Obama, Lincoln and Changing the American Paradigm
Some are referring to President Obama’s second inaugural address as his most progressive yet. Perhaps. It would be nice to see President Obama take a more progressive stand in his second termpreferably a more steady, less compromising stand than his first.
Indeed, he hit on the standard progressive fair: economic justice, equality, peace through diplomacy, environmental sustainability. You know, all the stuff that makes conservatives seethe and will almost certainly become the grist of right wing accusations of socialist intrigue.
MSNBC’s Chris Mathews referred to Obama’s speech as Lincolnesque. Certainly this was intentional. Obama’s line, “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together,” is clearly an invocation of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in which he said, “
fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue
until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword
so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'” President Lincoln may well have co-written Obama’s speech.
This should not surprise us. President Obama has a similar challenge as Lincoln. President Obama, like Lincoln, is presiding over a noticeably divided nation. Not divided in the context of the Civil War, though it could be argued that our current political discourse shares a polarization not unlike that of the 1850’s. Regardless, our political divisions have been especially vehement of late. We are entering a transition in which the paradigms shaped by conservative think tanks, fostering the Reagan mythos, have clearly failed and are being challenged. The last four years is testament to the fact that the defunct neo-conservatism of the last thirty years will not go quietly into that good night.
E. J. Dionne, in his great book Our Divided Political Heart, describes the unfortunate contest between America’s mutual traditions of individualism and communitarianism. Our history is replete with examples of rugged individualism, but incomplete without recognizing that a successful America is the fruit of communities coming together to make a better future. Traditional liberalism and conservatism embrace both principles. If anything, individualism is a brainchild of classical liberalism, as is free market capitalism.
The last thirty years, however, has seen a conservative version of Randian individualism to the exclusion of any communitarian principles of mutuality and shared responsibility. Ronald Reagan built his political career on the concept that government was not the solution, but rather the problem. This was an easy sell in the era of Watergate, Vietnam, stagflation and impotence in the face of oil embargoes and a hostage crisis. Reagan offered us morning in America and the vision of a shining city on a hill. The only thing holding us back was the government sponsored welfare queen. John Galt became the ideal of the age, and Gordon Gekko the ironic anti-hero.
Economic success became the indication of self-worth, consumerism one’s badge of honor. There were no problems that did not have a market based solution. Those who could not prosper had only their own sloth or stupidity to blame. For thirty years American policy and culture was guided by a nihilistic paradigm of free market capitalism meets Spencerian evolution. Valuable protections were weakened, necessary regulations were rolled back. We became a nation that consumes rather than one that produces. This consumption was fed by debt at the public and private level.
In 2008, this system collapsed. And the safety net was tattered.
President Obama entered the scene during this time of crisis. The last four years was characterized by the struggle of a defunct philosophy against the necessary politics requisite to solving this crisis. Thirty years of individualism was not to be underestimated, and its proponents, facing political irrelevance, could do nothing but obstruct, nothing but ensure failure. The policy fights were a brutal battlefield, a baptism of fire for a new and relatively inexperienced president.
In the next four years President Obama is in a position in which he must do more than work toward policy, more than staunch an economic hemorrhage or end two seemingly endless wars, or even putting people back to work. As Lincoln’s second term challenge was to change the dominant paradigms of his time from one of war and conflict to one of “binding the nation’s wounds
with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right,” so President Obama’s is to change the dominant political paradigm of today from one of ingrained free market individualism to one of mutually responsible community and democratically responsive government.
In 1865, President Lincoln took the podium during his inaugural. Below him, the Mall was a muddy sludge after many consecutive days of rain. Above him was the newly completed Capital Dome. Here he presented his hopes for healing a nation. Almost a hundred and fifty years later, another president placed his right hand on Lincoln’s Bible to take the oath of office, then invoked Lincoln’s legacy in offering his own vision.
Obama’s speech was not just homage to Abraham Lincoln, but was a creed of communitarianism, of working together to make America stronger. Government was not the problem, nor the solution, but rather a partner in satisfying the goals of “We the People.” President Obama reminded us time and again that it is always “We the People,” and government is supposed to be our instrument for justice and prosperity.
So perhaps this is Obama’s most progressive speech. Communitarianism is a centerpiece of progressive liberalism. During the 2012 campaign the brilliant Elizabeth Warren did more to bring this ideal to life than anyone in my lifetime.
There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
President Obama adopted her meme, not always to the greatest effect (“you didn’t build that”), to win a decisive victory against a paragon of the free market. It is now in Obama’s hands to build on that paradigm, as did President Reagan, and change the nature of our cultural conversation back to one of, yes, individual initiative and hard work, but also one of mutual responsibility and common interest.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
However, don’t expect a radical departure from the status quo. As progressivism was always a mitigation between capitalism and radical demands for a truly just and sustainable economy, so President Obama is only willing to offer so much.
We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
No she’s not. The little girl born in the bleakest poverty is always at a disadvantage. She may be free in our eyes or in the eyes of God, but she is not free in any other meaningful way. Bleakest poverty means she will be subject to variables that can only diminish her freedom and opportunity. Pollutants will weaken her body and mind; lack of health care will subject her to illness and disease; inadequate housing; economic desperation; few educational opportunities; crime; family instability; all of the factors endemic to bleakest poverty are heavy chains that bind her, and no amount of lofty rhetoric will change that fact.
It’s a shame that President Obama offers nothing more than freedom in our eyes for this little girl when he should have challenged the very existence of “bleakest poverty” in this, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.
Perhaps this real paradigm shift awaits a future president.
It’s Just Not True
It’s enough to say the deficit has increased. In fact, if you are talking about the “deficit” rather than the “debt” it’s actually decreased.
it has nothing to do with class.
Yes, the title is part of a direct quote. No, the subtitle is satire, not a continuation of the quote. However, the theme of class has never been more evident and more blatant than during the Koch Brother’s Mitt Romney Fund Raiser in the Hamptons as described by the Los Angeles Times (LAT). Remember, in the United States, talk about class is bad form. America is a meritocratic land of opportunity. If you do not have wealth, power and influence, it is your own fault. Any suggestion to the contrary is pandering to class warfare.
Yet class talk rolls from the mouths of the so-called “VIPs” waiting in line for entrance to the aforementioned Romney fundraiser. This article makes it clear that the wealthy are very conscious of class and the benefits that higher class offers. It is also clear that the attendees feel that they are entitled to their status and that their position is threatened.
So let’s return to the full quote used in redacted form for the title of this essay. According to the LAT reporter, the woman quoted above actually said, “I don’t think the common person is getting it
Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them
We’ve got the message
But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”
See. It has nothing to do with class at all. It’s just that lower income people are ignorant and uninformed about how the system works. Not to worry. The wealthy have the message. They understand why Obama is hurting them. Nails ladies and baby sitters and everyone else who has the right to vote (read unfortunately has the right to vote?) just “don’t understand what’s going on.” Nothing elitist about that observation.
It’s clear that these folks, paying as much as $75,000 to scarf food off of the Koch’s fine china, feel that they are entitled to their position. After all, they are the “engines of the economy” while the working class are “the people who rely on that engine.” Working peopleeverybody who’s got the right to vote–should just do what they are told, accept what pittance they get from the caviar class and shut up. After all, they are the ones with the education to know how the system works.
And clearly Romney is one of them. A man who can spend $77,000 on 1/3 of a dancing horse (of course, of course), who has a Swiss bank account[s], and a demonstrated talent for private equity, is certainly cut from the same cloth as those attending the Koch hosted fundraiser. He clearly understands how the system works. There’s some logic to this. He certainly does know how the system works. Specifically, he’s the man whom the 1% knows will perpetuate the system and even tilt the inequalities even further on the side of the VIPs.
The problem is that the system sucks. Oh, the system is awesome if you happen to be among those in attendance in the Hamptons. However, if you are among the other 99% (eh, 80% to correct the meme), the system simply sucks. The system is stacked against any progress on your part. What’s more, the “common people”, despite their presumed lack of education, understand the system very well. They know that it is not designed to work for them.
The bottom line is that people like the Kochs and the their Hamptons guests are not the “engine of the economy.” They are passengers, and they are trying to ride for free. They know it. They know that the true engines of any economy are the workers and employees who actually turn the screws and set the stone, and push the pencils and file the papers. Ultimately, the common people support the system on which their wealth is based. Their risks are guaranteed by us. They need us to keep the engine running, on minimal fuel, zero maintenance and no repairs, and (at the risk of over-extending this metaphor) they are more than willing to drive us into the ground. After all, they can always jump on a Chinese vehicle.
Their hope is that Mitt Romney is the guy who will best protect their class interests.
At the same time, they are hoping that we ignorant common people stop all of that class warfare talk. Of course they do. Unfortunately, a $75,000 a plate fundraiser is not the best venue for trying to convince the “common people” that class privilege isn’t an issue.
Or Why This Year’s Campaign Fund Raising Calls the Lie to the Myth of a Broke America
I like to use what I call the “Hire-a-Teacher” (HaT) scale when looking at obscene money expenditures. The HaT scale assumes that a teacher will be hired for about $40,000 a year in pay and benefits. Perhaps the actual amount is a little more in some places, less in others, but for now I think $40,000 is a realistic sum.
So when I see folks, like Sheldon Adelson, who is willing to spend $100 million to defeat President Obama, I think, ‘Wow! That’s a HaT score of 2,500.’ In other words, $100 million dollars could be spent to hire 2,500 teachers, or it could be used to express personal animus toward one man. I think this is an effective way to analyze the values of those spending gobs of money. It is also a great way to assess the waste in a particular system. After all, maybe there are some folks out there who would suggest that there are already just too many darn teachers in the country, but I’d like to think they are a small minoritythey are also wrong.
This will be most expensive election in the history of the our nation. What will be the result of this massive movement of money? Will we have a better quality governing system? Unlikely. Will we have any more politicians? No. After the ads are discontinued and the signs, buttons, pamphlets and other paraphernalia are delegated to the scrap heap will there be any enduring contributions to our culture? Our society? Science? Or any other mechanism for the progress of man? Not at all. If anything, the progress of man will most likely take two backwards steps as a result of this election. Some media companies will prosper like crazy, but overall, the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars spent this election cycle will be wasted.
However, what could be gained if that money was spent to hire teachers? Or nurses? Or to improve roads? Or
(insert your socially redeemable project or profession here)__________.
So far, as of June 21, 2012, over $250 million has been spent on just the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. This is not including Congressional elections, the Republican Primary, third parties, etc. With the money spent so far, over six thousand teachers could have been hired. Or over six thousand young people could have had their four year college tuitions paid for in part or even in full.
Yet the reason we are given for not hiring teachers, or paying for college, or hiring nurses, police officers, firefighters, EMS, construction workers or making investments in clean energy or science or the arts is that the United States simply cannot afford these luxuries. Really? Do you think that massive amounts of money shelled out by big donors to both parties are an indication that there’s just not enough money among the poor, unfortunate wealthy in the US?
Do you think that the large donors are ‘giving until it hurts’ in order to get rid of the rabidly anti-business Barack Obama? Or are the likes of Adelson and the Koch brothers or, for that matter, George Soros to include a conservative bugaboo, making investments in which they intend to be rewarded with access and monetary/regulatory returns?
To put this in perspective, according to Forbes Magazine, Sheldon Adelson is worth $24.9 billion. He has claimed that he is willing to spend $100 million to defeat President Obama. That means he’s willing to spend .4% of his net worth in this endeavor. According to CNN/Money, an average family’s net worth is $77,300. Adelson is willing to contribute the equivalent of about $300 to this year’s election.¹ How do you think Adelson would feel about a .4% tax on net worth to help hire some teachers?
This reality calls the lie that there’s just not enough money in the US for major investments. It also calls the lie to another elitist myth. The lie that it’s just too risky, with the threat of higher taxes and all, for the wealthy to hire people. If only the poor unfortunate wealthy had less of a tax burden, they might, just might, deign to hire a few peoplebut oh, the risk, the risk.
The risk that they are trying to avoid is a return to the pre-Bush tax brackets for men like Sheldon Adelsonabout a three percent increase. According to the Huffington Post, Adelson makes $7 billion a year. Returning to the pre-Bush tax brackets would cost Adelson $210 million. Yeah, that’s not chump change. That would leave poor Sheldon with a paltry $6.79 billion a year. How could he be expected to live on that? But here’s the point. He’s already declared that he’s will to spend half of the potential tax increase on one man
with no real guarantees that that man would get elected.
For the wealthy, politics has always been an extension of business and investment. After Citizen’s United, it’s now big business with big stakes. If the average family spends $300 on a candidate, they do so because they believe that that person represents what they themselves stand for. They don’t expect access. They don’t expect their representative to even take their calls. They just hope that their contribution might make a little bit of a difference for someone whom they believe in. When the Sheldon Adelsons of the world throw millions of dollars into an election, they could give a damn about politics and good government. They are making an investment. They are buying access. They are letting even their opponents know that it is best to not piss them off because there’s virtually no limit to the amount of money that they can spend.
Just don’t expect them to spend that money on anything that does the country any good.
¹The comparison to net worth is a flawed measure, as most of the average family’s net worth is tied up in their houses and not available for contribution. The same could be said, to a lesser extent, of billionaires.
A couple of days ago, Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown had the audacity to use the “V” word during a debate on a topic involving
”V’s”! She wasn’t being politically correct, she was being anatomically correct!
As it stands, the vagina is the only human body part that so-called small government conservatives demand to regulate. In Brown’s words, “These lawmakers predominantly men have no problem passing laws about my vagina. But when I dared mention its name, they became outraged.”
Forward this post to Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger and floor lead Jim Stamas and maybe they will become comfortable with a real, uncensored discussion of women’s health issues.
Click Here for contact information of the Michigan House of Representatives.
A reminder of what we are up against
I was doing research for a project that I’m working on and I stumbled upon this bit of literature. I haven’t thought of it in years, despite its being posted on the Journal of a Mad Sociologist Readings page. It’s a summary of the outcomes of the Plutonomy Symposium called Rising Tides Lifting Yachts. It’s an unapologetic schema for perpetuating and increasing economic inequality.
Put out by Citigroup, the symposium concluded that they had had a great run of collecting for themselves the world’s wealth. In 2006, it looked like the sky was the limit in how much wealth they would amass. My favorite line from this report comes in the very beginning under “What Could Go Wrong?” The authors state, “we think the most potent and short-term threat would be societies demanding a more ‘equitable’ share of wealth.”
You have to understand, economic inequality and injustice isn’t something that just happens. It’s planned and promulgated from boardrooms and elite gatherings like the “Plutonomy Symposium.”
And now these guys have a carte blanche to purchase US elections and politicians directly.
Don’t Be Fooled by Conservative Hocus Pocus Calling Itself Statistics
I have theory that I call the Reflective Attribution theory. This theory stipulates that people tend to impute their own motives and attributions onto others. For instance, according to this theory one might predict that those people who are inclined to lie are also people who are do not trust others, because they assume that “because I lie, others lie.” The opposite is also the case. Honest People tend to be trusting of others.
So, I can’t help but apply this theory in my everyday life. The other day I posted the following data on my Facebook (click the image for the source).
This is an answer to the claim that President Obama is overseeing an unprecedented growth in the federal government. The underlying claim is, of course, that if Obama is allowed to continue this massive federal government increase we will soon be under the thumb of a monolithic and oppressive institution. The data above, showing the growth of government as a percentage of GDP compared to the growth of the private sector, belies this claim. Yes, when you control for state and local governments there is some growth in at the federal level. But unprecedented? If you want precedent just look at the preceding president (yes, I did that on purpose).
Which brings me to my theory. A friend of mine responded with a gotcha. An article that shows, beyond a conservative doubt, that President Obama has, in fact, grown the government. Over the years I’ve noticed that conservatives are very leery of statistics. For someone like me, who lives on statistics, this strikes me as odd. One person, years ago, told me that she does not trust statistics because “statistics lie.” Actually, statistics don’t lie. People lie. Sometimes they use statistics to do it. This is something that I see from both sides of the political spectrum, but if I am to be honest, I notice that the right side is the overwhelming leader in the quantity of “damn lies and statistics.”
The data presented by the article can be summed up in the following graph.
Yep. That’s a bigger government all right. It’s simple. It’s succinct. A nice straight line. I think conservatives like straight lines. However, it is not descriptive of the Obama Administration. In short, it’s a deceptive use of statistics. It’s true, mind you. This stat is not, technically, a lie. But the intent behind the stat is certainly to deceive.
The article cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics as its source. So went to the BLS website, looked up the data, and put together the same chart. Only this time I filled in the gaps between January of 2009 and April of 2012. I got the following (program glitch. I used January of 2009 and then the succeeding Aprils of Obama’s administration. The computer added the intermediary months on its own.):
As you can see, the overall data is the same, but filling in a few missing dates paints a very different picture. Yes, the Obama Administration has overseen a net increase in the size of government as measured by the number of employees. The bulk of that increase, however, peaked two years ago. Since then, President Obama has overseen a reduction in government employment. Embarrassing.
This is a common technique in claims makingshowing only the statistics that proves your point. A pundit can be technically honest about this and still lie. Another technique is to offer a stat by itself with no comparative data against which to measure it. Notice that the New York Times data above offers a comparison to other presidents. That’s called responsible reporting. Could the Times have been more comprehensive? Every work of research can be more comprehensive. Let’s assume that the New York Times was under practical constraints to do so.
To remedy this with regard to federal employment, I decided to offer a comparison between President Obama and President W. Bush. Now I recognize that my more extreme conservatives consider President Bush to be a Manchurian Progressive (in retrospect, of course. During his presidency he was practically the second coming). Regardless, I would wager that, given a choice between Presidents Bush and Obama, these same people would vote for Bush. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I have no data to support this claim. Regardless, the claim is that Obama’s expansion of government is “unprecedented” and employment is the variable offered to prove this.
Alas, it appears that comparative data also refutes the unprecedented growth claim.
Then, just for fun, I thought, ‘let’s compare Obama to the Conservative God’s right hand.’ Yep. That’s right. Ronald Freakin’ Reagan. How does President Obama’s expansion of Government compare to President Reagan’s during the same time period. This was a little trickier. The best stats I could find that was relatively easy to access was a measure of end of year civilian federal employment for President Reagan, so that is what I used for President Obama. I used December of the year preceding each administration as an estimate of where each president started. To wit, I compiled the following graph:
Well what do you know? Three years into his administration, the Gipper had the bigger government. True, he did oversee a decline in his first two years, but more than made up for it in his third. And this growth in government continued for Reagan right up to his farewell address.
Truth be told, this data can be looked at in a different way. One could suggest that if you look at the net rate of growth between President Reagan’s and President Obama in their first three years, Obama’s was larger. Well, yeah, but bigger is bigger in this issue and Reagan had the bigger government. Again, the growth of Obama’s government is far from unprecedented.
Of course, looking at employment and change as a percentage of GDP are only two of many ways to analyze the size of government. It so happens that this morning I was reading the Krugman blog and noticed this graph, which speaks to my topic. So I stole it.
So back to my original thesis about the Reflective Attribution. It’s no wonder that conservatives are so leery about statistics. Either they don’t understand statistics, and therefor assume that nobody understands them, or they assume that all claims makers are equally disingenuous with their use of data. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, for understanding data, regardless of the nature of that data, is crucial to developing an objective and rational understanding of the issues. As a sociologist, I know that very often what we believe to be true is, in fact, false. If we base our decisions on nothing more substantial than what we believe to be true
the road we are paving can only have one destination.
Preparing for the Worst
If I were President Obama, or the head his re-election campaign, I might, in a purely strategic and cynical way, hope that the Supreme Court does, indeed, strike down the Affordable Care Act.¹
I say this on the premise that an old adage is true, that people do not appreciate what they have until it is gone. As it stands, millions of people currently benefit from the ACA, though they don’t necessarily realize it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation study (Linked in the first graph), 59% of respondents admit that they do not know enough about the ACA. Between 49% and 65% of respondents do not recognize key provisions of the law. In fact, 14% believe that the Supreme Court has already struck the law down!
However, once they start losing their subsidies, and preventive service, once their adult children are kicked off of their insurance, or they are denied payment due to pre-existing conditions, people will better understand their benefits under the ACA.
The right wing propaganda machine has effectively destroyed the legitimacy of the ACA in the eyes of the public. That’s not hard to do when a majority of people do not know what’s in the law. It’s also easy to do when health care advocates, like myself, are disappointed by the anemic outcome of what could have been a true reform, the passing of a moderate conservative idea. Such activists find it difficult to cultivate the necessary zeal to defend the law against extremely zealous attacks.
Despite general disapproval of the law, however, people largely approve of the actual provisions of the lawby overwhelming margins. Outside of the individual mandate, the specific elements of the ACA are very popular. Let’s face it, who like’s any “mandate”? However, if the more popular provisions of the ACA are to be sustained, the individual mandate is necessary. I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but it is the truth. Insurance companies cannot be required to sell insurance, a provision that 69% of respondents approved of, if people can simply wait until they are diagnosed to purchase insurance.
So if the ACA is struck down, that provides the Obama campaign a Marc Antony type opportunity to soliloquize over the bloody corpse of the ACA.
Conservatives are honorable people, and they say the ACA is evil. They must be right
but here is Mrs. Smith who was able to provide health care for her daughter who is just starting out in her career. Now here daughter must purchase her own insurance, without help, because her entry level position does not pay enough to secure those benefits.
But conservatives are honorable people, and they say the ACA is tyrannical. They must be right
but here is Mr. Jones, whose cancer was in remission because he was able to get care despite his pre-existing condition. Now his cancer has come back because he can no longer afford the treatments.
But conservatives are honorable people
Few are satisfied with the American health care system. Sixty percent of respondents say that they would expect lawmakers to develop alternative health care reforms if ACA is struck down. More people would prefer the ACA to be expanded or kept as is over replacing it with a Republican proposal (ironic, since the individual mandate was a Republican proposal) or simply letting it go. Americans want health care reform. The elimination of health care reform, if the Obama administration can inform Americans of what they have lost, can be a rallying cry for even more viable reforms.
Unfortunately, in our musings about political strategy, we must not lose sight of the fact that loss of the ACA, as inadequate as many of us believe it is, would inflict a devastating blow against the uninsured. Mr. Jones above may make for effective political theater, but he still has cancer and will, most likely, die.
The greatest failure of Democrats and the Obama Administration is in allowing the right wing fringe to “educate” the public on the value of the ACA. Now the health of millions of Americans is speculatively in the hands of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Health care activists and the Democratic Party, at this depressing stage, have little else to do but hope for the best and prepare for the worst, hence this rather cynical post.
¹I am neither of those, so I am not so hoping.
Bill Moyers talks to film historian Neal Gabler about our entertainment politics.
The Rise of a New Power Elite: The Intelligence Industrial Complex
Note: This is actually an old blog that became a corrupted file. By the time I fixed the file the moment for posting was lost. In light of recent events, such as the National Defense Authorization Act and Obama’s intrusive revisions of the Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, I figured that the subject area is still very relevant. The torture and distortion of our Bill of Rights did not end with the Bush Administration. The last three years has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the Obama Administration is picking up in Bush’s footsteps and even expanding the fortress society beyond anything his predecessor could have accomplished. That these trespasses against basic human rights can be justified by invoking the never-ending war on terrorism is just as bogus for President Obama as it was for President Bush.
If you were to design a surveillance system for keeping our nation safe from terrorists how would you do it? You might start by analyzing the data that you already have regarding terrorists and terrorist organizations. If you have good relationships with allied nations, you might also be able to tap into their databases to reinforce your own. From there, you might want to establish legal surveillance operations on known terrorist organizations and, as further networks are exposed to your analysis, expand your surveillance to include those branches.
If you follow this method, you can maximize your use of intelligence resources by focusing on known threats. You are also minimizing the probability that your system will trammel the rights and expectations of privacy among innocent citizens. You won’t eliminate this threat, of course, as social networks are often very complex and intertwined. It’s certain that some innocent bystanders will be caught under your surveillance microscope, their privacy can restored through new legal means that take current technology and historical contingencies into account and are designed to protect the innocent. This is a sensible system. One that recognizes the importance of surveillance in maintaining the national security while at the same time minimizing illegal and immoral intrusions on the rights of innocent people. Nothing radical here.
Now, let’s say you wanted to create a surveillance system designed to maximize and extend elite power throughout society. How would you design that system? Well, such a system would need access to as much information about as many people as is technologically possible. Every possible intrusion into the lives of individuals, regardless of their affiliations, would have to be maximized. Computer technologies that could filter and sort countless bytes of information would have to be developed. Such a system would have to remain secret, with no accountability to the general public.
In 1974 the French social theorist Michel Foucault used a prison designed by the humanitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham to elaborate a new model of power dynamics. The prison was called a panopticon, and Foucault’s theory became panopticism. The panopticon was an idea for a humane prison designed so that a few guards could keep an eye on all prisoners at all times. The idea was that if prisoners knew that there was a certainty that they could be seen at all times then they would adjust their behavior accordingly despite the fact that the guards were not necessarily always looking at them. Prisoners would govern their own behaviors without physical coercion from the guards. It’s the power of the gaze.
The Foucaultian idea of panopticism works much the same way for society as a whole. If people know that they can be watched at all times then they will act as if they are being watched at all times. They will be less inclined to participate in acts of deviance or crime. In essence, they will govern their own behaviors in accordance to the dictates of the state without the state having to resort to militaristic technologies of coercion. And, just as with Bentham’s prison in which the guards cannot be seen by the prisoners, a Foucaultian panopticon must operate under the awareness of the population, yet under strict secrecy. In other words, one must know that they can be watched at any given time, yet can never see who is watching and when. “In order to be exercised, this power had to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance capable of making all visible as long as it could itself remain invisible.” (214)
Of course, Foucault was talking about rationalized (bureaucratic) institutional power. He saw the regimens of schools, hospitals, clinics, prisons and the military as a non-coercive, though all-encompassing technology of power. This was the 1970’s and the level of technology had not developed to the point it has today. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the information age, technology is such that a cyberpanopticism is not only possible, but imminent. The ability of the elite to record and analyze the everyday routines of our lives is at hand. New technologies of power, the likes of which Foucault could only have imagined, are no longer relegated to paranoid science fiction novels. The future is now.
According to author James Bamfield the government and its corporate allies have built and are expanding a surveillance infrastructure that can subject every citizen to the power of the gaze. In the meantime, laws are being written to ensure that the exercise of this power remains beyond public scrutiny and outside of any conventions of checks and balances. This vast infrastructure is being constructed on the premise of fighting terrorism. If such was the case then we could expect that it would be designed much in the manner as the first program described in this essay. It is not. The intelligence infrastructure captained by the NSA is not merely targeting known terrorist groups and individuals in an ever expanding examination of affiliated networks. Indeed, it is being designed to intercept every communication, every commercial transaction, every movement of individual citizens regardless of affiliation. At the same time, legislation is being created to keep those involved in intelligence gathering secret and under the wing of government protection.
A New Member of the Power Elite
In 1954, sociologist C. Wright Mills published the results of his extensive research into the power elite. Mills recognized that the power elite was a collection of institutions working together to perpetuate its own class interests. At the top of this pyramid was corporate executives who despite the supposition that they are expected to compete, are actually better served by cooperating with regard to their class interests. Next the executive branch of government, the President and his cabinet, and the high ranking members of the executive bureaucracy. Then there is the top brass of the military, headquartered in the Pentagon and represented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
According to Mills, these three institutions share common interests despite what may appear to be very different functions. Indeed, since the advent of the military industrial complex as exposed by none other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower, corporate, political and military power are conjoined in ever tightening bonds. “As each of these domains has convinced with the others, as decisions tend to become total in their consequences, the leading men in each of the three domains of powerthe warlords, the corporation chieftains, the political directoratetend to come together, to form the power elite of America.” (Mills 9)
Indeed, they do more than come together. In fact, they overlap in significant ways. The corporations fund political campaigns. Often they hedge their bets by funding both parties. In exchange for important funds the politician agrees to give access to corporate lobbyists, pander to the corporation’s legislative wet dreams and appoint corporate representatives to high level cabinet positions. Corporations have also created institutional allies in the military, offering to add industrial might to the military machine. Corporations win major contracts to produce the needs of the military. In exchange for military support politicians perpetuate the corporate projects regardless of their use.
The military thus becomes a major player in the economy. To further the convergence of interests at this highest level, corporations provide comfortable jobs and exorbitant salaries to retired high ranking officials and military officers. The military continues to grow while the executive continues to feed valuable contracts to corporations that, in turn, provide political and social security to both. It’s a cozy relationship.
Now, Mills wrote The Power Elite in the mid-fifties. I’d like to think that if he were conducting this research today he would add a fourth element to this trifecta. In the 1950’s the intelligence community was a nascent institution getting its feet wet in the international arena. It was accurate to describe the intelligence community as a fraternal order of ivy league school mates playing a dangerous game of international espionage to greater or lesser effect. Despite the retrospectively obvious distinctions of class in this arena, it’s forgivable that Mills did not include them in his description of the power elite.
Fifty years later, the intelligence community has graduated from fraternity to fully fledged member in good standing of the power elite. Wars are no longer defined by the movement of armies, battle lines, logistics and tactics. The postmodern army runs on information processing, satellite surveillance, smart weapons and computer hubs often thousands of miles away from the battlefield. Intelligence is also a central aspect of civil law enforcement as the nation is carpeted with surveillance cameras and listening devices. Communication signals can be pulled from the air or culled from convergences of fiber optic cables in select cities in the United States. This communication infrastructure is owned and operated by corporations, already members of the power elite.
As it stands, communications corporations allow intelligence officials to have access to their information. The executive then distributes this information to civil law enforcement and the military. For their assistance in spying the executive guarantees secrecy and immunity to prosecution for providing information on innocent citizens whose rights have been ignored. High ranking intelligence officials are often pulled from the corporate world, and again, cushy chairs on the boards of directors for intelligence firms await high ranking government and military officials. In return, the executive finds more and more reasons to expand the intelligence community, often by creating a secretive and ubiquitous enemy than can only be defeated by surrendering our privacy. Such an enemy is also a boon to the military industrial complex.
Modern surveillance technology and refined intelligence gathering sciences are used to broker the intelligence community a seat at the elite table. In a Foucaultian leap the intelligence community also offers the power elite the prospects of a true social panopticon. By being able to keep an eye on our every move, our every purchase, our every communication, the power elite can motivate our actions.
Oh, it’s not so much that citizens who know they are being watched are going to govern their behaviors in the Foucaultian sense. I think Foucault took some theoretical leaps here. Rather, the power elite can collect vast amounts of data on us as a population. They can then use this data to learn what is motivating us, our concerns, our fears. Then, they can shape their paradigms, political speeches, advertisements, justifications for war, in such a way that they know we will respond to their liking. They can legislate our fears into reality. They can sell us solutions to our perceived problems, increasing our dependence on the corporate machine. Total Information Awareness equates to total knowledge control.
Our intelligence infrastructure is not designed to fight a war on terror. It is designed to control the motivations of society. Surveillance is not a technology for keeping us safe. Rather it is a method for perpetuating elite interests that are contradictory to the interests of the commons. As the intelligence community is further integrated into the highest echelons of society, the power elite becomes more mononolithic.
That does not mean that the prospects of resistance are lost. Indeed, it requires that those of us who dissent from the concentration of wealth and power demonstrate more courage to speak the truth. We must demand more from the institutions that are supposed to serve our interests. The very first thing we must defeat is the fear that the power elite perpetuates by committing us to war and false patriotism. If we are not to be the pawns of the powerful we must not participate in their games.
The Elections are Open for Business, but candidates don’t come cheap
On one hand, Obama has a point in embracing the very Super PACs that he decried in his 2010 State of the Union Address (Remember how offended Samuel Alito was with Obama’s comments on Citizens United. The jury’s still out whether Alito refuses to attend the SofU due to indignation or embarrassment). After all, he can’t be expected to walk into the 2012 electoral gunfight with nothing more than a campaign pocket knife.
On the other hand, this is exactly the way bad, anti-democratic ideas become entrenched. One party gains a monstrous, insurmountable advantage. This limits the other party’s choices. Lose on principle or lose the principle. Now that both parties are recipients of virtually limitless largesse from the 1%, these SuperPACs will be established and institutionalized by the end of 2012 and will remain an electoral force well into the foreseeable future. Soon, the organizational frameworks will be almost impossible to disfranchise.
Just like any important issue in democracy, SuperPACs will not be confronted in the halls of government. It must be defeated from the streets. Power gives nothing without a demand.
Or is it?
When I first saw the Clint Eastwood/Chrysler commercial during the Super Bowl I did not think, ‘Wow. What a refreshing liberal message for a commercial.’ Instead, I thought, ‘Cool! It’s Clint Eastwood!’ Yes, there was some of the usual sociological imagi-ruminations that are the hazard of my discipline (social constructions of masculinity linked to automobiles, roaring engines and Americanismbut that would make for a boring post).
The right wing pundits, hyper-sensitive to even the slightest wisp of a lefty thought contaminating the minds of real Americans, can sniff out even one drop of liberalism in an ocean of conservatism. The rest of us might have missed it, but be sure, if there was even the hint of liberalism in that commercial you can count on it being attacked mercilessly from the right.
What the right wing has forgotten with regard to this commercial is
it’s a commercial. The primary function of a commercial is to sell a product. The advertisers who commissioned and created the commercial are probably not trying to make a political statement. They are trying to get people to purchase Chryslers. Of course, this alone is enough to send conservatives into a tizzy. As Paul Krugman pointed out, there’s few things conservatives hate more than to be reminded that the reviled auto-industry bailout was a success.
That a lifelong Republican, like Clint Eastwood, is sending subliminal liberal messages through a car commercial is nothing short of absurd. But that’s really not the point at all. What conservatives should be concerned about, and may very well recognize, is that advertisers gear their message to the attitudes of the public. If anything, the Chrysler ad reveals that, at least in the eyes of the advertisers, America is gaining optimism in the face of adversity. That hard work, and more importantly, hard workers are the key to getting this country moving again.
These are two messages that the representatives of the 1% cannot allow. There can be no optimism and fighting spirit in the age of Obama. Such drive can only exist under a Ronald Reagan or the conservative du jour. And if anything is going to lead America beyond “half-time” it must be the CEO’s, corporate board members, the so called “job creators.” No emphasis must be given to those who actually do the jobs.
The message isn’t liberal, per se. This blog is, admittedly, committing the same error as the conservative pundits. That is, putting way too much thought into a commercial. At least, as a sociologist, it’s my job to overthink things. But I believe this backlash against Clint and Chrysler is more an act of desperation than of observation. America is turning a corner. It may be unfair to credit Obama for this, but it is an election year.
Because Poor People Don’t Vote!
The political machine known as Mitt Romney has a few bugs that need to be tweaked in his circuitry. Namely, the political circuitry that is Mitt’s brain sometimes glitches and a little tiny byte of truth escapes from his mount. I don’t know if this is something in his wiring or just bad programming. Either way, his handlers better get some engineers to work trying to figure out the problem before the general election.
The short-circuit in play now is Romney’s statement that he is “not concerned about the very poor.” The circuitry in the campaign regions of his mind responded as demonstrated below:
Romney: “I’m not concerned about the very poor ”
Romney’s Brain: Zzzzt. Warning. Warning. Unauthorized Random Statement of Truth (URST) release. Initiate damage control protocol.
Romney: “We have a safety net there ”
To give the Romneybot credit, this transition happened seamlessly. It’s as if he really knew what he was saying. After all, there is a safety net. Why worry about the very poor?
The inconvenient truth for Romney, however, is that he has no regard for the social safety net and has even less intention of “fixing” any aforementioned holes unless any more than destroying a village actually saves it. Let us not forget that Romney not only endorsed Paul Ryan’s vivisection of the social safety net, but actually one-upped the notorious neo-con in cruelty toward the poor. So the immediate default to the safety net was nothing more than an automatic rerouting of political circuitry.
Indeed, Romney isn’t concerned about the very poor because they will have very little influence on his goals. Romney wants to be president not out of a sense of patriotism or public service, not because he wants to represent all Americans or because he believes in any grandiose vision for the nation. No. Romney wants to be president because, doggonit, it’s his turn to be president!
Toward that end, the very poor play a minimal role. Poor people don’t vote, at least not in any appreciable way. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2008 only about half of poor and low income citizens registered to vote. Of that ~50% only about 40% actually showed up at the polls. So, in any real sense, only about 20% of poor people will vote in 2010.
So when it comes to politics, the poor are empirically irrelevant. They are especially irrelevant to the Republican Party. According to the Pew Research Center, only about 15% of low income Americans identify themselves as Republicans. A few years back CNN noted that over 60% of low income Americans vote Democratic. So, at best, Romney can predict that only around 10% of low income Americans are going to pull the lever for Romney in 2012.
So of course Romney isn’t concerned about the very poor. If you want him to be concerned, then the goal is to turn the poor into a viable voting bloc. Of course, the Republican Party has done everything it can to ensure that this does not happen. From the assassination of ACORN to the disfranchisement of poor voters throughout the country, the Republican Party has demonstrated its commitment against democracy in favor of an autocratic stacked deck. At the same time, the juridical nightmare Citizens United has entrenched a monolith of millionaire manipulation into the democratic process that makes both parties dependent upon the wealthy and encourages both parties to turn their backs on the poor. That the Democrats have, for the most part, done nothing to confront conservatives on these issues only demonstrates that they have not woken up to the powerful potential of being a party for the people.
But, at the very least, we caught a glimpse of the truth from Romney’s robotic mouth.
We can’t have this kind of
in the White House
With regard to Gingrinch’s (Yes, I’m spelling it that way intentionally!) plan to replace school janitors by forcing poor children to clean toilets
I didn’t comment on this initially because, frankly, I really believed that Gingrinch would hold a press conference and apologize for the grossly insensitive comments that he made about poor children. If nothing else, in grand Gingrinch style he would have been sorry for our misinterpretation of his remarks. Regardless, this nonsense would have been over and we could have moved on to the general insanity that is the Republica primary. However, not only is this idiot not apologizing, but he’s defending his atrocious plan and even building on it.
In the latest debate Gingrinch received thunderous applause from a Republican audience by defending his Dickensian scheme to lay off hard working “union” janitors who are making way too much money (yeah, who doesn’t want to be a school janitor and bring home all that chaching?) and replace them with poor children. His expressed goal is to teach poor children “the value of work.” Cleaning toilets for their peers would make these poor children feel good about themselves. Of course it would!
As if this wasn’t going far enough, Gingrinch expanded on this strategy. He added that he would fire one janitor and replace him with “thirty-seven” students. Those students would make money that they could take pride is as they bring their checks home to their poor parents. Thirty-seven students for one janitor? How much money would they make? Is Gingrinch suggesting that we pay each student one thirty-seventh of the wages that we pay our janitors? And, if not, how does his plan save the school system money, as he has claimed? Here in Lee County the starting salary for a custodian is an ostentatious $9.33 an hour.¹ To break even on this deal, Newt Legree would have to pay children twenty-five cents an hour. An eight-hour workday would vouch these children a gross income of $2 a day. In exchange for this gracious supplement to the family income, the child will only sacrifice all of his education.
Maybe these children under the Gingrinch plan can go to college after all. Not as students, of course. They could replace those overpaid college custodians and continue to scrub toilets for their better-heeled peers. According to Gingrinch, there is nothing demeaning about cleaning toilets while your peers read Oliver Twist in English class. Toiling for pennies on the dollar and sacrificing any hope for a meaningful future will teach the poor the value of work.
Hey, Newt! Here’s a more radical idea. How about we teach poor children the value of work by, oh I don’t know, helping them do classwork. The research indicates that poor children don’t suffer from not cleaning enough toilets. Poor children suffer from a lack of educational support structures. If anything, they need more time behind the computer and in the books, not more time behind the mop handle and in the dirty bathroom stalls.
Suggesting this, according to the man whose heart is way more than three sizes too small, makes me an elitist! Yes. Only an elitist would suggest that it’s demeaning to exploit poor children as cheap labor by making them clean their peer’s crap for pennies on the dollar. That’s what elitism is all about.
Really? Can we afford to have this medieval-minded, sinister bastard anywhere near the White House?
¹ For those of you who can’t help yourselves, this wage amounts to $19,406.40 a year before taxes. My, how do we ever afford to pay such exorbitant wages for janitors?
On Fake Conservative Angst Over Recess Appointments
On cue, conservatives are aghast
aghast I tell you!…that President Obama has used his Constitutional authority to make recess appointments. Of course, Republicans are not upset that Obama has circumvented the appointment of a candidate that is mutually agreeable to both parties. That really would be questionable. They are, rather, upset that Obama has actually grown a backbone and has demonstrated his willingness to stand up to Republicans. It’s taken a few years, but it’s a welcome sign. After all, conservatives have made it perfectly clear that they no nomination from this president would be suitable for positions on the National Labor Relations Board or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Conservatives believe that no such bodies should exist.
Of course, the so-called liberal media doesn’t bother to express outrage over the fact that conservatives continued “pro forma” meetings of the Senate every three days in order to block such recess appointments. By “pro forma” they mean that they met for a few minutes every three days (one such meeting lasted only about 1 minute). What was the conservative justification for such a tactic? It must have been the United States Constitution; after all, Republicans are the self-appointed guardians of the Constitutionwell, at least those parts of the Constitution that they like. In fact, the Constitution does not prescribe any such time standards for recess appointments.
Well, if not the Constitution, then what? Actually, their tactic was based on a legal brief from the Clinton Justice Department. Yes, let me say that again. It was based on a legal brief from the Clinton Justice Department. William Jefferson Clinton. Yep, that Clinton.
Regardless, when it comes to recess appointments, Obama remains a lightweight.
Here’s a graph from Think Progress controlling for years in office.
When it comes to recess appointments, Ronald Reagan was the champ. Go Gipper!
Don’t expect that to be a Republican Talking point.
Why has the godless GOP declared war on Christmas? Obviously, if they were real Americans, they would be having a “Christmas” party and not some politically correct “Holiday” party. If you think I’m making this up, contact the e-mail and ask them yourself.
Before I succumb to my cold medicine
More lame, milquetoast, naked saltine politics of the possible balderdash
inspiring nobody, disappointing everyone
followed immediately thereafter by irate Republicans appalled that the President of the United States would offer such a far left, radical Marxist scheme.
I can’t even bear to watch. Wake me when it’s over and please tell me I’m wrong.
Sometimes it sucks being right!
So I decided to take this map of US counties experiencing DECREASING life expectancies
And overlay it with this map of Red and Blue states from 2010
I got this
I then did the same thing with this map of red and blue counties as of 2008. I couldn’t find one for 2010.
I got this. The dark blue areas are predominantly Democratic counties experiencing decreasing life expectancies. The dark red areas are the predominantly Republican counties experiencing the same decrease.
The fact that anywhere in the United States is experiencing decreased life expectancy should be a national disgrace. There’s more going on here than clear party lines, but the testimony of these graphs is clear.
Wall Street already has a party. They don’t need the Democrats!
The New York Times reports that “Obama Reaches out to Wall Street Donors.” So we can look forward to a future in which the Democrats remain in the pocket of the corporate elite, bought and paid for. What else is new? We know how long this unhealthy love triangle leveraged between the Democratic Party, the corporate campaign financiers and the liberal base has been developing. This unholy and unhealthy relationship, however, cannot last as Citizens United has changed the political rules.
Obama is in the precarious position in which he must win back his base after selling out virtually every liberal platform he ran on to the very interests to whom he is now turning to fund the Dems in 2012. One might almost feel bad for Obama. It’s a complicated, courtship of Wall Street while at the same time seducing his abused and neglected liberal base at least through the next election, after which he jumps back in bed with the CEOs and corporate lobbyists.
The strategy is clear, a mainstay of Democratic campaigning. Obama will convince Wall Street that she is the one he really loves, and he would be with her all the time if he could only divorce himself from his nagging and annoying liberal base. Then he goes home to his liberal base, who knows she’s being cheated, and explains that his relationship with Wall Street really doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a fling. He would turn his back on Wall Street like that, except
it’s complicated. He just needs some time to figure stuff out, about 18 months or so, then he’ll come back and it’ll be just the two of us, like old times!
The liberal base, however, is losing faith in this co-dependent marriage. When we offer the cold shoulder, the Democratic Party reverts to good, old-fashioned emotional blackmail. In the words of White House Communications Director, Dan Pfeiffer, “We can either work together and finish that work that we started in 2008 or we can be relegated back to the sidelines and see what a Republican president … does to this country,” So there it is. “You don’t love the Democrats any more
well let’s see how you feel after another four years of Republican rule.”
Obama and the Democrats are incapable of reading the writing on the wall. Since the Democratic Party has been pandering to Wall Street and turned its back on actually serving the people, American society has been in decline, except for the corporate elite. The people no longer have representation in the ramparts of government. The best we have is a party that blackmails us into voting for them because things could be worsemuch, much worse. For many liberals, including myself, this dysfunctional marriage is simply not good enough. If we don’t see movement on key, base liberal priorities we should sever our ties.
The Democratic Party is falling into redundancy and irrelevance. Democratic leaders must either embrace its erstwhile role as a party for the common people or witness the relegation of their party to the dustbin of history. Currying the favor of Wall Street is an exercise in futility, a desperate and hopeless gasp for relevance that can only suffocate the party and all it once represented.
After all, corporate America already has a party, the Republicans. Once upon a time it made sense for the corporate elite to hedge their bets by funding both parties. Citizens United changed the rules, however. It won’t be long before corporate America decides that it is much cheaper to fund a one party system than a two party system. Once unions are dismantled the major source of Democratic fundraising will be a dry well. Those corporations who currently split their donations between Democratic and Republican candidates will have less reason to buy into two parties when one will do just fine.
Unless Democrats realize their future lies in the unions and in protecting the interests of working people rather than in neo-liberalism and the “New Democrat” approach of the last thirty years they will not save themselves from irrelevance.
Dennis Kucinich is putting himself in the news a lot!
Dennis Kucinich has been making headlines lately criticizing the Obama Administration, especially with regard to Lybia. Kucinich is losing his seat this year to redistricting, so his political career is up in the air. Might this be a sign that he is planning a Democratic primary challenge in 2012? Wouldn’t that be something! Or, dare I suggest, perhaps a spoiler run for president as an Independent?
The Obama Administration has compromised away and watered down every single liberal proposal, or allowed them to die of neglect. Single payer health care, never got on the table. Public Option, gone. Employee Free Choice Act, DOA. His administration has also been openly hostile to liberals. The Obama Administration feels that it can use, abuse and ignore its base at whim. After all, liberals will vote for Obama regardless of how they are treated because the alternative will be to allow a conservative to take the White House.
I say, however, that such might be the price we have to pay if liberals want to have a voice in politics. We have to show that we are willing to vote “liberal” rather than “least conservative.” A Kucinich candidacy would give us the opportunity to voice our priorities. If the Obama Administration thinks it can win re-election without its liberal base, let them try it!
Of course, this is speculation. I don’t know if Kucinich is planning another presidential run. If he isn’t, then liberals should start looking for other possible recruits. Russ Feingold?
One can’t bring shame to a shameless institution
This blog has never taken a position on the many meandering sexual mores of our politicians. This post will not be an exception to that rule. As far as this blog is concerned, the sex lives of politicians are private matters even under the unfortunate circumstances when sexual impropriety enters the public spotlight. Even if they lie. Even if they try to cover it up. Even if they are hypocritical over it. So long as the sex is consensual and does not constitute a conflict of interest then it is a matter between the politician, the spouse, the lover, escort service, the guy in the next stall, and/or any other direct actor who may or may not have shared space and/or bodily fluids. That is the policy of the Journal of a Mad Sociologist and will remain the policy so long as glass houses exist.
After all, if a history on bad penile decisions (BPDs) made by people in authority was written no shelf could support its weight. If there is a locus of bad decisions with more gravity than sex, I’d like to know what it is. Few are the men I know who, when a discussion of BPDs comes up, are at a loss for stories. This writer is no exception. And how many such BPDs are covered up with lies and denials. This is not specific to Anthony Weiner or John Ensign or David Vitter. So should Anthony Weiner resign? Has he lost the public trust? These are questions best left to his constituents and to the Democratic Party as an institution. This journal has no position on the topic.
When these peccadillos come to light, the political posturing and gamesmanship is on. Of course the Republicans want Weiner to resign. They want all Democrats to resign, just as all Democrats want Republicans to resign and will respond accordingly when a member of that party slips into the sexual abyss. Some are able to weather the political fire-storm, a la Ted Kennedy, a la Barney Frank. In the meantime, however, the opposing party will descend like jackals on the fallen. All’s the better if it is a politician with a reputation for high moral standards and deep “family values.” SCORE! That is the game, and every politician knows the rules before they send those scandalous Twitters, or call that escort service, or hire a rentboy, or tap that shoe under the stall. Just because that is the name of the game, however, does not mean that this site has to participate.
In the name of this political game, however, the claim is often made that the offending congressman has somehow brought shame to Congress as an institution. When I heard this about Anthony Weiner I winced. How could Weiner, or any other libidinous member of Congress bring shame to an institution that is so blatantly shameless? Let’s be clear, a middle aged man making an ass of himself to get the attention of women half his age may be creepy and uncouth, but it certainly isn’t enough to bring shame to an institution like Congress. None of the wide stances, acts of adultery, patronage of prostitutes, call girls, lesbian bondage clubs, rentboys and all of the hypocrisy that goes along with them brings shame to Congress.
What brings shame to Congress is its demonstrated inability or unwillingness to govern. It is a comatose and atrophied institution where good ideas go to rot and bad ideas thrive so long as they serve the corporate interest. This is what brings shame to Congress as an institution. How wonderful it would be if our only concern regarding our legislative branch were the sex lives of our representatives.
Mid-life crisis, yielding to temptation, repressed and hidden desire, these are nothing more than relatively common human foibles. Lying about these human foibles is what human’s do, because revealing our foibles is embarrassing. Ultimately, however, Weiner’s actions are not “unforgivable” and are certainly not the reason why Congress is less popular than Brussels Sprouts.
Legislative gridlock, partisan posturing, representatives bought and paid for by the highest bidders, pandering to corporate interests while ignoring constituents
these bring shame to Congress. One party dedicates itself solely to the undoing of the other, even if that means hurting the citizens in the process. After all, a bad economy increases the chances of the minority party. Legislation can’t get through the Senate without sixty votes. One Senator, in the pocket of corporate interests, can put a hold on popular and necessary bills and not even give his name. By the time a bill gets to the President’s desk it’s been watered down and smothered in legislative verbiage to the point of irrelevance. The original intention of the bill, even with the best intentions, is weighted with crippling riders and amendments. The only piece of legislation for which we can predict easy passage is, of course, the Congressional pay raise.
Unemployment. Health care. Foreclosures. Recession. Corporate corruption. War. Fossil Fuel Addiction. Global Warming. Environmental degradation. Floundering education. Tattered infrastructure. Trade imbalances. Rising deficits. Pollution. Homelessness. Poverty. Congress is impotent
the laughing stock of the free world. How much more shame could there be?
Frankly, licentious Tweets to a coed are less shameful than a luncheon with an oil lobbyist. Being on an escort service rolodex is not nearly as dishonorable as being on a corporate mailing list. Perhaps if Congress actually dedicated itself to meaningful legislation it could legitimately admonish the sexual transgressions of its members. When it comes to shame, however, Congress has more serious concerns.
A Few Thoughts on the Current Medicare Fight
“We are Democrats because we promote and defend Medicare.” Rep. Steve Israel (D New York)
Hey, that’s great! But I have to say, that’s a pretty narrow definition of what it means to be a Democrat.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if he had added a few more principles such as
- We are Democrats because we promote and defend quality public education.
- We are Democrats because we promote economic justice.
- We are Democrats because we promote the right to meaningful work at a living wage.
- We are Democrats because we promote a woman’s right to choose.
- We are Democrats because we promote universal health care.
- We are Democrats because we promote peace (tough one).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Democrats have managed to grow a backbone in their defense of Medicare. Of course, it helps that Paul Ryan prematurely set the self-destruct button on his party. Regardless, the Democrats look like they are in fighting trim for the first time since
I only wish that Democrats could come out swinging at the bell on all issues valued by the left
not to mention all common people.
For instance, I find it interesting, if not a little ironic, that at the outset of the health care debate “single payer” was taken off the table as being too divisive and not politically viable. Yet now Democrats are united in their defense of Medicare a single payer health system with near universal political appeal.