post]

Stating one's truth

A friend from my college days who shares my disdain for the policies of the Bush administration emailed me recently expressing general vexation with blogs ("I'm sick of blogs. Really, really sick of them.") He even went so far as to advise me to shut mine down. I suppose it's easy enough to see the whole phenomenon as a fad, in which blowhards of every description jump in to blow their horn, promote their opinion, and often develop a sense of obligation to stay current, offer opinions on every major issue, and compete to scoop others on the latest development. It also can be seen as an insular activity, in which we bloggers build our own castles in lieu of actively seeking relation with the larger world. Indeed the vast majority of blogs never attain any kind of significant readership, so what's the point really?

Personally I've always been disinclined to dismiss any particular medium a priori, preferring to judge particular instances on their own merit. Simply put, this blog offered me a way to "state my truth" at essentially no cost other than the investment of time. If proselytization is my primary goal, I would do better to write letters to the editor or my representatives, become involved in local politics and issue groups, and make contributions to the causes of my choice. None of those avenues are closed to me, though, just because I'm 'blogging'; so for the moment anyway, I will keep publishing, albeit in fits and starts as life's other demands compete for my time.

Since it is important to me to capture my beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, even if only for my own sake, then I don't see this as a waste of time. I'm simply following through on something I've long intended to do, since way before the first web log had ever been written. Exposing this to public scrutiny helps to keep me honest and think things through, allows for the possibility of benefiting from the perspectives of others who read what I write, and there is always the hope, vainglorious as it may be, that I've got ideas of worth to offer the world, and that someone, somewhere, someday may be inspired by me to act in a powerful new way. Maybe it will be me, and at that time I will shut down this blog. As David Bowie sang, "Time may change me, but you can't trace time."