Friday, March 25, 2011

Sons, Fathers and Mau Maus

Okay, I’m late with this. But foreign events have so overtaken the national consciousness that once again something that should be at the forefront of our national “dialogue” is passing under the radar.
Both Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee want to beat Barack Obama and be the next president (and both of them would settle for one out of two). A couple of weeks ago before the tragedies, natural and manmade, in Japan and Libya these two national representatives of American Conservatism were momentarily in and out of the media strobe light publicly characterizing the current elected President of the United States as a-bone-through-the-nose Mau Mau savage lurking in the White House bushes readying an attack on Western (White) Culture.
Mr. Gingrich said, “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions] … That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.” While Mr. Huckabee had this insight to offer: "one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American ... his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British are a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather." 
Right off the bat, I find this confusing: I distinctly remember hearing exactly the same thing as I was growing up on the cusp of the rural American Midwest and the industrial Northeast in the 1950s and 60s, white America’s Golden Age. Both my parents were white (although I’ve since learned that, being of Italian descent, we are not Caucasian but Mediterranean). Nevertheless, I remember being taught by real white people in grade school that up until World War II, the English were quite proud of the fact that “the sun never set on the British Empire,” and that they did, indeed, control and exploit worldwide holdings from Canada to Africa to India and Australia. And as I remember, people who have empires are called “imperialists.” So I also inherited a perspective from my sort-of-white working class parents that here in America, “the British [were] a bunch of imperialists who persecuted [our great] grandfather[s]," although, in point of fact, all my literal great-great-grandfathers were actually in Italy at the time. (Maybe, since the steel mills were still open and they needed the cheap labor, everyone just wanted us not-quite-whites to feel included.) I also remember being taught by white people that our rebellion against the British Empire was known among the educated elite as the American Revolution and that the leaders of this particular revolt were not called Mau Mau’s but “Patriots” and “Founding Fathers.” Now, I’ve not formally studied History beyond the High School level like Mr. Gingrich, so I guess he must be able to parse some political or cultural nuance from the “Empire-Imperialist” terminology that’s going over my head.
As for Mr. Huckabee, I would be confused, too, about his version of our President’s childhood since there’s no factual record of his having been in Kenya in his early life despite the fact that his father was born there. The President’s records and personal memories indicate a childhood ranging from Hawaii to Indonesia just like my own memories and records indicate a less peripatetic childhood in the depopulated, rusted crater we now nostalgically call the “Heartland.” As I said, I would be confused except that Mr. Huckabee is from Arkansas where Science and Faith are still seen as antithetical. And when presented with the arbitrarily manufactured choice of a “worldview” based on factual evidence or one based on faith, he has chosen the latter.
To me, all of this fairly begs the question of whether these gentlemens' analyses of the President’s worldview would be better understood if scrutinized using the very same criteria they’ve judged the President by –- inherited attitudes.
Mr. Gingrich, like Mr. Obama “lost touch” with his father at an early age. Having been raised in Southern Pennsylvania by a single mother could he have been exposed to and influenced by the beliefs and goals of one of that area’s local “tribal” or “clannish” groups, The Keystone Knights? (A group that interestingly enough has ties to Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee’s home state.) I’m not passing any judgment here on anyone’s attitudes or beliefs. I’m not. I’m just asking if it could be argued that only if you understand the visceral fear for the future of white Eurocentric culture, can you begin to piece together Mr. Gingrich’s and Mr. Huckabee’s actions? Perhaps that is the most accurate, predictive model for their behavior.
Mr. Gingrich eventually migrated with his mother and adoptive father to Columbus Georgia where he graduated from Baker High School in 1961. He has cited a trip to Verdun France during those years as “changing his life,” inspiring a lifelong passion for “sacrifice” in the interest of the common good. Since he has described himself as so impressionable during those years, so susceptible to events as “life changing,” perhaps we should keep in mind the part that Columbus, Georgia played in the Civil Rights Movement at exactly this time. Perhaps the documented instances of what were called “Citizen’s Councils” and the use of local laws and statutes to prevent federally mandated integration are an indicator of Mr. Gingrich’s perception of people of color, especially when he sees them in suits and ties reading and writing. Perhaps that is another accurate, predictive model for his behavior?
In the case of Mr. Huckabee, when we consider his remarks about the President’s attitudes toward the white British -- attitudes inherited from his African Mau Mau father and grandfather -- perhaps it would be illuminating to recall the instances of African American enslavement existing in some Arkansas counties up into the 1930s, a time when his parents and grandparents were in their own highly impressionable, formative years. As a good Christian who honored his father and mother, respecting their beliefs and attitudes, wouldn’t his view of the enslaved black race’s liberation at the end of the Civil War in America be very different than ours? Even today the Civil War is being feted everywhere in the South as the noble defense against the Northern War of Aggression, the one that made slavery illegal in Arkansas and ended black folks’ status as property. Might one ask if Mr. Huckabee’s attitude about that would be very different from ours because he could have grown up hearing that the freed black slaves were a bunch of enraged savages plotting revenge on the white race because of their enslavement by his grandfather’s friends and neighbors?
Now, I know what any thoughtful reader will say to this little exposition: It’s a vile pack of accusations thinly veiled as rhetorical questions based on assumptions pieced together from disconnected facts, coincidences, innuendo, prejudices and, maybe, outright lies. This disgusting display is a public embarrassment to American political discourse and has no place in a sincere civic dialogue about national priorities and choices. In fact its only conceivable intention could be to tap into irrational fears and hatreds in order to smear the good names and reputations of two decent, public figures who’ve overcome adversities and obstacles to lead productive lives -- genuine exemplars of the American Dream -- simply because I disagree with their political views.
And that would be a very insightful critique.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Searching for a Metaphor

It seems we’ve come to one of those junctures, one of those points in time, a confluence of events when things can go one way or the other. Again.

A “resurgent” Republican party that’s been swept back into majorities at the congressional and state levels has inserted that rising surge into another hornets’ nest. While the GOP can always be counted upon to come back from any defeat meaner and badder than before, they are currently orchestrating a breathtaking display of the fact that they can also just as reliably be counted upon to overplay their hand. And any observer would have to admit that these past two months have been spectacular. As political offensives go this one has all the shrewd subtlety of a drunken bellyflop into the country club pool at the Membership Drive Cocktail Social. Riding into office on a promise of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” we’ve seen a bait and switch so naked, so bald, so in our face that, if any sense of objectivity is maintained, it’s actually pretty funny. After the Democratic controlled “lame duck” session passed an extraordinary slate of social, foreign policy and financial legislation – including all the tax cuts for the rich called for by Republicans to stimulate the economy (resulting in unemployment decreases in less than half the states, and increases or stagnation in the rest) – we’ve now seen a coordinated offensive aimed at rolling back what’s left of the rights and protections of the smoking crater that was the middle class. 

“Mr. Boehner where are the jobs?” 
Now thirty states are seeing some form of anti-abortion, anti-choice measures being railroaded through their assemblies, including, of course the Georgia Peach, HB1, calling for the death penalty for any woman who suffers a miscarriage. Planned Parenthood is about to be put down. Then there are the real headliners: The anti union laws currently being stuffed down the throats of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and a slew of other states. Originally sold as a necessary sacrifice to balance the budget, Wisconsin Republicans finally stepped out from behind the curtain while the Democrats were in Illinois reuniting with their spines and tore the budget pretense right out of the bill pushing through its substance, the part that strips unions of any right to bargain. In case you’ve been off somewhere drinking tiger’s blood and haven’t noticed, that’s caused a commotion we haven’t seen in this country in a very long time. 

“So where are the jobs?” Dunno, but on top of hundreds of thousands of economically stressed Americans chanting and marching in the streets we’re also being treated to Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, two GOP Presidential contenders actually trying to sell the notion that they’re better qualified for the presidency because “Obama’s a Mau-Mau,” and Mr. Gingrich’s passion for this country is so great it can only find its full expression between the legs of someone he’s not married to. And don’t forget Peter King (R-NY) the former IRA fundraiser and weapons procurer who’s now convening witch hunts into the political and spiritual leanings of American citizens from a religion he doesn’t like. Everyone’s seen and heard these things, I’m simply listing a bunch of highly publicized facts. Now, “where are the jobs?”

Dunno, but here we are with this amazing spectacle unfolding and my real problem is finding the right metaphor as I prepare to watch the Democrats pounce on yet another incredible opportunity handed to them once again by the blatant Patrician arrogance of the Republican Party. 

One possibility that leapt immediately to mind, perhaps as a nod to local inquisitor Congressman King, is game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Tens of thousands of Reagan Democrats are marching in the streets all over the country having finally been handed their pink slips by the Party of Prosperity which feels apparently that they have no place else to go since this legislation effectively strips the Democrats of their last organized support. They’ve been had, again and again, and they’re finally pissed. Progressives, Liberals, Pundits and other big mouths are screaming for recalls, recounts and strikes! We’re hearing Pearl Harbor allusions to the awakened dragon or giant or giant dragon, the American Worker, and he thirsts for justice. People are talking about “tipping points.” To me all this pandemonium resembles nothing so much as that low, bouncing grounder sputtering down the first base line to where Barak (Bucky) Obama crouches uneasily, nervously fumbling with his glove. “This is it,” I remember saying to whichever one of my ex wives I was with at the time, “watch, Boston’s gonna win the world series.”

Or maybe this should be a little more high-brow than baseball. Instead of popcorn, peanuts and a pitcher’s mound it’s just a single earthen barrow near a leafless tree in a desolate landscape. Two non-descript characters (call them Progressives) sit near the tree, waiting. A couple of times a young boy enters, stage left, with a message – cryptic, enigmatic – more questions than answers, time stands still … we wait …

Nah, that’s not it.

How about picturing all of us who voted Democratic as a nervous young parent watching his small child wobbling down the sidewalk on his two-wheeler for the first time without training wheels. The sun reflects crazily off the shiny blue oversized helmet as the kid careens unsteadily, almost drunkenly toward the busy four-way intersection. “C’mon babycakes,” you can’t help but yell. “Remember your promise, you can do it!”

I got it. I got it. How about there’s a thirty-year train wreck of Conservative financial policies inexorably eroding the living standards of what had been the economic engine of the entire goddam planet finally culminating in the eight year reign of a boy King installed in office by his wealthy fathers’ wealthy friends. Let’s say he’s so petulantly arrogant in the certainty and virtue of his ignorance that he uses the entrenched power of these narrow self-interested oligarchs to start two wars on Dad’s credit card while emptying the treasury for all the family friends, accelerating the rate of national decline into a headlong spiral. A substantial majority of the American people become alarmed and vote a young opposition leader gifted, surprisingly, in the arts of both soaring oratory and hard-nosed pragmatism into the White House along with “veto-proof” majorities in both houses, empowering them to band together to begin rolling back the narrow short-sighted policies enforced on the rest of us by a generation of self aggrandizing hustlers and pimps.

Oh, wait. That’s not a metaphor.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Okay, I get it. I finally get it. 
I’ve been on the wrong side for over forty years. I suppose it’s because I came of age during the Viet Nam war and the Civil Rights movement at the zenith of what was the “Left” in American politics before the Ohio National Guard and Mississippi State Police opened fire and we fled the scene scattering off to business school. I was an impressionable kid and I believed in what we’ll just call the “JFK/Peace Corps” version of America. Like most sad, pathetic middle-aged men I’ve been desperately clinging to that fleeting pristine vision like the memory of my first girlfriend’s chubby thighs coyly disappearing under that little plaid Catholic school skirt.

But in the last few days, with the events in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana it finally sank in. Our system is called Capitalism. Capital • ism. Duh. Sometime in the last year or so of his life, George Carlin made an appearance on the panel of Bill Maher’s Real Time program (and I cannot find a clip of this particular performance anywhere on the web). He dumbed down the origins of the political terms “left” and “right” so that even I was able to understand them: In France before the revolution, the landed aristocracy sat at the king’s right hand while the populace, the rabble, sat at his left. Hence, our government’s shift to the right over the past thirty years has been a shift toward a government that protects the ownership of property — capital — rather than the protection of the rights of individuals. In actual fact, I realize it’s been a shift back to the protection of property.

Ours has been, since its inception, a capitalist society. It’s made up of those who own the capital, the revenue-producing property, the factories and industries, and the financial assets that grease those mechanisms. In a capitalist society individuals who don’t own – people who work -- are a natural resource not unlike bananas, mineral deposits or oil and gas reserves. And like all natural resources people reach the point of diminishing returns: They get sick, old, educated, organized or otherwise too costly to be useful. So capital has to be withdrawn and reinvested in newer, underdeveloped places where fresher, unspoiled reserves of lumber, iron ore, sorghum and human beings can be found and exploited. It makes perfect sense and I admit I’ve been an intolerant ideologue to have willfully chosen not to understand that all these years.

In fact as today’s GOP leaders go on Tea Bagging the rest of us, they are more than likely correct in their insistence that the Founding Fathers would find them much more in line with their vision of America than their left, left-of-center, centrist and right-of-center counterparts. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned large, productive plantations that generated enormous wealth derived from tobacco and cotton produced by the labor of more than two hundred literally enslaved human beings. John Adams was a highly successful, affluent, self-made lawyer with a thriving practice that included getting British soldiers off on all charges after they'd shot some fellow American activists dead in the streets. His cousin Samuel was a tax collector for the British government who used his knowledge of the tax codes to help Boston area entrepreneurs “hold onto” their capital. But the personal wealth of the Founding Fathers aside, the biggest indicator of their vision for America – the elephant in the room, as it were – is the fact that only property owning males could actually vote in the land of the free. Tea Party Nation president, Judson Phillips, has already gone on record calling for a return to that fundamentalist practice. Perhaps he’s right.

I suppose I actually have been anti-American in thinking of the events in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana as a struggle for working families’ rights. They are, rather, simply part of the necessary stage of owners and investors withdrawing their capital from one over-mined market in order to invest it in other, fresher venues. And it’s actually the duty of our government to either protect these capitalists exercising that right or just get the hell out of the way. Scott Walker, John Kasich and Chris Christie are simply doing their jobs. A unionized workforce is a resource that has become too expensive for our capitalists to continue tapping.

But unlike whatever his name was in Orwell’s 1984, my I-love-Big-Brother moment has not been a sublime epiphany. I don’t feel any sense of relief or release flooding through me. Maybe I just don’t like to admit I’m wrong, that Im on the losing side. Maybe I’m too old to leave everything and everyone behind and move to France. And I guess because I’m not that smart instead of feeling enlightened, I actually feel more confused.

For instance I understand  and actually agree that capitalism, being the freedom to exercise one’s right to acquire property and wealth, is how the smartest and the best of us rise to the top and realize their fullest potential. I now acknowledge, as I’ve heard it described before, that ethics and morality don’t enter into it: Capitalism is the human equivalent to that natural selective process in the animal kingdom, the survival of the fittest. But doesn’t “survival of the fittest” call to mind a kind of bluntly unthinking, blindly amoral drive for self-preservation that reduces every other living, sentient being on the planet to either an obstacle, a tool or a source of protein? Doesn’t the very phrase conjure up one of those National Geographic high-res video clips: The gray opaque sheen on a crocodile’s eyeball clamping its jaw indiscriminately down on what could as easily be a domestic pet or a small child as a wild bird? (I had been saving this particular metaphor for a post on marriage and ex-wives but I just couldn't wait.) Couldn’t it just as truthfully be called survival of the meanest? In fact isnt the Animal Kingdom really just a kinder, gentler euphemism for “Christ, they live like animals, the biggest and baddest eat all the littler ones, they piss in their drinking water, shit where they eat and when theres nothing left, they move on to despoil the next puddle on the savanna?

Yes, capitalism is our version of survival of the fittest, just like in the Animal Kingdom. But when expressed toward other people, aren’t the phrases “you live like animals” and “you’re an animal” loaded with loathing and visceral disgust, meant to be the worst insults we can hurl at one another? Right there on a par with “you’re left-of-center?”

How do you say “I surrender” in French?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Post Post

As an addendum to this blog's debut post (Here Goes) the Republican Party's open contempt for working people was put on display again by one of Wisconsin's legislators on the March 3rd edition of MSNBC's Last Word program hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell. Check out Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman's derisive belittlement of his own constituents' struggle to make their voices heard in what they have been led to believe by their grade school civics classes is their State Capitol building. (No wonder Republicans are so upset with public school teachers.) Senator Grothman is rapidly establishing a major presence in this humble blogger's pantheon of those right-wing demigods whose every word and action just can't help but publicly display the Republican sense of entitlement to and outright ownership of the organs of government. How dare these teachers, firefighters, cops, snow plow drivers and garbagemen -- these commoners -- camp out on the polished marble flooring between the proud portico of the state capitol building and his carpeted, oak-paneled office? (Okay, okay I don't know what his office looks like or what the building's flooring actually is. Just think of the building materials cited as metaphors for the decorum and gravitas we, the people, like to invest in our public institutions.) It's a long clip, about fourteen minutes in all and the whole thing is very revealing and important but the GOP patrician disgust at the little people starts around 6:55 or so. Anyway, give a lookie.