Monday, June 28, 2004

A good critical review of F911

Jason Steck and I rarely agree on anything, but his review of Fahrenheit 911 is very well written and argued. Obviously I disagree with a couple of points, but I largely agree with his description of Moore's rather forced argumentative style, and Moore's tendency to truncate his arguments (how much that's possible in filmmaking aside, since Moore chooses his arguments as well as his genre). Maybe Moore just thinks he deploys enthymemes effectively, but he would do well to ask fewer rhetorical questions and lay out his case point by point. It's not hard to do when dealing with the Bush administration.

I strongly disagree with the assertion (Jason attributes it to a student) that Moore exploited people's suffering. For me, sustained viewing of that suffering is a vital part of the message, perhaps a conduit to ethical understanding, and also is fair game in a political argument (eg, sustained and agenda-driven representations of those who suffered under Saddam--I'd have no objection to that). More about that in the second item below.

But Moore is often sloppy, and Jason capitalizes on that with cutting precision. And once again, I'm right: This movie has created a higher level of dialogue on every side.

Moore, F911 and the question of exploitation

Some have argued that Moore exploits Lila Lipscombe's tragedy of first encouraging her children to join the military, then losing her son, then questioning WHY her son and others were deployed to Iraq.

Herein lies a real epistemic and ethical paradox. One looks at those scenes and one thinks "she's being exploited" or "her pain is being exploited," which is functionally the same. The problem is that any "objective" meaning of exploitation only makes sense within certain systems perspectives, and "subjective" experiences of oppression are, um, subject-dependent.

There are, I would think, at least two ways to determine whether someone is being exploited:

1. You can construct definition and criteria of exploitation that makes sense within your system of social explanation: Marxism and certain forms of Feminism do this. You then also need a working definition of "false consciousness" in order to account for those who do not "feel" exploited, but nevertheless are from the perspective of your system. Having constructed the definition/criteria, you can then apply it to the situation, and determine whether someone is being exploited.

2. You can rely on persons themselves to express their exploitation. That is, you can take a pre-ontological ethical approach (via Levinas perhaps) of saying: If the other person says she is exploited, then I must assume she is, and the meaning of that is something I need to draw from our communication.

Obviously both approaches are problematic. You might apply some other, older tests too, such as Kant's question of whether one is being treated as a means or an end. But that seems to go back to the question of how that person sees herself, and/or how one can functionally place her in a systemic examination of how she is being treated.

Was Lila Lipscombe's tragedy exploited to make a political point? Or was it utilized, with her blessing, to make a political point? Who owns her tragedy and her pain? Every report I have read shows her to be enthusiastically embracing the film and her role in it, and she even seems willing to "exploit" her own exposure to participate in more political activism. A couple of bloggers out there have insisted she's being exploited, but their statements don't even come close to filtering through the kind of criterial tests I laid out above.

Of course, one might argue that she is, herself, exploiting her own suffering. That is a different argument, to which one might respond that she has the right to do so just as we would, and that we don't enjoy the right to judge her until we experience what she has experienced. I don't know how to resolve that question.

Is Moore exploiting others in the film? Or is he simply exploiting the pain created by the tragic geopolitical and class relations that surround and contextualize us? Is he exploiting the suffering Iraqis whose images he deploys in the film? Again, I am not sure how one could make such a judgment absent either a theory of exploitation, or a localized knowledge of the subjects themselves.

So while one should be concerned about exploitation, about the use of others' pain to further one's political agenda, carrying that concern over into a critical judgment against Moore's rhetorical choices also risks silencing or disregarding the choices, feelings, and identities of those moral agents that you're concerned for in the first place. For the record, I am not comfortable condemning Moore for it, but I am also not entirely comfortable with the fact that he does it so much in F911.

It seems to me that the ultimate exploitation here is captured by Moore's summation at the end of the film. If Iraq did not pose an immediate threat to the United States, and if whatever moral principles justifying the invasion to depose an evil dictator are applied inconsistently and without a legitimate accompanying national conversation among those affected by the decision to invade, in short, if the U.S. deployed its soldiers when not absolutely necessary, then our soldiers, and innocent Iraqis, and all of us, have been exploited. Perhaps Moore is exploiting that too. You can direct your critical judgment against him for that. I prefer to direct mine elsewhere.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Unlucky at Any Speed: Nader is Toast...and Who Is David Cobb?
(latest in my electoral struggle)

Nader/Camejo's failure to gain Green Party endorsement at the GP convention this weekend has sapped a great deal of my remaining enthusiasm for that ticket. Nader's choice of Peter Camejo, a former Marxist and one of the most visible leftist activists in politics today (after a respectable performance campaigning against Governor Kindergarten Cop in California) came too little too late, and instead, the faithful, intelligent, party-liner David Cobb will be the Greens' candidate for President. Cobb will likely name Pat LaMarche as his running mate. The biggest loser here may be Camejo, who could have been the Greens' presidential candidate, but now will have to trapse around ten or so states as the VP candidate of the Reform Party!

The GP convention was partially a referendum on whether and how to support John Kerry, partly a final message from the Greens to Nader, and partly an acknowledgment that the heart of the current Green Party is in its plethora of new members who, like David Cobb, only recently abandoned the two-party system. If it is not radical enough, then Nader's candidacy (at least the way he has played it) is even less so.

Reaction has been mixed. Joaquin Bustelo, writing for "Frontlines: The newspaper of the Left" calls Cobb a "shamefaced Kerry supporter" and writes with disdain that Cobb has:
no claimed connection to social or protest movements. He says he discovered the evils of the two-party system in 1996 [...] Over the past few months Cobb ran a stealth campaign in which he held virtually no public meetings or rallies -- not that he could draw any sort of crowd had he tried.
Instead, he focused on lining up green apparatchiks and delegates by pissing in their ear about how Nader was taking money from racists, on the one hand, and would refuse to share his list of contributors with the greens, on the other. [...]
Even taking this into account, however, the success of Cobb's campaign for the nomination must be chalked up largely to Nader. After having put the party on the political map and won for it ballot lines all over the country, in 2004 Nader has consistently refused to accept responsibility for the party's course nor even tried to influence it in a positive direction.

I am having a hard time understanding how Bustelo can be so hard on such an obvious GP success story (although I have deleted some of Bustelo's less relevant and more personal attacks; the full text is here, and you may notice that Bustelo seems more concerned about Cobb's hairline than his platform, which is never mentioned).

On the other side, this AP story shows a lot of reason behind the pro-Cobb sentiment:
...Cobb has touted himself as a homegrown Green who would work to build the party from the ground up, while Nader has maintained he is not a member of the party and does not plan to join.
Cobb went out of his way to praise Nader in accepting the nomination, but said later the vote was a sign the Green Party "has gotten out from under the shadow of a man who has probably cast a larger shadow than any other living American."

One LBO-talk member assured that listserve: "I gave David Cobb a crash course on Marx, Joan Robinson and Nick Kaldor and the intertranslatability of economic terminology a la Quine. I was with him in CA on 9/11. He *knows* the problem is capitalism." Of course, there are ways that potential Cobb voters can and should verify this. And one can certainly "know the problem is capitalism" and still be mistaken about whether one should support the Democrats.

The key here is that Cobb epitomizes, and actually delivered on, the ideals that Nader promised. We've all heard the stories that
...circulate about Nader's aloofness, his refusal to share his mailing lists with the Greens, his ignoring suggestions from staff. For a man who has dedicated his life to the nitty-gritty of consumer safety, Nader has stirred up a lot of strong passions.
"Nader is an icon in the movement but he does not share my vision of grass-roots democracy," says Anita Rios, who co-chairs the party's diversity committee. "He doesn't understand about working with people, grabbing people by the hand one by one," she says, getting agitated. "We don't need some rich white guy with a Harvard education leading us."

Cobb, like Nader, is a lawyer, and isn't presumed to be doing too badly for himself. The chief difference between Nader and Cobb seems to be more interpersonal than ideological, at least so far as the GP rank-and-file are concerned. Since I have always been reluctant to condemn Nader for being a "cold person" (something far too many touchy feely liberals will prioritize), this difference doesn't automatically win me over to Cobb. But in some ways, his unassuming honesty is refreshing.

Although he "knows the problem is capitalism," Cobb believes Bush is at least a problem, if not the problem: "My primary goal," he says, "is to grow and build the Green Party, but my secondary goal is to have George Bush out of the White House." Cobb justifies his two-fold strategy (increase Green exposure, get rid of George Bush) in a relatively simple way: "John Kerry," he says, "is a corporatist militarist, but George Bush is a genuine threat to the planet."

It's been difficult for me to admit what many others seem to have seen better than me. Nader has made mistakes that will cost him whatever he was trying to get--from all of us. Still, I wish more of Nader's critics would actually read his positions, if only to see how much they differ from-- and how good they look in comparison to-- what Nader manages to get out in 30-second soundbites. Hearing him speak is kind of the best of both worlds; with more time, he can reach deeper into the causes of things, and his platform is, realistically, the best solution among all the allegedly unattainable ones. But I fear that this time around (likely his last time around), he comes off as a kind of buffoon, a crazy spoiler, possibly even a liability for his own causes--many of which I enthusiastically share.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Fahrenheit 911

I am admittedly partisan and irritated about the attacks on Michael Moore, but that supercharged malignment is nothing new. For as long as we've had films, we've had blatantly political filmmakers, and political editorializing, whether in form or effect, has always existed in art. All the while, one could hear shrill voices around the artists and their artifacts, squawking that the artists and the artifacts ought to be neutral, fair and balanced, respectful of their leaders and patrons. Unlike Berthold Brecht, Moore won't be questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and while I hope he has hired some security, it's unlikely that he'll be lynched or even tarred and feathered. True, Glenn Beck's radio show spent the better part of three hours on Friday engaged in a "Find Something Fatter than Michael Moore" contest, and Bill O'Reilly compared Moore to Joseph Goebbels, both of which seem pretty low; still, it could be a whole lot worse (and will perhaps be considerably worse, in this and other ways, if George W. Bush manages to etch out a second term).

Perhaps it's easier for me to blow off the more juvenile criticism directed at Moore because Fahrenheit 911 opened to sold-out theaters all over the country, including my own home of Laramie, Wyoming. I felt exhilarated when I heard our showing had sold out, because the dialogue inspired by the film, evident before, during (grr) and after the film is precisely the kind of thing Laramie needs. In contrast to what you've probably heard about the film, it raises, doesn't lower, the intellectual and moral levels of political discourse in America. Viewed mainly by those of the same general political orientation as its director, but by a substantial amount of other viewers curious to see "the other side," Fahrenheit 911 is the sensible answer to another controversial film, The Passion of the Christ. Call this "The Passion of the Poor and Working People Economically Conscripted to Fight in a Bullshit Corporate War." It may not be Moore's best, but it works, is working. People are talking politics (many for the first time), Bush is in trouble, and I no longer feel like I live in a pliable, demoralized funny farm.

The film is, of course, competently entertaining. Once could, I suppose, enjoy it without thinking too much about politics. My very political friend Rob Fergus wrote that "the funniest parts of the movie were more cute than anything, less ironic or even sarcastic than earlier films, though brutally anti-Bush." Rob mentions the Bonanza send-up, which produced a very primal belly laugh from the whole audience, and a feeling of high school-style satire. I think this is an important point about what separates Moore from other pundits. He has an undeniable silliness that mitigates his militancy, and is a rhythmically methodical humorist.

Moore is at his best when, passive-aggressively, he confronts or is confronted by those in power--members of congress, security guards, Bush himself. In Fahrenheit 911, he spends the obligatory time trying to petition congressperson to send their own children to Iraq, fending off Secret Service agents who inexplicably guard the Saudi Embassy in Washington, following two Marine recruiters to the shopping mall. I was struck by the odd, localized places in Moore's films where genuine humor emerges (perhaps a humor more heartfelt and important than the Bonanza or Peter Gunn sendups), and nothing epitomizes that better than the facial expression of the endless supply of politicians and bureaucrats--Moore doesn't so much lampoon them as allow them to lampoon themselves. Of course, Moore's ability to draw attention to facial expressions also allows him to effectively pull off his "seven minutes" argument, the disturbing scene where George Bush displays total befuddlement, or perhaps something else, when informed that the nation is under attack.

But Fahrenheit 911 shows a newer Moore. We see more seemingly mundane scenes of everyday life than in his previous films, and long, uncomfortable takes of family members (both Iraqi and American) weeping and cursing their oppressors, feeling cheated that their sons and other loved ones were killed for reasons that had nothing to do with them. This is where Moore has never been better. Scenes of dead, mutilated children, including one being placed in a truck full of bodies, will lead viewers through politics into intimate morality--a morality which asks Alyosha's question in the Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov: Would you torture and kill one small child to save the world (albeit from an evil but rather incompetent dictator). Even a reviewer at foxnews.com was moved by story of Flint, Michigan mother Lila Lipscombe, who
sends her kids into the Army for the opportunities it can provide — just like the commercials say — and lives to regret it. Lipscombe's story is so powerful, and so completely middle-American, that I think it will take Moore's critics by surprise. She will certainly move to tears everyone who encounters her.

As another reviewer writes, "Moore minimizes his presence and places his arguments center stage" and I believe that's an accurate description of a notable difference between Fahrenheit 911 and its predecessors. So all things considered, this film made me laugh, cry, and think, which at least makes it better than A Beautiful Mind, which only really made me cry--a lot.

What do we say about interpretable facts, clear instances of spin, selective histories? My only question is why we are ourselves so selective, and spin so much, when doing so. There isn't much more to it than that, really. On every message board I'm on, there is at least one Moore-hater who is livid, spitting bile all over Moore, for daring to market propaganda as documentary. There are pointless discussions about the definition of a documentary. Again (say it with me): these condemnations and hair-splittings are selective, arbitrary, their adherents driven by their own transparent political biases. It's one thing to have a discussion about the extent of the Saudi ruling class's influence on Bush (given the substantial financial connections that undeniably exist), or the problematic Saudi response to the September 11 attacks. It's unreasonable, however, to hold Moore up to standards of intent and precision that the Moore-haters would never force upon the Bush administration. At least Moore's facts are, verifiable and falsifiable, available for public scrutiny, unlike the web of half-truth and secrecy he so effectively attacks. By all means, let's bring everything out into the open and sort the facts out, eh? Eh?

What about Moore's treatment of the Saudis? Xenophobic? Perhaps. I will say, insofar as this kind of populism sometimes relies a foreign or outside enemy, Moore deploys this effectively albeit, perhaps, unthinkingly. But his emphasis is on the relationship between the Saudi ruling class and a section of big U.S. money, connected by each sides' oil interests. Both countries' rulers are content to make Iraqis the whipping boys and girls in the dialectic of hegemony and resistance. And if the Saudis are overplayed as sinister, it's only in the larger context of a cynicism each of these ruling classes have helped to create, with Bin Ladins allowed to fly out of the country when nobody else could fly, and references to Saudi Arabia getting deleted from government reports on the September 11 attacks. It would take a certain sophistication in political theory and ethics possessed by neither Moore nor, apparently, Ralph Nader, to avoid seeming a little nationalistic when talking about the sinister entangelements of our leaders.

It doesn't surprise me that I am more excited about the political space this film has opened up than the artistic excellence of the film itself. There is a whole lot to enjoy about the movie if you're a political junkie of any orientation, and if even half of Moore's allegations about Bush are true, this only confirms that Bush is the worst president of our generation. I strongly suspect that many more than half are true. But although nobody should ever say the truth is unimportant, the ability to speak it is at least as important, and that's what makes Moore's style and success especially significant.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

If I Had A Hammer

Just got off the phone with the immortal Pete Seeger. One of our high school debate institute co-directors worked for an organization affiliated with Mr. Seeger, and arranged a donation of 100 copies of a book Mr. Seeger wrote on activism and music. So they needed a shipping address, and instead of getting some underling to call me, Pete Seeger did it himself, and we talked for an hour, about civil rights, folk music, kids, politics, and debate. I neglected to tell him that we shared the same church (Unitarian Universalist) but somehow I feel like that wouldn't have been very relevant.

At 85 years old, he certainly had his wits about him, and he even sang a few bars of music for me. His chief concern about politics today seems to be information overload and an over-serious attitude on the part of many activists. The solution: more music, more satire, more invitational playfulness. He told me a great story about marching in Alabama in the 1960s, hearing spontaneous or long-passed-on marching songs, and him trying desperately to write down the words while he was marching.

So I am in a kind of activist/folk music lover euphoria right now and am likely to remain so for the rest of the day. I've never talked to a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before, let alone the father of political folk music in the second half of the 20th century. And by golly, he called me!

In the spirit of the dialogue I am trying to start, however, I have reprinted below an essay by Joel Kovel, who has faced off against Nader more than once. Kovel maintains that there is a huge difference between Democrats and Republicans, a difference that is more than worth compromising our more radical demands and tendencies...

Green Follies
by Joel Kovel


Published on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
A shocking scenario is unfolding before our eyes which, if carried through, will constitute the greatest mistake made by the left in many years. A small but very determined fraction of the Green Party is prepared to package Ralph Nader with Peter Camejo, the Green
Gubernatorial candidate in California in 2002 and Nader's just announced Vice-Presidential choice, in a drive to capture the Green's "endorsement" (Nader is not eligible for the party's nomination) in the upcoming national convention this weekend in Milwaukee. Camejo's presence on the ticket undercuts the objection that Nader has no real connection to the party's base, and it touched off the internet equivalent of jubilation on the lists controlled by Greens of this persuasion.

"Imagine hundreds of thousands of Greens hitting the streets all across the country energized by the strongest progressive ticket in a generation," waxed one such Naderite, omitting to ponder the fact that a strenuous petition campaign for Nader barely managed to clear 300 signatures among Greens. But in one of those flukes tossed up from time to time by history, it may actually turn out that a tiny coterie could squeeze an endorsement out of the convention . . . which could turn over the 22 state ballot lines controlled by the Greens to Nader/Camejo . . . which could result in toss-up states like Oregon, Wisconsin and New Mexico going over to the Republicans. . . which could give us four more years of you-know-who.

Nader has been straining to argue that he will pull in as many disaffected Republican as Democratic votes. But the selection of a Vice-Presidential candidate demonstrably to his left puts the quietus to that dubious line of reasoning. The only practical "success" he can now have will be to bring W. back to the White House. Remember the nursery rhyme about how, for want of a nail, the battle and then the war was lost? Well, the same could be said for the scenario now unfolding, except that what is wanting now is political intelligence and a sense of proportion among some Greens who should know better.

The Naderite Greens scoff at such arguments, having convinced themselves that the chief thing in this world is to defeat the Democratic Party so the Greens can take over rightful ownership of the Progressive side of the political spectrum. To this fraction, the Democrats are like the image of Moby Dick in the mind of Captain Ahab: the concentration of all evil in the universe. Thus you will learn, if you read their unending email postings, that criticism of Nader is a plot engineered by the Democrats, that Kerry is a greater danger than Bush because he will be more effective, that the notion of "anybody but Bush" is a sign of cowardice, and that the real problem is not Bush but "Bushism," a new word for a phenomenon as old as G.W. Bush himself, namely, that both mainstream parties share in the crafting of US imperialism.

The Naderite Greens can't seem to understand that a necessary concept may not be sufficient to explain what is taking place politically. In fact, they don't really reason politically at all, but reduce politics to economics. Because both mainstream parties are tools of big money (think of the $100 million Kerry has raked in by running as a centrist Republican), big money is the puppeteer pulling their strings. And as big money demands militarism and imperialism, then its puppet parties will dance its dance. But politics is about much more than economics. It also includes struggle over the way people live, the way governments achieve legitimacy, and the conditions that allow or block change. These things really matter and they cannot be reduced to a simplistic economic formula. The Naderite Greens pass them by, because if they admitted that there can be real differences between the mainstream parties, they might have to give up their fantasies about party-building and their attachment to the charismatic Nader.

The problem is, however, that a very big difference between Democrats and Republicans has evolved over the past generation or so. It has taken root in the Bush administration, who have every intention of making it a permanent feature of the political landscape. Look at Bush, at Rove, and at Ashcroft, and you can see the newly malignant face of big business linked with a massive social base of Christian fundamentalism. Its inner logic points to the demolition of the Constitution and the replacement of the Republic--however compromised this may be - by a theocratic brand of fascism, in which the space for political change will shrink drastically, and the lives of those who do not fit--women, homosexuals, Muslims, anyone in the crosshairs of the police apparatus - will be greatly worsened. Nobody in their right mind can say that the wretched Democrats promise the same.

Nader seems incapable of grasping this qualitative distinction, and his loyal band of Greens goes along, caught up, for the third time, no less, in hero worship, and oblivious to the fact that the essential principle of Green politics is grassroots democracy. The Greens have a perfectly respectable candidate in David Cobb, who rose through the ranks. But because Cobb has shown some sensitivity to the extreme danger posed by another Bush administration, the Naderites attack him as a virtual agent of the Democratic Party as they fantasize about the great social movement Ralph Nader is going to unleash in America.

A lose-lose situation looms. To the extent that Nader succeeds, so does Bush. And in any case, the left will emerge weaker and more divided from this Quixotic escapade. Once again the left has become its own worst enemy.

---
Joel Kovel ran against Ralph Nader in the 2000 Green Party presidential primary in New York and California, and was the Green Party's candidate for US Senator from NY in 1998. His two most recent books are Red-Hunting in the Promised Land and The Enemy of Nature.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Problems with Camejo
(part two of my election year struggle)

Last year, in the midst of the California recall vote, the World Socialist Web Site published Peter Daniels's firm and dogmatic criticism of Peter Camejo; he's a capitalist, an ex-quasi-anti-trostkyist-stalinist, didn't criticize the invasion of Iraq OR Bush ENOUGH in the Gubernatorial debates, weak on economic policy, and doesn't shower (just kidding about the last one).

This does not change the fact that he is the hardest left candidate of national prominence. It just makes that fact a bit more depressing for people on the left. Yeah, Camejo deals in money. He decided that was something he could do well, and responsibly, and there is no evidence to suggest he hasn't. Clearly, he no longer considers himself a Marxist.

On face, I don't believe that should be some kind of litmus test for the socialist left. A commitment to a political method, or even a world view, doesn't preclude an honest search for like-mindedness in a pluralist political world. We can't afford to be drawing those kinds of lines. We have to extend a trust unfamiliar to traditional political life--especially for radicals.

However, the WSWS, in its typical precision, goes much further. Analyzing Camejo's plan for California, Peter Daniels points out that Camejo answers vast inequalities in income and taxation with an obscenely incremental tax increase for the wealthy. He calls for "responsible" budget cuts. His agenda is no different from any left-Democrat. And they have some things to say about how earlier positions and sides he took as a member of the Socialist Workers Party reveal a kind of political opportunism that makes his current alignment with the Greens as predictable as it is disappointing.

I share the WSWS lack of enthusiasm for the Green Party agenda, when compared to a genuine anti-capitalist agenda. Still, I am not ready to say that a socialist agenda would not need a Peter Camejo. Capital exists now as an ingenuine and destructive substitute for the collective energy of a healthy society. Nothing in my reading of Camejo suggests he would be anything but a faithful, innovative and engaging organizer in such a society.

Here is a curious line in the article:
Camejo has taken pains to display his credentials as a defender of the profit system and allay any fears that might be aroused by his socialist past, including his campaign for the presidency in 1976 as the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party. His rival candidates and the media, for their part, have maintained a studied silence on his past identification with socialist politics.

As for Camejo's willingness to allow for progressives to vote for Cruz Bustamante in the Gubernatorial race:
Camejo all but dropped his stance of independence from the two major parties, openly encouraging Green supporters to vote for Bustamante on October 7 by saying he would “understand” if they did so to stave off a Republican victory.

It seems to me that the WSWS lacks it own "understanding gland" -- but only when it chooses to. Their writers' treatment of cultural issues, their acknowledgment of the uniqueness of the American democratic experiment, even little things like holding up John Kennedy as an example of the eloquence of an earlier period of bourgeois politics, all set them apart from the glazed-eyed Sparts and company whose style and mannerisms have put off so many potential allies. Their editorial staff has managed to produce a consistent flavor of writing, both elegant and accessible, and politically inviting. So why dismiss Camejo's acknowledgment that some Californians who found the prospect of Governor Kindergarten Cop particularly unpalatable might have voted, however ignorantly, for the person they thought most likely to stave off that groping disaster?

Perhaps the reason the electoral stance of the WSWS is so different from the subtlety of other sections of its political analysis is the Fourth International's insistence that class matters. The working class needs working class candidates, with class-centric policy proposals and a commitment to spend more time in the streets and workplaces than boardrooms and the beltway. For Daniels, Camejo's campaign in California
serves the basic aim of the Greens: to utilize the recall drive to secure a place within the political establishment in California and the US as a whole.

Now, many on the left would be extremely happy if the Greens did just that, and my motivation for wanting to vote for Nader and Camejo is to "establish" the Greens--a decidedly imperfect party whose national prominence would nevertheless constitute a paradigm shift in contemporary political life. But Daniels actually turns that argument on its head, concluding:
The Green Party is a bourgeois party. It has no genuine independence from the major parties of the capitalist ruling elite, nor could it, given its programmatic basis. The party is defined by its reformist perspective, which is rooted in and reflects the outlook of dissident elements within the middle classes. It can, in the end, play only a reactionary role, serving as a political lightning rod to divert social discontent along channels that are harmless to the essential interests of the ruling elite, while helping to keep the working class politically subordinated to the parties and politicians of big business.

According to this logic, a prominent Green Party would make this worse for those who wanted to open up spaces for more revolutionary parties. I'm not sure I agree with this argument. It seems the analogous argument that refutes that one is the notion that the existence of politicians like David Duke and Pat Buchanan open up space for mainstream rightists to move further to the right--an argument I've frequently heard Trotskyists make. I don't know if the "release valve" objection to reformism trumps the importance of a progressive break in the two-party system and the promotion of a strong anti-corporate agenda, especially in the absence of the kind of working class leadership necessary for the struggle against capitalism to take hold in general political consciousness.

But I doth protest too much. The WSWS is 100% right about one thing: Camejo has himself abandoned class as an explanatory postulate, rallying point, identifying marker, in his politics, making him an appropriate candidate for an upper middle class political party like the Greens. Similarly, Nader's reformism has long suffered from the same sin of omission. If I vote for Nader and Camejo, I am certainly not voting my class or my class perspective, nor am I necessarily advancing fundamental breakdown of economic hierarchy in America. And of course, I am doubly cursed by those who insist I am helping George W. Bush in his quest for another 4-year ransacking.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Nader-Camejo: Why Now? Why Not?

(first of a series)

As promised, the beginnings of a conversation for those who believe: (A) that it is not a matter of controversy whether Bush needs to vacate the White House by January 2005, and (B) that John Kerry is a piss-poor alternative, the alternative of a settled, slowly decaying distopia at best and, at worst, Bush with a northeastern drawl. What should we do? Should we vote for one of the smattering of smart, committed activists running on various third party tickets--Walt Brown of the Socialist Party? The Socialist Equality Party (keepers of the great WSWS.org site)'s Bill Van Auken? Martin Koppel, a competent editor and writer for the Militant and a cordial, disciplined activist, is at the head of the Socialist Workers Party ticket. I would and will happily consider arguments for voting for any of these comrades.

Four years ago, I proudly voted for Ralph Nader and Wynona LaDuke, and although I did so in a solidly Republican state, I encouraged votes for him everywhere. I did so knowing that, if a gun were held to my head, I'd have chosen Gore over Bush. I even did so knowing that Bush probably lacked what little egalitarian conscience slept unstirred in Gore's rigid brain. I did so because the Green platform, and Nader's, differed radically from the Democratic party platform, and as a matter of principle, I felt one should vote for what one could predominantly agree with, even if, as I believed, that vote was more for the purpose of protest and coalition building than for a realistic choice of president.

At the time I rejected arguments from those left of Nader who correctly pointed out that Ralph was no socialist. I rejected those to the right of Nader (whether they knew they were or not) who correctly warned of the consequences of another Bush in the White House. I was all Eugene Debs: "It's better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don't want and get it." I reject the notion that Nader cost Gore the White House; the primary blame should go to the crooks who, by deploying false felon records, cost Gore thousands of votes in Florida. But more importantly, a society which holds my political conscience hostage to the ruling class is a society that deserves bad presidents. And so I could proudly say, for the last four years, Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Nader.

Things are considerably more uncertain for me this time around. As a matter of policy choices, those of George W. Bush will be qualitatively worse than those of John Kerry, on the whole, and the undesirable impacts of those policies will cross many class lines (although the poor and working class will suffer disproportionately, as we do under any administration). Bush is a particularly brazen, stupid, uninspired little man. Worse, he willfully surrounds himself with empire builders and criminals of the highest caliber. This administration has behaved like a one-term administration, aware that they can only go so far, determined to push the country as far to the right as possible, pulling out all the stops to reshape the world in their image. Their purposes may be sincere (although that doesn't explain all the lies; even Marx and Engels insisted that the communists not hide their aims), but regardless of their intent, the end result has been a less democratic nation and a substantially uglier and more unscrupulous world.

Four years ago, progressives were asked to jettison all other considerations to "prevent" the first four years of the above scenario. We were asked to hold our noses and vote for the archetypically cynical Democrat, a candidate with substantial financial holdings in both big oil and big tobacco, who supported the death penalty, who wanted to lock up pot smokers even though he himself had spent a couple of years doing bong hits in his living room, who, as we all predicted, went rhetorically leftward when he thought it mattered, and remained, by all significant measures, a bourgeois right-centrist. (The Al Gore of today? A different picture entirely. One is at least tempted to like him for his fiery, antiestablishment rhetoric. Still, one can't be too careful.)

One cannot discount the significance of Nader's choice of a veep. He may have accepted the Reform Party's endorsement in order to court disaffected conservatives, but Nader has chosen Peter Camejo, a former presidential candidate for the Socialist Workers' Party, and (despite the sectarian, ultraleft rantings about him) a committed leftist whose "socially responsible investing" makes him no worse than the advertising department of The Nation. Camejo is the real deal, quite possibly the most leftward public figure at this level of national political exposure. His Marxist-honed intelligence and analytic discipline, combined with a natural rhetorical flair forged in decades of grass roots activism, is more Debs than Nader. He outshone his opponents in the California Gubernatorial debates almost effortlessly.

This Saturday, the Greens will choose their Presidential nominee, and there is still a real possibility that the honor will go to David Cobb, a truly great activist and longtime builder of the Green Party, who has promised to nominate a female as his running mate. Delegates like Ted Glick believe this would be a much better choice than Nader, even with Camejo on that ticket:
A Cobb nomination will give us a Presidential candidate who is 100% committed to using his campaign to build upon what we have already accomplished this year and carry it forward not just until election day but post-November 2nd and into the coming years. No one except perhaps Ralph Nader knows what will come out of his Independent campaign. [recent LBO-talk post]

Although these reasons don't seem extremely well-developed, and seem to ignore the presence of Camejo on the ticket (as well as the extensive, well-articulated and thoroughly leftward catalog of Nader's positions on the issues at votenader.org), all progressives should wait and see what happens in Milwaukee this weekend. Speaking for myself, if Nader does not receive the Greens' endorsement, this will be cause for a reevaluation of where I ought to orient myself politically in this very important election cycle.

I say this acutely aware of the limits of electoral politics. I know that real change comes from mass movements as well as the endless interpersonal conversations that occur in workplaces, classrooms, churches and bars. I realize that Corporate America will pick a winner, and that this is unlikely to change in response to mere electoral agitation. But I also know that the electoral stage is a political space and that, in fulfilling the first half of Debs' dictum, "voting for what you want and not getting it" can be a powerful educator and motivator for more effective politics down the road. What I will not do, regardless of my eventual endorsement decision, is make a virtue out of necessity by falling into the tempting trap of seeing John Kerry as a savior, a hero, or a friend to people like me. Too many of my comrades gave Clinton a free pass; if you love everything George W. Bush stands for, thank Clinton, and the soft left, for smoothing the road for him.

(to be continued)

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Right Hand Man
(on behalf of all the right hand men of dictators throughout history, because nobody can do it all by themselves)

share with me your perfect vision
I will be your right hand man
I will give life to your language
I will start the process rolling
funny how you visionaries
don't always have the stomach for a fight
I will be your right hand man

share with me your perfect vision
people need your clarity
people want to do the right thing
people want some discipline
sometimes need to be reminded
sometimes need a little kick

Others want the glory celebration
I just want to enact your vision
others want to run the show
I just want to help you make it go
others need material compensation
I'll make a vow of poverty
And I have the courage to do
all those things you could not do
Share with me your perfect vision
Let me help you make it real
You have ideas I have steel

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Yoshie Furuhashi's Critical Montages is my favorite web journal these days. I have read Yoshie's posts for years on LBO-Talk, because they are always well-written, calm, and correct, as well as a fountain of information and connection.

Yoshie's report on Bill O'Reilly's shift on Iraq (and some interesting commentary on Nader and other candidates) fits well with a montage of my own. For the last several weeks I have written posts attempting to describe, in a self-consciously fragmented way, the fragmentation of bourgeois politics; the ruthlessness of their bulldogs, the transitive nature of their arguments.

But Yoshie's article identifies another area of focus at least as important as watching the ruling class bumble around.
the very fact that O'Reilly arrived at the conclusion that "[t]he faster we get out of there, the better" based on his own conservative premise and reasoning -- America went to war with "very good intentions," and "[w]e gave them a chance like we gave the South Vietnamese people a chance," but "[t]he majority of the Iraqi people do not appreciate what we've done for them" -- is quite significant. It's an index of how unpopular the occupation of Iraq has become.
The John Kerry camp should take heart from the conclusion of the O'Reilly speech at the Economic Club -- O'Reilly all but endorsed Kerry

And we should learn from why it's possible that O'Reilly would endorse Kerry. It's time to ask some questions about what we're voting for, why we're voting, what we hope to get out of it; and, given whatever imperfect answers to those questions, we need a conversation about Kerry, Nader, and anti-imperialist struggle.

Does Kerry get a free pass like so many Nader-Haters were eager to give Gore in 2000?

Does Nader get a free pass on immigration, as Yoshie implies? Do we forgive his conservatizing, nationalist rhetoric? What about Nader and sexual orientation issues?

I think Nader has been unwarrantedly maligned. I fundamentally deny that he cost Gore the election, and I am not sure what Gore would have gotten us beyond better-engineered and more well-hidden warfare. But I also agree with Yoshie, who writes:
Now that the tide of public opinion has turned against the occupation of Iraq, as O'Reilly's remarks demonstrate, leftists should turn up the heat on Nader as well, not just on Bush and Kerry, holding the only anti-occupation candidate in the race to a higher moral and political standard.

So in the weeks to come I'll be seeking input, and writing my thoughts on Eugene Debs's immortal wager: "It's better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don't want and get it."

Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
Paulo Freire
Fencebutt

you'll blame the kid who stole your bike
you'll blame the cops out on their beat
you'll blame somebody's repressed libido
or the people sleeping at your feet
but you won't blame the system
no, you won't blame the system
the system pays your rent
and that must mean it's heaven-sent
and it's not broken, only bent
and besides, no one can make a dent

you'll blame one rich man or two
you'll blame a few laws here or there
you'll write a letter to your congressman
you wish it all could be more fair
but you won't blame the system
no, you won't blame the system
the system works in theory
when it comes to change, you're leery
fighting is just too darn scary
maybe you're just too battle-weary

(1994)

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Help Splinter Group Lampoon Bush

My dear, dear friend Kellie Clancy sent me this appeal on behalf of a fantastic, progressive theater group doing some great political satire in New York--their play "King MacBush II: A Shakespearean Tragedy of War, Greed and Strategerie" opens on the eve of the Republican National Convention. No editorializing necessary here; the words and ideas below, and the urgency of their financial need, speak for themselves. They need our money. I am sending them twenty bucks--now how about you?
--------------------------------------------------------------
Hey, everyone -

Many of you have heard stories about my oldest friends who live in New York and work in theater. Sara is currently working for a production company that is putting together a show that satirizes the Bush administration through the immortal words of Shakespeare. I spent some time volunteering for them when I was in New York last week, and it was a great experience. The email below describes the production in more detail. I'm forwarding this to ask for your help. They are currently soliciting donations to help get the show on its feet. I know that we're all pretty broke, but even $5 helps. Additionally, they are collecting the names of any left wing organizations that might be interested in helping with publicity or marketing for the show. They've talked to moveon.org, Win Without War, and similar organizations, but they need the names of as many as possible. If you know of any, or have links to websites, please forward them to me.

Finally, please pass this on to as many people as possible. Most of us don't live in swing states, but we can help those who do create a public dialogue about the RNC and the upcoming election.

Thank you for your time, and please visit the website -- let me know if you have any questions or want more information.

Thanks,

Kellie

Dear Friends:

Your help is urgently needed. I’m not normally one to solicit donations, but I really feel like this is important.

I’m working on a play right now, and we need your help to raise money. We’re not talking huge amounts of money, any amount helps -- $5 here, $10 there really adds up. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t give much much more if you can, especially since whatever money you give will be completely
tax-deductible.

The play is set to open the week before the Republican National Convention here in New York, and run through Election Night. It’s a satire using some of Shakespeare’s plays as a backbone to examine today’s political situation.
It should be a lot of fun, and more importantly, we want to use the arts to create a dialogue about the convention, this year’s election, and ultimately the Bush Administration. One of the motivations for doing this play came from the lack of public response, specifically within the arts, to everything that’s going on. As this is such a significant year, it seemed like a great opportunity to put something like this up.

Here is a brief description of what the show is about, to arouse your interests (hopefully!): "King MacBush II: A Shakespearean Tragedy of War, Greed and Strategerie" is
a raucous political satire which adapts and twists the classic tales of several of Shakespeare's kings to skewer today's political leaders. Boldly theatrical and wickedly funny, "King MacBush II" encapsulates the horror and
the damage caused by our country's ruling political dynasty. The play attempts to engender a stronger public dialogue about the events leading up to, and including, this year's presidential election. The show will be presented at the American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, beginning August 25th.

The show website is under way; until it’s up and running, you can make a donation by going to this link: https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/contribute/donate/278

The show’s website is: http://kingmacbush.com/
You can check there for updates and such.

Please, help us reach our goal of $10,000 IN TEN DAYS!! Also, please forward this to anyone you think might want to help!

Thank you, in advance.

Best,
Sara

Splinter Group Productions, LLC
1501 Broadway, Ste. #2102
New York, NY 10036
917-568-1002

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Reagan Still Dead, Film at 11

For those of us with strong ethical objections to Reagan's policies, all we can do is wait out the insanity and try our best to fend off charges of being insulting and unpatriotic. After all, it's only acceptable to question Clinton's ethics...

The most heinous political crime I could commit right now is to somehow make light of Reagan's death, particularly by focusing on those parts of his legacy that may have been, from the point of view of poor, working people, less than completely rosy. Disease and death among elites gives them a free historical pass, for a while, until some other ruling group takes over and decides to re-cast the icons and conclusions. What all the elites get to do, however, is spend their political careers causing disease and death among the lower classes, so that they can enjoy tears and fanfare when they succumb--surrounded by loved ones and the best care money can buy--to their own eventual disease and death.

With a National Day of Mourning tomorrow (even Wyoming's Democratic Governor, Dave Freudenthal, has ordered all state functions cease), with (so far) a week's worth of uninterrupted news coverage, complete with talking heads and Vice President Cheney "speculating" on the undeniable links between the greatness of Reagan and that of Bush the Younger, and with thoughts of an upcoming Republican convention during which every effort will be made to pass an imaginary baton from the ghost of Reagan to the ghoul of Bush, I am suffering intense Reagan-fatigue.

It's not even about the man--a complex combination of working class origins, middle class resentment and ruling class warmaking--so much as it is about the naked, undeniable effort to utilize his death and legacy as a vindication of Bushite neoconservatism, and to silence any kind of meaningful historical analysis and accompanying political dissent. This has not been a week of mourning so much as a week of revisionist cheerleading, and even though I shouldn't be surprised at it, I am still irritated by it.

As a thought experiment, just indulge me this vision: If this were William Jefferson Clinton's week of mourning--if Clinton had died and the powers-that-be declared a series of official funerals, holidays, casket displays and routes--if news channels and radio talk shows broadcast tributes to Clinton 24-7--if politicians vowed on every stump to carry on Clinton's legacy--well, a certain section of the American public and politicians would be furious. They would point out the numerous sins and high crimes of the Clinton administration. They would strongly opine that Clinton was a poor political role model. And from their perspective, they would be right. I certainly think they would be right.

So Reagan gets a free pass for Iran-Contra, the rich/poor gap, deregulation of savings and loans, cavorting with right wing dictators, etc. Clinton will die and conservatives will dance on his grave, if they don't piss on it first, and they'll forget their calls for civility when the Gipper took the dirt nap.

Funny thing about that: Dick Morris's column today, "Clinton was Reagan's Ratifier," upholds an argument suggested by many others, that Clinton implemented much of the Reagan agenda, including welfare reform, balanced budgets (which Reagan could never achieve despite his rhetoric of government frugality), and in general, much of what the Gingerich Republicans and centrist Democrats wanted. Morris, an extraordinary cad and political pimp, lucidly questions the dichotomy most of the other cads and pimps take for granted: that there is a huge value gap between Clinton and Reagan.

My point here, however, is merely that Reagan generated a great deal of divisiveness and hatred--just like Clinton did--but the rules are simply different. The fact is that a currently dominant section of the ruling class believes it is vital to place Reagan in the same category as Lincoln and FDR, so that certain fashionable political philosophies in the current administration can appear timeless and sage, rather than what they really are: transitive and cynical.

My secondary point, I suppose, is: Given that Clinton was an impressively better Republican president than either Reagan or Bush the Younger (I think Bush the Elder was a Whig, wasn't he?) and that Clinton also provided the Right with an enemy who energized and reinvigorated the most extreme elements in the Republican party, then judging by the criteria by which Reagan has been revered this week, Clinton's eventual passing ought to generate even greater fanfare...if the ruling class were honest, really...

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Music News and Reviews

Joe Carver Radio Show

In another life I could have been a music reviewer (along with producer and even songwriter). I love good music reviews. I also feel passionate about my own favorite pieces of music or acts.

The biggest news is my friend Joe Carver's new radio show, which is available on the internet. It is called Hard Feelings, and will air Mondays 11 AM - 1 PM pacific standard time. The focus in on Roots, Americana, and Alternative Country. The website is here.

Joe promises to play The Jayhawks, Slobberbone, Todd Snider, Will Kimbrough, Son Volt, Wilco, Centromatic, Pedro the Lion, Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo, Two Cow Garage, Marah, Bill Monroe, Alyson Krauss, Allison Moore, Jay Farrar and much more. Give it a listen and tell us what you think.

New CDs I Like: Rock Against Bush and Dixie Chicks Live

We went to Utah for a vacation last weekend and before we left Ann and I both lamented that we had run out of "new" music to listen to. So we bought two relatively new CDs for the trip:

The Rock Against Bush CD and DVD were only 9 bucks, which is just a ridiculous steal. The CD, produced by Fat Mike of NOFX, not only contains some of the better punk and punk-derivations I've heard for some time, and a whole lot of it: 26 tracks, including gems by Anti-Flag, the Descendents, RX Bandits, Pennywise, Social Distortion (!!!), and Less than Jake, who are joined by Billy Bragg (one of my all-time heroes) for a delightful little ditty called "The Brightest Bulb has Burned Out." To me, this largely acoustic number offers encouragement to emotionally exhausted activist-types like me...

[...]
You said the hole in your head
Has gotten bigger than the hole in your chest
And you’re stuck between the past and present tense
You said you’ve been waging a war against so many years of lies
With stronger drinks and longer lines
It’s not that big a surprise
That you’re feeling more dead than alive
You’re feeling more dead than alive
So I’ll let you know
If you need, somewhere to go
I’ll be listening when you call
And I’ll be there if you fall off
If you need someone to believe in you,
I’ll let you know I will

The DVD includes a David Cross monologue, some good documentary commentary about the war, and some great videos. This is a steal and it's for a good cause (beating Bush), although I doubt all these artists agree on who they'd like to replace Bush with.

A year ago, the Casper Star Tribune published my long op ed on the public criticism of the Dixie Chicks. "In the spirit of political pluralism and good country music", I said
If the current crucifixion of the Dixie Chicks doesn't offend your political sensibilities, it surely must offend the musical sensibilities of any thoughtful listener, anyone for whom music is something more than simply background noise. Regardless of your opinion on the Iraq war, President Bush, or the peacetime commercial viability of Lee Greenwood, you should stand up for the Dixie Chicks because their music is just better than the vast majority of crap on the radio. And if, in the meantime, you're also standing up for the freedom to criticize elected officials and oppose wars, then all the better, plus a bonus if you supported the war and still stand up for free speech and good music. I’ll buy you a drink, my friend.

I wasn't the only progressive so upset at this corporate slamming of the Chicks, the best mainstream or "pop" country act playing today, and one of the better bluegrass bands to boot. Kate Randal and others at the World Socialist Web Site were equally outraged, and as usual, far more eloquent than me.

So I didn't have any problem picking up the Chicks' Live "Top of the World" tour CDs, and it made for some great driving music, as well as nice vindication music. Recorded after the debacle, the Chicks thank their fans, "the best in the world," for coming..."They said you wouldn't come," Natalie says. "But we knew you would." Each track on the 2-CD set is a great version of an already great song, from "Goodbye Earl" to "Sin Wagon." Along the way, a heartrending and critical version of "Travelin' Soldier" (it ends with military drums) and a self-conscious "Truth #2"--where Natalie promises both true freedom of expression and true love, as if to say they belong together:

I might get to the end of my line
Find out everyone was lying
I don't think that I'm afraid anymore
Say that I would rather die trying
Swing me way down south
Sing me something brave from your mouth
And I'll bring you
Pearls of water on my hips
And the love in my lips
All the love from my lips

This is too poetic, too image-laden, for the country music establishment. The Dixie Chicks didn't just speak out politically in 2003...from the beginning they have broken nearly every rule and pushed the boundaries of Nashville and New York in the direction of both social commentary (they have been unambiguously anti-war and pro-gender equity since day one) and youthful sexuality (no more drunken trysts with 40-year old divorced women...instead, these girls wanna do some highly energetic "mattress dancing"). They can play their own instruments...guitars, fiddles, banjos, mandolins, better than most of their male peers. They are just a good, tight, unapologetically outspoken act, and their live shows are to die for. This set captures all of the above, including a solid cover of Bob Dylan's 1995 "Mississippi."

Sometimes I wish the Chicks would just embrace the underground, or take the kind of risks with their music that kd lang did, with such astounding results. But I am also glad their fan base didn't desert them just because Natalie Maines was rightly ashamed to live in the same state as GW Bush. I am ashamed to live on the same planet with him. It's nice to hear so much good music, both punk and country, that makes me feel good politically too.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Not Spitting on Reagan's Grave (or "we’re all sitting at the fountain, at the five and dime")

No insults, tasteless or pointless celebration. Just some random thoughts about Ronnie and me.

I was barely 13 years old when he became president. I knew very little about politics, apart from the fact that most of the senior citizens I knew hated Ronald Reagan and favored Jimmy Carter. I thought that was ironic; since Reagan was old himself, I naturally figured the oldsters would line up with their own kind. I knew nothing of social programs or the differences between Republicans and Democrats. When people branded Carter a "liberal," I believed them, and it would be years before I realized how far to the right Carter really was. And, of course, there was the occasional Bircher who branded Reagan a "communist symp." I grew to understand politics during the eight years of the Reagan presidency, but never hated him the way I would come to despise both Bush the Elder and Bush the younger...and along with them, Clinton, another murderer who got a free pass because he was a charismatic Democrat.

My friend Justin had this to say:
I think his legacy is really as the paradigm of the 'compassionate' conservative, or as the kind of person the right loves because he can make their fascism seem so palatable to average Americans on the basis of his personality.

No, there won't be any mindless insults here, no glorification of someone's tragic illness and death. Sure, it's more honor than he gave most people, but Ronald Wilson Reagan was one of a kind. He forced the left, and rhetorical theorists, to re-write their theories and reconsider their political strategies. He succeeded in mobilizing people backwards, from a cynical 1970s into a time that strongly resembled the memories (not the realities) of the 1950s.

At age 16, I had barely discovered punk rock, and with it, punk politics. But then my life changed drastically when I attended "Rock Against Reagan" in Salt Lake City. I can't remember the bands who were present, but we all rallied and sang and shouted in downtown SLC, right under Reagan's hotel room. I met a girl who wore plaid, slamdanced with me, and hated Reagan. I saw socialist literature...probably for the first time. And I started to form a picture, which would suffice until I learned the difference between anarchism and socialism. No Reagan=no Rock Against Reagan=no eventual political consciousness for Matt.

Camper Van Beethoven's last album, "Key Lime Pie," featured an immortal song, "Sweethearts," complete with happy-go-lucky melody, faithful harmony, and a cheerful fiddle. It was an ode to Reagan during the final, awkward days of his presidency:

’cause he’s always living back in dixon
Circa 1949
And we’re all sitting at the fountain, at the five and dime
’cause he’s living in some b-movie
The lines they are so clearly drawn
In black and white life is so easy
And we’re all coming along on this one
’cause he’s on a secret mission
Headquarters just radioed in
He left his baby at the dancehall
While the band plays on some sweet song
And on a mission over china
The lady opens up her arms
The flowers bloom where you haved placed them
And the lady smiles, just like mom
Angels wings are icing over
Mcdonnell-douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles, as we crash
’cause in the mind of ronald reagan
Wheels they turn and gears they grind
Buildings collapse in slow motion
And trains collide, everything is fine
Everything is fine
Everything is fine

Russell Arben Fox had this to say, which is basically true from the point of view of both politics and political communication, even though I think it underplays the hatred Reagan did generate among the true left:
I've had my brushes with profound anti-Reagan loathing, but--while obviously comparisons are difficult to make, given the radically different contexts--it seems to me that the hatred of Reagan, compared with the present-day hatred of Bush, was often a bitter, forced and warped thing, whereas I can genuinely see grounds for detesting the current president. I guess with Bush II it is not implausible to claim that he deserves contempt, but could anyone really make that claim about Reagan? Probably, but somehow it just doesn't seem as reasonable to me. We were listening the Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" last Saturday--how I love that program--and we'd only heard the news about Reagan's death about twenty minutes before it started. Keillor, who is about as solid a Minnesota liberal as you can find, opened the program commenting that "one of the great public figures of our time" had died. There were many gasps when he said the name, plus a few rude jerks who clapped, and one who let out a whoop. Keillor, gracious to the end, send a few nice things about the man, summing up by saying that Reagan left liberals like himself "profoundly befuddled," primarily through his "deep sincerity and endless charm." I think that just about nails why Reagan-hatred never really took off.


Although I must disagree with Russell's observation that Reagan-hatred wasn't as pronounced as Bush-hatred (try telling that to anyone from Central America or any U.S. activists in solidarity with Central American activists...or unions, especially Air Traffic Controllers...) I do agree profoundly with his citation of Keillor. It was not only leftists who were befuddled. Reagan forced rhetorical theorists to re-think and re-write their theories. He probably inspired a hundred groundbreaking scholarly articles in my discipline. He was simply the most charismatic president I have seen in my lifetime, and it was precisely because that charisma was tied to ideas that seemed regressive to so many of us that he was so, well, befuddling. I think his success taught those of us who call ourselves progressives some revolutionary lessons that many of us still haven't fully absorbed.

I don't know what political purpose is served in throwing a party or laughing at his suffering. The true politics of compassion, something Reagan's ilk will never really understand or embrace, are incompatable with revelling in anyone's death. Sober assessment of a destructive and regressive political career, sure, that's important--even essential. But "good riddance?" Nah, maybe just a sardonic "May God keep him...and not send him back."

Or, maybe just an R.E.M. song from 1987...when the old man was getting the rug pulled out from under him:

You're beautiful more beautiful than me
You're honorable more honorable than me
Loyal to the Bank of America
It's a sign of the times
It's a sign of the times
You're sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen.
Sharpening stones, walking on coals,
To improve your business acumen.
Vested interest united ties, landed gentry rationalize
Look who bought the myth, by jingo, buy America
It's a sign of the times
it's a sign of the times
You're sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen.
Sharpening stones, walking on coals,
To improve your business acumen.
Enemy sighted, enemy met, I'm addressing the realpolitik
Look who bought the myth, by jingo, buy America
"Let us not assassinate this man further Senator,
you've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?
At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

We're sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen.
Sharpening stones, walking on coals,
To improve your business acumen.
Enemy sighted, enemy met, I'm addressing the realpolitik
You've seen start and you've seen quit
(I'm addressing the table of content)
I always thought of you as quick
Exhuming McCarthy
(Meet me at the book burning)
Exhuming McCarthy
(Meet me at the book burning)

Friday, June 04, 2004

Correction (and war profiteering)

"Scott," an apparently faithful UNDERVIEW reader, pointed out my misreading of the Cheney-Halliburton story. Actually, Halliburton contacted Cheney to make sure everything was above board and there would be no appearance of impropriety concerning Halliburton's war contracts. I have deleted that post and I apologize if it created any confusion. At this point in time, I have no hard proof of Cheney's involvement in current Halliburton war deals.

While on the subject of profiteering:

Marketplace Radio's informative four-part series on war profiteering is one of the best stories out there.

Here's what the Capital Times (reprinted at Common Dreams) had to say about Cheney and Halliburton:
As it turns out, in 2001 Cheney pocketed $205,298 in deferred salary that was paid by Halliburton. In 2002, he collected $162,392. And he is scheduled to collect similar amounts in 2003, 2004 and 2005. And Cheney has retained unexercised options for 433,000 Halliburton stock shares. It sure doesn't sound like the vice president has "severed all ties" to his former firm.


The obviously radical-commie US News and World Reporthas an article on post-9/11 war profiteering.

Jeremy Schulman of the Institute for Policy Studies has a fact sheet on war profiteering and tax avoidance with the usual list of suspects, including Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Boeing (whose lobbyists include Sen. Tom Daschle's wife Linda), Raytheon, General Electric, Litton Industries, GTE, Humana, Exxon, and AlliedSignal...

Norman Livergood's somewhat hyperbolic, but nevertheless informative site includes information on Bush war profiteering.

Readers with other facts about current war profiteering, or further information on Cheney and Halliburton, are urged to use the comment link below to send URLs and other sources of information. From now on, I will check my stories and facts more carefully. I would hate to feed false information to the public. Nobody in any position of responsibility (our political leaders, for instance) should ever mislead the public or fail to check their facts. I am sure Scott and others agree.

Sharing is caring!