- We Allowed This to Happen
- How pretty is *your* iTunes library?
- 24 Cigarettes and One Pipe: Hammett and Chandler
- Thanksgiving at Home
- The Republican Party in a Second Obama Term
- Elvis on My Elbow, Dylan on My Calf: Tattoos
- Samsung, Stop Your Photocopiers. (And Apple, Stop Your Lawyers)
- How Hot It Was, How Hot
Category Archives: Politics
That is all I could think as this horrible story unfolded. Sure, some of us speak up every time a new outbreak of violence occurs while others of us make excuses. But we all settle down afterwards and, in effect, shrug our shoulders. Yeah, there’s some nutcases out there. What are ya gonna do? We’re horrified, and then we get over it, and then it happens again, each incident somehow more senseless — and in an appalling way, less surprising — than the last.
We have decided, as a culture, that these endless massacres are an acceptable price for what we choose to interpret as “freedom.” We’ve decided this because a substantial number of us feel that without free access to weapons, our liberty is not guaranteed — and that any effort to restrict gun ownership is, ipso facto, a direct prelude to enslavement.
We as a culture have to un-decide that.
There are legal remedies that would help prevent these incidents, were they properly enforced. But laws can only go as far as the culture will allow. There is a faction in this country — and yes, I am shifting from first person to third at this point — who have long ago made some kind of accommodation in their hearts to the mass murder of their fellow citizens. I have no problem with hunters who want to be able to take out the occasional deer or pheasant; it’s not my thing, but I don’t begrudge it. I have a huge problem with Second Amendment absolutists who talk tough but who are consumed with fear: of their neighbors, of other races and religions, of their personal existential powerlessness, and most of all, of their government.
It’s dark moments like this that lead me to think the American experiment has failed, and that there really are two distinct and incompatible cultures striving for dominance in this country. One is pledged to the values of the European Enlightenment, embracing one of mankind’s finest inventions — secular representative government — as a means of expanding the potential for success, happiness and progress for all people. The other is permanently stuck back on the frontier, believing that man is essentially ungovernable and that the only liberties you have are the ones you can defend with your own hands.
“We have met the enemy,” satirist Walt Kelly once said, “and he is us.” How is it that the thought of the government taking away your assault rifle is more frightening than the thought of another group of kids being senselessly cut down? How do we stop choosing to let things like Newtown happen?
I read Andrew Sullivan’s recent Newsweek cover piece on how a second term could elevate Obama to what is sometimes called a “transformational” president, one who leaves the country profoundly altered in his wake. I resisted its conclusions at first, mostly because they are predicated on the assumption that Congressional Republicans will stop fighting the president tooth and nail and actually contribute somewhat to the stewardship of the nation. I couldn’t see why they would bother. After all, it’s not like anyone on our side thought any more highly of George W. Bush in 2008, did we?
But I thought about it some more, and I begin to see how cooperating with the president might be of strategic importance for the GOP.
If I am one of the few remaining sentient Republicans with influence (say, Karl Rove), I’m worried. Barack Obama is almost certain to be reelected, perhaps by a very considerable margin. But beyond that, over the course of the next election cycle I’m going to lose my most effective weapon against the current administration: the economy. Barring the collapse of the Eurozone or something similarly catastrophic, unemployment in the U.S. is going to continue to decline, demand is going to continue to increase and, who knows, the ACA might end up saving us money after all. Come 2016, it’s not likely that “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” is going to play any better than it does today.
So the GOP in Congress has two options. One, dig in and fight even harder. Filibuster everything, throw up even more red-meat, no-chance-in-hell-of-passing legislation to show the Tea Party you haven’t given up, and do your damnedest to deny Obama any achievements of substance. Then maybe, come 2016, you can point to him as a do-nothing president who spent four years sitting on his hands. Of course, he can always point to the Republicans as the chief impediment to his accomplishing anything, but hey, that’s what Fox News is for.
The second option is to get on the bandwagon. I know the economy is going to improve. So do I want to let Obama and his party take all the credit? No. I’m going to want at least one popular, high-profile piece of legislation — a tax reform bill or some new budget arrangement — with Republican fingerprints on it. Obama will be more than happy to sign on. That way, when 2016 rolls around, I can fight the Democrats on a more or less even playing field.
My other worry, if I’m Karl Rove, is that waiting to succeed Obama is potentially the only candidate who can match the president’s popularity: Hillary Clinton. The only way Hillary isn’t the nominee in ’16 is if she decides not to run. And who am I going to put out there to go head-to-head with her? When it comes to Republican presidential candidates, the public is crazied out. Perry, Bachman, Gingrich et al will not get within shouting distance of the nomination again. My only hope is to put up a moderate who can impersonate a responsible statesman and show some willingness to compromise and listen to evidence. Maybe, as The Daily Show has joked, Jeb Bush. Maybe even Jon Huntsman — he was gone from the scene so fast most people won’t even remember he ran in ’12. And the only way I can get a candidate like that to throw his hat in the ring is to create an environment in which he won’t have to spend every day pandering to coffin-dodging lunatics. Thus, the word has to go out: tone it down. Work with the president. Compromise. Who knows? The Republican party may embrace sanity as a survival strategy.
Whatever happens, this election cycle has made me realize that I am deriving far too much schadenfreude from the Republican party’s recent travails. What we have been seeing since the midterm elections of 2006 has been a party whose rhetorical chickens are increasingly coming home to roost, a party whose media apparatchiks and alternate-history spouting frauds have fatally insulated it from the real world and from what most voters are actually thinking and feeling. It’s hard not to feel some satisfaction as the Romney campaign, goaded by a paranoid and incoherent Tea Party base, swings wildly again and again while never landing a solid blow on the president. They can’t understand why what is obvious to them — e.g., Obama’s anti-American animus — completely fails to resonate with the average voter. To which I say, “Sucks, doesn’t it?”.
But the grownup in me knows this is wrong. There is nothing positive about one of the two major parties in the United States disappearing so far down a rabbit hole of its own making. There is no chance of any substantive improvement taking place in this country while half the political system continues to sit on its hands. So while the partisan kid in me enjoys the GOP’s political impotence, I am fervently hoping that something like the scenario I paint above will come to pass — even at the risk of a third president Bush in 2016.
Conservatives don’t like things that liberals like. That’s not surprising, nor is it surprising that the reverse pretty well applies: liberals don’t like things that conservatives like. Where the difference starts to creep in is that conservatives seem more likely to take this stance to its next logical step: going out of their way to do things that liberals don’t like, solely because liberals don’t like them — even if doing that thing ultimately harms them.
For instance, there was a great deal of attention given recently to a study that tried to persuade people to reduce their energy usage at home. Notices were sent to the highest-consuming households with gentle suggestions that the household in question could do better in conserving energy. The study found that Democratic households were likely to reduce their usage in response; Republican ones, by contrast, were likely to increase it. As noted in the linked article, Rush Limbaugh even encouraged his listeners to turn on all of their lights during Earth Hour, a gesture that certainly cost his audience many thousands of dollars in wasted utility spending. Glenn Beck told his audience not merely to refrain from using their own grocery bags, but to use as much plastic as possible. That’ll show us tree huggers!
It is a commonplace among conservatives that liberals are bereft of humor and joy, hate individual liberty and derive their sole pleasure from curtailing other people’s happiness. A popular conservative slogan goes “Annoy a Liberal: Work Hard and Be Happy.” As a liberal myself, I think it’s only fair to confess that this supposition is true. At our secret monthly meetings (which we totally have, usually in mosques or Whole Foods stores), my fellow liberals and I like to swap stories about the various successes we have had in jealously undermining the successful and the hard-working, persuading women to have abortions and redistributing as much of America’s material wealth to undeserving poor and minority households as possible. We like to strategize about which decadent cultural practice we ought to demonize next: how about off-roading, or fishing? And we speak of the true ache in our hearts when we contemplate those who are prosperous and happy, and who bear the lowest tax burden of nearly anyone in the First World. It is our mission to destroy such comforts, and we will get there one day, Dawkins willing.
At any rate, in the spirit of free discussion, I would like to confess on behalf of my fellow liberals several other activities we liberals hate, and which our conservative countrymen may feel compelled to adopt.
1. Punching Yourself in the Face
As a liberal, my reflexive compassion compels me to help people whether they want it or not. Were I to see a successful American savagely pummel his own mug into swollen, eggplant-like mush in defiance of my touchy-feely values, I would want to see him restrained, evaluated and possibly commited for his own protection. You’re not going to just let me get away with that, are you?
2. Setting Fire to $100 Bills
Little-known fact: the smoke from burning American currency is actually deadly to liberals, and the higher the denomination, the more toxic the fumes. If you were to bring a $5,000 bill to a David Sedaris reading and set it on fire, you would kill most of the audience in the space of a few seconds. You probably don’t have a $5,000 bill, so an equivalent amount of Benjamins would probably do the trick (I haven’t actually tried it).
3. Giving Away All of Your Possessions to a Poor Family
Hey, it’s the government’s job to confiscate your wealth and redistribute it! Stop that!
I offer these suggestions in the hope that my conservative countrymen will make reasoned decisions based on what is actually good for them, rather than what they imagine to be bad for someone else. If that doesn’t work, well, maybe someone will actually punch himself in the face, which would be kind of funny. Glenn Beck, care to take this one up?