Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Maureen Today

What a great line from Maureen Dowd:

He might be smoking, but it would be at a cafe, hunched over a New York Times, an Atlantic magazine, his MacBook and some organic fruit-flavored tea, listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” on his iPod.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What the Republicans Have Already Figured Out: "Arrogance" Equals Allowable Racism

What you will be seeing in the coming days:

The Republicans have already figured it out.

They know that precisely because Obama's greatest strength is in the fact that he offers something new, a change from long-held traditions of the past--that it is also his greatest weakness.

They know that the fervent bubbly enthusiasm is a concern--deeply buried ambiguities about race, deeply held racism, especially among older voters.

For a time, they were caught by the dilemma that Obama seemed invulnerable--that any attack, particularly the attacks that they have honed and used for so long, steeped in insinuation and vicious invention, would be regarded as racist.

Hence, the dilemma for the usual swift boat strategy.

Now they have found it. They have realized that:

1) Americans want to be free of the burdens and division of racism;

2) Many of them--including many of those who wish to be free--are not;

3) Republicans cannot raise racist issues frontally, because many people hold such views at the same time that they do not wish to see themselves as holding them;

4) They need a substitute--distanced enough from overt racism to be acceptable to those who wish to see themselves as egalitarian but still hold deeply seated racial prejudices, and fears, yet close enough to evoke those very doubts and fears--yet one that they can claim is *not* racist--with the traditional smug pose of Republican innocence, hands up, pleased at their cleverness at providing one message while claiming another, the tradition of attack over thought and truth that carried us all the way to Iraq--and beyond.

The substitute is "arrogance".

As the 527's gear up, look to see "arrogance" and "elitist" used again and again as this cycle's dark touchstone to evoke the deepest and unspoken doubts and fears, as they work in the mental demilitarized grey zone between racism and rationalization, calling up the vitriol with that classic combination of the pose of "clean hands" inevitably broken though by the barely contained, smug, blunt, adolescent glee of insinuated attack.

Elitist. He who grew up with a single mother. Who earned his academic progress through scholarships. Who turned down top law firms for the streets of Chicago.

No matter--the term itself will be enough to unleash the self-satisfied vitriolic scrawl--just enough of a peg to hang itself on to loose the traditional and safest prejudices, as always, so boldly feeling their unloosed anger as they ironically turn to the most familiar and comfortable shibboleths.

"Arrogance" equals acceptable racism here. One that can always be disclaimed. In other words, hiding truth behind a known facade, in the most common and seemingly pleasurable Republican tactic--fear inducing insinuation behind a known facade--and pleasure and pride in the manufacture of the known guise.

Wise up. Don't buy it. Turn such insinuated doubts away. If they need to manipulate you to stimulate your belief, question their motives.

If you didn't do it for Iraq--if you fell for the directed manipulation of fear, of the use of innuendo to stir undemonstrated and unrelated fears--you now have a second chance.

Do it now.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Three in Ten

According to today's Post, three in 10 people, in an ABC News/Post Center survey, admit to race bias.

What this means:

All surveys are subject to what is called a "social desirability" bias. Therefore, if someone approaches you with a clipboard and asks you if you believe that exercise and a healthy diet are part of your daily routine, you are likely to answer "Yes"--even if you have been stopped on your way to fulfill at daily urge at the nearby Ben and Jerry's--because you want to be viewed in terms that you believe are socially desirable, rather than the more ugly and human truth.

Therefore, when three in 10 people admit to a race bias, we can be sure that the actual rate is higher.

This is especially true when we are dealing with a particularly repulsive characteristic like racism (more powerfully loaded for social desirability than, for example, age bias). Few will admit to holding the view--often, even to themselves.

As a result, the bias takes many different forms, beyond the blatant bigotry that one may think of when first asked the question.

One may think, for example, that they are not biased against race--just against a perceived "arrogance" that they have never stopped to consider that they allow for more easily in some people than others.

They may intellectualize their bias by creating a stereotype or straw man of the holder of unbiased attitudes--rather than of the target of their bias. This, I'm sure, was akin to focusing on the supposed intellectual naivety of the abolitionist 150 years ago, as a screen for their more essential perspective. We see the equivalent of this today--scan the blogs.

They might also want to believe that they are beyond such fearful, impulsive and banal reactions--congratulating themselves for the simulacrum of a reaction, in an act of self-deceptive and illusory personal consistency, likely to crack at the first powerful test, in a cloud of inarticulate (or unarticulated) and unexamined scattered doubts.

Cracking the crust of deep and hardened attitudes and taking a core sample has its own difficulties. Having the focus, persistence and courage to evaluate those attitudes in yourself, to an extent that you will allow them to change your behavior, rather than fading into the easy familiarity of the past, is a far greater challenge.

However, in the face of the all-too-familiar difficulties of the past 8 years, it is an imperative.

Just as the unexamined life is not worth living, the unexamined vote is not worth casting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The World Will Welcome Obama

In today's Post, Anne Appelbaum asks:

"Will foreigners accept a black American president?...I realize that this, too, may seem like a rather offensive question, particularly if one believes everything that one reads in newspapers. Germany, to take one random example, is at the moment experiencing something like its own version of Obamamania. The media appear to see the Democratic candidate as what a Der Spiegel journalist calls "a cross between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr."; the German foreign minister has been heard chanting "Yes, we can!"; and Obama T-shirts can be spotted in the hipper quarters of Berlin. This sort of enthusiasm isn't unique to Germany: British, French and even Polish newspapers splashed Obama and his candidacy on their front pages this past week, most accompanied by laudatory articles that solemnly proclaimed, "America has changed. But has Europe changed? And have Asia and the Middle East changed? I hate to put it so crudely, but -- European newspaper reporting to the contrary -- racism is not unique to the United States."

The world will welcome Obama. Nationalism trumps racism, and fear of an extra-national threat trumps such internal biases.

Even in this increasingly global world, nations tend to reduce other nations to single concepts--highly reductionistic and based on media driven perception of current events, and further narrowed by lack of personal experiences (or often research) and by protective impulses. This is human, and we see it here and elsewhere--until the globe is so reduced that such distortions naturally blend into the fuller understanding of more direct experience.

The relief, excitement, and surprise that nations will experience when they find that the current and typically reductionistic extranational concept that Bush equals America is false will override other biases in most of the world--except for those who also exist the world over, whose need for a fanatical hatred is more important than the "better angels of our nature."

There will be conspiracy theorists who will arise, with their fervent inventions and gap-ridden, convoluted, cherry-picked distortions and "evidence", as they always arrive at moments of change--they, too, even in their anxious desperation and fantasies of control, are canaries in the coal mine of change, however retrograde and pathological. And there will be those, as always, who find safety and security in the blinders and binders of their own personal pasts and traditions, generalizing widely, as they always have, from these to the world.

Most will respond with pleasure and hope--if accompanied by an understandable whiff of suspicion carried by the past, and perhaps a moment of equally understandable chest-puffing self-regard that we have seen the light--an acceptable excess, given the opportunities for restoration and repair ahead.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Another Great One From Maureen Dowd


Clinton's Exit Speech


Hillary, Bill, Chelsea entering the building.

The elegant lit-from-within columns of the National Building Museum flank a podium surrounded by crowds. The scene is reminiscent of the late 19th century. The place is packed.

Terry McAuliffe moves closer to the front of the stage.

Hands in the air applauding and cheers, a fusillade of cameras. We see Bill's face first, smiling; behind him is Hillary. he pauses to hug McAuliffe. Charles Schumer slaps him on the back with a smile. The camera turns to Hillary as she mounts the podium. A large cheer. Bill, Hillary's mother, Hillary, and Chelsea in a line atop the podium.

A pained joyful almost explosively joyful smile from Hillary as the crowd erupts. The sadness, actual joy at the love, deep bags beneath her eyes, there is a certain stunned quality--a dissociation almost as if it isn't real for her, even as another part of her clearly feels the reality, and trues to manifest the toughness, while deep, the catch in her voice captures--there is no other word for it--the anguish underneath.

"To the young people"...a somewhat raucuous cheer.."like Anne Riddel"..."New Yorkers...Arkansans...And all those women"-cheer- "in their 80's and 90's, born before women could vote". An anecdote about this.

Strength pushed forward before anguish.

"18 million of you from all walks of life"--a cheer.

Her voice is a manifestation of willed declaration of what has been created by her, for her, on her behalf, cut through with the depth of controlled tears.

"To help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States" adding a significant and notable depth to her voice. "I endorse him and put my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to work as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me". Mixture of cheers and sounds of upset.

First the forced smile as she begins to enumerate Obama's merits. Cheeks pulled up by sheer effort. However, then she become serious--and she means it. "Ensuring that Obama enters the Oval Office in 2009."

"The Democratic Party is a family and now its time to restore the values we cherish and the country we love..our paths have merged..united more than ever. So much is at stake. " Cut to Chelsea--smile with tears.

"We all want an economy that lifts all or our people...A health care system that is universal, high quality and affordable" -cheers -" This isn't just an issue for me; it is a passion"--and indeed it is, as she hammers it home with vigour.

Remarkably, as she did in the Senate, you can see her settling in, hardening in, to the task ahead--taking her firm determination, and in the midst of this speech, turning it to the new task--still, in the sadness and exhaustion, willing herself to a new life of purpose, as she has done before in the face of loss.

A nod to rehabilitating Bill: "The man who revitalized the US in two elections is here today."

Remarkable, as through sheer force of will against anguish and depression, she slowly pivots, letting her pose of determination turn the anguished machine to its new task.

"Today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say 'Yes we can!." This is the VP pitch.

"Together, we will live in a stronger America. That's why we need to elect Barack Obama our President."

This is a statue of strength mounted over a soul in anguish. Cuts to Chelsea, manifestly tearful, mirror that anguish.

Now the repetition theme " And that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our President".

This is full and unequivocal support--a full corrective to her primary night speech.

"Could a woman really serve as commander in chief? Well, I think we answered that one. " A second VP pitch.

"Now, on a personal note, when I was asked what it meant to be a woman running for President, I always gave the answer that I was proud to be running as a woman, but I was running because I thought I would be the best president."

"But I am a woman and I know there are biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that will embrace the ability of every last one of build that future, we must ensure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their mothers and grandmothers and that women enjoy equal pay and equal respect." The subtle reminder of electoral power--just the slightest foot on the neck of pressure regarding the electoral power of the Clinton bloc and the VP choice, while also noting the genuine and remarkable historical achievement of her run.

"To those who were disappointed that we couldn't go all the way, it would break my heart if I discouraged you in...pursuing any of do what you want to do (shouldn't she say "if I discouraged you to vote for Barack Obama? ) and never let anyone say that you can't or shouldn't go on." The slightest eruption of the earlier indulgences--a muted message with just the slightest subtle echoes of "if my website".

"If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House." In continuing this theme for quite so long, again, now she has lost the balance a bit and is leaning a bit towards primary night and the focus on her, whipping the crowd up not about unity and the fight ahead, but about what has been denied.

But--as, in the end, is her strength and her way, her burden to bear in this life--in the anguish of the moment, she wills herself to bring it around: "If you find yourself or our supporters saying "If only"...don't go there. Time is too short. And that is why I will work for Barack Obama as our next President, and that is why I hope that everyone of you will join me in that effort."

"To my family, Bill and Chelsea, you mean the world to me" --a cut to Bill looking bitter, angry as he has risen, sits back down. Looking to get even?

She is making the turn:

"As we join forces with Obama's campaign, we will stand united for the values we hold dear...and the country we love. There is nothing more American than that."

"The challenges that I have faced in this campaign are nothing compared to those tghat millions of Americans have in their lives."

"I will work to ensure that every child lives to grow up to his or her god-given potential...this is now our time to make sure that in this election we add another Democratic President and to take back our country."

"God bless you and God Bless America"

Waving with a smile..fighting back tears for a second.

Summary: A strong speech. From the beginning of her career--from the Gennifer Flowers episodes, through Monicagate, and the need to fight off its legacy during her Senate run, she has always been able to make the turn under adversity. It has been her role--indeed, her role in her home, finding strength and purpose under the pressure of often negative and hostile judgment and rising to a willed purpose, beneath which the suffering is controlled, until that purpose takes over and becomes the foreground, the reality, the new task. Despite the slight tactical engagements and subtle warnings of her electoral power in the last third, a muted indulgence compared to primary night, she gave the speech she needed to--for herself, for the Party, and for history.

Unity gained. Mission accomplished.