Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Pox On Both Their Houses

When entering the info for my Facebook profile a couple of years ago, I was asked about my politics. I wrote the above phrase there, and have had no reason to change it. At the time, I was pretty disgusted by both major parties. This has only gotten worse. And not so much for what they believe as for their willingness to demonize and marginalize their opposition. Stylistically, I can't tell the loud voices of the far right from those of the far left. Win at any cost has become the order of the day. Compromise is seen as weakness, and something only the other guys should do.

I think the rhetoric is way out of hand. This blog is my response. On these pages, I will take hold of one issue or another that I've heard vigorously and sometimes viciously argued, and see if I can re-argue it from a position owned by neither party.  And in doing, I will try to see where underlying values give rise to passions, and where the passions are mostly an autonomic response. "They want that?! Well then, I want the opposite."

Now I know that not everybody on the right moves in lock-step, issue by issue, and that the same is true for those on the left. But the variance is pretty minor, at least it is as one travels farther from the center. Generally speaking, if you tell me you are a Liberal Democrat, I'll have you pretty well pegged. I will, I think, have a good chance of guessing your stand on most of the hot-button controversies.  And if you identify as a Conservative Republican, I will have no more difficulty predicting where you stand on the same issues.

I'm speaking in general terms, of course. But I think you know what I mean. If, in fact, your opinions can not be predicted by your affiliations, you are probably a moderate and among the rapidly expanding bunch self-described as 'Independent'.

Now, for the sake of a starting point, let me tell you that I am a registered Democrat. I voted for Carter, Dukakis, and Clinton, Kerry and Obama. I didn't trust Gore and threw my vote down the hole marked "Nader". I have never voted for a Republican for national office. I did vote for Arnold Schwartzeneger for Governor of California, but I can't tell you why with any coherence. I was drinking a lot at the time, and I think that the absurdity of it all was just too juicy to pass up.

So, for the most part, I have identified with the liberals. I am, you may know, a folksinger, and as such, it is practically a point of law that I be a liberal. It is certainly not a wise career move - if folk music can be said to have career moves - to disagree with the liberal cant. You will not notice any reluctance on the part of folkies to criticize Republicans from the stage. But if there are any Republican folkies, they are a very quiet lot. The wonderful "diversity" touted endlessly by such people as my folky friends does not apply to conservatives. They are more likely to embrace a member of the Taliban than a member of the GOP. So, unless you have something nasty to say about Bush or Gingrich, or Santorum, or Cheney, or the One Percent, you will likely not be venturing into the realm of politics at your local folk music festival.

That sort of peer-pressure wasn't what drew me to the Democratic party. I was drawn by what I saw as a superior moral attitude present on the left. It seemed to me that Democrats cared more about the underdog than the Republicans did. It seemed that their - our - ideas about the rights of minorities, gay people, the use of military force, poverty, women's issues, and the rest of the laundry-list that I'm sure we can all recite by rote ... was just more enlightened, more FAIR. I still feel that way about most of the INTENTIONS of the left. But I now have serious doubts about the results of changes made in service of those lovely intentions.

Frankly, I think that we have been wrong a lot. Not so much about the vision we have of a better world, but about how such a world can be brought into being.

As for why I did not identify with the right wing, the conservative, the Republican? That's a bit more dicey. I suppose it had something to do with the fact that my father was a Republican. There was that rebellion thing. Also there was the eagerness for new sensation that lives within the young breast. I wanted new and unpredictable things to happen. I did NOT want a life like the one my father had led to that point. Military service, a string of ever more responsible jobs, marriage, mortgage, church on Sundays, and the promise of a boring retirement and an unremarkable death. It seemed to me that conservatives, if not actually produced in batches at the big drone factory somewhere in the midwest, did their best to act like they had been. I didn't want tradition. I wanted something cool.

And there is this: My generation straddled or just barely missed the anti-war movement, Viet Nam edition, and  the great and righteous struggle for Black civil rights. How many times have the young risen up to bitch-slap  the wrongdoing of their elders? And made it stick? Next to never, I'd guess. Stand those victories like statuary in a largely vacant skull, add a bard or two, a Lennon, a Dylan, and a dancing garland of girls in sun dresses, and bathe the whole scene with drug-fed fire-light. It's a palace to inspire the soul. So you force out the old guard, the priests and judges, and give their jobs to a motley parade of Buddhists, utopians and self-help gurus on the make. Viola! It was a moment in time where the vanity of youth felt not like a season's revel, but like truth being carved into the face of destiny. We've never gotten over those times. We giggled at the "squares" who didn't get it. And now, now that we are saddled with children and harnessed to jobs, and resemble nothing so much as our parents, we are just a wee bit testy.

Was it Churchill who said: Anybody who is not a liberal at twenty has no heart, but anybody not a conservative by forty has no brain? Something like that. And though I wouldn't age-stamp it so specifically or label it as broadly, I think there is a kernel of truth there. At some point, raising kids and being safe requires structured, disciplined effort - over long spans of time. This consistency looks an awful lot like conservative behavior. When the dancing girls are lost. When the bards are dead or gone to opulent seed behind the walls of fame, and the music squashed and twisted into TV contest irrelevance, the choice looks like this: kiss the dream good-night, or rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One more glorious fight, please, before we must grow old.

And lined up across the bloody field? All those for whom the revolution WAS televised. The mysterious breed who never much questioned the traditions into which they were born. The kids who just wanted to grow up, get married, have a nice house and some reasonably successful children. The boys and girls who never understood Ginsberg, who thought Hendrix was a little noisy, and didn't see why losing one's motor functions to a crackling Mexican joint was a good idea. The ones for whom "Question Authority" meant: "Is there anything else Sir?" These are the opposition, forced reluctantly into action by a ceaseless onslaught from the left. They are facing the loss of a dream every bit as precious to them as ours is to us. The only real difference is that the dream of the left was cobbled together from a mis-matched box of borrowed imaginings, and the dream of the right was handed down from above like car-keys in the warm hand of a trusted parent.

From the left: resentment that anyone would dare to oppose the forward march of change. Because change is good, and unchanged things are in need of change, and quick change is better than slow change.

From the right: resentment that anyone would sweep away thousands of years of custom and "revealed wisdom", as casually as last night's dinner bones into the garbage pail.

I will, in this blog, poke around in all this. I'll give you a glimpse into the conflicts and certainties that inhabit my own thinking, and try to convince you that I am not unique; that my instincts are standard issue. I'll take on a bunch of subjects: religion, abortion, capital punishment, war, The free market, pacifism, marriage both homo and hetero, drugs, immigration, pornography, the self-esteem movement, child rearing, education, health care and whatever else pops up. I will undoubtedly miss the mark often, but I'm guessing that I'll hit it a lot too. Feel free to respectfully challenge anything I say. But think it through, okay?

Dave Morrison, January 16, 2012

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