Restraint

I went back to the gym this morning.  First time in almost two months.

For those just coming upon this site, I suffered an attack of appendicitis on August 10th.  Three weeks later, there were complications resulting in another hospital stay and further weeks of recovery.

The surgical wound is now, for all intents and purposes, healed.  So sayeth my primary physician.

But the doctors at the hospital said no lifting anything over 10 lbs for six weeks.  Donna decided that the second visit for the complications reset that clock, though most of the physicians involved disagreed.  Well, I have to live with Donna, so…

But this morning we walked the dog—one mile (we have a pedometer now)—and went to the gym.  Donna watched me like a hawk.

Yes, I lifted more than 10 lbs, but not by much.  Compared to what I was doing in July, today’s workout was pathetic.  But I got through a truncated routine without injury.  We aren’t going for records here, folks, just reestablishing a routine and carefully, oh so carefully, working my way back to something like good shape.

It hasn’t hurt that I dropped 21 lbs since surgery.  My stomach has shrunk as well, so I’m eating less, and I intend to keep it that way.

It’s hard.  I’m feeling better, so naturally I feel like I can do more.  And my appetite has definitely returned.  Keeping myself inside new limits is difficult.  The urge to do more, do as much as I think I can, is very strong, and I know I should not.  I should listen to Donna, who has been very good about taking care of me.  And I am.  I held back.  I restrained myself.

This is not natural for me.

I’ve been told that it takes the better part of a year to fully recover from major surgery.  There are times I believe it.  But I also believe that you have to push yourself a little.  Becoming comfortable with limits that should only be temporary is a sure way to lose ground, to settle for less.

Not gonna do that.

But, hey, I went back to the gym today and nothing hurts!

It’s a start.

Rights

A couple of posts back I made a claim that seems to have upset a few people, namely that Rights (as we generally use the term) are legal constructs, not something inherent in nature, even though we talk about them as if they were.  One criticism, quite correctly, pointed out that one of the bases of the Enlightenment was a recognition that human rights emerged out of a clear understanding of Natural Law, and that civil law was necessarily grounded in that understanding.

True, that is how we formulate it.  And it may well be that there is, somewhere, a fundamental natural basis on which we build our moral and legal houses.  But it is not nature from which it is derived in the sense of the physical universe in which we exist—clearly we order our social systems more often in contravention of nature than in imitation—but Nature in the sense that Spinoza and possibly others like Kant and Hegel understood the term, namely reality as we perceive it in respect to our condition.  This is in some ways an abstruse and complex concept and contrary to popular usage it is not common sensical or self-evidently apparent.

Why do I say that?  Because we are still arguing over what it is we’re trying to describe.

One of the elements of criticism leveled at me was a spirited defense of the manifest truth of such things as the Declaration of Independence.  My own argument was only that, while we seem to have accepted the moral injunctions of the Declaration, we are still trying to put those concepts into practice through law because we can’t agree on a common meaning.  This has been the case since Day One of our Republic.

…all men are created equal…

Great.  Wonderful.  But what does that mean in practice?

It’s one of those phrases that would seem to be so self-evidently true that it requires no further explanation and should automatically be regarded by all as obvious and put into immediate practice.  Never mind the obvious failures to prevent avaricious and corrupt people to flout such a principle, it has been the case that even people of good will and social conscience have simply not agreed on the supposed self-evident meaning of that phrase.

Simply put, which men?  All men?  What about women?  Or, at the time it was written, slaves?  What about people in other countries?  What does this mean in terms of resources?  Equal how?  Does this make it incumbent on us to guarantee equality, even for those who apparently are incapable of the unstated but quite real consequent responsibilities?  Should some be held back in order not to tip the scales of social justice unfairly?  And what about those who simply reject that formulation?

If you think this is an academic issue, remember that in the early Republic, not only were slaves and women held to be inferior to “men” but men of property were implicitly and in practice accorded greater rights than those with nothing—like the vote.  Nor did this begin to change until Jacksonian Democracy start the erosion of social privilege in matters of politics.

Kant, among others, claimed that liberty was based on the free will and its unimpeded exercise and that free will was a product of Reason.  Reason, however, as a necessary aspect of nature, that all humans possessed.  I am not indulging hyperbole when I point out that Reason is a rare commodity, exercised seldom, and usually poorly, and needs nurturing in order to be of benefit to the individual.  Humans possess a cleverness, a proclivity for pattern-seeking and its concomitant capacities for problem-solving at possibly the highest level of any creature on the planet.  But I think it fair to say that this is not what Kant meant by Reason.  He meant the ability to indulge abstraction and thereby project imagination onto a landscape and formulate conceptions not immediate evident.

Sorry, but I do not believe that is a skill people are born with.  It is a potential, a latent capacity which must be seeded, cared for, fed, and grown.  It is not, by definition, “natural” in the way I think many people conceive the term.  It is only natural in that it is something humans as a species have a potential ability to practice, but we do not necessarily grow up with it.  The pattern-seeking which seems to be hardwired into our brains is generally taken as reason, especially when it produces useful results in environmental manipulation and social construction.  But it ultimately lacks the purely abstract aspect that leads to what we can honestly call ratiocination.  It does not lead to philosophy.

And it is out of philosophy that any concept of Rights emerges.

I confess here that this is a rather scary proposition.  Historically, humans base their law on a concept of Higher Order Morality, the assumption that there is an authority above our own which requires certain normative standards.  God, in other words.  A Law Giver.  It is presumed that human law is a reflection of this higher law.  Over time that higher law has morphed into what, during the Enlightenment, became codified as Natural Law.  It is reassuring to believe that we aren’t actually all on our own.

But even Kant, intuitively or otherwise, seems to have sensed that we are, ultimately, on our own.  In his 1784 essay An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? he states in the first paragraph:

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.  Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.”

In other words, maturity, as pertains to the ability to reason, is the point at which we stand on our own, without the crutches of dependency on authority-qua-authority.  By definition, this would include assumed Higher Order sources of law.

Given the diverse and ever-conflicting nature of civil discourse and the constant disagreement over what is morally defensible within a liberal framework (and by liberal I do not mean its current defamed definition, but the traditional meaning of Liberty of the individual to act as he or she will free of arbitrary constraint) obviously we have no clear, definitive explication of what that Higher Order Law might be.

We’ve been creating it on our own all along.

Before I am accused of claiming that a concept of individual rights has no basis in moral reasoning, it is equally obvious that it does.  Common human needs and aspirations are clearly universal and the consequences of oppression are equally obvious across all systems.  This much can be seen and understood and that pattern-seeking creature that is the common condition of all humans can here demonstrate a universal sense of good and evil, right and wrong, beneficial and destructive.  We learn, over time, what will or will not secure a beneficial social environment, at least in its basics.

Abstractions can clarify as well as obfuscate this, which too-often is diminished by such terms as common sense or natural law.

What Thomas Jefferson wrote and what the Enlightenment-besotted Founders then tried to put into place is an abstraction intended to guarantee freedom of action by barring arbitrary restrictions.

You will note, please, that in the initial draft of the Constitution, there is no mention of these ideals.  The Articles that form the principle body of our Constitution is a legal framework and no more.  The Bill of Rights was an afterthought, a demand by those opposed to Federalism and fence-sitters without whom ratification would have been impossible.  And even in the Bill of Rights there is no reference to the kind of natural law argument on which many people assume the legitimacy of said system of rights.

Which all begs the question as I originally phrased it—if “natural law” is so obvious and so “right” why has there been any need to continually wrestle with meaning and intent?  Why would there ever have been the need for a Civil War, 13th and 14th Amendments, and for the purposes of my prior essay, a 19th Amendment?

Because it is neither obvious nor is it an inevitable recognition that “all men are created equal.”

In the 1970s, an Equal Rights Amendment struggled for ratification and was defeated by people who, without the need to demonize them, simply disagreed with its stated principles.  Many, while willing to admit the core principle of the amendment as valid, worried over the legal ramifications of its enactment.  Ultimately, two things can be said about its defeat.  One, that we do not all agree on what Equality means or to whom it applies.  And Two, that if you can deny a right through legal mechanisms, obviously you can only grant it through the same mechanisms.

So when I said that, contrary to our cherished prejudices, Rights are legal constructs, this is what I meant.  Each of us, individually, can choose to act according to our own conception of rights and this need not be based on legal constructs, but as a society it is absurd to talk about self-evident rights outside a legal framework.  Rights, on that level, are consequent upon law, and we say what that is.

Which means we should be a bit more alert about them than we usually are.  Rights are gained and lost all the time and often, if they don’t affect us directly, we don’t even notice.  We rely too much on this idea that our rights are based on some vague Higher Order—Natural—Law and therefore are self-evident and, in the phrasing of Jefferson, “unalienable”, but this prized chestnut means little in the face of a determined effort by some to rewrite the codes for the rest of us.

Thank you for your attention.

Stats

I downloaded a new plug-in for my blog Wednesday, a little something called Jetpack from WordPress.  I’d seen other sites with a traffic bar showing visits, and I wanted one.  The urge to know, not necessarily who, but how many people are reading your stuff runs deep.

The first day of its existence was both gratifying and slightly disappointing.  So far this morning, no one has come to visit.  Oh, well.

But I ran almost immediately into a snag last night.  I received the notice on my task bar of an update for Jetpack, so I dutifully clicked it—

—and promptly lost the whole thing.  It informed me that the upgrade failed and the plug-in had been deactivated.  I couldn’t find it in my list of available plug-ins, so I tried to reinstall it.  Which it also would not let me do.  It kept informing me that the folder already existed.  But I couldn’t find the folder in order to expunge it, so I was locked out of downloading the new version of Jetpack.

Not to worry.  I found something else very much like it, but with fewer features—which is fine, I only wanted the stat function.

This has happened before.  With maybe two exceptions, every time I’ve changed my blog theme it has been because an upgrade has been offered and when I accepted it, it trashed my files and I lost my theme and had to go get a new one.  This is most annoying, because an inevitable consequence has been that attempts to reinstall the trashed theme result in the “you already have this” message, which bars me from having a theme I really like.

I have sworn off accepting upgrades.  The only ones that work (knock on particle board) have been the WordPress upgrades.

I wouldn’t mind so much except there’s this little reminder on my task bar when I have one of these pernicious thingies waiting and I feel annoyed and irritated because I can’t find a way to just say No to them and make the reminder go away.

If there is one thing about the computer age that is one of the most irritating and cost-inefficient—and hugely expensive for business, I might add—it is this continual upgrading.  I know progress is important, I know things get better with work, I know improvements are made all the time, but damn, give it a rest!  I wonder how many people not directly involved realize just how much systems upgrades and changeovers cost in terms of time and lost productivity.  Even a tiny, tiny enterprise like mine, one guy writing stories.  Hours have I wasted when finally forced to change a software system or configure a new machine or learn a new template.

The other day I complained about MicroSoft Word.  I dislike Word.  I’ve been using WordPerfect for almost 25 years and for my money, WordPerfect 5.1 is still the gold standard.  Simple, intuitive, did everything I wanted or needed.  Why fuck with it?  But I am now on Version 11.

The problem is, the publishing industry operates on Word, which is not nearly as easy to use or intuitive.  And there are translation problems converting WP to Word which annoys my agent.

Also, I am still using Windows XP, which seems to be a very stable platform.  (I still wonder what was so wrong with Windows 98—please, no litany of its sins, it was a rhetorical comment.)  I am told we are now up to Windows 8 and some day I will be forced to junk my current machines, buy all new, and learn a new system.

Give it a rest.  I mean, seriously.  I know we have to keep the economy going, but this is ridiculous.  It is not the same as the automobile industry.  You can still drive a ’38 DeSoto on today’s roads, and having learned to drive that you can, with one or two minor adjustments, drive a brand new car.  Your old model does not cease to function because the new upgrade won’t allow it to interface with other drivers.

Still.  I manage.  I’m just cranky.  This is not Luddism, do not for a minute think I am anti-cool tech.  But I also do not have a cell phone*.  What I resent is the overcomplications involved in getting “up to speed” with what it au courant.

I have to go back to work now.  At least English doesn’t go through upgrades that require us to learn, from the ground up, an entirely new language.

_________________________________________________

*Yes, it’s true, I have no cell phone.  Donna has one, but it was purchased exclusively for emergencies when she took a job in West Jericho.  I refuse.  When I’m not home, you don’t have to reach me.  This may sound selfish, and I agree to an extent, but we managed quite well being “disconnected” for significant parts of the day.  I realize eventually I will have to cave in, but for now I will not participate in the Tech For Tech’s Sake culture.  You want to talk to me, send me an email or leave a message on my answering machine, I’ll get back to you.

Ryanism

Paul Ryan, in a little-noticed interview, said the other day—talking about abortion—that rape is simply another “method of conception.”

This is very much in line with Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remark, although it contradicts Akin’s point—which was, somehow, that the reproductive system of a woman being raped (really raped, not sort of raped or falsely raped, by which I infer he means things like date rape or marital rape or being rufied, or anything less than being threatened with death, beaten to a pulp, or gang banged) “shuts down” to prevent pregnancy.  Ryan seems not to be aware of this bit of folksy biology and considers rape as a vector for reproduction.

It’s ironic.  He is also an antievolutionist, but in this he has lent inadvertent support to one of the basic ideas of evolution—that Nature only cares about producing the next generation and will take advantage of any vector to get there.

It’s a confused message, to be sure, and based just as solidly on a categorical denial of women as full citizens.

I say citizen rather than human because the term human brings into this all the distraction about what is human, which people like Ryan have used to completely obscure the downside to their unblinking support of fetuses over women.

Citizens have rights.  You have to be a citizen to be accorded rights and for that to be the case, you have to be here.  Technically, you also have to be able to participate in the polity—vote, work, etc.

We have so geared the idea that citizenship is a given, like breathing, that we forget that citizenship is a membership issue.  It is a legal definition, one which accords rights but also requires that we meet certain criteria.

The argument over illegal immigrants should, if nothing else, give us all a clear lesson in this.  It doesn’t matter to many people that they are humans—they do not have the same rights as Citizens.  There are certain legal standards that must be met and they have to meet them before we grant them citizenship.

(I know, we like to pretend that rights are somehow drawn from nature, or for some “god given”, but it is simply not true.  Claiming it doesn’t make it so.  Rights are legal conditions.  Even our boldest and most eloquent statements about rights—like the Declaration of Independence—required further legal guarantees to have any real force.  We have the rights we claim and make common through law.  If it were otherwise, we would never have required the 13th and 14th or a 19th Amendment to the Bill of Rights, nor would we need a Supreme Court.)

The same folks who are unequivocal and clear about that are considerably less so in the case of women’s rights and the question of so-called unborn rights.

Unborn rights are dependent on the rights of those gestating them.

I phrase it that way to strip it of the kind of sentiment that obfuscates the issue and turns it into an impassioned exercise in guilt-driven irrationality.

We have a long history of what it means to grants rights to some by taking them away from others.

Mr. Ryan’s formulation of rape as another “method of conception” cuts right to the center of the problem.  Stating it that way, he implicitly reduces women to what used to be so “charmingly” and euphemistically referred to as A Vessel.  (And, depending on the period, a weak vessel or a filthy vessel or a corrupt vessel—almost never a strong vessel or beautiful vessel or vessel of great value.) We have almost two thousand years of this kind of reduction of half the population to nothing more than a means to an end.

If that doesn’t tell us all we need to know about how he thinks and why he should not be holding political office, I don’t know what would.

But I do wonder how he intends to square himself with his apparently latent Darwinist inclinations…

Orchidography

Back in August, friends sent me a lovely orchid with a get well message.  I don’t believe I’ve ever received a more beautiful flower.  As thank you and to share, I offer this image:

 

Orchids In Relief

When Gaffes Become Pathologies

Everyone misspeaks in public from time to time.  It really is unfair to pick on politicians for the occasional gaffe.  But it is fair to ask at what point such gaffes are valid signs of a fundamental problem.  I think Dan Quayle simply needed to stick to the prepared statements—he did not “wing it” very well, but he kept trying, and slipped repeatedly on his inherent inability to compose cogent remarks on the fly.

But Romney is beginning to show some serious problems.  Never mind his 47% statement, he was arguably playing to his crowd. But his recent remarks about being unable to open the windows in an airliner are very troubling.

This is the kind of basic factoid stuff we all should know even if we only learned it from movies.  There is a reason the windows on an airliner can’t be opened and most of us know this.

Two things: either he skipped that part of childhood and adolescence when the rest of us learned this or he’s cracking under campaign pressure and just letting his mouth run without his brain in gear.

It’s a question.  This isn’t like George H.W. Bush’s ignorance over the laser scanner at the grocery store check-out counter—that was new technology and I think he was unfairly beat up about that—but more in line with basic ignorance coming from a man with a lot of education (of a particular sort) and a lot of time spent on planes.

But let me leave off.  As far as I’m concerned, Romney is a clever man but not a smart one.  Hegel talked about such people, the clever ones who seem intelligent because they can fake it, but really have no depth or true understanding.  This is not necessarily a detriment for a president depending on who his handlers are.  I don’t think Calvin Coolidge was smart, just clever (and clever enough to say very little).  Go back over the list of past presidents and there are a number you could identify like that.  (I think Nixon was an interesting case of a smart man who relied too much on cleverness.)  But we don’t usually see this until after they’re in office.  Campaigning is generally an exercise of cleverness, but there’s usually a modicum of intelligence in charge.

In the case of people like Todd Akin, there’s no question.  He is a genuinely unintelligent man.  Certainly not very reflective and possibly one of the most incurious politicians in recent memory.  He’s clever enough to have maintained a career in politics for a couple of decades now.  But when you listen to his pronouncements, even if you agree with them (if you do), and break them down, you see he’s only parroting a kind of semi-urban folk wisdom without any obvious comprehension what some of the words mean.  He seems to have no idea what “socialism” is (this isn’t unique, I wonder how many people do know what it is, especially in politics) and his grasp of anything relevant to women is positively 19th Century.  He gets away with it because he reifies the prejudices of his constituents, which is politically expedient and morally vacuous.  Sometimes, it seems to me, it is the duty of a politician to tell his constituents when they have it all wrong.  (Yes, I realize this could get said politician voted out of office, but I said duty not CYA.)

Still, I don’t know why anyone in this state, at least, is surprised. Akin has been spouting stuff like that for years.  I was only surprised that he said what he said about “legitimate rape” quite so candidly, but I’m not surprised that he believes that nonsense.

I can understand why the GOP began pressuring him to step down, but really, they have only reaped what they’ve sown.  Implicitly, they’ve been backing some version of this for years, and it has become wired into their politics.  They likely, many of them, believe something similar to what Akin said, but they are generally more clever than Akin and know not to say it right out like that.  He has exposed them, though, for anyone willing to look.

Now Newt Gingrich, the Party shill, has come to Akin’s defense, and what is his defense?  “Anyone can make a stupid remark. It’s unfair to castigate him for it.  If we went by that standard, Joe Biden would never be vice president.”

Except.  Except.

When Dan Quayle made his famous gaffe about minds being terrible wastes, everyone made fun of him for the tongue-twisted way he said it, but I think most people knew what he meant.  When Joe Biden makes a bone-headed remark, we can step back and recognize that he didn’t mean that but this other thing.  That’s the nature of gaffes.

The problem here is, if you look at Akin’s record, it’s clear that he did mean what he said.  It wasn’t a gaffe.  He’s sorry that people were offended, but he hasn’t retracted or clarified his statement.  He believes that.

This is different.

And, if you look at the legislative record of the GOP over the last couple of decades, it seems likely many of them believe something like it, too.  That wasn’t a gaffe.

Pathology?

Longer Tomorrows

I recently read (reread) Leigh Brackett’s 1955 novel, The Long Tomorrow.  In a nutshell, this is a thoroughly underappreciated classic that ought to have the same attention and regard as other social commentary novels of around that period.  Given the political landscape today, it is remarkably trenchant.

The novel follows Len Coulter, who we meet at a large county fair near his home somewhere in Pennsylvania, in a country completely altered after a world war that left the cities in ruins and the only ones equipped to survive in the reduced technological circumstances that resulted were groups of religious communities like the Amish and Mennonites and similar enclaves who had eschewed modernism to begin with.  Len is a member of a New Mennonite community.

As the novel opens, his cousin Esau is trying to dare him into attending a revival meeting outside the boundaries of the fair, something they have both been forbidden to do.

The tensions between the various groups of believers are kept in check by the constraint of circumstance.  They need each other and cannot afford the luxury of complete separation.  But there are walls and this is one of them.  As such it also represents a kind of rite of passage for the adolescents.

This is a time and place where laws have been passed to keep the possibility of another war massively in check by keeping the technology that produced the atomic bombs suppressed.  Brackett made the savvy observation that it was the expansion of urban centers that permitted the kind of wealth, leisure, and political pressure to drive an ever-increasing and complicating technological base, so the Constitution has been amended to make towns of more than a thousand people and two hundred buildings illegal.  This enforced small town agrarianism has, in fact, achieved a kind of equilibrium.  People are not unaware of the past.  Libraries still exist, people read, but the cultural paranoia created by the devastation dominates.

Behind all this is the legend of Bartorstown, a place—somewhere—where the old technologies not only exist but people work with them to create new.  It’s a kind of boogieman story, but Len and Esau learn that it is not a lie, that there is such a place.  After seeing a member of Bartorstown denounced and stoned to death at the revival he and Esau attend, it becomes an obsession for Len.

And then Esau steals a radio and the two boys commit themselves to finding Bartorstown, no matter what.

There are no bad people in this novel.  In fact, there are no good people, either, not in terms of Good vs Evil.  Len is human to a fault and Esau often has feet of clay.  They run away from home and grow up in the river towns of the Ohio and encounter all manner of people, some good, some not so good, but all of them doing what they think is right.  Brackett painted very subtle and sophisticated portraits of human beings struggling to bring about change and simultaneously resist change.  At times, it gets ugly.

If there is an evil at the heart of this novel, it is in Brackett’s chilling portrayals of mob violence.  She understood how individuals could lose their capacity to think and act as moral agents when caught up by fear and passion in a wave of group reaction.  Fear, of course, and then anger unhinges people and perhaps the next day or the next month they come to regret what they did, but they seem incapable of doing otherwise at the time.

Laced throughout this is the thesis that any time we try to establish a set of inviolable rules to make people conform, we find over time that such rules simply do not maintain, not the way they were intended.  Too rigid a stance almost guarantees that such rules, such prohibitions will not only be violated but will themselves become the source of considerable harm.

Len’s journey from adolescent obsession to mature accommodation to things he ultimately cannot understand is poignant and frustrating.  This is not a standard-issue science fiction novel in which knowledge and truth set people free and all doubts are swept aside in the Eureka glow of enlightenment.  Len finds Bartorstown and it is nothing like he expected.  In fact, at its heart is the very thing he had been raised to fear more than anything else, and yet he is told that it must not only exist but that humans must learn to control it.

If I have a problem with this novel, it is in the all-too-typical treatment of women.  Too many of them are ultimately just vain and dependent and stereotypical.  But Brackett was juggling a lot in this book, so I gave her a pass on this in light of all the rest that she was so clear and prescient about.

Given the current global scene in which mobs seem to coalesce out of the very air over some of the most inane issues and great violence is done—more often than not driven by religious leaders who are more intent on maintaining their power than on caring for their clients—this is a strikingly contemporary novel, written by one of the best.  It is in some ways dated, but not by much.  In many passages, it seems this could have been written last year.

While I no longer believe a global nuclear holocaust is likely, all the rest she depicted seems all too possible.  This is one that ought to be read with fresh modern eyes and its insights taken to heart.

The Other Side

I have a confession to make.  While I’m going to vote for Obama again, I do not like everything he has done and, even more, am disappointed by some of what he has not done.

That’s not the confession.  I promised some folks months back that I would write a post wherein I take Obama to task the same way I’ve been going to town on the Republicans.  I was sincere when I made the promise, because I had, in fact, winced often these past four years when Mr. Obama has let me down.  Or not me specifically, but my expectations.  And this is a question of spin.

All candidates run on a mixture of core issues and hyperbole.  The nature of the race requires sound-byte, slash-and-burn rhetoric, sweeping generalizations, and occasionally over-the-top characterizations of the opponent and promises too big to keep.  We as voters must walk through all this to determine how much of the hyperbole is simple exaggeration and how much of it is outright lying, slander, or total b.s.  As I say, all candidates do this.  Even after they leave office.  (George W. Bush’s acerbic “Do you miss me yet?” is an example of that, to which my response at the time and still is “You’re kidding, right?”)

Obama campaigned in 2008 on a wide range of issues and made a LOT of promises.  In fact, I believe he holds the record on the number of promises made by a presidential candidate, by a significant factor.  Depending on where he was at the time, he adroitly tailored his message, made the kinds of specific pledges that are ordinarily suicide for a candidate, and won by the biggest landslide since Reagan

In all those promises, inevitably some were going to go by the wayside, some were going to simply stall, others were going to stand as reminders of betrayal when exactly the opposite happened.

But in looking back over the last four years—especially in light of what he came into office having to deal with—I can’t find very much to complain about.

What there is, though, is pretty bad.

Implicitly and otherwise, Obama promised that business as usual in D.C. was going to change.  Of course, anyone who believed this was naive at best, but there were a few things that he could have done something about.  One is lobbyists.  He promised to close the revolving door, that people in government would not be permitted to leave for jobs as lobbyists and come right back.  Well, he sort of tried that, but then proceeded to issue waivers for certain people.

The biggest betrayal to my mind at the time was the selection of his economic team.  One may quibble about this, but I think it fair to say that he had something of a mandate to change the way government dealt with the financial sector.  The appointment of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, both of whom had been instrumental in the years of deregulation that had led almost directly to the 2007-08 meltdown, signaled a marked turn-around from expectations.  At the time I looked at that and thought “What the hell?”  Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chickens.  (Certainly an argument could be made that these people understood the problem better than anybody else, but you also can’t tell me that there weren’t equally qualified and talented people with no ties to the last 20 years of fiscal irresponsibility and with a vision consistent with what we’d been led to believe was going to happen.  Elizabeth Warren was certainly such a person, but then he didn’t stand by her when she had Congress running scared that she meant business.)

Obama fell down, in my view, by the simple omission of demanding a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.  Clinton had foolishly signed its repeal, it had worked for 60 years, its destruction allowed everything that followed to happen, and yet we heard nothing.  Instead we have an overly complex mess of rules that form a Rube-Goldberg assemblage of fingers-in-leaks that overburden everyone, Wall Street and regulators alike.  And while I came to support the auto industry bailout, his administration has made a hash of the housing recovery.

But the worst thing is the national security betrayals.  I do not approve of the drone program and I certainly do not like the indefinite detention aspect of the NDAA, which we were led to believe he also felt was a bad law.  Yet he signed the reauthorization and now his justice department is trying to overturn a judge’s ruling that indefinite detention is unConstitutional.  I grant you, this is all inherited from Bush, this is a Cheney construct, but that would seem to me all the more reason to do away with it.  Obama needed to nothing but sit back and let the ruling from bench hold sway, but instead he’s arguing for retention of powers I believed he ran opposed to.

He’s pulled some other stunts.  While I’m not a fan of Big Oil, I actually think the Canadian pipeline should have gone through.  It would have allowed him to stop issuing so many off-shore permits, which have greater possibilities of failure and environmental damage.  For myself, I wanted to see the end of the faith-based initiatives—this is a clear violation of the separation clause and the only thing that might have made it more palatable over what Bush had done would be its expansion to non-christian institutions.  And I’m still waiting for the repeal of No Child Left Behind, which was one of the worst things done on the federal level in education since…I don’t know.

But for all that, I have to confess that I still find him far more acceptable than what is being offered by his opponents, whose only solutions seem to be slash-and-burn spending cuts—except to the military.

So while this post is a complaint, an attempt at fair play, I have to apologize to those to whom I pledge a thorough drubbing.  Even when they make mistakes, I can’t seem to get as pissed at the Democrats right now as I do at the Republicans.  I know that sounds like excuse-making, but there it is.

I’ll try to do better.

Here’s a Fact

Mitt Romney let it be known that he believes 47% of Americans are freeloaders.  Entitled, he says.  They pay no income tax whatsoever and will therefore vote for Obama no matter what, because they get their support from the government.

Now, this is how spin works.  Saying it the way he did makes it sound like that 47% are sitting on their entitled butts, drawing stipends from the government and doing nothing with their lives.  This is the myth of the welfare queen, writ large.  He makes it sound as if these are entirely worthless people.

Somewhere To Lay My Head

There is much that is wrong with that, not least the irresponsible use of statistics.  47% of all Americans, Mitt?  Hm.  That would include children and the retired.  It would, I assume, also include those who live in one-income households who are not themselves earners.  So, really, all of them?  Those preadolescents sucking off mom and dad should be cut off and forced to go to work?

But we may assume (maybe) that he is referring to 47% of people between 18 and 65 that he thinks ought to be paying federal income taxes.

The other false assumption is that, by inference, none of these people pay any taxes whatsoever.  We tend to talk about federal income tax as the sine qua non, the only game in town, and in the heat of political posturing, we tend to make the assumption that if someone doesn’t pay it, then they pay nothing at any level.

At least half of the number he cited constitute what we know as the working poor.  They work.  They have jobs.  They struggle and earn. They do not make enough to pay federal income tax.

But they pay payroll taxes, state income taxes, personal property taxs (if they have cars) real estate taxes (if they own a house, however small and inadequate), and everybody pays sales taxes.  They pay.  They work.  Many do get subsidies of some kind—foodstamps (recently we learned that more than half of WalMart employees do not make enough money and need foodstamps, but if they’re working for WalMart, they’re working), MedicAid, things like that.  But here’s the thing.

We all get something from the government!

Whether we see it this way or not, all of us get some kind of assistance from the government, either directly or indirectly.  Quite famously (and in some instance hypocritically) most so-called Red States, those with state governments, congressional members, and we assume local populations who do the most bitching about this sort of thing, draw the largest shares of federal aid.  And unless you’ve had your head in a small hole somewhere, we all know about federal subsidies to big businesses.  The record profits from investments are a direct result of government enabling and the way folks who derive their income from speculation talk, they sure sound entitled to me.

So either Mitt Romney does not actually understand what it is he’s criticizing or he’s just feeding bullshit to his base because that’s what they want to hear and he’s pandering.

Either way, he’s playing politics with people many of whom, if the Tea Party got all its wishes and all those programs were shut down tomorrow, would in fact die if the political wet dreams of the Rabid Right came about.

It is the oldest bit of political sordidness in the book to characterize people you don’t like as lazy, incompetent, entitled, useless burdens.  (Oh, and also “they breed like rabbits”, but as the Right seems to be trying to guarantee that I’m not so sure they see that as the insult it used to be.)  It only plays well because people tend not to see reality that causes them dyspeptic pangs of conscience.

They Think You’ll Believe This Is A Good Thing

Here it is, stated baldly and without any evident embarrassment. Rick Santorum states exactly why what he represents is a dangerous and stupid movement.

This country has always contained a significant resentment toward intellectuals, knowledge, an active distrust and occasionally hatred of reason and understanding. We have been watching a “grass roots” movement develop since the late Seventies that embraces the anti-intellectual, the retrograde, the regressive as if being ignorant is a virtue. They have turned a refusal to face reality, to come to grips with facts, into a virtue, and an unwillingness to change ones mind into a kind of uber-patriotism that would, if fully empowered, destroy this country.

The difficulty in countering this is that he wraps his idiocy around two things that make anyone who would argue with them appear churlish if not downright immoral. This is a rhetorical game of false choices. It is not intelligence vs. family, it is not reason vs. church. It is not education vs. patriotism. This is a lie. By stating it this way, he makes it seem anyone who supports enlightenment, progress, rationality is somehow an enemy. It divisive in the most heinous and absolute way and it is exemplary of all that is currently wrong with the Right.

Smart people will never be on the side of ignorance and bigotry. Smart people will never support the idea that we should live by a code written by people who not only knew less than we do but also had completely different expectations of what life meant. Smart people will never be on the side of stupidity.

Out of the mouths of people like Santorum and Todd Akin and Michele Bachman we have heard a call to turn dumb into a desirable condition, to ignore ramifications, discard causal thinking, just “trust them” and America will be great again.

I appreciate that they no longer feel they need to couch their positions in user-friendly phrasing that softens their meaning. I’m delighted that they’ve decided to reveal who they really are.

This is one or two steps away from book burning.

Let me leave you with a few choice quotes.

Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.
Adolf Hitler

Education is dangerous – Every educated person is a future enemy—– Hermann Goering

What good fortune for governments that the people do not think.
Adolf Hitler

It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.
Adolf Hitler

Who says I am not under the special protection of God?
Adolf Hitler