I have started three blog entries and changed my mind three times this morning. It might be too early to turn over a new leaf and get serious anyway. U No Hu will just have to bear with me. I’m jumping in.
Topic One: Reading the StarTribune Readers’ Comments
As a matter of full disclosure — that now-cliched disclaimer that connotes a level of false importance — I should tell you that I post regularly on the StarTribune comments boards. I’ll also admit that I get carried away from time to time. I argue from fact-based positions, but it is hard to resist taunting the knuckle-dragging mouth breathers who seem to live on the site posting from dangerous fringe.
Today, however, I find myself not really engaged in the sport. An odd depressed feeling overcame me instead. (Perhaps this is what the Minnesota Vikings have been feeling all season?) I posted one or two predictable and flat comments and then limped off the field. I wasn’t going to change any minds today, if ever, and I guess I have known this all along. To paraphrase Rocky Squirrel: There is an unlimited supply of misinformation out there.
I am bothered by the political and economic climate out there. Misinformation, yes, and willful ignorance, too. I am going to point fingers. I lay the blame on misinformation at the feet of conservatives, whether willfully or otherwise. At best they are misled into believing that values trump facts, that the past follows the present. At worst they deliberately deceive for political ends.
I will write more about this later, but the arguments for economic recovery on the right don’t hold up to facts. (See my posts here below.) It simply is not a good idea to get your economic lessons from politicians — left or right — and it is especially true today when the right is so firmly — evenly openly — fighting for failure. We live in a global economy, one which we eagerly promoted since the Nixon years, and yet we act like the United States is the only major economy. Arguments worshipping American exceptionalism are making us rather ordinary.
We simply don’t have any respect or appreciation for the social and economic gains that better Americans left for us. Americans have always been suspicious of government, but government has always been the enemy. Even through our most paranoid moments — e.g. anti-communist “Red Scare” — government wasn’t the problem, people and ideas were…which isn’t any better, I’ll grant you that, but I am keying in on government. Government is our collective investment in each other and we have lost that sense of common good.
I will put out there a call for examples of liberal America engaged in the kind of factless prejudiced discourse that is taken as routine from the right. Give me examples. I will also put out there a call for something — anything — that conservative government has done to improve our country in recent decades. I will grant you that we have had Democratic leadership in Congress in this period, but I will also argue that on the whole they had bought into the politics of the Great Moderation that defined fiscal and domestic economic policy from Reagan through 2007. We changed course in this period and I am questioning the long-term results. We have seen a growing decline in our competitive advantage, economic status, global security, the middle class, and basic social and physical structures once supported by us through our government are shutting down and sometimes literally collapsing.
And what do we do to fix this? After 18 months of fighting change we reinstate people with the failed ideas that got us here in the first place. Am I right or am I wrong?
Topic Two: Vintage Commercials
A sure sign that I am getting old. I retreated to old television commercials for a feeling of nostalgic relief. The interesting thing about my nostalgic relief is I feel most satisfied by commercials that precede my experience! Who gets that feeling? An old 1950s Chesterfield commercial has a special resonance even if I wasn’t there to experience it. The same with old European films. (They had a great sense of style back then, by the way.)
I tend to disagree with the argument that the 50s, 60s, and 70s were a naive and idealized era. It strikes me as very different. There was a lot of worry, paranoia, and uncertainty. But I believe there was a legitimate reason for optimism. The economy was, after all, humming along. Quality of life in real terms was improving. And I think you see all of that in these commercials. What we see as corny is more like adolescent awkwardness. It is real. There’s something else that is real in this era, too, that I think we have lost entirely: Patience, and to a certain extent tolerance.
The 50s ,60s, and 70s straddled two eras. Economic freedom was leading to social freedom on an unprecedented scale, but there were the old divisions of race, class, eduction, and even region pulling on those freedoms. The emerging geopolitical and global economic reality that we take for granted today was pulling — or maybe pushing — on these new freedoms, too. I believe one had to be very patient to move along optimistically with all the new opportunities that were confronting limits imposed by fear, paranoia, racism, classism, and all the other uncertainties you want to uncover in those decades.
Today we have lost that sense of patience. If things are not right, it is worthy of screaming and name-calling. We have lost what class we did have. (Have you watched television recently? Political rallies? Where are the adults??) Problems are someone else’s fault and heads are going to roll.
So I go to tolerance. I believe we are losing our edge in tolerance, too. We might not have the same degree of racism and sexism as we did 50 years ago — it is less institutionalized — but we are scapegoating race and gender again. We have a blatantly racists element in conservative politics today and certainly tacit racism even in the mainstream GOP entertainment industry with guys like Beck and Limbaugh.
But more importantly we have intolerance of a different sort: Intolerance of ideological diversity. This is a country divided, not necessarily by race, gender, and class, but by different qualities that I am not sure how to define. My hunch tells me it is a moral divide. (cf. George Lakoff, especially Moral Politics and Don’t Think of an Elephant.) This divide seems to be growing wider and more dangerous.
Watching old commercials you can forget about these problems rising again. Or you can watch them and realize that the idealized era of the 50s, 60s, and 70s had issues of its own, but functioned nonetheless. You can watch Fred and Barney sell Winston cigarettes and scoff or you can think about what that era did right versus what this era is doing wrong.
Topic Three: Conclusion
I read advice on a “how to blog” site that said a post should never go over 500 words. I just surpassed 1100. I can only hope I picked a bad “how to” to read.
- Jonathan Bloom: Be Thankful, Not Wasteful (huffingtonpost.com)