Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The political and personal mailbag

I've really been flooded with e-mail about "The Political and the Personal," none of it, you'll be glad to hear, of the hateful variety, though some were critical. If you've written and haven't heard back from me, please be patient -- I'm hoping to get to everyone sooner or later. But I've been really bad about answering my e-mails diligently since this summer anyway. (Bad blogger! Bad blogger!) Sometimes I just get swamped.

I've always been blessed with unusually smart correspondents who have shaped a lot of the analysis I've tried undertaking here, and in this case my humble (if ridiculously long) post served as a springboard for some very keen thoughts that, I think, dramatically advance the conversation I wanted to stir. Some of these I mentioned yesterday at some of the blogs I cited.

One I managed to overlook was a thoughtful post from Bruce at Jus Cuz:
[T]there is a movement afoot that lives and breathes anti-liberalism. But the joke is that there is no liberal hegemony. They look upon benign culture and see fire breathing liberals; in the media, in the colleges, in the government, in the schools. They fail to recognize that what they see as liberalism is nothing more than modern society. A blossom of equality, freedom of speech and a dimunition of religious dogma. ...

While I was still studying (and I still do!) the dynamics of this movement I constantly wondered, "who are they talking about"? I might be a liberal, but I hardly felt that the picture of liberalism they painted was representative of my views. It wasn't, of course. It was a fantasyland. So I took the position that "there were no liberals". At least how they were depicted by this movement. I still believe this. The "enemy", as depicted, is indeed a monstrosity, but it doesn't actually have corporal form. Its a figment, created for the purpose of ridicule. The "liberal" is a crudley fashioned boogeyman crafted from out of context quotes and the stupidity of random individuals. Its nothing more than a carefully designed punching bag, in a fight you are guaranteed to win.

And some were in personal e-mails, samplings of which I'd like to share.

Mary at The Left Coaster writes in:
It really is personal with so many of us. I'm always so amazed at how many conservatives seem to be totally oblivious to the extreme damage done to our country and our world by the rightwing radicals. How many normally sensible people are either bought off by what they get from this administration (that selfish corporate/small business owner/entrepreneur class) or convinced that the "moral" issues the Bush espouses are the critical moral issues? The way that the right wing uses selfish interest to compromise people is one more thing that is so nasty about them and their tactics. They really do bring out the worst in people. Very much like Milosevic in Serbia, they have mastered the politics of resentment and hate. They are definitely poisoning our country with their extremist language and incitement to hate and it is so clear that when that type of emotion gets out of control, the consequences are very bad -- witness Chile and Serbia and Rwanda.

Anyway, it is very good to see your thoughts on this. In my opinion, repeating this message (they are not only malicious, but even worse, incompetent) over and over again is going to be the only way to make sure the "average" American really gets to understand the danger. I'd feel much better if we got some of the more credible Republicans starting to sound the alarm as well. Yet it important that people like yourself express the problem in very clear and eloquent language -- it helps the rest of us that are also trying to stand up to the thugs and hopefully allows some of the conservatives some other information that eventually helps them understand the monster they are feeding.

Just Ducky Farm writes:
A perspective you may have missed:

You can substitute this registered Independant 'conservative' for the word liberal through most of what you have written and still be correct (at least from my perspective.)

I have usually considered myself conservative (and have been accused of it by 'liberals' back when it was not in style) but basically agree with your own (probably mislabeled) liberal viewpoint.

I think the fringe elements currently running this country are hanging on by their fingernails and will be replaced -- if we can find a way to propagate these kind of discussions.

John at Bliss Puppet writes in to supplement his posts there by observing:
I'm interested in the idea that some bloggers have begun to draw lines in the sand, i.e., they are beginning to acknowledge that the Republican party is not just engaged in same ol', same ol'. Rather they are, to borrow Krugman's word, "revolutionary" and (probably?) trending toward some form of anti-democratic totalitarism.

I agree, though it's an incrementalist revolutionarism; they're satisfied to do it in small steps. They're boiling us like frogs.

Roger Kemble at The Yorkshire Lad writes in with a distinctively anti-American slant:
I have just read your article on Smirking chimp. This outsider finds it profoundly disquieting.

(You) . . . "don't really blame (your) friends for this, though of course (you) deeply resent their willingness to adopt such beliefs."

Who exactly do you blame then? [Ed. note: I said in the text that I blamed the media transmitters who fill their brains with this crap.]

You may be interested to read my take on your "friends".

Nearly all US web news "dissident" commentary I read takes as a given that the Bush neo-con rampage started with 9/11. Not so. Indeed, George W. Bush epitomizes everything your USA stands for and has stood for ever since its inception. Your minute men were interested in deposing King George l, for sure, but only so they could to take up his mantle. And they learnt well from the scourge of the British Empire. History tells us Bush and Blair are irrevocably well suited.

Your USA is a scourge on the world: has been for two hundred years. And it has trodden in the face of weaker nations all with the conscious complicity of your "wonderful-hard-working-sincere-yet-deluded-working-class" countrymen.

I will be very surprised if Bush does not survive November 2004. Should his dependent entourage see failure looming they will have no compunction than to declare elections void during wartime or enlist the help of corrupted touch screen voting machines. But really I do not thinq that will be necessary for President George W. Bush is America!

I hope this news doesn't upset you. But until you realize what is happening you will have little hope to change things. The rest of the world wishes you well at the same time it is very, very afraid.

I don't know if the fear that Kemble writes about is real, but I suspect it is. What I do know is that I still believe in Americans' basic decency, and their ability at the end of the day to do the right thing in the voting booth in 2004. I know only too well the history of white people on this continent, and particularly their darker episodes. But that is not a complete portrait of America, and ignoring the power of the millions of Americans who remain of good will is selling them short.

Terry Scott writes in:
You've described the experience many of us had in the Nixon years. I remember my father, raised Republican but a Democratic voter from 1960 on, commenting on Nixon's promise to put 100,000 police officers on city streets: "The Federal government has no business in local policing." That's what I call real conservatism.

Gropinator writes in:
[The essay] very much mirrors my own experience, from an evangelical kid (during summers, I used to attend the AOG church next to I-5 near Green Lake in Seattle) who went to Nixon and Ford rallies with my mom, to the disbelief at the audaciousness since 2000.

Along the way, I knew something was up. When I moved my business, I became active on the local congressional campaign, and got to know some very nice people in the opposing camp -- traditional main street businessmen who would whisper that the anti-abortion nuts didn't represent their party. The ideologues on the other side were another story -- like Helen Chenoweth. We defeated Andrea Seastrand with Walter Capps in a competitive district. In spite of Walter's credentials as a divinity school graduate and chair of the UCSB Religious Studies Dept., the other side called Seastrand "God's candidate." Seastrand lost, at least in part, because she ran a famous over-the-top ad morphing Capps with child murderer/rapist Richard Allen Davis.

That '96 campaign was satisfying because we felt sanity had prevailed over a fringe bit player, and had nudged the system toward the middle. That sense went away, and my internal alarm bell went off with the next congressional election.

Capps was replaced by his widow Lois in a special election only months after our big win. (Mrs. Capps still represents the Santa Barbara region). In the '98 election, we ran against a better packaged opponent. But he was still "God's candidate," even though Mrs. Capps, like here late husband, graduated from Yale's divinity school.

The other candidate tried a last minute deception. He had his campaign volunteers and his phone bank called most of the registered Dems claiming to be "Central Coast Democrats for Honest Representation," with a message design to suppress turnout. I recall the disbelief among our volunteers. We couldn't even imagine being involved in something like that. All of us, volunteers and paid staff alike, would have walked off a campaign that sunk that low.

Yet my respectable cloth coat opponents went right along with it. They weren't even ashamed. That was my own turning point, realizing that active Republicans were just not like the rest of us. They no longer represented the respectable honesty of Eisenhower or the anti-communist thrift of Governor Reagan. Rank and file Republican activists would go along with deceit, or even fraud. So much for the honest competition of ideas.

We have a long haul now. We won't stoop to their level, but don't win much. Like you suggest, many Americans project their sense reasonableness onto people for whom reasonableness is a mere facade. We won’t fight in proportion to the threat because we can’t believe what we see. We’re trapped in a slow motion car wreck.

And finally, John Chapman offers a moving insight:
[The essay] also reflects my own situation with friends, some past and family.

Being an Expat American, returning frequently to the U.S., I find there a situation which is hard to understand and makes me think if this is the same country, in which I was reared, taught values and was educated.

There appears of recent, so much anger and disrespect for the values which made us special and set us apart.

I can only reflect on earlier discussions with my, now deceased, Father, who had been an administrator of one of the Japanese detention camps and later a diplomat in the Foreign Service. In retirement, looking back over many years of service to his country, he steadfastly refused, although a highly intelligent and well educated person, to accept that the decision to move the Japanese Americans into camps was in hindsight, incorrect. When pressed with facts, his answer to me was, if you cannot accept that there was a danger, then you are not patriotic. We could only agree to disagree.

Based on your article, how to find consensus anchored in some general accepted framework of tolerance and principle -- more dialogue, but framed in a consensus of respect and decency?

It would appear that if there is none, the continuing polarization will eventually destroy everything for which we stand.

Longtime readers will recall that I have posted at length on several occasions here about the willingness of the public to shout down anyone who questioned the evacuation of the Japanese-Americans as "Jap lovers," as well as what an abysmal waste the affair was during wartime, and the utter, groundless hysteria on which the internment was justified. And as I mentioned then, the ease with which this travesty occurred amid a supposedly decent society does not give much comfort in our current environment.

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