A Hillary Landslide

I am the most optimistic I have been in years. I am sensing the possibility of a Hillary landslide.

It’s reminiscent of the showdown in 1964 between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Barry Goldwater. That was the first national campaign that I participated in independently as a high school student. I suppose I acquired an interest in retail politics from my father, having participated in his campaigns and in many discussions at home and among friends at school about government and varying policies. There was no question for any of us at the time that elections matter – some matter greatly – governance is no joke.

Personally, I don’t care if Hillary robbed banks as a teenager and every other word she utters is a dodge. I do not care if she is as dry and lifeless a speaker as stale white bread. I do care greatly about experience under fire, knowledge of governance, and a goal of seeking the best workable solutions for pressing national problems.

Obama gently put whitey in his place with grace and restored careful honor to the White House. Hillary may be just the tonic needed by the shrinking American male who thinks that cheap put-down jokes, fabricating “facts” and shooting holes in a paper image of a human are essential survival skills in our world. Hillary, as Obama, does not see a world of enemies but a world of potential partners.

No matter what happens in Iowa and first-tier wacky primary votes, I think Hillary could sweep the primaries, and she could deliver a fatal blow to political extremism in this country. She could bring a reasonable majority to the US Senate and House.

You don’t have to like your medicine, you just have to take the right one to get better. Liking candidates, or their spouses and relatives, is pointless. You just have to choose the best available leader and join the civil debate.

What had looked like total madness weeks ago, now looks like a gift from God. Fight the fight to continue momentum, but please don’t waste a vote. Genuine charm and absolutist ideas may appear attractive as human attributes, but they may work less effectively in governing.

Complementary Principles

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With an upcoming presidential election there will be much rancor and little agreement. During the process, I declare my unwillingness to sacrifice a single guiding principle in order to achieve absolute simplicity or popularity. I will not wallow in self-righteous indignation, though dismay fuels my mind. I have been much alarmed by the disrespect afforded our current president. Disrespect is a prelude to wanton waste and self-destructive division – and a sign of weakness. It is also wrong – not just morally, ethically, and politically – but the wrong way to achieve practical self-interests.

In October 2015 I revisited the miniseries John Adams. [1] It reminded me of why citing the Founding Fathers as if they spoke with one voice, which was meant to stand supreme against all comers, is ridiculous and untrue. The Founding Fathers gave us independence from Britain and an outline of a process for self-governing in the face of constant disagreement and existential challenges. That is enough. As for their principles, they were and are at war, but always seeking accommodation and concrete results that are workable, if not satisfactory, for the majority, including, and especially, measures to protect the civil rights of minorities.

In the HBO production, Thomas Jefferson is a playful, theatrical provocateur. He certainly does not believe in revolution every 20 years in the sense that his affection for the French suggests. Hamilton is the real revolutionary of his time. We needed all the elements of the periodic table at the formation of our nation – all the principles and psychological types to build a new kind of body politic.

Today a common refrain from the extreme right and left wings of the political spectrum is, “I will not compromise my principles!” The problem is that every thinking and feeling man, woman, and child should embody a wide range of principles that constantly compete internally for a practical balance. Then no one compromises their principles: they compromise their solutions based on a common pool of viable values and shared information.

As the Steve Jobs character in the movie Steve Jobs reportedly says of his role at Apple, as a breathing, adapting nation, we “play the orchestra.” For maximum enjoyment, understanding, and forward-moving results, we play the full breadth of instruments and styles – principles – for maximum effectiveness in the real world.

To combat the movement toward more guns and more violence, toward more political inaction, I propose a stun device – let’s call it “respectful reason” – that will temporarily stop an attacking principle, seeking supremacy, long enough for the civil society of men and women to steady the attacker and return him toward our shared principles and shared problems – all of them – the whole enchilada. The trouble with big-mouth politicians and terrorists is their single-mindedness. The delicate art in liberal society is our tolerance of dimwitted, even dangerous, talk. The media is not guiltless in this obsession with the phantasmagoric squalor of political operators willing to seek the limelight at any price. OFF is a powerful feature of modern electronics; it is much easier to execute and is just as effective at separating lunatic heads from extended necks before a one-note mob arises.

FOOTNOTE:

1. John Adams aired on HBO in 2008.

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Nyet & Yahoo

One hardly needs to comment on the lunacy and error of Republicans in the U.S. Congress. It seems cruel and redundant to do so. They veer from logic and history with the abandon of drunken teenagers. Obama’s presidency is a perpetual wound in their muddled brains and tiny souls.

Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Senators declined to participate in the folly. For that I am most grateful. These two experienced exceptions prove the others wildly and dangerously wrong.

I cannot thank the other Congressional Republicans for confirming our studied and feared suspicions. None of us wants to witness, in the “loyal” opposition, such craven and treacherous behavior, laced as it is with dark cynicism, screeching spite, and flatfooted foolishness.

To be sure, they will top even this one. Pray, pray, pray – work, work, work – so that they don’t – so that we are delivered from this gangland blight on governance.

Jeb and Hillary have their faults. But none compare to the loathsome flaws to be found in Republican affiliates in the U.S. Congress. At least at top levels, Tennessee’s state-wide elected officials seem to have not sipped the acid-laced cocktails served at so-called “conservative” conclaves.

Liberal to a Fault

What is little recognized about liberalism in America, among the illiberal, is its toughness in resisting homogeneity. It is little known and understood because conservatives and identity-conflicted centrists choose to ignore context and history when composing their self-congratulatory political narratives – narratives that describe their own views as wholly realistic and doggedly principled while ignoring the evolving ideals and labored mechanics essential to pragmatism. Recently, Nathan Heller wrote an article entitled “Northern Lights” for The New Yorker. [1] In it he examines the effectiveness and sensibleness of the welfare state in Scandinavian countries. He also contrasts that with criticism of the Scandinavian system offered in a current book on the topic. The juxtaposition of Scandinavian and American solutions to individual and social issues leads him to a interesting conclusion: that where Scandinavians have achieved saneness with an underpinning of sameness, America, particularly because of the strength of liberal ideals, pursues better solutions while preferring cultural diversity. As Heller sees it, this is not exactly unqualified praise of the American approach in general or American liberals in particular.

Here is how Heller states it:

“What Nordic life tells us…is how steep and ambitious the path of American liberalism is. Conservative social ideals are notorious for their mercenary spirit and wishful self-justifications…. Yet a certain hardness of heart rests in the practice of modern American liberalism, too. We have registered our willingness to make the Faustian deal that the Swedes have not. The possibility of having a truly Iranian-American life, or enjoying deep-Appalachian bluegrass, is important to our national variety. And, to let these cultures thrive on their own, we’ve agreed to let some of our people, by our withheld intervention, be thrown under the bus.

“Because this is America, we hope for better. But we aren’t hung up on our tendencies to fall short. …Like many Enlightenment-born nations, we declared our principles at the start – liberty, equality, the pursuit of happiness – and trusted that any friction among these ideas would be sorted out, eventually, in the churn of civic life. The trust continues. Progress is slow. While Nordic people have made the best of what they have, Americans persist in gambling on something better, and yet settling for something worse.”

Heller, having it both ways, as is the wont of journalists and critics alike, seems to be lightly criticizing American liberalism for not demanding the level of purity that would force submission to a tighter state in order to achieve a more amenable lifestyle – if not a more equitable and interesting society.

But his essay offers a valuable lesson to conservatives about liberalism. Liberalism is not more aggressive in opposing gun ownership, or the advancement of willful denial of fact in our society, because liberals see such aberrations as a part of our culture that somehow augment American life and prospects – as if to say, we will not force you to give up your diverse ways because we have no intention of giving up ours – and we find all the differences to be, at least a little, enriching.

Liberals in fact think there may yet be something useful and enlightening to emerge from conservative expressions – though there is often every reason to doubt that proposition. That, my friends, is truly entrenched optimism and determination. Liberals won’t go hard on guns in general because of fondness for grandpa’s beautiful gun rack and his colorful hunting stories. Radicals of every stripe should remember that liberals have firepower, too – sporting and defensive weapons, factories, technology, demographics, and diversity – shared culture and work. And liberals have an impressively successful track record of consistently crushing jackboots when they goose-step too high and too close to home. Diversity does indeed have its usefulness, lest conservatives think it is all about meditation, yoga, and sushi. Allies are a wonderful complement in war.

I am not so sure that American liberals are throwing anyone under the bus. But, by Heller’s lights, they are liberal to a fault for not going out of their way to crush differences of opinion and living styles. All this is not to criticize Scandinavia – even without bluegrass. Heller’s spear is meant for us alone, even though he would not wish us Scandinavian. We are too gloriously searching and messy for that.

Therefore, any assertions by conservatives regarding concealed or elite liberal designs to build a totalitarian state are pure projection and fancy on the part of the real schemers. Liberal America prefers flavorful variety over monotonous universal perfection.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Nathan Heller’s article “Northern Lights” in The New Yorker on February 16, 2015.

Vote’s Over – And Liberals Shrug

If anyone noticed, on November 4, 2014, Republicans won a majority in the U.S. Senate. I could have run out the next day and stocked up on guns and ammo, but the thought didn’t cross my mind. Nor did I start digging a moat around my house to ward off foreign influences and African diseases.

Liberals, and good citizens of all stripes, don’t respond to electoral defeat by abuse, violence, rebellion, shouting, whining, and panic. Life goes on. There will be another election.

The problem with American poitics today is that one’s group has to stay revved and outraged and constantly plotting and campaigning to win a prominent place in governance. Liberals, and other normal folk, just want to live and aspire and not be burdened by harmful or neglectful government. Government is supposed to be a positive, helping, protecting force in society. Democracy is one principle, among many, guiding the way. Elections, among many others, are a method for traveling together on that path rather than the end all and be all of social existence. Radicals of every variety make a fetish of power; it is a degrading obsession like addictions to chemical intoxication, perpetual buying and gambling, and lazy sponging off of the kindness and generosity of others.

Though I doubt that the radical right will stop raging, and the Republican center will start governing in a spirit of constructive civic compromise, I still hope and believe that there is room yet for open, civil society without recourse to wanton aggression toward the peaceful among us who are young, infirm, ignorant, powerless, endangered, different, or just independent.

There were setbacks for liberal notions last week. They make liberal ideas and liberal society more difficult to attain. But the obstacles can be, and I believe will be, overcome – if next time those who shrugged before the vote actually pay attention and make the effort to cast a simple, informed ballot. We got what we deserved as a complacent people: if not an indifferent then an obstructive government that will not build or repair bridges without pitching a holy fit first.

Born Again

With some frequency, I have mentioned that I once returned to college many years after leaving it. I never deliberately dropped out: eventually, after more than four years of hard study there, I was excreted.

The first time I left, though, I was propelled from college. Something was happening to me which I did not understand. Friendships were dissolving, personalities were shape-shifting, my body was bloating, the world was gnawing. And it was spring. But more significantly, I had hit a wall. I enrolled in a course on Renaissance Europe at Memphis State University. I had taken four very good required survey history courses prior to this particular course but had mainly taken courses in business and psychology. More inclined toward the latter – and seeing the former, based in no small part on the other people pursuing it, as a misfit for my temperament, principles, and evolving interests – I sought out new study paths late in my junior year.

The readings for the Renaissance course were complex and overwhelming on many levels. Though my professor was a spellbinding storyteller, I felt lost in material that I could neither digest nor piece together. I was captivated by images and tales of men and women who made my own life seem under-lived and completely uninteresting; I encountered ideas that made those surrounding me and my time appear clearly insufficient. Yet, I felt the time speak to me – call to me. Having read and attended with all my ability, I went to my professor and told him of my decision to withdraw from school. I told him that I would risk all, even risk being drafted for duty in Vietnam, to see the world and find my place in it. This man, who seemed to hold the world in his large hands, his imposing stature, and his deep, authoritative voice – a true believer in the power and fundamental necessity of education – did not attempt to dissuade me. He was genuinely supportive of the reasoning upon which I based my move outward.

I will be honest. I left school in pursuit of craft. The very word loomed noble and superior to bland consumption. Emphatically, I did not leave for humanism. I never would have dreamed that humanism could, through the twisted witchcraft of modern-day religion, be cast in popular American culture as the most wicked scourge ever to plague mankind. I was humanism through and through. I did not need to pursue it. And there was nothing that could drive it from me. It was the grand gift that had seeped into my pores from the moment that I was born. It was the alpha and omega of my education. It was the beginning and sustenance of my values. And nothing solidified humanism’s hold on me like the benevolent Protestant upbringing in my household that surrounded me since birth. To me, Jesus was humanism writ large. He would not stand so pervasively and personally approachable without the ideals, contributions, and sacrifices of humanism, and humanism would not thrive without the model and teachings of Jesus.

Consistent with my practice of posting manuscripts related to the Middle Ages, I have attached essays pertaining to my exploration of the Renaissance.

The mighty figures and events of the Renaissance would mock our petty conceits. And we justly deride many of theirs. But we easily see ourselves among them. We find their assumptions familiar. Their excesses are recognizably human in our eyes.

The Renaissance in History
Lawyers and Statecraft
Michelangelo
Letter About Machiavelli’s The Prince
Review of Renaissance Letters

(Refer to the key offered in the previous post on dooms to view these learning journals. Read them or ignore them at will.)

Sick of Parties

Parties are artificial to me. Alignments are justified on issues but don’t come easy and should not last long. Though alliances are unquestionably useful, group identity gives me the willies. Groups are pernicious and demean individual integrity and openness. They also spawn presumptions that border on lunacy and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of concerted effort.

American politics are like hamburger – or, more likely, pink slime – we don’t know what is in it and it takes numerous and diverse condiments to make it palatable. Politics will always be inherently necessary and distasteful.

In American national elections there are usually two candidates to choose from and one is clearly the better person for the position. Considering past Presidential elections, with the exception of 1992 and 2000, featuring the spoiler Perot and the attention-seeking Nader respectively, the clear best won. In our country of late, due to fringe voters and backers with big wallets, the losing party has not forwarded good candidates for President. It has not been just a question of party.

I will not lie to you, the opposition candidate would have to stink like a three-days-dead yeller dog before I would vote for a Republican. Only occasionally do I consider doing so in my own state, where there are usually two or three dead dogs on the ballot and the established Republican has proven himself more or less reasonable and honorable.

But we liberals and moderates do get it: conservative whites will never forgive Carter for being a good man, Clinton for being a better conservative than those in the other party (and a philanderer, for which Democrats will not forgive him either), or Obama for being an intelligent, calm black man, for being elected twice by a majority for President, and for not embarrassing himself, his family, his core objectives, or the nation before the world.

I get it personally: I can read the latest review of Henry Kissinger’s writing and agree with almost all of it. But I cannot easily forgive him for squandering the lives of thousands of young men in pursuit of an ideal of honorable peace that was impracticable based on the principles of world order in his own late-life pronouncements.

* * *

The world is a dangerous place – any moron knows that – but just how dangerous and to what degree in what quarters is up for reasonable disagreement. Anger, theatrics, and lies have little constructive role in deliberations about military action or policy in general. For that reason I never watch Fox News or MSNBC, except for lampoons of both by Colbert.

Today is not 1964 or 1968 – the mirror tells us that. Those who know too much about history (and too little of human psychology) and focus ever backwards are doomed to fear reliving history over and over again. Obama’s administration had no need to fabricate the severed heads of American citizens, or the agony of Syrian and Iraqi minorities, for the nations of the world to see and judge reality for themselves. His military actions in the Middle East might indeed veer into worse involvements for American soldiers, but they could also prevent worse as well. So-called conservatives McCain and Graham squeaked and screamed for deeper involvement and obviously crave more still. Those on the right who think and act as if they possess better military intelligence and foresight than regular folks can whisper their superior notions to one another and tut-tut the bipartisan will of Congress, but if they do not enter the public forum and prove it, they are no more than Walter Mittys of political debate and citizenship. Most do not want war, but most also want to help improve dangerous international situations. It is not just a question of party or mass stupidity.

I say to 2014, I knew 1964 intimately and you are not 1964. You, 2014, are also not 2003. You are something new from something old. That is what both liberalism and conservatism stand for. Defeat, revolution, totalitarianism, and nihilism are the polar opposites.

The Two-Thirds Party

A couple of easy-going Princeton grads put forward the idea that a new political coalition is in order. Seeing as two-thirds of Americans agree on solutions to several key political problems in the United States, they wonder if there ought to be a third party with a platform that concentrates on accomplishing only those agreed-upon goals. At least then something significant gets done. And the two main parties can be left to their perpetual food fight in the media about everything else.

I have often ridiculed (without regret) the dumb and dumber business of the radical right. However, occasionally I am reminded that there is a tincture of wacky libertarianism, a sniff of lazy rot, in both the left and right among us – and in all their most pernicious political posturings. A recent article in The New Yorker is one such reminder. The writer begins with a recitation of a long list of accolades bestowed on a particular ecology activist; then he presents her positions and tactics in a raw and condensed manner. The longest part of his essay is spent ripping her positions to shreds, exposing the dangers behind radical speech, and examining the distorted thinking such illiberal obsessions too breezily propagate.

In my mind, that wacky other fraction of this country is a faction whose adherents are de facto members of the paranoia and conspiracy party. It is the educated among them who are chiefly to blame for the failings of the two main parties. Were they to seek balance and reason, there would be little need for the two-thirds party.

But please do not take my word for it. Perhaps I am sometimes in error. Please read it and judge for yourself.

Click here to read the story for yourself. [1]

FOOTNOTE:

1. Michael Specter’s article “Seeds of Doubt” in The New Yorker on August 25, 2014.

Hootin’ ’bout Putin: Free Speech and Lazy Talk

This Loyal Opposition?

Vladimir Putin counts on American democracy, where a number of political activists are free to criticize an administration, and government of the people, in order to forward personal and partisan political gain – people willing to distort, obstruct, and undermine government in an attempt to reduce options and take over said government for their own ends.

There are conservatives, many conservatives, who clearly admire Putin’s brash and braggadocious ways. Like Senator Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 declaration, or confession, that his primary task, and that of his party, was to oppose Obama in every way, Putin has done us a favor by revealing, speaking, and acting out his real purpose and demonstrating the ramifications for the world. [1]

But let’s speak frankly, with all the loose, or fawning, references, even in The New York Times, that Putin, and his military apparatus, has been skillful in aggression and annexation, Putin is still patently a dim bulb needlessly sucking sustenance from Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. [2] [3] He is so transparent and heavy handed, buffoonery and thuggery permeate his every gesture. As was the case with Hitler (and Stalin along with him) who wrote the book on brazen and deadly national acquisitiveness, Putin’s plays are indicative of something deeply troubling about his compatriots – the Russian people. It cannot be just one man and a handful of associates who are responsible: it is the entire populous and body politic. All Americans were responsible for Iraq, not just Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. And Americans had to try to repair their mistake with “blood and treasure” (the phrase newfangled interventionists are fond of intoning).

In his book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger asserts that Russia is inherently expansionistic. [4] Let’s face it, America is too, but nowadays we cloak it in less tone-deaf and more business-friendly and culturally hip ways that have the advantage of seeming to serve enlightened self-interest as well.

In the spitting match of high-profile media chatterers, there are liberals, moderates, and centrists on one end and the friends of Russian waywardness on the other. Where do conservatives fall on the spectrum? I fear that, as usual, they fall off the map of relevance, expanding not our options and their minds, but their mouths, spewing money into politics, courtesy of the Supreme Court, and fabricating idiotic comparisons of Americans to Hitler. All the while they actually undermine, if not mortally wound, the middle-American side of the equation along with the hopes of millions.

I am not discussing whether the comments of Bob Corker, say, are right or wrong, but it is the lax-mouthed drawl and hacking hyperbole of what is said and when and in which forum, while representing a high position of national authority, that is the big problem. [5] One might say, and does say, similar things as a private individual around the dining table with family and friends, but even average people know not to put themselves on TV with such outlandish views, meant to wound rather than heal. Do we expect that people around the world are able to parse the avalanche of slurs in American public speech for truth any better than the 20 to 40 percent of fringe American voters and media instigators? I don’t think they can distinguish the nuance in lazy speech because the most educated and authoritative and privileged among us do not evince such disciplined capability when talking to the public.

America cannot meddle everywhere at once – nor should it. We all have, or had, friends and family members who routinely rush into the business of others with consistently poor outcomes. There is a comparison here with what we expect of ourselves internationally. Syria is a tangled mess, and we can do much more harm than good by reacting rashly without information, allies, and a long view.

Apparently, everyone wants to be perceived as having the dogged persistence, prescience, fame, and luck of Winston Churchill. John McCain and Lindsay Graham are two hawkish hyenas (a lazy slur) who clearly enjoy show biz. If one barks at the woods long enough, something unpleasant is bound to emerge. Problem is that perpetual barking is wrong 99% of the time. And these two senators are arguably among the most reasonable and well-intentioned opponents of whatever is happening in foreign affairs while they are not in charge.

Even the usually thoughtful and careful David Brooks gets ginned up by the rhetoric on occasion and whines about – “manhood”? [6] But at least he is not a high-powered elected official – and he rarely indulges his inner stand-up comic. Still he should weigh his words and not be swept up in the torrent of torment and self-loathing that represents itself as conservative today.

Obama has delivered on many big ideas that are good for prosperity and peace. One of those ideas is knowing how not to say stupid stuff. His, and our, government hunted down Osama and no one leaked that his administration was up to something until the deed was done. For one, I respect deliberate, stealthy effectiveness of action and restrained speech over the constant cackle of barnyard hens, Chicken Littles, and cartoonish roosters with Southern accents.

FOOTNOTES:

1. Senator Mitch McConnell in the National Journal on November 4, 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
2. Michael Wines’ article “Putin’s sure Hand Abroad Belies Problems at Home” in The New York Times on May 28,2003.
3. Michael R. Gordon’s article “Russia Displays a New Military Prowess in Ukraine‚Äôs East” in The New York Times on April 21,2014.
4. Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy (p. 25): “Analysts frequently explain Russian expansionism as stemming from a sense of insecurity. But Russian writers have far more often justified Russia’s outward thrust as a messianic vocation. Russia on the march rarely showed a sense of limits; thwarted, it tended to withdraw into sullen resentment. For most of its history, Russia has been a cause looking for opportunity.”
5. Senator Bob Corker on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 22,2014: “I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning … The wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons.” Yes, crass, but he said it on TV anyway.
6. David Brooks of The New York Times on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 22,2014: “Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a – I’ll say it crudely – but a manhood problem in the Middle East.” Yes, crude, but he said it on TV anyway.

Entirely Myself

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There is ever unfinished business.

Uncertainty is a nagging demon, inflaming doubt, tempting inaction. Calm determination and experience give us the tools to weigh importance. They give us steady balance and courage to step from shadows, beyond the captivating flatness of certainty, to practice and play in our given fields – the ones we inherit, the ones we earn. They give us the sense to discern when to venture out, when to stay home.

Never so foolish as when ever safe, never so damned as when never tied.

There are ever matters to finish – until there are no matters at all.

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