Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"Oh, THAT Red State!"

While we continue to parse the red/blue state divide like generals in the civil war, I wonder if a pair of articles in the New York Times the other day doesn't sum it up nicely.

On the front of one section there were two articles. One dealt with the pharmacological options now available, and readily turned to, by people who have a hard time "dealing" during the holidays. It went on at some length about the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs as palliatives for what is, apparently, a "very difficult time of the year." Now, don't get me wrong. I think these drugs have made a world of difference in the lives of many people. But taking them like ribbon candy during the holidays just seems a bit, well, over the top - and yes, I'll say it, a bit like a big city, urban sort of thing.

But if that article alone didn't make 'em shake their heads out in Muscogee, the next one surely did. It dealt with the latest procedure in plastic surgery which is making a lot of heads turn...down; vaginal rejuvenation. Yes. Women are going in and spending a great deal of money to have their most private bits nipped and tucked and countoured and shaped. At the risk of being called crude, I must admit, I've always thought that the exterior femaie reproductive organs are kind of a mess, anyway. But that's just me.

So when the Democratic Party gets dinged for being the party of the New York Times reading, latte-drinking weinies, this is what they're talking about....

Monday, November 29, 2004

"Tomorrow Morning"

What if tomorrow morning you awoke and the entire right wing agenda was a fait accompli? What if abortion were illegal? If gun control was forever banished? If gay rights had been eliminated? If school prayer was back with us? If a constitutional amendment against flag burning was the law of the land. And if the theory of evolution had once and for all been stripped from school curriculums?

We can argue whether the Right would be happy with this turn of events or not, as it is clear that most of these issues are used mostly as divisive social tools to help keep them in power. Without abortion or guns or flaming flags, what could they scream about?

But the real question I have is this; if all of these issues went "their way," how exactly would that help our nation? Would it make us more prosperous, more ethical, more content, more educated, more competitive, more charitible? Would we, as human beings, be happier?

No. None of these issues really get to the heart of what makes life good and rewarding for most of us. They are slivers of pieces of issues which have been politicized and metaticized, which have grown to represent something they are not; a solution for what people think is "wrong with America."

First off, America does have a lot wrong with it. We are too greedy, too materialistic, too selfish, and (dare I say it!) too "productive!" But we didn't get there by taking the "liberal" exit off the highway. The real ills of this nation are as deeply seeded in the red states as they are the blue. And while many people find hope in religion as a sort of "cure all" for the ennui, many, like myself, see it causing as many problems as it purports to solve.

No, I think we are a languishing society which has built a false-front of superiority. We have so long believed that the US is "better" that we can't figure out why WE don't feel better. If this is the "greatest country in the world," why don't I feel envigorated by that? Why do I feel depressed? Because we have a paucity of real, live "on the street" culture, the kind that grows when people meet and deal with other people face-to-face. We lack communities which nourish community and which, in turn, nourish our souls.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

"When Did Citizens Become Consumers?"

Somewhere along the line, you and I ceased being citizens of these United States. Really. It's true. Check your passport; I believe the wording was changed to say "Consumer of the United States of America, Inc." And this change is never more evident than during the grand gluttonous season called, generically, "the holidays." It is at this time of year that we are force-fed a steady diet of pseudo-news relating to retail sales. Beginning even before Thanksgiving, breathless newscasters query shoppers and storeowners, anxious to see if this season will be as "good" as last years. So we get quotes that essentially come down to this; "I think I'll buy/won't buy more crap this year than I did last year, 'cause I got me a job/lost me a job I can/can't afford more crap." My question is this; why should I care how well stores do? Isn't that the sort of news that fits better into obscure trade magazines with names like RetailReport or StoreNewz? Fill the Wall Street Journal with this stuff if you will or the Crain newspapers/press-release mill, but let's stop grading each November and December by how many widgits are sold...and let's stop thinking of ourselves are consumers, with the attendant implication that we are defined simply by our "purchasing power."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"The Great God Place"

In his excellent 1999 book, "The Great Good Place," author Roy Oldenburg posits the following; our communities and our lives have changed (for the worse) as we have lost access to what he calls "third places," that is, places that are neither home nor work... places like local restaurants and taverns, where people would once gather after work to help "blow off some steam." They weren't fancy places...just local joints. And people weren't going there to "get hammered!" but just to ease the transition from the work world to the home world.

I bring this up, because it fits neatly into a theory I have. Let's call it "Name Tag Nation."

Since the hyper-suburbanization of the United States began, it has gradually disconnected people from each other. Few people actually connect in any realm outside of the home. While they spend many hours shopping in chain stores and eating in chain restaurants, they almost never get to know the people who wait on them. Instead, they participate in a scripted "play" of sorts. "Do you have our frequent buyer card?" "I'm Britney and I'll be your server." We all know the questions, and we've all practiced our lines as well. And the name tags really help. They exist just as vague proof that the person across the counter from you actually is a human being who has a family and a life outside of Barnes & Noble.

Where is this going? It's going to church. I feel that the ascendency of the "self righteous right" and their dependence on the Bible as the font of all wisdom is, in part, due to this disconnect between people and their communities. Those rather soft and comfortable bonds that used to link us to our towns and neighborhoods are gone - but not the yearning for connectedness. And that's where Smiling Preacher Joe walks in. Today's evangelicals have found, in Jesus, their own "great god place," where they share similar backgrounds, thoughts, memories, hopes and fears. Church has become, for them, a refuge from the emptiness of the 'burbs. Don't get me wrong, religion has always filled this need. It gives succor to those who are in pain, whether that be physical or spiritual. But I think today's participants are feeling a new kind of pain, and are, at the same time, being manipulated by an incredibly sophisticated research and marketing effort that they are neither aware of, or have any ability to fight against. The GOP "outreach" into the churches of Amerca was no different, in intent or practice, than Nike rolling out a new product in a new market. The sad difference is this; we know that corporations are, by their very nature, venal, money-making operations. So when someone tries to get you to buy their latest "must have" product, we are free to access their motives and make our own choice.

The same does not go for decisions that are based on religious beliefs. If your Church tells you abortion is bad or gays are hateful or that the "ownship society" is good - you have little choice but to accept that teaching "on faith." Few people, who are tied closely to Church (always used generically, by the way) teachings will risk the wrath of the group if they feel differently.

Monday, November 22, 2004

"I Went To A Garden Party" (with apologies to Ricky Nelson)

..Everyone was there.
A liberal guy from academia,
a flower child with long hair.
But it's all right now, I've learned my lesson well.
The liberal's blather on too long, and try to please themselves."

Okay. A little brutal on my friends. But after having spent time at a MoveOn love-in this past weekend I came away more depressed than ever. What was billed as a "next steps" (hate that idiotic, PowerPoint-ese phrase in and of itself) kind of meeting, the 50 or souls at this event took way too much time to go over already well-tilled soil, without adding any more fertilizer. And I fear the winter wheat will suffer because of it. Now, mind you, this was only one of something like 1400 similar meetings happening nationwide. That alone should give me hope. It means that people got off their duffs on a Sunday night, gave up "Desperate Housewives" (or Divo'd it) and decided to go meet with some fellow travellors. That, ladies and germs, is DEMOCRACY IN ACTION.

What bothered me was the blather. Too much talk about pet peeves, too little discussion of a winning strategy. Like I said, perhaps I'm too harsh. I'm not a joiner. So any sort of meeting where fat black markers touch large sheets of paper is usually off-limits for me. Throughout the meeting I kept thinking; would this be more organized and focused is the Republicans were running it? Maybe so....

So, note to my fellow Liberals, Progressives and others who are on the side of the angels; forget about the war, women's rights, the environment, healthcare and Diebold voting machine hacking and remember the words of the famous political philospher Al Davis; JUST WIN, BABY!