Friday, September 07, 2012


I crank out post after post every day and I think I know what I'm talking about, but I watch these conventions and I feel I'm the wrong species -- I have the wrong reaction to everything. I thought the president gave a fine speech last night -- maybe not as clever as Bill Clinton's (but also not as wearyingly long), and obviously not as endearing as his wife's (but they were trying to do two different things anyway). I thought he made a strong case for a left (or at least left-centrist) governing philosophy and for the awfulness of the other guys' philosophy. I saw excerpts beforehand that had me worrying that it would be a downer like his inaugural address, but I thought it turned out to be a hopeful, at times rousing speech.

But what the hell do I know? At the Republican convention I thought Chris Christie solidly connected (at least with the base and with lout-loving swing voters), only to wake up and find out he'd laid an egg. I thought Ann Romney's speech was lousy and generic -- well, conventional wisdom has mostly come around on that one, but at first it was praised as a successful (oh, crap, I can't even bear to type this word again) "humanizing" effort.

As for the president last night:
The speech came, by and large, as a disappointment to political journalists and other campaign junkies. We have heard almost all of it before. The speech was probably aimed at undecided voters, who spend almost no time following politics. They received the paint-by-numbers outline of the election choice.
And that was from Jonathan Chait, who sure ain't voting for Romney.

But what's wrong with laying out the basic Democratic philosophy of governance for undecided, low-info voters? It needs doing. It needs doing every day, and Obama hasn't done enough of it. It's a necessary response to the 24/7 distortion of the notion of affirmative government, the portrayal of any intervention apart from war, even the ones we know and like and rely on, as parasitical and life-threatening to the Republic. You have to keep doing this, you have to keep explaining why non-military government programs exist at all, for the same reason you have to do pest control in the New York subways -- because the rats keep coming, and their behavior never changes.

And you have to do it even though you can never gain the advantage, because Republicans will always distort what you said, even what you just said. Here's Peggy Noonan writing about the convention:
There was the relentless emphasis on Government as Community, as the thing that gives us spirit and makes us whole. But government isn't what you love if you're American, America is what you love. Government is what you have, need and hire. Its most essential duties -- especially when it is bankrupt -- involve defending rights and safety, not imposing views and values. We already have values.
Here's David Brooks:
At its base, this is a party with a protective agenda, not a change agenda -- dedicated to defending government in all its forms.
Do you think government is "the thing that gives us spirit and makes us whole"? Is it "what you love"? Does it impose your views and values? Do you really believe in "defending government in all its forms"? Does Barack Obama?

That's the caricature -- the unkillable Republican caricature, relentlessly pounded into our heads every hour of the day by hundreds of right-wing yammerers. Now here's what President Obama actually said about that:
We insist on personal responsibility and we celebrate individual initiative. We're not entitled to success. We have to earn it. We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk-takers who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system -- the greatest engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship -- a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.
The right-wing response to this is "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU." The right-wing response is the One-Drop Theory of government: if you believe government is the solution to any problem, you believe government is the solution to every problem; if you don't hate government, you're madly in love with it; if it's not "FREEDOM!!1!1," it's socialism, indistinguishable from China under Mao or Cuba under Castro.

If paint-by-numbers gets an alternate view across to a few people who still haven't been worn down by this decades-long propaganda assault, then paint, Barack, paint.


Victor said...

Pardon me if this is a tad OT - but I'm exhausted from watching the convention, and waking-up early - a habit I still have, despite not having a meaningful job to wake-up for in almost 4 years.

But what we're looking at in this country, is the rise of Manicheanism - if that's a real term.

It's the result of the takeover of the Repubican Party by the Manichean Dominionist Evangelical Christians, and their for-or-a'gin, Jesus or Satan, philosphy that has permeated the parties entire philosophy.

And it's a lazy philosophy of showy religiosity, and it's core is destruction for the sake of the destruction of anything that they don't agree with.

Building something is hard. Destroying it is easier - and more fun for the destroyers.

It's often tough to guage progress, but these Nihilists can always easily find something to claim in their favor to use as a notch in their belts.

And it's tough to write about progress in difficult times.

It far easier to sit on the sidelines and bitch and whine and opine how the janitor's not cleaning-up the floor of the hall where you had your kegger, and everyone puked and shat all over them, fast enough.

Noonan, Brooks, and yes, even Rush, are wordsmiths - lazy ones. They don't need paint an original work, they take the easy path: fill-in the numbers with the pre-ordained paint, and then claim your own originality and insight.

I don't bother with reading them anymore.
They are vacuuous gas-bags filled with the bodies of their supposed enemies - their fellow Americans - and the glee they take in their destruction.

And, like that great philosopher of American Conservatism said about the soldiers coming back in body-bags from her son's ill-thought out, and tragically and ineptly managed wars and occupations, "Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

I prefer to look forward.
Not to bitch about the present, while trying to take the country back to a whiter past - one that only existed through the brutal denial of other people's civil and human rights.

And if nothing else is proof of the value of (our) governement, is how they think and say that God gives people civil and human rights. Something that all of human history, prior to the United States of America, has proven is NOT true - otherwise, 200+ years ago, we'd have merely been a new democracy in a long, long list of others.

God may have created humans. But it took government to give those human's rights.

Too bad these Manichean people can't reconcile their belief in their God, with the religious freedom, and their freedom of speech, as human rights, created, and maintained, not by God, but by "man," collectively, in what is called government.
We'd be much better off if they would at least acknowledge THAT, even if they don't believe in it as much as they do their God.

Sorry for the semi-or-in-coherent comment this morning. I just needed to get that off my chest.

Philo Vaihinger said...


I couldn't agree more.

It absolutely needs saying, again and again, for exactly the reasons you give - not least among them the willing collaboration of so much of the media in right wing distortion and lies.

But also because we all need to be reminded by the Democrats themselves that they still want to defend the necessity of positive government and "the promise of American life" from stupidity and greed.

DocP said...


Thank you so much for this post. One of my greatest disappointments with Obama is that he has not used his oratorical gifts to advance an affirmative view of government. You're right that low-information voters need this message, and sadly, so do high information voters as well. We have been assaulted for so long by the right wing propaganda that all government is bad, that even people like some of my friends who owe their wealth and success to great government programs (great public schools, government subsidized universities, contracting opportunities with public institutions, etc.) actually have been brainwashed into thinking that they have accomplished everything as a result only of their individual efforts.

Without a vision for positive government, the wholesale selling of public property and institutions to profit seeking entities who don't give a damn about what they have purchased other than the dollars generated will continue unabated.

All voters must be reeducated that our parents and grandparents supported through their taxes the building of public institutions and programs because they valued the social contract and realized that their well-being was interdependent with the well-being of all citizens. The right wing has made this kind of thinking quaint.

We need leaders like Obama, who have the bully pulpit, to advance this philosophy once again. It may be old hat to the likes of Johnathan Chait, but it can be an excitingly novel idea to many voters. It actually is a "conservative" vision, in that it conserves what was best about this country.

Susanna said...

Think back to 2009 and remember how upset many of the people who voted for Obama were to discover he was a moderate, not a radical. Remember all the complaining about how he wasn't angry enough, wasn't fired up enough, wasn't pushing his agenda enough? I'm willing to bet the people who made those complaints back then are the same ones who didn't like his speech.

And then there are those of us who knew all along that Obama is prudent, thoughtful, and moderate. We are unsurprised when he's shown not to be a reactionary rabble-rouser.

Batocchio said...

It might be wise to avoid the pundits and check out any reliable polls. The pundits are jaded and often idiotic (with notable exceptions) and think they speak for America when they don't.

Also, "One Drop Theory of government" is a keeper.