Friday, October 11, 2013

Travel is the ultimate high (or at least a good approximation thereof)

This is a little embarrassing.  The last time I posted to this blog was in September 2009.  At the time, as any person with the slightest interest would have noticed, I was, um, just a little obsessed about the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, and the vociferously negative reaction by the American Right Wing to this event.  That was almost exactly four years ago.  In the four years since, while just as deeply interested in the political events in my country as I was before, I have been increasingly occupied with fulfilling my life-long ambition of devoting myself to seriously ambitious world travel.

In October 2009, shortly after my last blog post, Judy and I went on our first trip -- ever -- to Mexico.  On that 12-day trip (all the time we could afford, due to our work obligations at the time) we visited Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretero, and Mexico D.F. (otherwise known as Mexico City).  It was a fantastic, life-changing experience, in which I totally fell in love with Mexico and its people.  More than that, it left me absolutely determined not only to visit Mexico again, but to travel more.  I had forgotten just how fulfilling it is to see, touch, feel, smell, and taste the world outside the borders of our own country.  The United States is wonderful, yes -- especially the West Coast and my beloved Northern California -- but the World beyond is as more wondrous, as more full of amazing new experiences, as eating a real Mexican tamale is better than reading a description of what a tamale is like.

So, I immediately began plotting our next journey, which would be through southern Mexico, starting in Oaxaca.  In the first week of April 2010, with some trepidation, we flew from San Francisco to Mexico City.  The trepidation arose from the fact my father, aged 94, was in seriously declining health.  I had been helping to care for him for the past 4 years.  Up until then, I had not really worried that he would take a serious turn for the worse while we were away.  Nevertheless, except for our one trip to Mexico in October 2009, we had stayed pretty close to home.

We arrived in Oaxaca, and were again intoxicated by the magic of being in a country so close to the U.S. and yet so utterly, completely, totally different and foreign.  But then, after just four days, my fears were realized.  A telephone call from my daughter informed me that my Dad had passed away.  We immediately cancelled the rest of our trip, and returned home.  Most of the rest of the year was spent winding up my father's estate and settling his affairs.

But less than a year later, we started our cycle of what I call "Heroic Travel"  -- foreign travel occupying up to half the total weeks in each year.  For the next two years, we actually spent six months a year traveling out of the United States, a total of 12 months of foreign travel in two years.

Right now, via the magic of computers and the internet, Judy and I are typing away on our blogs in our hotel room in Budapest, Hungary -- halfway through our latest journey around the old East European Communist Block countries.  In the next several blog posts, I promise to bring this Blog up-to-date with a rundown on our adventures since 2009, with a few pictures thrown in.  Then I can begin more seriously blogging on what else has been happening in my life, and related concerns.

But rather than going through all those trips right now, I just want to comment on the nature of the travel experience.

I don't like traveling in guided tour groups generally, unless I have to.  Cuba is the prime example of a situation where I opted for group travel.  Even to get into Cuba legally from the United States, you have to go with a group.  (More on Cuba later.)  The great thing about independent travel is the way it challenges one at every moment to be creative, courageous and adventurous.  You can't just sit back and let someone else do the planning and arranging.  And with this independence comes a great feeling of accomplishment as the trip unfolds.  It's just so much more rewarding to be free to plan what to do on a given day, and where to go, rather than being chained to the itinerary of the group. 

Of course, it's also very challenging.  You have to plan in advance to see the important sights, because if you don't, there's no group leader to tell you what you're missing -- which may be exactly the things you came there to see.   But the rewards, for me at least, greatly outweigh the necessary costs in time and effort spent on planning.

All this is connected with what I think really excites me about travel the most.  And that is the way foreign travel forces one to be absolutely, totally, in the moment.  At home, there are just so many ways to avoid doing anything out of the ordinary.  The routine of life takes over, and mere existence becomes the norm.  But while traveling in a foreign land, especially where the language is different, there is no routine.  There is no easy way to procrastinate, to put off living in the moment in favor of just falling back on some easy, everyday habitual activity.  In travel -- especially, foreign travel -- literally everything becomes an adventure. 

As G. K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936) once said:  "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered."  This is the key to understanding why travel is such a high.  Enlightenment is the experience of one's own self in the Eternal Now.  That Enlightenment experience -- the experience of the Self -- is the ultimate high sought by spiritual seekers everywhere and at all times.

Travel is not, by itself, Enlightenment.  But by being open to experiencing the many inconveniences of foreign travel (yes, even the uncomfortable airplanes and soul-deadening airports) as part of a grand adventure, one takes the first little step toward making travel itself a kind of spiritual exercise.  This is not always easy!  Cold, cloudy weather; unpleasant, rainy days; difficult train or airplane connections -- the list of unpleasant inconveniences goes on and on.  But with each and every decision to treat this, that or the other such inconvenience as part of a larger adventure, the whole travel experience becomes more and more an ongoing experience of the Eternal Now.  In other words, travel becomes more and more enlightening -- in all senses of that word. 

And this is what I mean when I say that travel is a pretty good approximation of  the ultimate high.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The New "New McCarthyism"

I have been out of commission on this blog for way too long. Feeling guilty about it, I've started at least three, and maybe five pieces. Unfortunately, they are still in the works, but I will try to edit and get them posted before this month is over and Judy and I go to Mexico for the first time. (Yay!)

But an interesting article in Huffington Post entitled "The Return of McCarthyism" has finally inspired me to pen a new blog post. The article and its accompanying video clip focus on neo-McCarthyite attacks on Obama as a "communist." This parallels a somewhat crazier--and definitely creepier--trend in recent right-wing attacks blurring the line between "liberal," "fascist," "socialist," "communist," and "nazi."

For the past several years, I've noticed that the loud mouths on the Right (you know who they are) have been running a stealth disinformation campaign to confuse the undereducated American public about the nature of Hitler, fascism and the Nazi Party, in order to inoculate themselves against the charge they they themselves are clearly manifesting tendencies in that direction. I first noticed this at a cast party about three years ago, when I casually opined that just as communism was the extreme of the political Left, so fascism--and by extension, Hitler and the Nazis--represented the extreme of the political Right. Someone at the party immediately became terribly offended by this (to me) self-evident statement of historic fact, and insisted for the rest of the evening that I had personally insulted her by daring to associate the "the Right" with Hitler.

At first I couldn't understand this. I hastened to assure her that I wasn't saying all "conservatives" were fascists, any more than all "liberals" are commie pinkos. But she was adamant that I was insulting the entire "right" of the political spectrum by daring to say that Hitler was a representative of "the Right" --albeit in its extremist form--rather than "the Left."

It gradually dawned on me that this person had been the victim of a conscious disinformation campaign designed to confuse the public about the nature of "the Right" and "the Left." The Right Wing blowhards in this country have done this in two ways: first, by repeatedly citing the use of the word "socialist" in the name of the Nazi party; and second, by simply repeating the Big Lie over and over again ad nauseum that all "socialists" are "Nazis." As absurd as it seems, they have established in the minds of some that Hitler was a left-wing socialist, or even a "liberal."(If you don't believe me, see here, here, here, here, and here.)

Of course, this claim is totally, utterly false -- indeed the truth is the very opposite. Hitler purposely used "socialist" in the Nazi Party name to confuse the German populace. In the 1930's, the idea of socialism was very popular throughout Europe in general and in German in particular. In fact, the Nazis were the biggest opponents of the German Socialist Party at the time. Fascism is the very opposite of socialism. Under pure socialism, ownership of industry and the means of production is placed in the State as the representative of the People. In contrast, under fascism control of the State is given to the largest corporate monopolies, which rule the country as an oligarchy led by an all-powerful Leader. Fascism was defined by its inventor -- Mussolini -- as a "corporate state": authoritarian, totalitarian, militaristic government by and for the corporations. Fascism is thus capitalist to its core -- in fact, it is extreme capitalism. Extreme socialism, i.e. communism, is similar to fascism in the fact both are totalitarian. Otherwise, the goals of fascism and communism are basically the opposite (viz., rule by the elite and wealthy versus rule by the proletariat masses). And this similarity is confined to communism. Democratic socialism, as practiced throughout the world today, can hardly be called totalitarian, much less fascist.

Bottom line: the American Right has been purposely confusing the public about the difference between far Right and far Left or order to distract from the fact they themselves present the clearest threat of real fascism -- authoritarian, super-nationalistic, racist, corporatist dictatorship.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A New Era

January 20, 2009, the day Barack Hussein Obama is inaugurated the 44th President of the United States, will mark the end of an era in our history--and the beginning of a new one.

Whatever else may happen that day, at least one thing is for sure. The country will be rid of George W. Bush. Thanks to the 22nd Amendment--an excrescence to the Constitution added by (what else!) Republicans in 1951 in retribution for FDR's election to four terms--Dubya couldn't run for reelection even if he wanted to. So that alone marks the day for celebration.

I actually think term limits are a bad idea, as demonstrated by FDR himself. Thank God he could be reelected in the middle of World War II! And if someone in office is really awful, like the current Occupant, the chances are good he/she wouldn't be reelected to a third term if he/she tried.

Anyway, it's moot; after twelve o'clock noon on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, we won't have George W. Bush to worry about any more. At that historic moment, we will usher in the first African-American President of the United States, an uncommonly brilliant and exciting individual who brings a unique--indeed, unprecedented--set of skills and experiences to the office. Based on his presidential campaign, and his own personal history as revealed in the several books he has written, all signs point to a progressive Presidency that will usher in significant change for the country.

So here's to the future, and the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Judy and I will be there, in Washington D.C. on January 20, 2009, to witness history being made.

And just incidentally, to verify with our own eyes that George W. Bush is no longer soiling the Oval Office with the special kind of "stain" he brought to the office--a stain far more insidious and dangerous to the very fabric of our constitutional democracy than any of the more inconsequential stains left in the Oval Office by his predecessor.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cycles of American Political History

As readers of this blog know, I have long felt that Barack Obama represented the best candidate for the Democrats to nominate because he offered the best chance for securing a realignment of the American electorate in an progressive direction. Actually, it wouldn't have mattered who the Democrats nominated out of the sterling lineup of potential candidates running this cycle. The election of any one of them--certainly including Hillary Clinton, not to mention John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd or Dennis Kucinich--would have brought about the same result. I just felt that the election of a progressive African-American would have been so historic that the realignment would have been undeniable. And, sure enough, now that Obama has in fact been elected, the word "realignment" is popping up in the press and in commentaries everywhere. (Among many such cites, see here, here, here, here, and even here.)

36 years seems to be a special, almost magical number in political cycles. Counting forward from the beginning of the Republic in spans of
36 years -- give or take 2 to 4 years -- one finds at the end of each such span the occurrence of a presidential election marking a major watershed transitional moment in American politics. Thus, counting forward from the first President, we proceed from Washington (1789) to Andrew Jackson (1828) to Lincoln (1860) to McKinley (1896) to FDR (1932) to Nixon (1968).

The presidential election of 1968 represented the last great realignment in American politics. It marked the boundary between the great liberal era ushered in by Franklin Roosevelt--and continued under Truman, Kennedy and Johnson--and the deeply conservative era we have all been living through ever since.
(Note that Eisenhower, the sole Republican to serve as President during the period of liberal ascendancy, actually governed as a centrist, and did nothing to upset the liberal hegemony with regard to social policy. Indeed, in many ways Eisenhower furthered liberal causes, particularly with regard to racial desegregation, judicial appointments, and investment in public infrastructure. But that's another story.) As with most realignments, the coming change could be seen before it actually took effect. Thus, in 1964, the apparent Republican debacle of Barry Goldwater's massive loss to Lyndon B. Johnson actually marked Republicans' pioneering use of the new "Southern Strategy," which had employed cultural conservatism and veiled appeals to racism to peel the Southern states away from the Democratic Party's historic grip. Following up on Goldwater's lead, in 1968 Richard Nixon piggy-backed on the third-party candidacy of George Wallace to peel the old Confederacy away from the Democrats, narrowly defeat Hubert Humphrey, and effecting the first major political realignment since F.D.R.

The Republicans subsequently perfected their use of the Southern Strategy in 1972 and later under Reagan in 1980 and 1984, cementing their grip on the South and identifying their party more and more with Southern values, world views, and cultural prejudices. It is no accident that the dominant accent heard in the corridors of power for the past 40 years has been Southern--whether the accent hails from Texas, Arkansas or Georgia. Even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were part of this conservative ascendancy. Both were elected under somewhat unusual circumstances: Carter after Nixon resigned in disgrace and was pardoned by his successor, and Clinton
with the help of third-party candidate Ross Perot after conservatives had turned on George H.W. Bush for breaking his "pledge" not to raise taxes. Although they were both Democrats and nominally liberal, they were forced to trim their ideological sails to the dominant conservative political philosophy of their times, and had trouble governing in that environment. Moreover, it was Bill Clinton who famously said "The era of big government is over," after right-wing conservatives under the leadership of Newt Gingrich took over Congress.

Counting 36 years past the watershed year of 1968 brings us to 2004 as the next predicted cyclical realignment.
The election results of both 2000 and 2004 were aberrations. At the very least, both of these elections were extraordinarily close. It has been argued (and this writer firmly believes) that they were effectively stolen by electoral manipulation and chicanery in the swing states of Florida and Ohio, respectively.
(Two words: Karl Rove.) In fact, the country was getting ready for a new realignment.

Historically speaking, the elections of 2000 and 2004 were closely comparable to the election of 1824, in which John Quincy Adams lost both the popular and the electoral vote to Andrew Jackson, but nevertheless became president through backroom political deals in the House of Representatives with another failed candidate, Henry Clay. Adams' victory was entirely Pyrrhic; the election actually signaled the onset of a massive political realignment. This became obvious when Jackson roared back to defeat Adams decisively in 1828, crushing him in both the electoral college and the popular vote.

The situation for the past eight years of George W. Bush's Presidency is thus much like that which obtained during the administration of John Quincy Adams, with the significant difference that the unexpected occurrence of a massive terrorist attack on American soil on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent onset of Bush's trumped-up war on Iraq artificially extended Republican dominance for a full six years. Karl Rove's dream of instituting a "permanent Republican majority"--in actuality, a right-wing conservative majority--has ultimately proved illusory. (See here and here.) The latest progressive realignment -- which had actually already been predicted by some commentators and observers -- was deferred artificially, as it were, by the irregularities of the electoral situations in 2000 and 2004.

Harbingers of the new realignment actually became evident in the bi-election of 2006. By that point, general dissatisfaction with the Iraq War and widespread economic dislocations suffered by the struggling middle class had generated an unmistakable popular demand for a truly progressive change in direction. The Democrats "whupped" the Republicans out of Congress, making Nancy Pelosi the first woman Speaker of the House, and taking over the Senate as well.

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the new progressive realignment has come to full fruition. This is seen most clearly in the change in the electoral map. The Republican Party, which once secured its 40-year dominance by snatching the "solid South" from the grip of the Democratic Party in the series of elections between 1964 and 1972, has now actually become the Party of the South, confined to the very region upon which it once relied as the base for its national electoral coalition. In the height of irony, the party of Lincoln--the Grand Old Party which fought the traitor secessionists of the Confederacy, emancipated the slaves, saved the Union and amended the constitution to give equal rights to all Americans--has itself become the party of the Confederacy. Lincoln would not recognize as his own the political party which continues to claim him as its founder. In a very real sense, it is the Democratic Party of Barack Obama which has become the Party of Lincoln.

In this respect, it is interesting to compare the electoral map of the realignment election
of 1896 (McKinley versus Bryan) with the recent election. The party divide is almost precisely the opposite of that which exists today. Thus, McKinley's dominant Republican Party was based in the Northeast and Northern Midwestern States, exactly like today's Democratic Party; while Bryan's Democrats were based in the old Confederacy of the South plus the states of the Great Plains. Like Barack Obama, McKinley was able to win because he also took California and Oregon. The South was far less populous in 1896 than it is today, and had correspondingly fewer electoral votes. However, if the 1896 electoral map were duplicated today, removing the modern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii from the map--none of which existed as states in 1896--McKinley would still win.)

In short, the Democratic Party has become the new dominant political party in America. It has inherited the base which the Grand Old Party of Lincoln created, and which McKinley's election in 1896 secured and made the governing national political party up until the Great Depression.
After 1896, the Republicans became the big tent party, capacious enough to embrace conservatives like McKinley, Coolidge, Harding and Hoover, as well as great Republican progressives like Teddy Roosevelt and Robert La Follette. On the other hand, after McKinley defeated the populist Bryan, the Democrats were relegated to regional status, becoming little more than the party of the old Confederacy, nursing its grievances against the dominant north. It took the advent of the Great Depression and the rise of working class unions for the Democratic Party to reassert itself under FDR, beginning with the next great realignment election of 1932.

Today, the defeated Republican Party appears to be falling into the kind of disunity and disarray that appears on the losing sides of major political realignments. Republican office holders are searching for scapegoats to explain their party's recent loss. The various disparate factions of the Party--libertarians, social conservatives, Christianist fundamentalists, neoconservative authoritarians and free market fanatics--are busily forming a circular firing squad of blame. (See here, here,
here, here and here.) Meanwhile, demographic trends in the country point inexorably toward continuing Democratic dominance for the foreseeable future. (See here, here and here.) It appears that the long predicted emerging Democratic majority has in fact finally emerged.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Stupid Peoples' Party

The other night, during a break at an evening rehearsal of the choral group I sing with, a friend told me he'd decided that there were three kinds of Republicans: (1) the stupid, (2) the ignorant, and (3) the evil. After some discussion, he agreed with me that "evil" was too loaded and absolutist a term, and we substituted "selfish." He also agreed that "ignorant" was a bit too close to "stupid," so we settled on "uninformed." In the end, we settled on defining the Republican electorate as a triumvirate of the stupid, the uninformed, and the selfish.

Now, as a (retired) lawyer, I can really get into obsessing over fine verbal distinctions. Thus, I could happily argue the subtle differences between "uninformed," "misinformed," and "incurious" for hours. I actually prefer the term "misinformed," because it removes some ethical taint from this large category of Republicans--which happens to include some of my best friends and family members. The term "misinformed" conveys the truth that the errors of the Republican electorate are not actually entirely their fault, but rather are largely the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign. It also gives hope that this large group may ultimately be persuadable. After all, somebody's going to have to do the tough work of saving the two-party system in this country by converting today's authoritarian "Republican Party" back to the true spirit of its founders. As for the term "selfish," although it is preferable to the absolutist label of "evil," it nevertheless doesn't quite convey the combination of moral depravity and banality that my friend and I were trying to describe. I'm currently debating between and "greedy" and "venal." (For related discussion of individuals and groups fitting these various description, see here and here.)

But I have no problem with the first term in this list--"stupid." Whatever else they may be called, a large percentage of Republicans can only be described as just plain dumb. So (with a hat tip to Paul Krugman) I have decided that--at least in its current manifestation--the Republican Party should be known as "the Stupid People's Party."

It was John Stuart Mill who said: "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative." Mill's dictum rings true for today's Republican Party. For every intelligent, honest, honorable Republican (Senators Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel, and Olympia Snowe spring to mind) there are hundreds of Republicans who appear to have abandoned critical thinking as an annoying hindrance to maintaining blind faith in a deeply reactionary, top-down authoritarian ideology. Rather than applying critical analysis in an effort to solve the catastrophic problems facing this country, Republicans consistently exhibit a knee-jerk preference--sometimes approaching almost theological dimensions--for imposing a simplistic, black-and-white philosophical template on every issue, invariably resulting in rigid adherence to an ideologically predetermined result in defiance of facts, evidence, history, or reality. (For a classic discussion of this phenomenon in action, see here.)

Here's another great Mill quotation: "
Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." (Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 2) In other words, it is better to exercise one's critical intelligence and reasoning even if it leads to an erroneous conclusion, than to accidentally avoid making a mistake while blindly trusting to one's "gut instinct" in defiance of critical thinking and analysis.

Mill's paradoxical dictum is based on a profound insight.
In a recent article in Salon, neurologist Robert Burton described how, with the decline in critical thinking, the average American voter is becoming increasingly unable to make informed decisions about which candidate or political party to support. The problem is that a person's awareness of his or her own competence (or lack thereof) appears to vary inversely with that person's actual intellectual ability. In other words, the more intellectually unskilled a person is, the more unaware of it he or she will be. As a corollary, a person who has difficulty recognizing his own incompetence will often have an inflated self-assessment of his own abilities. Thus, incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill; fail to recognize genuine skill in others; and fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy. As a result, the least intellectually competent people tend to overestimate their own cognitive abilities, and simultaneously believe they are smarter than individuals who are demonstrably of far superior intellect and ability. Conversely, even though they can more accurately assess their own abilities, intelligent individuals tend to overestimate the performance of others, and believe that everyone else "gets it" just as they do. As Burton notes, this phenomenon "should serve as the epitaph for the Bush administration: 'People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else's.' " (Burton, "My Candidate, Myself," Sept.22, 2008.)

As with the political leaders, so with the voters who elected them to office. An electorate of incompetent voters will tend to favor incompetent politicians. Such voters will
overestimate their own ability to make reasoned choices, fail to recognize genuinely able politicians when placed before them, and ultimately fail to recognize the extremity of their inability to distinguish between competent and incompetent politicians. The political history of the past 30 years is studded with real-world examples of this phenomenon in practice. Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry were all clearly more intellectually competent than the men who defeated them in their respective presidential contests. Yet the sliver of the American electorate that actually determines elections in this country decided differently. Time and again, the lesser candidates were adjudged by swing voters to be "more Presidential" than the superior ones. What does this say about the critical intelligence and competence of those swing voters? The catastrophic results are clearly evident today, as the second Bush Administration stumbles to its ignominious end.

For 40 years, the standard Republican political strategy
has been a toxic brew of subtle racism and blatant appeals to class and cultural resentment: the so-called "wedge issues." This has manifested as support for so-called "states rights," vicious attacks on affirmative action, "welfare queens," expanded civil rights, and "voter fraud," and demonization of liberals as weak-kneed pacifists who will "raise your taxes," take away your guns, turn your children into homosexuals, abort your babies, and somehow do away with your (fundamentalist Christian) religion. As such, Republicans have successfully defined liberals--and by extension, the "Democrat Party"--as a failed political philosophy wedded to issues unpopular with a majority of Americans and out of touch with mainstream American values and interests. It goes without saying that this simplistic approach to all issues has channeled political discourse away from reasoned analysis of the actual problems facing the country, and toward simplistic labeling and name-calling based on appeals to fear and greed. In short, all the characteristics that have made the Republican Party a haven for the stupid, the ignorant or misinformed, the venal and the greedy.

The problem for Republicans is that reality is catching up with the fantasy world they have created for themselves, and in which they have forced the rest of the country to live for the past eight years. In the face of the massive catastrophes caused by the Bush Administration's monumental incompetence, corruption and arrogance, the majority of people in the center--the growing segment of the population calling itself "independent"--is catching on to the fact that the entire Republican ideological construct is both a scam and a sham. The Republican "brand" is rapidly collapsing under the weight of its own failures, and losing its selling power.
As the bubble bursts, the Republican bubble-heads who have been living inside it have been thrust into the much harsher conditions of the "reality based community." As a result, the more educated and intellectually honest of them have been deserting the Republican Party in droves. This trend--particularly visible among members of the professional classes--has been noted by conservative commentators like David Brooks (here) and David Frum (here).

Lately, with the polls appearing to show the Republican Party
in increasingly dire straits, the news has been full of reports of deep divisions within Republican Party ranks, indeed within the entire so-called Conservative Movement itself. Libertarians, Neoconservatives, Christian fundamentalists, evangelicals, social conservatives, authoritarian corporatists, old-line free-market types, and main-street business people are all pointing fingers at each other in a veritable circular firing squad of blame. Let us hope that the fast-approaching election will mark the final collapse of the old Stupid People's Party. Can we then hope for the return of the original "Grand Old Party"--the Party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Earl Warren, and the Rockefellers? Only time--and the election returns--will tell. But it may be that the ghosts of those worthies have long since deserted their old haunts, and become ethereal Democrats.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Political Realignment

Today (October 21) the Washington Post/ABC poll reported that "first-time voters" favor Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of 73 to 26 percent. This is an astounding margin of 47 percent in Obama's favor. By way of comparison, in 2004, first-time voters favored Kerry over Bush by 53 to 46 percent, or a margin in Kerry's favor of only 7 percent. Similarly, the poll shows that Obama is up 12 points over John McCain among white voters under 30, a complete reversal from 2004 when Kerry lost these voters by 10 points. These poll numbers are of tremendous significance. They mark a generational paradigm shift. In my opinion, they presage a major political realignment of the sort seen this country approximately every 30 to 40 years.

The last political realignment in this country occurred between the elections of 1968 and 1972, in which Richard Nixon used the now infamous "Southern Strategy" to steal conservative southern votes from the Democrats and cement a new working center-right political majority for the Republican Party. We have been living in a conservative political world in this country ever since, broken only by the two Democratic administrations of Carter (an accidental product of the Watergate scandal) and Clinton (a conservative Democrat elected on a plurality vote with the third-party assistance of Ross Perot).

The recent polls indicate that this conservative hegemony may well be coming to an end. Of course, it is still too early to break out the champagne. There are two weeks left until the election--a lifetime in politics. Although recent polls show Obama considerably ahead nationwide and in the battleground states, McCain may yet succeed in his effort to eke out a Rovian 50.1 percent victory through his campaign of fear and loathing about "socialism" and Obama's "otherness," along with Republican operatives' incipient efforts at voter intimidation and suppression.

But win or lose, it is not too late to make one prediction. We are witnessing a major sea change in the American electorate. With numbers like those reported in today's Washington Post, the Republicans have lost the next generation of voters--big time. Voters under 30--the leaders of the future--are turning decisively away from the Republican hegemony that has dominated American political culture since Nixon, and even more from the rigid right-wing ideology that has controlled the Republican Party since Reagan. The "culture war" issues that have so exercised the electorate since the 1960's--abortion, guns, gays, "family values," flag burning, prayer in schools, etc.--no longer carry much weight with the rising generation. Liberal and progressive ideas once dismissed automatically out of hand are being embraced by young people who have little use for the tired old doctrines that for so long have been used by Republicans to beat Democrats into submission and defeat them time and time again. The toxic tactics used by Republicans to win elections ever since Richard Nixon simply aren't working any more.

As a result, we are on the cusp of historic change. I believe the mid-term election of 2006 marked the beginning of a political realignment like the historic realignments that occurred in earlier transformational elections, like those of 1932, 1968 and 1980. That realignment will burst fully into flower with this transformational presidential election.

I'll go out on a limb. I predict this election will be seen historically as at least as significant a political earthquake as the election of 1932, which ushered in a generation of liberal/progressive dominance with the defeat of the old-guard Hoover/Coolidge Republicans and the accession of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Indeed, we may be witnessing an even more historically significant moment. Eight years of George W. Bush's arrogance, incompetence, hubris and unprecedentedly authoritarian overreaching has left this nation in perilous straits on every front, and at the same time more deeply divided than at any time since the Civil War. The election of 2008 may well be the most important election since those of 1860 and 1864. Not since Lincoln became President has the fate of our nation hung so perilously in the balance of a divisive electoral contest.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Shock and Awe

I've seen some bloggers and/or commentators refer to the McCain campaign's rollout of its choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as having the effect of "shock and awe" on the Obama campaign and Democrats in general. That's a pretty good description.

In his column for September 12, 2008, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert states: "While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail. How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride? For those who haven't noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on 'American Idol.'" Indeed.

When the Palin nomination was first announced, my reaction was identical to that of my wife and all my friends--McCain just threw away any chance of winning that he might have had. How could the American public possibly accept the nomination of an obviously unqualified, inexperienced outsider, whom no one has ever heard of, and who came from a sparsely populated state cut off and far away from the rest of the union? Particularly when up to that point McCain had based his entire campaign on the alleged superiority of his "experience" to Obama's, and the youthful inexperience of the latter. Surely, McCain was depriving himself of his central argument, right?

What I and my friends didn't take account of at that moment were two undeniable facts. First, Palin was not totally unknown. She was in fact quite well known to the hard right-wing and its sycophants--particularly the right-wing commentariat most prominently represented by Rush Limbaugh, who had himself been pushing for McCain to choose Palin for quite some time.

Second, the relatively small sliver of the electorate located almost precisely in the middle of the political spectrum--which will decide the fate of the nation in any close election--is poorly informed, poorly educated, and frankly not very bright.

How else can one explain the fact that these people are still been making up their minds about how to vote at this late stage of the presidential campaign? I mean, really, how long has this thing been going on already? And these people are only NOW making up their minds? That in itself proves that they haven't been paying any attention to what has undeniably been one of the most exciting and transformational political campaigns in modern American history. And if they haven't been paying attention to that, it's a good bet they haven't been paying any attention at all to what the Bush Administration has been doing to the country for the past eight years. Unlike the presidential campaign, the machinations of the Bush Administration have not been advertised and trumpeted to the public at large; to the contrary, they have been blanketed in deep secrecy and masked by constant propaganda unlike anything this country has ever seen.

From these observations, it is but a small deductive step to conclude that the coming election will be decided by the lest informed, least educated, and least involved portion of the electorate, which also happens to be that segment of the voting public most lacking in the capacity for critical thinking. These people--in whose hands all of our fates rests--have apparently only just now "tuned in" to the presidential election. And what's the first thing to come onto the "television screens" of their awareness? None other than the cute, smiling, incredibly perky, amazingly spunky hockey-mom face of former Miss Alaska-runnerup Sarah Palin.

In that context, pace Bob Herbert, the next election really is becoming an episode of American Idol. And in such a contest, Sarah Palin actually stands a better than even chance of sweeping the field. God help us all.