Tag Archives: politics

The Racism directed at Barack Obama has a rational basis.

Exhibit A:

Most people are spinning this as some sort of horror story about the dark underbelly of America.  What you see in the video above, however, is what the Soviets would have called “Reactionaries”.

This is a problem that I have had to think about long and hard.  It has made my support for Obama at times wax and wane.  The “Change” trope, as tired and worn as it may be, is still what symbolizes this election, and the forces arrayed against each other fall into two camps: for change, and against change.  This may seem like a bit of a non-sequitur but the point does bear mentioning.  John McCain has been reluctantly coopted by the (mostly) conservative forces that are vehemently against the “changes” (substantial or not) that Obama proposes.

The reason McCain will lose this election is that he thinks he must also hop on the ‘change’ bandwagon in order to win.  It’s no surprise that of recent he has abandoned the theme of ‘change’ and has instead tried to focus everyone’s attention on the sorts of change that Obama seeks to bring about.

And these changes are not minor.  The racism and bigotry that has infected this election cycle is not purely on account of Obama’s blackness as such; instead it is about demographic and ideological shifts that are remaking the face of the United States.

Until this election, the common retort of green party members that the Democrat and Republican parties were really the same was actually for the most part true.  The mass of society was mostly white, vaguely well-off, and for the most part ideologically similar (in favor of American intervention, against taxation, against Communism, etc.).  Main differences appeared over fringe issues such as how to deal with certain problems, rather than what the problems actually are.

John McCain and Barack Obama, for all of their rhetoric, are split along an easy-to-grasp, but still quite profound ideological line.  McCain stands for the old meritocracy (that was so happily bought into by most white people, because it quite frankly to be egalitarian towards people of the same race).  Obama stands for the revolution (if one could ever occur here).  Obama wants to institute far-sweeping changes that are at heart changes to the way that America functions both in governance and society.

Again, people look to these two leaders and wonder what their stances on issues will be; but the real reason that values matter (and will be harped upon by McCain and Palin) is because that is exactly what Obama promises to bring to Washington: a new set of guidelines.  Obama’s is a campaign of change not on the level of policy but on ideological fundament.

Obama pitches himself as a great leveler (hence the Messianic imagery); the cries of “communist” and “terrorist” are not so far from home for this reason.  Osama Bin Laden stands for hardline Islamic ideology.  Islam is only confusing if you refuse to understand it.  But the religion itself exists on a very simple premise: people are equal.  You cannot depict Allah and Muhammad because that would put Muhammad higher up than any other devout worshipper.  Islam’s appeal in southeast Asia is for the very reason that it advocates radical equality.  The link between Obama and Osama is not one of semantic drift: it is grounded in an intuition (that is not so far from the truth) that Obama wants to bring radical equality to our nations’ highest office.

The news media and liberal blogs are keen to paint the racist demogoguery surrounding Palin rallies as simply one instance of human irrationality–artifacts, they say, of a troubled past.  Really, these bigoted outcries are grounded in a very real insecurity that most white,  middle-class Americans feel about Obama, because he is the anathema of a structured (read: vaguely, if merit-based, aristocratic) American society.

why we need another Mencken.

These past few days, if anything, have proved to me that no other time since the eve of the great depression have we needed some great wit to provide commentary on the national lunacy as it transpires.  the 20’s had Mencken himself, but the time calls for another kindred soul.

The Onion is a good enough source of political satire, but that is not what is called for, nor was it Mencken’s speciality in the first place.  What is called for is political commentary, and not the sort of drivel that you find on Slate or the National Review; these two publications are simply a scratch behind the ear of the ideologues that will decide the presidential election.

When I say “political commentary”, I mean something far different than the phrase as it is currently bandied about in the softcourts of political weeklies who through some extraordinary effort have stolen the political dialogue away from Americans themselves.  A better translation of the phrase: political antagonism.

And here is the great problem with American society (as Mencken might see it): we no longer have that exclusive club of fake-Aristos who are more of a microcosm of outside society than a rugged congregation of the Nation’s elite.  Before, someone could ruffle feathers simply by pointing out the poor blood, the idiotic works of culture, and above all the imbecilic sensibilities of those who were ostensibly supposed to rule the country from the seat of Washington and rule American society from New York City.  The fact that Europe provided a means of comparison (Aristocracy, that is, and the real kind) made the job of someone like Mencken quite easy.

Now, however, a prospective gadfly must search much more thoroughly for ways to aggravate the men on top (and no, it is not civil disobedience.  The concept is worn, and never worked anyway).  American Aristocrats, like their bretheren all throughout the world, are by no great measure more intellectually developed than their slobbering and inbred ancestors.  The problem is that they (I don’t deign use the collective ‘we’, even though I might qualify) are themselves a shock to the dispassionate observer: they are no more smart, no more perverse, indeed, no more interesting than, as Mencken put it, “the masses of their fellow-man.”  The shock consists in this: How do you poke fun at the cultural inanities, the somnambulic political wisdom, or even the irritatingly bland perversities of a class of people who are little else than a better-off version of those who are supposed to hate them?

Anyone who can answer this question in regular segments online will have at least one loyal reader.

on the “bailout”

The reactions to this week’s turmoil on Wall St. and the accompanying tumoult on Capital Hill have varied from “we must do this bailout…for the sake of the American Taxpayer”, to “We must not do this bailout, for the sake of the American taxpayer.”

The problem here is that there is a common perception that the $700 billion that the US government is going to pay will somehow go straight into the pockets of the evil bankers.  This isn’t true.  However, people have been right to react angrily to Paulson’s irrational demands of no oversight and regulation.  The fact that he has demanded $700 billion in one fell swoop, and has made it explicit he doesn’t even want court oversight of the buying up of this debt shows just how crazy the whole affair is (much less the people charged with fixing the damned thing).

In reality, this is all more or less a result of a decision made a long time ago to put the administration of our private property in the hands of people other than ourselves and other than simple savings and loan banks.  Putting investment banks into the mix, residential property became a speculative market.  That is, property became more valuable not because of demand but because of expected demand.  This results in the investment banks becoming the chief instigators of economic growth, because it is no longer growth in population or growth in manufacturing that causes land to increase in value, but instead the value that investment banks deem a piece of land to be worth.

Of course, as soon as the investment banks all stop trusting each other to value their assets accurately, property values plummet, and we find ourselves in a situation more or less like the one the US woke up to find itself in today.  And this is to say: The banks will need that $700 billion dollars, and will most likely get it.  The problem is, people will direct their rage at the banks, instead of at the Republicans, who bear the most responsibility of pushing the economy towards the unfettered market capitalism that caused this downfall in the first place.

Couldn’t have said it any better myself…

Jonathan Lethem has written a great piece for the NYT about The Dark Knight.  I was a little angry when I wrote this post when it was mimed on so many different websites.  My argument, in effect, was that the new film has conservative and fascistic tendencies; that it dignifies torture and rendition.

Lethem is far more clairvoyant (and articulate, to boot) to say that

Yet I suspect it is still the news. While both candidates run on the premise that Washington Is Broken, I’m disinclined to disagree, only to add: our good faith with ourselves is broken, too, a cost of silencing or at best mumbling the most crucial truths. Among these, pre-eminently, is the fact that torture evaporates our every rational claim to justice, and will likely be the signature national crime of our generation — a matter in which we are, by the very definition of democracy, complicit. (Perhaps some unconsciously hope that electing a man who was himself tortured will provide moral cover, just as Batman’s losing his parents to violent crime forever renews his revenger’s passport.)

No wonder we crave an entertainment like “The Dark Knight,” where every topic we’re unable to quit not-thinking about is whirled into a cognitively dissonant milkshake of rage, fear and, finally, absolving confusion.

It’s writing like this that inspires me; Lethem is right to title his piece “The Art of Darkness”: the reader is yanked through the cognitive ether into a more horrifying time spent in front of another flickering screen: Apocalypse Now.  As we wind up the river in the PT Boat, our vision takes on a dual valence.  We are surrounded by riverbanks in Vietnam and Cambodia, but our vision harks back to an earlier time, when those first Belgians ventured into the Dark Continent, and when the enlightened visage of man lays shorn and the teeming, decaying patch of irrationality is finally laid bare for our own self-examination and self-reflection.

Lethem is right to see confusion as the dominant theme in The Dark Knight.  In our infatuation with this movie, we see ourselves as Conrad saw that lonesome French Man o’ War in the Congo, more ghost-ship than real, incessently shelling the surrounding muck and jungle, if only to take comfort that it was doing something–anything–to stem the infernal growth before it.  We are now doing the shelling, not those unfortunate French: we are plugging away at the looming growth of economic failure, moral decrepitude, and social decadence.  We can’t see the forest for the trees, and here we will continue to tread water, fullisade after fullisade, waiting for the next doleful author to capture our decay at his own languid pace.

What I’m reading today

The Arts & Letters Daily (featured on my blog already) is a good way to find new knowledge.  Today I’m pushing my way through Martin Amis’ piece for the WSJ titled “Terrorism’s New Structure“.

Obama’s Demographic Problem

I promised that I would write about this, but unfortunately I haven’t had the time to do the proper research on it.  Maybe just writing my thoughts down will prompt someone to do some due diligence on the matter.  Anyway, the issue is this: Obama (and by extension the Democratic party) has been selling itself as ‘the party of the common man’.  In essence, Obama and the Democrats are banking on the American voter punishing the Republicans for the current state of the economy.  The Democrats have found their example cases to feature in commercials: “people just like you” who have lost their homes, lost their jobs, their way of life, etc.  These ads are meant to cause empathy between the average voter and the Democratic party.

The problem: who is going to empathize? Continue reading

Fancy that! The Times publishes a conservative editorial!

Ah, the hypocrisies of modern-day liberalism.  I’m not one to pick bones, because as a liberal myself, I’ve got little else than my proboscis (as is the case with most of my brethren) to look down, not anything of real substance.  However, today the New York Times ran this opinion piece by the reliably-conservative and ever-reactionary Nicholas Kristol.  It’s main rub?  Well, apparently we, the United States, owe Georgia, big time.  At least, that’s the conclusion of an argument that takes as its premises: Continue reading