Saturday, February 26, 2011

In the World of the Blind, We're Often Led Off the Cliff

I’m not the greatest fan of the BBC. There are loads of things about it which I hate. I’m not so enamoured of paying the equivalent of $300 per year just for the privilege of having a television in my home. I don’t like the fact that, if I don’t pay this licence fee, I can get slapped in jail and fined $1500 in real money.

But the BBC has made me appreciate one thing: their news and political coverage. Here in the UK, the BBC has news bulletins at 1pm, at 6pm and their main one at 10pm. Of the three terrestrial commercial networks, two have bulletins at 1pm and 10pm, and a third has a comprehensive hour-long news bulletin at 7pm nightly. Yes, there’s a 24/7 cable channel, BBC News 24, but hardly anyone ever watches it.

Wow, that’s a first. Imagine being able to say that hardly anyone ever watches CNN or Fox or even MSNBC.
Anyway, people make do with those mainstream news bulletins, plus an hour-long analysis show nightly called Newsnight, and a weekly panel discussion entitled Question Time.

But the difference between the US and Britain is this: all of the people purporting to be political correspondents for the BBC or any other commercial outlet are steeped in political history, strategy, and fact. They’ve been doing political journalism since the cows came home. They know the way their Parliament works, they know the way their politicians work and they know how their government works. In the analysis show, where the pundits weigh in, we’re treated to political savants who’ve made politics their life’s work. They’re ex-politicos or political opinion journalists, and they know their stuff. They debate in measured tones, take tough questions and give tough answers. There’s an occasional bit of snippiness and rudeness, but no argumentum ad hominem.
In short, there aren’t any ex-sportscasters screaming down the tube or interrupting guests on the show, no comedians purporting to be political pundits who speak in generalities and offer ill-founded advice. If a BBC political commentator were ever to refer to a politician from a party he disdained as “a fat bastard,” he’d be forced to apologise cravenly and publically and summarily sacked from his job as incompetent. And if any political commentator referred to the Prime Minister as “needy” or called him a “pussy,” his feet wouldn’t touch the floor and they’d make sure the door didn’t hit his ass on his way into unemploymentland.

Too many people in America these days suffer from a terminal dearth of ability to think critically. That’s a laziness that needs to be conquered. The Left as well as the Right find it all to easy to vegetate in front of a television full of political rhetoric, be it Fox or MSNBC, designed to cater to your political pleasure and provide you with opinion you’re too intellectually lazy to foment, yourself. In the evolutionary process, your cranium was filled with gray matter called a brain. It might be wobbly in substance, but it sure ain’t jello.

Just as watching too many violent movies de-sensitizes us to violence in general, watching too many shouting, frantic, ill-informed and deliberately misinforming celebrity talking heads not only makes us ruder in discourse, it closes our minds to proven facts behind the opinions our icons are spewing at us. And too many people these days are clearly unable to discern fact from opinion; and many of those who are, dispute facts in favour of opinion.

Go figure.

Not only are we living in a world exceedingly worshipful of the celebrity cult (and that’s being kind), we also live in a world where the political modus operandi is total illusion. In the blink of an eye a talking head can have us believing that the President is the master of illusion, himself – a Manchurian candidate who isn’t even legitimate owing to his supposed foreign birth, his alleged enemy religion, his socialistic, communistic, fascist political bent … all euphemisms to mask the real reason that the Right side of the political coin is uncomfortable with the fact that there’s a black man in the White House.

And on the other side of the coin, we’re led to believe, by those who – supposedly – speak for us, the viewing public, that, among other things, Obama’s sold us out, Obama hates the Middle Class, Obama’s homophobic, Obama’s caved on single payer/the public option/Elizabeth Warren/tax cuts for the rich (take your pick), Obama’s weak, Obama should be more like Bush, Obama should be less like Bush, Obama’s done nothing. Again, that’s pretty much a masquerade in and of itself too. These whinges, whinings and moans distort the fact that certain elements of the Left don’t like the idea of having a black man in the White House who doesn’t do what they want when they snap their fingers.

When Egypt’s middle classes rose up in revolt against their dictator, celebrity talking heads on MSNBC, demanded that the President intervene in the crisis – the selfsame people who, rightly, decried Bush’s interventionist policies in relation to Afghanistan and Iraq. So whilst it wasn’t kosher for us to barrel into a couple of countries and dismantle their own elected governments, without anything concrete to set up in replacement, it’s perfectly all right to wade into a civil dispute in another country, taking sides with an opposition which really wasn’t an organised opposition at all, but a plethora of people with differing beliefs but united only in that one of wanting their dictator gone.

And now these same people, who have microphones and mega salaries, are saying, demanding, haranguing that the President go to Wisconsin and align himself physically with the marchers on the picket lines. This is the political advice being given, in particular, by ex-sportscaster-ex-neocom-cum-Damascene-converted Progressive Ed Schultz.

This is an absolutely puerile demand.

To begin with, Obama’s already recognised that Scott Walker’s brief is to bust the unions and he’s denounced that. He’s made statements asserting that people in unions must not lose their rights to collective bargaining. Then there’s Organising for America, who’ve worked extensively and recently with these activists and organisers in co-ordinating these protests.

To think that a serving US President, no matter what he spoke in the rhetoric of his early campaign days, would physically place himself on a picket line or at the head of a large group of union activists with a gripe against a duly elected state governor is beyond the pale of critical thinking.

First of all, such an action would demean the Office. Secondly, there’s the security question. Can you imagine the President with his cordon of Secret Service Agents amongst the demonstrators in Madison? Can you imagine the police responsibility? And can you imagine if the Kochs had sponsored a counter-demonstration with Teabaggers, some of whom might be packing a piece loaded with bullets all engraved with the President’s name?

Good grief, we’ve already had one Teabagger ask a Republican congressman once this week who was going to shoot the President.

Thirdly, this dispute is between the people of Wisconsin and the man they duly and legitimately elected their governor. On election day 2010, a great many people stayed away from the polling booths because they were angry. They’d been told their President wasn’t working for them, that he was weak and pandering to the Right, that he was really a Republican in a Democrat’s guise. And when the people stayed home and didn’t vote, those who did elected people like Scott Walker with a hidden agenda which is now only just becoming apparent.

Rather than the snarky Nixon-era subject of Paul Simon’s Seventies’ classic “Love Me Like a Rock,” hiding behind the Presidential Seal on the Presidential podium, Walker’s got the State Seal tattooed on his hairy ass and he’s mooning the people of Wisconsin. They got sold a bill of sale and now they’re exercising their Constitutional right to protest.

This is between Walker and his constituents.

If the President shows up, it then becomes Obama pitted against Walker. It would be an absolute field day for the states’ rights advocates on the Right, Fox News would experience an organism which would register 12 on the Richter scale and Glenn Beck would spontaneously combust. If his presence meant failure for the protestors, he’d be assailed by both Right and Left – nothing new there. If he were successful, then a precedent would be set and scores of other states would expect a magic presence to make all their problems go away. And the Republicans would probably try to impeach him.

News Flash: The President is not our daddy, and we are not his children. Somethings we have to do for ourselves.

At least one union, the SEIU, was adult enough to thank the President for his words of support, but that’s as much as they wanted. They know the score.

As for Ed Schultz, this is the same political pundit who, not once but twice, in the late summer and early autumn of 2010, urged first the long-term unemployed and then all Progressives not to vote in the mid-terms. Not voting would teach the Democrats a lesson; in fact, Ed said he wasn’t voting. He demanded the first moratorium because Congress could not agree upon an extension of Unemployment benefits before the summer recess; the second moratorium was a hissy fit in reaction to Robert Gibbs’s frustration with the Professional Left, which Ed and others of his ilk managed to convince their hoi polloi that Gibbs’s remarks were directed at them.

Considering the fact that the GOP made record gains in the House and in gubernatorial slots and state legislatures nationwide, it sure looks like Ed achieved what he’d requested. So for all his blustering and posturing the past week, the actual truth is that Ed Schultz bears some of the blame for Scott Walker getting into a position of power.

And now, this week, he’s been haranguing the President to appear in Wisconsin or risk becoming a one-term President.

Well, considering that Ed has had a long history of association with the Republican party, including having run as a Republican (and lost) for a Congressional seat, and considering that Ed, too, is one of several high-profile people on the Left who, prior to November 3, 2004, identified themselves strongly as conservative Republicans, maybe Ed’s operating from another agenda altogether.

November 3, 2004 must have seen a helluva lot of Damascene conversions for the price of a corporate bag of Rovian silver.

But then, we do practice the politics of illusion in America.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Kochroaches Emerge from the Woodwork

Being five hours ahead and one day behind, by the time I’d heard about Governor Scott Walker’s monumental punking yesterday afternoon, the event was already viral on the Internet.

Across the Pond, I’ve been watching with interest the events in Wisconsin. At last, the Democratic Party seems to have remembered that it once spoke out vociferously for the unions and the people who belonged to them – basically the working class and, notwithstanding, the working poor. Prior to 1970, unions, their members, the proletariat and the Democratic Party existed in pretty happy, if somewhat discordant, harmony. The Democratic Party was a big tent, after all.

But for the past forty years, that part of the Democratic Party which featured the ueber-educated, ueber-cultured, ueber-intellectual found inhabiting the geographical extremes of the Lower 48, seemed to be the dominant guiding force in Democratic politics and policy. They were not poor people. They were stretched even to be working class. They accepted whatever working class and working poor people who happened to still be hanging around the netherlands of the party, they paid lip service to their plight, but they viewed them with disdain. Many still do, but then, as recent events have shown, these people are neither real Democrats nor real Progressives.

As for the unions, both public and private sector, they were useful for financial contributions ever four years when it became expedient to get a Democrat in the big chair of the Oval Office.

In 2010, according to our new House Speaker, John Boehner, “the American people” had spoken via the ballot box and roundly rejected the agenda put forward by the President and the majority Democratic Party. Depending on what they read and to whom they listened, “the American people” had determined to reject these policies which were at once and variously socialist, communist, Muslim and unAmerican. “The American people” had suddenly become synomymous (or so it seemed) with the Tea Party, and even that was suspect.

I suspected it from its inception and found it incongruous that a CNBC financial analyst/reporter could launch a sustained and rehearsed rant at an early hour one morning, calling for “a little tea party” action, and within a fortnight, tea parties – actual organised Saul Alinsky-styled demonstrations – emerged, literally, across the land. Almost immediately, Fox News and their various personalities – in particular, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck – had picked up the mantra, as various Republican politicians fell into the tea party sheeple fold.

That the so-called liberal media added credence to this movement was only a boon to their credentials as well. We endured a long, hot summer of disrupted Congressional town hall meetings where Tea Party members showed up with guns, three-cornered hats and out-of-context Jeffersonian quotations, in order to make their presence known in opposition to the proposed healthcare bill.

We’ve known birthers, Tenthers and Ayn Rand fanatics, and now a lot of them are sitting in Congress determining what they hope will be legislation under which we all will have to live. These people pushed their effective PR big lie so well that they’ve ridden a wave which virtually turned much of the US Republican red in November.

Now, they’ve masked their true intentions behind deficit fear and frenzy. (Gotta keep the hoi polloi frightened in the extreme; after all, nothing’s so easily controlled as scared children). This has led to the Republicans in the House cutting Federal aid to Planned Parenthood, an organisation which was vitally instrumental in providing health cover for lower income women. Of course the ultimate aim in that respect was eventually to make abortion a criminal act again. Make no mistake: Abortion is the guiding star along the Republicans’ route to dominance. If you can link abortion to anything, you’ve got the working class and working poor of the rural Midwest and the South by the short and curlies.

With all the kerfuffle about the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and the 24/7 coverage of the peoples’ revolutions against dictatorships in the Middle East, a freshman governor of a Midwestern state attempted a coup of his own. This was how Scott Walker wanted to bury the news of his real efforts to strip public sector union members of their right to collective bargaining, as a means of ensuring that there would be no comeback from that quarter, both now and in the future, when the State of Wisconsin decides to cut their pensions or health benefits or even their salaries.

All in the interest of the State’s deficit, you understand – brought about by the Governor’s desperate need to effect tax cuts for the wealthier element and for business interests in the state.

Scott Walker is the son of a preacher man, but the only way he has of moving people is to effect a mass movement of labour forces against him. That’s good, in that it forces the Democratic Party to remember its origins and its real base, but it might be too late, considering the extent to which the unions, themselves, have been weakened in the past thirty years.

Scott Walker is also the only one of a plethora of Republican governors elected in November 201o, who actually doesn’t possess a university degree. He’s a college drop-out, not for financial reasons, but in order for him to devote more time to his pro-Life perambulations. He’s intransigent, he’s inflexible, he’s stubborn and he lacks total compassion.

Let’s add to all of that: He’s puerile.

This week Walker took a phonecall from someone he thought was David Koch. Interesting, because there had been complaints abounding from various and sundry Wisconsin Democrats that Walker was refusing to speak to them. He simply wouldn’t accept calls.

But he leapt at the opportunity when an aide told him that “David Koch” wanted to speak with him – ne’mind the fact that said aide should have smelled a rat, when “David Koch” revealed that it was impossible for the Governor to call him back, owing to the fact that his maid had thrown his cellphone in the washing machine, a deed for which “Koch” threatened to “send her back.”

“Koch”, in fact, was Ian Murphy, the editor of the online newspaper, The Buffalo Beast, originally founded by Matt Taibbi. The twenty-minute conversation that followed showed Walker as an abject sycophant, hanging on “Koch’s” praises, intimating to “Koch” that he’d actually thought about planting Republican troublemakers amongst the strikers (blatant ratfucking in the truest Rovian sense of the word) and actually detailing a plan he’d devised to trick the recalcitrant Democratic state politicians back to Madison during the recess period, only to declare a quorum whilst they were on recess and force the bill de-legitimising collective bargaining through the state senate via Republican votes alone.

When “Koch” suggested Walker use a baseball bat on the strikers, Walker eagerly revealed he kept one in his office, a personalised baseball bat, in fact. And in a chillingly repugnant segment of the conversation, Walker talked about one Democratic colleague, with whom he’d worked in the state legislature in the past on various projects, but he cautioned “Koch” not to contact this man … “because he isn’t one of us.”

If ever there were any evidence needed that the Right were wantonly demonising the Left, it lay like a portent in those five words: He isn’t one of us.

Precisely the message Walker’s ilk, financed by David Koch and his brother, have been pushing since January 21, 2009. The President isn’t one of us. He’s not like us. He’s different. His name is stranger than the strangest immigrant name. He doesn’t look like us. He may not even believe in the same God we’re all supposed to worship, according to the Republicans. (Which begs the question: If in the small-minded, little Republican universe, we’re all supposed to be Christian – the way they perceive our nation to have been founded – how do they justify that their House Majority Leader in Congress simply isn’t a Christian? Perhaps they’ve made Eric Cantor an honorary one.)

At the end of a marathon twenty-minute conversation, “Koch” suggested that Walker “come out to Cali” when this ordeal was resolved and he’d show him a good time. Walker could barely contain his delight.

He’d arrived. He’d joined the club as a freshman. And yet, he’d done something more.

He’d shown the world, when that taped conversation went viral, that the Koch Brothers and their involvement in mainstream Republican party politics, wasn’t the stuff of grisly-minded Leftwing imaginings. There was no conspiracy theory there; even Andrew Breitbart’s involvement and financing on the part of the Kochs was acknowledged.

Scott Walker’s naive posturing in a conversation to “Big Daddy Koch” placed the Koch machine front and centre of all the ugly, detrimental and ruthless connivings of the past two years. It put a seal on the fact that most every freshman Congressman, Senator and Governor who rose from the Republican ranks last November, did so riding the magic carpet of Koch money. Goodness knows how many incumbents are on the payroll, but I’d say Jim DeMint was a dead cert.

Scott Walker managed to bring the Kochroaches out of the woodwork. Now it’s time for everyone in protest to stand strong, and insure that Scott Walker, himself, retreats to the nether regions of that selfsame woodwork … with his friends. Where he belongs.

UA:A [1.9.7_1111]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bill Maher's Big Lie Contribution?

I’m an atheist, but I’m pretty tolerant in my non-belief. I don’t mind people of faith, as long as they don’t start trying to convince me that their way is the right way. Conversely, I don’t try to impose my non-belief on others. It works for me, but I’m cognizant of the fact that some people derive comfort and strength from faith and religious practice.

I also realise that our Constitution stipulates complete religious freedom. We are free to worship where and how we like, or not to do so, if we so choose. And this selfsame document precludes anyone being denied a job or profession based on his faith, or lack of. Put simply, a person’s religious convictions or lack of such convictions, shouldn’t matter in any walk of life or in the pursuit of any profession, even unto the office of President of the United States.

I get, as I’m sure many people do, the nuance behind many people on the Right thinking that the President is a Muslim. Not only is this a fear inculcated by repercussions surrounding events which happened on Bush’s watch, it’s fear of “the other,” encouraged by the Rightwing media machine.

Our President certainly is different than any other we have previously had. He looks different. His name is different. I can just about remember something similar occurring during President Kennedy’s term, when people worried that the President’s Catholic religion would mean he would defer to Rome first and the United States second. That’s a pretty silly fear to have, but we’ve not seen any Catholics in the Oval Office since, albeit the men who are one and two heartbeats away from the President practice that faith.

Like me, Bill Maher is a non-believer, and he doesn’t stint on criticism of anyone who adheres to a faith. People of faith, Bill says, are deluded. More than that, he’s archly critical of that Rightwing demographic, who propagate the notion that the President is Muslim; and well he should be critical. It’s an assumption based on nothing more than Big Lie propaganda.

The Big Lie is a propaganda technique, introduced by Adolf Hitler and refined to an art by Josef Goebbels. It’s a merciless and pejorative public relations operation meant to eviscerate a targeted opponent. It’s basically a lie, so totally outlandish as to be unbelieveable; but repeated enough times, more and more people begin to accept it as the truth.

The obvious Big Lie of the 20th Century was the one which led to over 6 million people being gassed to death during World War II, when the German people were convinced that the core cause of all their problems was down to people of the Jewish faith, living amongst them. Now we have to suffer the Right, aided and abetted by Fox News, casting doubt on, not only our President’s citizenship, but also his religious credentials. It’s also demonisation of one religion in the land where the concept of “freedom of religion” was fostered. Linking the President with the Muslim faith links him with those people whom many Americans identify as having been behind the single biggest terrorist attack in history – and we’ve all been told how Obama pals around with terrorists.

On Friday night’s Real Time, Bill Maher managed to get into a contretemps of sort with his guest, Dr Cornel West, when Bill remarked casually that he didn’t think Obama was a Christian. He elaborated the point by reminding Dr West that the President’s mother was a secular humanist, and he thought the President was as well. Never mind the appearance at the Prayer Breakfast, where the President took advantage of the situation to speak openly about his faith. That was all for show; and furthermore, continued Bill, he didn’t believe Obama “struggled” with same-sex marriage either.

OK, I know what Bill thought or intended to mean. Maybe he was trying to convey to the super-cool ueber Left, of which he’d like us to believe he is a part, the Left which derides and looks down upon religious faith, that the President really is “one of us” – nudge, nudge, wink, wink. And, oh, he was pretending to be a centrist too, it seems, although Bill did admit that Obama was a pragmatist.

But in saying something off-the-cuff and totally unfounded on any fact, not only does he further establish the President as being part of “the other” syndrome, he also insinuates that the President is a liar.

On the one hand, he excoriates the fact that many on the Right refuse to accept the President’s word that he is not a Muslim, whilst on the other, Bill, himself, refuses to accept the President’s eloquent declaration of faith – something which, incidentally, our Constitution distinctly reiterates that he shouldn’t have to make at all. It shouldn’t make any difference to us what the President’s faith is or whether he follows any at all, as long as he governs well and responsibly; the President’s faith is his personal matter.

And whilst I do accept that, to some people, it matters a great deal that their leader believes in a higher being, I would imagine it would matter a lot more to these people, and indeed to all of us, if our leader were found to be openly lying and deceitful about that which he purports to believe, himself.

So, my question is this: Was Bill just trying, after months of subtle racist insinuations masked as comedy, to big the President’s cool and au courant credentials up to the shallow sheeple of the ueber Left, whom he’d formerly convinced of Obama’s “weakness,” or was he indulging in a little bit of the Big Lie, seeking to propagate “Obama atheism” as a counter-fear to the President’s supposed penchant for Islam? After all, the only thing worse than a Muslim, in some people’s eyes, is an atheist.

As Dr West succinctly observed, somebody’s wrong here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Following the Rightwing Fashion

Living in the UK, I often say I’m five hours ahead and one day behind everyone else. Also, working a long day and catching up with news Stateside leaves me less time than I want to write about things I’ve read or seen.
I’ve only just caught up with watching Bill Maher’s Real Time from February 4th, and something Bill said on that program has stuck rigidly in my craw.

John Fund was a panelist that week, and the only Republican in a trio which included Rep Anthony Weiner from New York.

I would normally applaud Bill including Republican points-of-view in the program. I think it’s valid to hear the other side, even if one doesn’t agree with what they say. Although I’m normally pessimistic by nature, I sometimes come across a Republican/conservative who makes a good point – good enough to make me think. I also like to think that there are still reasonable and moderate Republicans somewhere out there, with whom the Democrats can cooperate in a civil and constructive fashion.

Conversely, I think the wingnuts need to be exposed for the fearmongerers that they are and for the irresponsible deceit they propagate. Therefore, a two-way discussion is always helpful.

I know there was a time when Bill moaned about being unable to attract viable Republican guests on his program, often bragging that they were afraid to appear, knowing that he would ask the questions others were afraid to ask, and that was true; but lately – at least since John Bolton’s last appearance in early 2010 – Bill’s been wont to give his Republican guests too much of a free and easy ride.

That Friday night, February 4th, as he took his place in the moderator’s seat, the first thing Bill did was apologise to John Fund, for his being the only Republican/conservative guest that evening and having to pit himself against two obvious Democrats on the panel. He went onto explain that they’d been recently trying to have at least two Republican guests on the show, but that particular week, they’d been unable to find a second.

That remark kick-started something in my brain. The previous week, Bill actually had a panel of three Republican/conservative guests, and thus far, this season, the Rightwing viewpoint has far out-weighed that of the Left. For too long on that program, anytime a Republican/Rightwinger (synonymous) appears, they dominate the discussion, interrupt, talk over others and are just generally rude.

And as for Bill, he either lets their comments ride or totally ignores them by cracking a bad joke.

At the beginning of the second half of the 2010 season, Andrew Breitbart was on the panel, along with Amy Holmes. This was fresh in the aftermath of the Shirley Sherrod escapade, but throughout the panel discussion, not a mention was made of either Sherrod or race in anyway … until Carl Sagan’s widow appeared as the mid-panel guest.

She was very quick off the mark to confront Breitbart about this incident. Breitbart almost stood up in his chair and quickly berated Bill, by reminding him that one of the pre-conditions to Breitbart’s appearance on the show was that there would be no mention of either Sherrod or racial issues. Bill mumbled a hasty agreement and moved onto the next topic.

W … T … F?

What happened to those questions other hosts were afraid to ask? And why did he feel it mete to apologise to John Fund for not being able to secure another Republican guest so Fund could feel good about safety in numbers?
Bill regularly complains about Obama’s “neediness” in pandering to the Republicans, ignorantly refusing to realise that, now that the House has a GOP majority – thanks in part to Bill’s reverse cheerleading efforts in convincing the lowest common denominator of the ueber Left that Obama was no different than Bush, that he was weak and a pussy – Obama has to reach agreement with this half of the bicameral legislature in order to govern effectively. He has that responsiblity, and so does the Speaker. And polls have shown increasingly that the voting public want to see compromise and cooperation, rather than stalemate and stagnation. Otherwise, why don’t we all go to hell in a handcart?

And whilst Bill complains about Obama’s pandering to the Right, he, himself, looks increasingly cosy in the company of such staunch Republicans as John Fund, Michael Steele and Darrell Issa. And this week, after regularly ranting against corporate welfare and the power and wealth of corporate power in the US, he bows from the waist to the Queen Mother of Corporate Media Whores, Whoreanna Fuckington, herself, with a softball interview which allowed her, not only to continue her abject participation in the Big Lie propagation concerning the President, but also to cherry-pick her chosen Messiah for the GOP Presidential nomination, John Huntsman.

Bill calls himself a Progressive, but he’s in favour of the death penalty, is anti-union in sentiment, doesn’t like federal funding of the National Endowment for the Arts, is virulently pro-Israel and has a fear of Islam and Muslims that’s almost palpable, considering his interview with Anderson Cooper last spring. All those sentiments sound pretty closet Republican to me.

Or maybe, since Whoreanna’s sold herself to the highest bidder and isn’t afraid to be photographed either clinching Newt or reclining comfortably into the arms of Darrell Issa, turning Right is now the fashionable thing to do for some dedicated followers of political fashion like Bill Maher.

Some would call it flip-flopping; others, hypocrisy. I say it’s chickens coming home to roost.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

American Exceptionalism, American Nightmare

A couple of weeks ago, in the Overtime section of Real Time with Bill Maher, a viewer posed a question wondering how foreigners viewed "American Exceptionalism." When Bill read the question, Kim Campbell, ex-Canadian PM, smugly quipped, "Pretty dimly."

That remark niggled me more than just a little bit, not because it was uttered by a foreigner who chose to live in the United States, rather than her own country, but because her cute and clever reply and the ensuing discussion made obvious the fact that no one on the panel - and apparently not even Bill Maher - understood the real meaning of the phrase.

Rather than speaking of "American Exceptionalism" as de Tocqueville described the experience, they applied the purely Palinesque definition of the phrase - in other words, the "dumbass definition."

Well, why am I even surprised? I've spent the past thirty years, not only watching America and Americans devolve into a nation of dumbasses, fed on a supersized diet of instant gratification, with brains stultified to the point that critical thinking is an unfamiliar process being relegated to the evermore distant past, I've had to watch the UK and Europe bingefeast on an orgy of celebrity worship, reality television and trivial tat tarted up as bling.

In the ancient past - well, in the 1970s, that brilliant decade when college enrollment soared to dizzying heights, thanks to the social justice programs of Lyndon Johnson's era - when I was reading Alexis de Tocqueville in French for literary purposes and re-reading him in English as part of a history course, I was given to understand that "American Exceptionalism" derived from the fact that our country had a beginning unlike no other before it or since.

We were a nation founded on the ideals of freedom and liberty. That a fair few people in the country at the time of its founding were neither free nor equal was an oxymoron our fabled Founding Fathers pondered for a bit, but put aside in the contemporary necessity of founding a country. Black males, slave or free, were the equivalent of three-fifths of a white man. If you were a female, black or white, forget it. You didn't count. You answered to your nearest male relative or your master. If you were a black woman and misbehaved, you could be sold or beaten or both; if you were a white woman and misbehaved, you could be beaten or committed or both. And from the very beginning, it was obvious that the Founding Fathers, men who, in Europe, would have found themselves amongst the highest echelon of aristocracy, intended that only the elite should rule - white men over a certain age, owning a certain amount of land or collateral and educated to the highest level.

Not many people know that - well, certainly not many Tea Partiers. People like their revered Founding Fathers would be denigrated as elitists by the Tea Party today.

When de Tocqueville spoke about "American Exceptionalism" in the early part of the 19th Century, when suffrage had just been extended to all white men over the age of twenty-one and people were beginning to push their brand of civilisation Westward, he spoke about the coalescence of a nation of people from various ethnic backgrounds and religions, come together under a tent labelled "Liberty" and functioning as one.

More than just a Sputnik moment, for de Tocqueville, who'd come from a nation of homogenous people, all of whom spoke a language influenced by none other than Latin, all practicants of the same religion and viewing anyone of a different denomination as heretical, a nation whose social life was strictly bounded by class, convention and privaleges derived from a heriditary ruler, this was really e pluribus unum in the flesh.

Social mobility was such that a man really could be born in a log cabin, into a family of illiterates, and ascend to the highest office in the land, by will of the people and not by birthright.

This was real American Exceptionalism, that out of many, could come one that functioned as a nation based on Constitutional rule and not religion, geographic or demographic type. It made us different from the rest of the civilised world. Not better. Different.

Lately, however, at least during the past three years, American Exceptionalism has been misinterpreted to mean we, as a nation, are better than any other nation in the world. Our people are better. They're smarter, they're stronger, and because of this, we're owed, if not respect, then at least obeisance, as Americans, as the propagators of freedom and democracy, Yankee-style.

This deliberate misniterpretation of American Exceptionalism is a particular pet hate of mine, especially when it's used by people who should know better or by people who do know better, but use the incorrect interpretation to further their own agenda.

So rather than bask in the fact that she''d scored a petty point against Americans in their own country with a subtle put-down, Kim Campbell should have enlightened us by reminding everyone that American Exceptionalism means we differ from other countries in our origins, alone, and not by our superiority. And Bill Maher should have reminded people that each country in the world is exceptional in that it celebrates, good and bad, its own unique history. This is what the President addressed when he spoke of American Exceptionalism as opposed to British or French or Russian Exceptionalism, not any sense of superiority, but a sense of individual difference as nations based on their common history shared. It was a call to embrace and envelope immigrants into a nation's culture, making them and their heritage a part of a shared history as well.

For de Tocqueville, the single defining element of American Exceptionalism was the sense of being included, whereas anything out of the ordinary in the Old World was to be excluded and avoided - and shunted over to the New World, if at all possible.

And now, with the news that Arianna Huffington, that "doyenne of the Left" has sold The Huffington Post to AOL for a neat $315 million dollars and a position as CEO Queen Regnant of an internet empire, we have no less than Chris Matthews lauding her as the embodiment of the American Dream fulfilled, when an immigrant can decamp to our shores and in a lifetime reach the top of the heap.

But how many immigrants arrive in this country, travelling First Class (on Concorde at the time), buy a condo on New York's Upper West Side, join a gym frequented by Baba Wawa and ingratiate herself into a friendship with the same, then mosey on out to California, effect to be befriended by the Gettys, who introduced her to the ubiquitous billionaire oilman husband (who happened to be gay)?

Just your average immigrant tale. America's the land of the rich and the grifting and anyone blatantly shameless enough to promote their own brand.

Arianna's Old World decadence. She's the courtesan who passed herself from man to man along the way, each one successively wealthier and more powerful, each offering her a leg up for a leg over, leaving her other leg free to kick them to the curb when it suits her to inch up the ladder on her back. But at the end of the day, the ultimate media whore has become the ultimate corporate whore; and after all, "courtesan" is just a euphemism for a woman who sells herself to the highest bidder for her own advancement.

To laud such a person's achievements as the ultimate immigrant's dream is irresponsible.

Since August, she's been photographed in a bear hug with Newt Gingrich whilst on vacation in Amalfi and nestling into Darrell Issa's corporate shoulder during a weekend in Las Vegas. Does this sound like something a "doyenne of the Left" would do? Besides, she's now walking back the idea of The Huffington Post as the Progressives' Bible, instead saying she's interested more in a centrist approach to politics.

I guess the President made the centre sexy in his State of the Union address, except that he managed successfully to tug the centre more to the Left, where it belongs. Arianna's "centre" is the Overton Window facing Right, where she's always been more comfortable, in the land of titled Eurotrash slurping martinis at cocktail parties and watching the sun set over Lalaland, talking of stocks, bonds and corporate mergers and counting money doffed in offshore accounts and derived from tax cuts.

Pardon my cynicism and disbelief that anyone could believe someone who voted for George Bush twice could wake up on the morning after his re-election and declare herself firmly in the Progressive mold, but maybe Arianna's return to her neocon roots is a blessing in disguise for the Left who supported her.

Maybe with Madame, will go the pejorative idea of elitism that she represents in the eyes of those people whom the real Republican Party have conned into voting against their interests all the time. Maybe Arianna can return the Republican Party to the confines of the boardrooms instead of the barn rooms, and maybe then, the Democratic Party can remember its role as the defender of the working class and the working poor.

Then maybe we'll see some true, Progressive change in the implementation of social justice programs.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Who's the Pussy Now?

More than anyone else, in the ever-widening sphere of political punditry, Bill Maher has become a slave to the fashionable practice of Obama-bashing. Bill likes to remind everyone that he was actually the first media personality of the “Progressive” persuasion, who actually criticized the President – for constantly being shown on television. Never mind that this criticism came one week after Bill, himself, had levelled the same sort of criticism at the Rightwing media (for whining about the President continuously being featured on the evening news), Bill was the first from the President’s side of the fence to issue discontent. And not only that, he continued, Obama hadn’t parted the Red Sea, cured the common cold and risen from the dead, respectfully, all within the first hundred days of his presidency. In fact, according to Bill, all the President had manage to do was get a dog for his daughters.

And, thus, the floodgates of Leftwing discontent were opened and justified. Suddenly, it became open season for the Left to take a pop at the President. Criticism continued, unabated, and still continues today, to a point of absolute obsession. It’s not enough to parse and analyse every word that issues forth from the Presidential mouth, the celebrity pundits of the Left have to analyse what he should have said but didn’t, what he probably thought and should think, how he didn’t say enough or actually said too much, so much until the criticism became gratuitous – as if the punditry relished the effort of going over ever Presidential speech, action, thought or raised eyebrow with a fine-toothed comb, in order to report something negative. As if they were waiting for the President to fail. Willing it, almost.

Sooner or later, it isn’t long before such continuous criticism of everything said or done by one person eventually descends into argumentum ad hominem, and Bill Maher likes nothing better. At various and sundry times, the President, for Bill, became “President Poopypants,” “President Sanford and Son,” or simply, “Barry.” I don’t know if Bill realised it – or maybe he did – but “Barry” is the condescending nickname applied to the President by the scores of bitter, twisted and disaffected, old white men, who deplore the fact that there’s a black man in the White House who isn’t there just to serve coffee in a white coat. Bill has said on various occasions that the President doesn’t act “like a black man,” that he’s needy and craven to the Republicans in a pathetic attempt to court friendship, that he craves rather than compromises, that he’s just like the weak side of Bush when he should be more like the cocky, arrogant, ignorant Decider … that he’s weak.

The worst insult thrown at the President by Bill occurred in early December, when Bill referred to the President as a “Pussy” on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN program, on national television.

Last week, Bill played host to a plethora of conservative opinionators on his show, ranging from Michael Steele, the deposed chairman of the RNC, to Kim Campbell, the Canadian ex-premier who seemed to be trying to do an impersonation of Doris Roberts. Amongst the guests was a Real Time regular, Congressman Jack Kingston, from Georgia’s First Congressional District.

Kingston is a guest on the program at least once each cycle, as much as is another Republican stalwart, Darrell Issa. Bill welcomes conservative opinion on his program, and I welcome that too. It’s always good to hear an opposing viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s always interesting to watch intelligent debate, but each time a conservative guest appears, I get the uneasy feeling that Bill is more relaxed and at ease with certain ones than he is with people who support the Progressive ideals he purports to uphold.

I have to say, however, I’ve yet to meet a Progressive who’s in favour of the death penalty, who’s virulently anti-union and who’s against public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Yet whenever a Republican appears on the Real Time panel, they dominate the proceedings, and Bill gives them free range to vent, unchallenged. The last time Kingston had appeared on the program, was in the company of Darrell Issa, during the summer of the Tea Partied Town Hall debates. From the getgo, Kingston and Issa rounded on Bill, forcefully (but good-naturedly) presented and reinforced their opinions, and reduced Bill to cracking lame jokes rather inarticulately.

This time, Kingston was in seduction mode. Everything Bill threw at him in cynicism, Kingston tossed back with a charm which dripped with the odor of magnolia blossoms. The sophomoric idea of Republicans and Democrats sitting together at the State of the Union Address? Kingston loved it, he said. In fact, he sat with two Democrats. They went out for drinks afterwards and had a right old time of it.

Reception of the President’s speech was muted? Not at all, countered Kingston. The Republicans cheered as much as the Democrats. In fact, Kingston continued, he actually wanted to President to succeed. What American didn’t want their President to succeed? (Well, there’s one Rush Limbaugh, but maybe it’s debatable whether he’s actually an American).

The ubiquitous debate on global warming, inevitably descended into the equally ubiquitous debate on evolution, later on, with Kingston, ever smiling, informed the panel that he didn’t “come from a monkey”, he came “from God.” I waited for the requisite explosion to come from Bill’s vicinity, knowing that there was nothing which steamed him more than religion and all the science denial which came from faith. But Bill didn’t respond. Instead he tried to steer the conversation back to global warming, with the help of Prime Minister Doris Roberts, who kept screeching “climate change, climate change.” (There’s a lot of female screeching occuring this year on Real Time – even Rachel Maddow did her fair share.)

The crescendo rose and rose, with D L Hughley disjointedly appropriating the argument, informing Kingston that Kingston’s beliefs actually validated Hughley’s GED, until Bill asked D L if he believed in evolution. D L replied that he didn’t, and the conversation (and the program) abruptly shifted to New Rules, with Bill and Congressman Kingston enjoying a fraternal chuckle.

Nothing challenged, nothing argued, just Kingston dominating the show and snowing Bill with that honeyed accent and his slow, Southern charm. He even told Prime Minister Doris of his time as a student at the University of Michigan, where he’d slip across the border into Canada for some nights propping up a bar for a Molson beer, amongst other things. It’s one thing for Prime Minister Doris, or any woman, to fall for a cultivated Southern drawl on a man from one of the Red States. I’ve been known to be so charmed, myself, in my youth. It’s quite another to see Bill Maher charmed to the point of abject inarticulace.

And so we witnessed the man who called out the President for being America’s “Pussy” become the Leftwing political pundit who morphed into Jack Kingston’s bitch on national television.