Monday, April 14, 2008

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

The latest brouhaha over comments of Barack Obama taken out of context brought to mind those famous words Jack Nicholson’s character used in A FEW GOOD MEN.

Something like them have cropped up in many films, usually in the mouths of hardnosed, conservative, realists, as in the movie THE MISSING when a government official explains to Jack Lemmon’s character how without secret and often oppressive and violent actions by our government, us citizens wouldn’t enjoy the good life.

But in my experience, it’s exactly those hardnosed, conservative, so-called “realists” who can’t handle the truth. If it doesn’t fit into their ideology, they can’t believe it, no matter what the facts may be.

Because the fact is, Obama was telling the truth—as he has often done better and more clearly than most candidates in my lifetime. A truth that may come to permanently harm him politically, or not, but nonetheless true for that.

Any survey, let alone anecdotal accounts many of us know firsthand, will show that many working-class voters around the country, particularly in the rust belt, but to some extent everywhere, who have seen their lifestyles deteriorate as a result of the loss of industrial economy jobs to cheaper labor forces in Asia and Mexico and other lands, and their real wages worth no more than what they were in the 1970s, and their lifestyles permanently altered by the need for both spouses to work, and maybe have to work more than one job in order to afford a home and the cars necessary to get to those jobs, and all the other realities of the changes that have turned many in the so-called “middle class” into working poor or struggling-to-get-by-lower-“middle-class,” while the rich get richer, are “bitter” about the loss of those jobs and their once easier and more comfortable lifestyles.

And they often blame it on immigrants and on other "alien" groups, and on “liberals” who support immigrant rights, and the rights of all people. Alot of these working folks have been tricked into believing that the very champions of the kind of political and economic policies that have led to all this loss and downward economic spiral (most but not all in the rightwing of the Republican Party) are the candidates who best represent them because they believe in “family values” which often stands for “gun rights,” anti-abortion postures, and fundamentalist religious beliefs, and that even “free trade” is the fault of liberal politicians, or “out of touch” Washington political elites (who the rightwing Republicans have managed, incredibly well I have to admit, to still characterize as out-of-touch “liberals” even though it’s rightwing Republican elites that have dominated Washington politics for years now).

Obama was just telling it like it is, as he was in his speech on “race” relations in this country. His choice of the word “bitter” in his recent comments is what has been pounced on most, because it makes these people sound hardened and sour in ways they don’t see themselves, nor do any people I know want to be seen as.

But the reality is that is exactly what the Republican rightwing plugged into, under Nixon first, and continues to to this day—bitterness over the loss of an image, if not a reality, of what life in “America” once was or should be. The so-called “Silent Majority” of Nixon’s election campaigns were tricked into believing that the damn hippies and blacks and “East Coast elite” were responsible for whatever ails you.

Nixon’s camp was the first to use the whole “East Coast elite” label on Democratic Party liberals (as well as on some of their own party’s more moderate members), though the Eisenhower campaigns were the first to use the anti-intellectual angle (against Adlai Stevenson and the implied “intellectual elite” he belonged to). “Egghead” was one of the most potent putdowns of the “I like Ike” years.

A lot of Nixon’s strategy came out of his own bitterness over losing to JFK in 1960, (and being unsupported by Ike himself in that campaign). JFK was the poster child for East Coast elite liberals, except his war service, his commitment to helping those less fortunate than himself and his family, along with his obvious intelligence and charm made him a difficult target.

But once he was out of the picture (and later his brother, RFK, was taken out as well), and Nixon was in charge, his people made a point of attacking not just the “East Coast elite” as it was then characterized, and the “hippies” and blacks (the code words being “drug culture” and “uban crime”) but also higher education in the form of most liberal arts colleges and/or East Coast elite schools.

Nixon’s point man in this anti-intellectual, anti-higher “liberal arts” education was his vice president Spiro Agnew, until he got indicted on criminal charges. I remember these attacks well, because at the time I saw them for what they were, a response to the educational benefits of the G. I. Bill (which I was in college benefiting from) making higher education accessible to more people from working-class backgrounds, and the generally positive results of government supported public education at the lower levels, creating an up-and-coming generation of well-educated voters who could reason and weigh the facts in ways that made them less vulnerable to manipulation.

As working-class people without the benefits of those educations—products of poorer rural public schools or of parochial schools where the kind of Age of Enlightenment reasoning, logic, and belief in the scientific method, etc., were not taught, or if taught not encouraged to be applied to politics and religious beliefs (believe me, I tried and it didn’t work)—saw their lives worsen in many ways, it was easy, or at least possible, to exploit their fears and worries by turning them into resentment toward those who seemed to be getting some kind of “free lunch”—welfare “queens” etc.—or extra help—blacks immigrants, etc.—or just had it a lot easier and didn’t seem like their kind of people—“East Coast elites,” etc.

Now Hilary Clinton’s campaign is using those same kinds of tactics. I think I heard she told an audience over the weekend that she believes life begins at conception. Well, there’s certainly a case to be made that the fertilized egg is “alive,” as there is that the cells in my skin are.

But she seemed to be implying, for the first time as far as I know, that the “right to life” people have it correct, even though from her record and from other comments she’s made over the course of her life, she’s never believed that before. And she’s smart enough—in fact as I’ve said before, one of the smartest candidates, if not the smartest (in terms of classroom-style learning), in the race this year—to know that scientifically speaking, if you make a case to defend the right for a fertilized egg to be treated legally the same as a “human,” than you have to make the case that almost all living things be treated that way too, since almost all living things, creatures and plants, are more advanced on the human scale than a fertilized egg or an embryo etc.

Casting Obama’s remarks as “elitist” and meant only for a closed-door meeting of San Francisco sophisticates (read far-out lefties) may prove to be smart politics by the Clinton camp. But, as has been said by many, about her camp’s tactics in recent weeks—ever since it became clear that she could not win enough delegates to beat Obama—they are taking a page from the worst tactics of the rightwing Republicans that have done so much to turn politics into a game of deception.

That doesn’t change the reality that the eight years of the Bill Clinton administration were not just years of peace and prosperity, where almost every bad statistic in this country went down, and almost every good one went up (crime down, teenage pregnancies down, etc. income up, employment up, etc.), but were pretty good for the rest of the world too, though not all (Rawanda e.g.) and that a lot of that reality was a direct result of having a really smart president with a really smart cabinet.

The best example is when the Mexican money crisis hit, or the Asian economies started tanking, (as well as many other examples), the Clinton administration stepped in to bail them out with loans that were favorable enough to make sense, because they got how interrelated the world’s economies had become and knew if they didn’t step in it might mean chaos, or at least worldwide recession.

Bill Clinton’s critics warned of dire consequences (Mexico going bankrupt and taking us down with them, etc.). But Rubin and other Clinton advisors turned out to be correct and the world markets were put back on track and the peace and prosperity continued for us and for most of the rest of the world. Until Bush junior was “elected.”

Now, because of crony and lapdog appointments by junior, and the stated and obvious goal of his administration to reduce big government not by reducing its size (it has grown under this administration and actually was downsized by Clinton’s administration) but by making it as ineffectual as possible, resulting in no one minding the store when catastrophe hits, whether manmade or natural (9/11, Katrina, etc.). And now we have another catastrophe in the so-called “mortgage crisis,” which is actually a banking and investment crisis, and which is having a worldwide effect, as real estate prices begin to plummet everywhere, not just in the U.S.

Add to that the oil crisis. Not for the oil companies, which are making historic profits, i.e. greater profits than have ever been recorded in the history of the world (!) while the world economy sinks because of those prices (the food riots now being seen around the world are the result of rising food prices caused mostly by rising fuel prices etc.).

These are the issues the Democratic candidates should be talking about, not whether a man who has dedicated his life to helping the poor and the disenfranchised and the underrepresented and to healing the divisions that have prevented “America” from leading the world into the future (rather than causing the world to be dragged back into the violence and economic upheavals of the past) instead of taking a cushy job in a top law firm, is an “elitist.”

And besides, hasn’t it always been the supposedly hardnosed, conservative “realists” who defend elites, like the elite class of people who figure out how to manipulate the political and economic systems to enrich themselves and their cronies while the rest of the world goes to hell in a bitter haze of resentments and outrage over the possible loss of their belief systems to some imaginary assault on them by a “liberal elite,” that if it really existed would have ended this campaign by now.

10 comments:

Phillipa said...

Brilliant post, Michael.

JIm said...

Isn't it grand when people just let Barak be Barak. With Rev. Wright, the Weatherman and the Weatherwomen, sneering views of middle America, Resko trial revelations about the Sadam Husein bagman(no dirdect connection other than a denied meeting at a dinner in the bagman's honor at Resko's house), infanticide, no condemnation of Jimmy Carter's undying affection for Arab terrorists, the latest being Hamas's leader and we still hardly know this "Messiah of Change". John McCain or the the allied 527s should just be able to replay Obama words over and over again.

harryn said...

out here in pa - which i affectionately/cynically sometimes refer to as pennsyltuckey to my cronies from all walks of life - and is often met with empathetic chuckles - out here where the rusting of america is overshadowed only by the abundance and splendor of nature and her accompanying seasonal challenges and changes - you’d better believe there’s distrust, wariness, a sense of futility, and underlying anger ...
after all, middle america is precisely that [and no different from any other rural area of the ‘civilized world’], a resource to sustain the rest of the country and a place to pass through on your way to somewhere else - and those who pass through often have a tendency to flaunt their purchasing power with disrespectful arrogance [which seems to be human nature in capitalist countries] - even europeans have a low tolerance for american tourists or others not humbled by their own tribulations ...
and in the past eight years [?] i’ve seen changes out here that i never thought possible; encroaching developments spawned by overcrowding and overtaxed regions by developers who have no regard for land subdivision [drying of water wells], deterioration of roads and infrastructure not fit to accommodate the increased populations, rising taxes, home and farm foreclosures of properties that have generational heritage, loss of jobs supplanted by demeaning ‘opportunities’, a disregard or respect for nature, rising prices adjusted to fit the new demographics, growing feelings of subservience brought on by the pseudo-superiority from commuting incomes, loss of health benefits in compensation for rising oil and food prices, diminished opportunities for children of families who can’t keep up with the rising cost curves or who are on fixed incomes, vanishing retirement benefits for people who sacrificed their lives and health in service to companies who squandered and scammed, and an impenetrable bureaucracy for services that offer too little too late [if you can afford losing wages to apply for them] ...
since this is only a place for comments, i respectfully submit only a sample of the problems - but believe me, there’s plenty more ...
so if you’re from around these parts, what do you do ...
you depend on your skills to survive, work hard, and hold out hope that things will change - because you were raised to respect authority and trust that the government is ‘for the people and by the people’ and that eventually the ripples will hit washington and things will get better ...
in the meantime you wake up before dawn in the freezing winters to go out hunting or catch some fish before you go to work so your freezers will be full and your money might be spent for other necessities, or you spend your weekends cutting down a few trees and chopping wood to beat the price of oil ...et-f’ing-cetera ...
or you explain to your teenager the benefits of enlisting in the armed services where they might be able to achieve an education/skill and gain the respect of the military minded conservatives that seem to control the future of jobs and opportunity because there’s no way to afford college anymore ...
or you numb the pain and resentment with any number of dependencies including rural cable tv that is inundated with violence, aggression, one chance in a million fantasies ...
then maybe you try to find a seat in church on sundays to quiet your nerves, resentments, and thoughts you know aren’t healthy ...
mr. obama wasn’t wrong - he just didn’t expand upon it quite enough - nor was he expected to, it wasn’t a speech - it was a taped conversation in a gathering where the press was previously prohibited ...
and ms. clinton - i’m afraid she’s spent too much of her life behind marble columned facades to be able to admit the truth of obama’s comments ...
these days, i can’t afford the luxury of anger or ‘bitterness’ but i can understand it better than i know the color of my own eyes - and though i don’t wish that sort of disquieting rage on anyone, i’d rather see a little ‘bitterness’ rather than blind submission to oppressive rules - at least enough anger to motivate people to vote for hope and change ...

Tore Claesson said...

www.huffingtonpost.com/david-coleman/i-was-there-what-obama-re_b_96553.html

Caitlin said...

Love David Coleman's post on Huffington. It sums up what I already assumed from all the headlines regarding this, and for that matter all the previous broohaha , it's always taken out of context. The amazing thing to me is how whacked this system is, truth and honesty are "elitist"! What the hell? Living in another rural community myself I can tell you bitter doesn't begin to describe what some people feel, but hey, who cares about a bunch of low income, hard working folks trying to make ends meet? Thanks to Paul for his honest post too. God help us all.

AlamedaTom said...

Geez, this is why I love Obama! Here we all are actually discussing something meaningful and real, all spawned by his supposed gaffe. I'm not sure who harryn is but his/her comment above literally humbled me. The last sentence is so brilliant that I just have to feature it again so readers don't overlook it: "... i’d rather see a little ‘bitterness’ rather than blind submission to oppressive rules - at least enough anger to motivate people to vote for hope and change ..." Oh, yeah...

And Caitlin, it's so cool to learn what a wonderful, thoughtful person you've grown up to be. Also, thanks for your comments on my blog.

Uh er, Lal, thanks for your long, cogent post that got all this going.

~ tom

Lally said...

Thank you all. And I agree about Harryn's comment, and already thanked him for it. I hope he doesn;t mind my revealing that his house has just been foreclosed on. So he knows of which he speaks.

JIm said...

Debates- The Obamasiah does not perform well without the teleprompter. He seemed surprised that he would be asked questions about taxation, 2nd amendment rights, his past and present associations with hate mongers and terrorists. He should feel lucky that they did not hit on the Rezko trail. He says his goal is fairness in taxation even though lower taxes have increased revenues to the govt. That is right out of Karl Marx. I felt strange rooting for Hillary.

Lally said...

Oh Jim, come on, stop with the Karl Marx rightwing crap and the guilt by association crap. It's tiresome and phony. If you have legitimate beefs with liberals and Democrats and Obama in particular, like the one over his tax proposals, then comment on their merits and offer a better solution. One of the things Obama has tried to do, obviously, as he has said a gazillion times, is not play the same old Washington political games, which includes diverting attention from real issues to phony ones (the economic downturn is a real issue, the flag lapel pin isn't) or hammering untruths as if they were true (Obama is somehow not patriotic because he's on the same board as a guy who was a radical half a century ago and still may hold some radical opinions). If he wasn't trying to do poilitics differently, he could have said that McCain has someone on his staff, someone he has hired and placed his confidence in, who supported and contributed to and was involved in an attempt to bomb an abortion clinic. That's real "terrorism" and a real connection, not two people who happen to live in the same neighborhood and serve on a charity board together. Et-endlessly-cetera.

JIm said...

Raising taxes both social security and capital gains, is almost always a bad idea. In a time of recession it is lunacy. Have you noticed that since the Democrats won the 2006 election, that consumer confidence has plunged, opinion of right direction wrong direction for the economy has gone negative, housing, the US dollar crash(40% of the oil price rise is in the US dollar) the stock market has had problems. Confidence in the congress is at historic lows. Could it be that a threat of the largest tax increase in US history is having a dampening effect? Could it be that corporation bashing, is not productive, since 100,000,000 + Americans are stock holders. I dare say that Actors Equity probably owns stock in oil and drug companies. The US corporate tax rate is 35%. That is 10% higher than Japan and Old Europe.

Americans consider many things when they elect presidents, among which are, political philosophy, economic programs and maybe most important, is the character of the candidate. By Obama not disassociating himself with, what many perceive to be a racist and anti American preacher, by being associated and friendly with a confessed and proud terrorist, by being slow to criticize jimmy carter for what many believe is treasoness and or at least anti American and anti Israeli activities, by pointedly not wearing a the flag pin he has left himself open to doubts about at least his judgment if not his patriotism.