How Can Anyone Be a True Believer?

How Can Anyone Be a True Believer? September 11, 2012

And no, I’m not talking about religion; I’m talking about politics. I watch bits and pieces of the Republican and Democratic national conventions and have the same response I had when covering campaign events back in 2008 — I just find them creepy.

I don’t understand how someone could, or why someone would, sit there mindlessly applauding an endless string of cliches, platitudes and shallow applause lines. I don’t know how someone applauds when a speaker says things like “We’re going to get America moving again” or “It’s time to move this country forward.” Those statements are utterly meaningless, completely empty rhetoric devoid of anything even remotely resembling a coherent thought. They’re political cotton candy.

When President Obama says “This election is not about me, it’s about you,” how does any intelligent person cheer and applaud such meaningless tripe? When he says things like this:

“Yes, our path is harder — but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer — but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.”

How does someone cheer for that? It’s empty pablum. It’s a series of substanceless platitudes. And we should find it insulting, not inspiring.

I understand why someone would think it’s important to vote for Candidate X because Candidate Y supports policies that they strongly dislike, or because Candidate X supports policies you like. But I simply cannot understand getting emotionally invested in someone who is inevitably going to disappoint you, who is feeding you a steady stream of promises that they have little intention of pursuing once in office — either because they recognize the political reality that there’s no way the policy they supported in the campaign will make it through Congress (which is what Obama did with the health care reform bill, immediately discarding the public option he promised to pass because there was no way to get the votes in either the House or Senate) or because they never had any intention of doing it.

I just don’t get it. I’m apparently not capable of feeling that way. I can’t look at a politician — any politician — and invest emotion and hope in them. Yes, that is cynical; it’s also justified, and always has been.

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  • Brownian

    Don’t look at me. I can barely stand lengthy wedding speeches.

  • morgandourif

    I agree. I simply don’t see the point in getting emotionally tied to a politician; I think that’s falling for the trap. I try to limit it more to respect – not blinded, completely realistic. That way, I don’t feel like I’ve been personally betrayed – or, worse, try to defend a politician from reality – every time a politician inevitably has to bend to the realities of the political system.

  • But I simply cannot understand getting emotionally invested in someone who is inevitably going to disappoint you…

    Because the alternative is worse, that’s why. Worse in a way that will cause serious harm to large numbers of people, and to our society as a whole. If you really don’t have an emotional investment in keeping the REpublicans away from real power, after all they’ve done already (and after proving they didn’t learn a thing from it), then you probably don’t care enough to talk about the issue at all.

    Seriously, Ed, why are YOU so invested in belittling the enthusiasm of people who are trying to make things at least a little bit better in our own country? Why is it so important to you to ridicule and run down a sincere desire to push a collective effort to do some real good? All your droning cynicism (not to mention your bogus equivalency crap) does is serve the most reactionary interests by contributing to the demoralization of people who need every ounce of energy they can muster to fight off the endless destructive attacks of people who — to put it charitably – don’t have their best interests at heart.

    Yes, Ed, we all know Obama won’t be able to deliver on all of his promises. How fucking stupid do you think we are? But even another Jimmy Carter is still better for America than another four years of the party of Bush Jr., Rove, Cheney, Romney, Paul, etc.

  • I’m with you Ed–but at an advanced stage. I didn’t watch the conventions, won’t vote, and don’t care who wins.

  • Speaking of bogus equivalency, it’s perfectly obvious that Obama’s platitudes are a shitlolad more honest and realistic than Romney’s. (Oh, and you seem to be forgetting that guy who spoke before him…remember that guy who got such huge applause by talking about FACTS, not platitudes? That speech alone blows your tired “equivalency” platitudes out of the water.)

  • Not giving a shit what happens to millions of real people is “advanced?” What, your Calvinist theology made you a superior etherial being while I was asleep?

  • Didn’t watch any of the conventions either.

  • slc1

    Re Heddle @ #4

    I assume that means that Prof. Heddle won’t be going to his local polling station at all. There are other races on the ballot, including his local Congressional race and the US Senate race. Are none of the candidates in those races acceptable to his exacting standards?

  • Don’t watch conventions, don’t read, with few exceptions, most politicians “speeches”–which are increasingly written by people who know nothing but what they learned in their “Scammin’ the Sheeple” communications/propaganda classes. I read a lot of commentary by people who have no monetary or authoritarian interest in the proceedings.

    I agree with Raging Bee, up to a point well short of totality, that Ed sometimes seems to lose sight of the fact that the GOP is an institution that LIKES to lie, because it’s worked so well for them for the past 40 or so years. The DNC is not quite that far gone, yet.

  • RagingBee,

    Not giving a shit what happens to millions of real people is “advanced?” What, your Calvinist theology made you a superior etherial being while I was asleep?

    “Advanced” does not imply “superior” in a positive sense as in advanced stages of an illness or advanced age. And the gratuitous reference to Calvinism just shows, for the gazillionth time, that if you get a bee in your bonnet you have a tendency to become a troll.

  • You know, Raging Bee, it is perfectly possible to think that [i]both[/i] political parties are absolutely full of shit. A criticism of Barack Obama doesn’t equate to an endorsement of Mitt Romney nor does expressing bewilderment at popularity and emotional investment in meaningless platitudes and empty promises mean that you fail to recognize when something good is actually achieved.

    The Obama Administration has continued and in some cases strengthened many of the worst Bush-era policies concerning national security and law enforcement. The fact that his opponents are worse overall doesn’t change that.

  • slc1

    Re Raging Bee @ #6

    Let’s not forget that, in 2008, Prof. Heddle thought that Sarah Palin was just peachy keen.

  • “I just don’t get it. I’m apparently not capable of feeling that way. I can’t look at a politician — any politician — and invest emotion and hope in them. Yes, that is cynical; it’s also justified, and always has been.”

    Oh, please. That was your underwear tossed on stage.

  • Jordan Genso

    I think applauding during the conventions and being a “true believer” are separate issues.

    I was not at the DNC, but I did attend the Michigan Democratic Party’s State Convention this past weekend, and yes, I applauded the speakers, even when they made statements that were similar to the quotes in the OP.

    If someone on stage said:

    We leave no one behind. We pull each other up.

    I would applaud that, because it’s a mentality I support. Obviously, those sentences give no insight as to specific policy preferences, but there’s nothing wrong in demonstrating support for your preferred political philosophy.

    If nothing else, it’s no worse than applauding for your favorite sports team during a game.

  • dingojack

    Raging Bee – “You’re worse than a hopeless romantic. You’re a hopeful one”.

    🙂 Dingo

  • This is exactly how I have felt for a long time. I just can’t bring myself to feel particularly excited about either candidate and have never been able to understand those who do.

  • busterggi

    Damned if I know how people do it.

    Even back in high school when we were forced to attend pep rallies I never joined in because whether the football team won or not made no difference to me nor did I see how the win would make the school better.

    Maybe its just part of the herd mentality that some of us lack.

  • Chiroptera

    I don’t understand how someone could, or why someone would, sit there mindlessly applauding an endless string of cliches, platitudes and shallow applause lines.

    You really don’t understand pep rallies? I mean, I don’t like them much, I even have a few criticisms of them beyond my personal dislike (especially in a political context), but I kind of understand them.

    And here I am, someone who usually has trouble understanding people in general!

  • I know that where I live, my vote can help make a difference between this state voting Romney and this state voting Obama. And I know that given a choice between the two, I’ll pick Obama.

    This doesn’t change the fact that I’m immensely frustrated with Obama. Unfortunately, all the things I dislike from him would likely be worse under Romney. I can only hope that not having to look towards getting re-elected will allow Obama to operate with a bit more freedom.

    I also know that many people live in states where, because of the electoral college, their votes literally do not matter. The heart of this problem is, of course, the electoral college itself. It was a system that made some sense when “high-speed communications” meant the pony express. It’s obsolete today. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to choose our president via a completely popular vote. That way everyone’s vote would truly count.

  • The Obama Administration has continued and in some cases strengthened many of the worst Bush-era policies concerning national security and law enforcement. The fact that his opponents are worse overall doesn’t change that.

    No, but the fact that his opponents are worse overall is good and sufficient reason to muster every ounce of available energy to keep said opponents from ever taking power again. If that means a lot of less-than-perfectly-substantive platitudes in the meantime, well, that’s a pretty small price to pay compared to the price of a Romney victory.

  • I can only hope that not having to look towards getting re-elected will allow Obama to operate with a bit more freedom.

    It will, at the very least, give the progressive left four more years to organize themselves as a force within the Democratic Party, and hopefully rally behind a viable successor to Obama, who will have a stronger coalition to do what Obama has failed to do.

  • Randomfactor

    Years ago a candidate was told he had the vote of “every thinking American.”

    His reply was “That’s not enough; I need a majority.”

    That’s why appeals to emotion work, and why they’re needed. Because the people casting the ballots are human beings. We are, as the saying goes, a rationalizing and not a rational species.

  • Who Knows?

    Raging Bee @ 3

    Agreed. Ed is being a bit condesending here.

  • Brownian

    Damned if I know how people do it.

    Even back in high school when we were forced to attend pep rallies I never joined in because whether the football team won or not made no difference to me nor did I see how the win would make the school better.

    Maybe its just part of the herd mentality that some of us lack.

    You really don’t understand pep rallies? I mean, I don’t like them much, I even have a few criticisms of them beyond my personal dislike (especially in a political context), but I kind of understand them.

    And here I am, someone who usually has trouble understanding people in general!

    I never felt anything at pep rallies, but I really doubt it’s because I’m immune to any herd mentality. I wonder if it has much more to do with how certain people appreciate types of stimuli.

    For instance, an ex and I used to argue about music quite often. She’d find a particular song enjoyable whereas I’d be put off by the lyrics. It turned out that lyrics were simply something her ears didn’t register as readily, so they weren’t that important a component of her enjoyment of the music.

    So, and this is just a guess here, it may be the case that some people, like Ed, myself, and others, are too tuned in to the lack of content in the platitudes to be moved, while others are much more tuned in to the emotions of the speaker and the crowd.

    (And I don’t mean to privilege one modality over the other. Over the years, as the stick up my ass has loosened somewhat, I’ve learned to enjoy the emotional stimuli of events like conventions much more than I once could.)

    And just because I’d be remiss if I didn’t note it:

    “Advanced” does not imply “superior” in a positive sense as in advanced stages of an illness or advanced age. And the gratuitous reference to Calvinism just shows, for the gazillionth time, that if you get a bee in your bonnet you have a tendency to become a troll.

    That’s classic heddle for you. “Responding to a reasonable interpretation of my words rather that my intended one makes you a fool and a troll!”

  • dingojack

    In the 1952 presidential election, Gov. Adlai Stevenson was approached by a supporter following a speech who said “Sir, every thinking American is going to vote for you,” only to hear his reply “Thank you Madam, but I need a majority.”

    From here.

    Anyone can confirm (or deny) this?

    Dingo

  • Chiroptera @ #18

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I never understood pep rallies either. They always seemed pointless to me, even in high school, just a bunch of people jumping around and shouting meaningless cheers. And I found the very idea of “school spirit” absurd in general.

    When I think about it, I have also never understood the drive of some people to feel like part of something “greater than themselves” Maybe that’s it. Maybe, whatever it is that makes some people feel good about being part of a greater whole is absent from some of us.

  • I agree with Raging Bee, up to a point well short of totality, that Ed sometimes seems to lose sight of the fact that the GOP is an institution that LIKES to lie…

    I suspect that Ed — like a lot of people who like to think of themselves as “out-of-box thinkers” — is himself emotionally invested in the old idea that both of the “establishment” parties are equally bad, and we need some sort of (unspecified) third party to shake things up. That idea has turned out to be nothing but wishful thinking — the kind of wishful thinking that leaves us vulnerable to exploitation by extremists and con-artists, who only need to cobble up a front organization, call it an “alternative,” and get a good amount of buzz and support, even when it’s run by a moron with asinine ideas and white-supremacist chums. Our recent exsperience with third parties has been nothing but disastrous, but there are some “true believers” who still cling to the fantasy.

  • …I have also never understood the drive of some people to feel like part of something “greater than themselves”…

    Because when we’re faced with a threat that’s greater then ourselves (like an invasion, natural disaster, corporate greed, or fascist putsch), we NEED to join with something greater than ourselves to repel the threat effectively. We human animals understand this at an instinctive level, and that’s where all the “team spirit” stuff comes from.

  • Jordan Genso

    I do think the pep rally comparison is appropriate. And like others here, I’ve not been one to get excited from school pep rallies. But I attribute that to being relatively apathetic about my school winning or losing a sports game.

    When it comes to political elections, I care deeply about who gets elected. And therefore, the political pep rally (aka convention) is something that works to get me excited.

  • bobaho

    slc1 commented:

    There are other races on the ballot, including his local Congressional race and the US Senate race. Are none of the candidates in those races acceptable to his exacting standards?

    Far be it from me from speaking for another; however, one of the major problems in every election is the incumbency advantage. My local Senator and Representative may read (D-NY) in the CSPAN box, but the may as well read (R-Wall Street) or (B-Big Money) when it comes to issues surrounding those very important problems. It’s one thing to call false equivalence, it’s another to completely ignore and discount the corrosive atmosphere of money in the system. The reality is that there are damn few candidates who would not throw any voter under the bus for a few more dollars. They are not in it to do good or to accomplish some lofty goal, they are in it to get more money. They get that money by attaining power, staying in power, and building a Rolodex of wealthy friends and interests. And if you are not in that Rolodex, and your interests do not coincide with those in the Rolodex, then you may as well forgetaboutit; that rep or sen cares not a tinker’s dam about you or your issues.

  • dingojack

    I think that Aerica’s ‘duopoly’ is a product of the voting system. In order for a viable third party canidate to have a chance of carrying enough voting clout to matter, serious electoral reform would be required (what that would end up looking like is anyone’s guess).

    Dingo

  • Why do we even need to vote? GOD’s already “elected” our rulers! {;>)

  • The reality is that there are damn few candidates who would not throw any voter under the bus for a few more dollars.

    Lazy, ignorant blanket dismissals like that only serve to reinforce the power of the 1%, because they erode the people’s confidence that progressive political change is even conceivable. If all politicians are corrupt, then ALL thoughts of political change become futile, and we’re left with the two equally bad choices of apathetic acceptance of the 1% agenda, or bloody revolution.

  • dave

    I simply cannot understand getting emotionally invested in someone who is inevitably going to disappoint you

    I take it you dont believe in Marriage, Child-rearing, Dating, Friendships, or frankly, almost any interpersonal relationships. Everyone is going to dissapoint you sometimes.

    OK. In a less snarky manner, the conventions are full of mostly meaningless pablum. I dont watch. I will read the transcripts of the more important speeches the next morning. That being said, I total understand the desire, and the need, to rev up your supporters. I also understand that detailed position statements are not a good way to sell your product to the majority.

  • Jordan Genso

    The reality is that there are damn few candidates who would not throw any voter under the bus for a few more dollars.

    That’s a bullshit statement. I work at the local level with many candidates for office, and only a small percentage of them have done/said anything that would lead me to feel your statement comes anywhere close to applying to them.

    It may not be a coincidence that the candidates I work with have little chance of ever being elected, since I am in a heavy Republican area, but there are countless numbers of people who want to get into politics for virtuous reasons.

    I would even be willing to make that statement about the Republican Party- that a majority of their candidates actually want to do the correct thing. I do believe that in our system, those who do the wrong thing unfortunately sometimes get rewarded and move up to higher office. So the politicians that are most visible are the ones who are more likely to have made selfish decisions, but they should not be representative of all politicians.

  • Michael Heath

    slc1 writes:

    Let’s not forget that, in 2008, Prof. Heddle thought that Sarah Palin was just peachy keen.

    Since we don’t have access to the comments posted in Ed’s blog at ScienceBlogs.com, I want to clarify that while heddle did note he liked then-Gov. Palin soon after the McCain campaign announced she was their VP nominee, he backed away from that conclusion after we all got to know her better. Some of us are more proactive in our research than others, so of course there’s going to be lag times when it comes to people taking a more informed position.

    On paper and given nearly none of us knew her at the time, her resume provided a nice complement to Sen. McCains with the exception of her lack of executive experience, a weakness shared by the then-Sen. Obama. It was only after we did our due diligence that we discovered no reasonable good person could support Ms. Palin for any job.

    I was immediately attracted to her as a possibility the day her candidacy was announced after reading her Wikipedia page; which was obviously doctored just prior to the announcement in preparation of the McCain team announcement. However I did about four hours of research that evening and came to be horrified anyone had ever given her any job. But a lot of what I learned about her took weeks to be delivered to the population who is more passive in their becoming informed on political affairs and more reliant on the mainstream media.

    So I think slc1 is once again defaming another person.

  • cjcolucci

    True, they all talk in platitudes, and none of them will deliver on anywhere close to all of the substantive promises, but the politician’s or party’s choice of which platitudes to spout and what substantive promises to bother making is informative, and, to my mind, sufficient reason to chose one over the other.

  • ArtK

    My 17yo son had to watch some convention speeches for his American History class, and extract some issues for discussion and comparison with the opposition. It was hard wading through all of the fluff to find any real issues.

    BTW, here’s an old friend who takes Obama’s “Forward” very seriously:

    Allen West: Obama Campaign’s ‘Forward’ Slogan Promotes ‘Soviet Union, Marxist-Socialist Theme’

  • dingojack

    ArtK – you know who else used ‘forward’ in a Presidential ad?

    But I’m guessing Allen will tell us that is completely different, right Allen?

    😉 Dingo

  • flex

    I suspect that locus of control theory may be applicable in situations like political conventions and pep rallies (essentially identical performances).

    There are lots of people who get their feeling of worth from external sources. For them, the presence of lots of similarly minded people agreeing with their own sentiments is a very uplifting and confidence building experience. Once they’ve been re-assured that their opinions are valid by the crowd, they emerge energized and ready to knock on doors. I’ve seen this at many of the political conventions I’ve been to.

    Then there are people who rely on their own internal feelings of self-worth. These people are less likely to understand and get enthused by the platitudes and crowd cheering which occur.

    Neither locus is necessary better than the other. In the extreme both can lead to self-destructive behavior, but most people oscillate between the two depending on the environment. Even someone who has a strong internal locus of control can be enthused or dejected by the performance of a favorite sports team, jumping up from the couch and yelling.

    Having a very strong internal locus of control myself, I can understand how Ed can think that political rallies are boring and somewhat incomprehensible. However, there are people who do feel empowered and energized from rallies. It takes both kinds to win an election, but enthusiasm is a powerful force.

  • Michael Heath

    I think it’s incredibly harmful to our society when some people conflate their justifiable criticism of politicians effectively deploying both emotional pleas and psychological tactics promoting tribalism relative to the importance of our voting and supporting good causes.

    Cynicism is not an arguable motivation to avoid the obligations required of us in a legitimate liberal democracy. Especially in an era where it’s even more imperative ‘the People’ have some aptitude for understanding an increasingly complex technical world and where propagandists are increasingly sophisticated in their ability to misinform large swaths of the population.

  • Also had pep rally apathy during my grade school years, though I wouldn’t be completely apathetic for a political rally, since the election is going to have big consequences. I can handle vague platitudes about helping each other up and such if I think they’re sincere about it, though I prefer them mixed in with firm declarations about goals and plans.

    These days, however, I’m quite jaded. I was lukewarm about Obama the first time, with my hopes around “average caretaker president” most of the time. I did have bouts of hope that he’d go after the civil rights abuses of the Bush administration, but nothing firm enough to give into the cult of personality I tended to see at Obama rallies on TV. (I know. Sampling bias.) I voted for him because I was voting against McCain/Palin and didn’t feel a whole lot of emotional investment necessary to feel deeply betrayed or disappointed if he failed to deliver what I wanted in the next four years. (I still feel some of that, but largely blunted by my lowered expectations.)

    If something weird happens, and Texas develops swing state potential instead of being virtually guaranteed Romney state, I’ll hold my nose and vote Obama again, but I won’t be happy about it, and I won’t be part of a cheering crowd if he wins. I’ll just quietly sigh in relief that Romney lost. I wouldn’t want to give the false impression that I was ecstatic with the way Obama has been running things.

  • On paper and given nearly none of us knew her at the time, her resume provided a nice complement to Sen. McCains with the exception of her lack of executive experience…

    You were that easily suckered for even that long? My first reaction was to label her the next Harriet Miers.

  • slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #36

    So I think slc1 is once again defaming another person.

    Who me? Seriously, I think that Heath is somewhat deficient in his remembrance of Prof. Heddle’s position in 2008. It is true that his defenses of Ms. Palin petered out after a while but they were replaced with bad mouthing Joe Biden.

    At no time do I recollect him saying that Ms. Palin was totally unqualified for the office, especially being one heartbeat away from the oval office under a 70+ year old man with a history of health problems.

  • There are lots of people who get their feeling of worth from external sources.

    Actually, a lot of our worth DOES come from external sources: if you want to do anything more sophisticated than hunting, gathering, and pooping in the woods, you need a society to provide the groundwork, and other people’s accomplishments (or at least needs) to build on.

  • Michael Heath

    M earlier:

    On paper and given nearly none of us knew her at the time, her resume provided a nice complement to Sen. McCains with the exception of her lack of executive experience . . .

    […]

    However I did about four hours of research that evening and came to be horrified anyone had ever given her any job.

    Raging Bee writes:

    You were that easily suckered for even that long? My first reaction was to label her the next Harriet Miers. [with link to blog post]

    Your reaction is incoherent. You disqualify Ms. Palin for a factor that would not be on her resume but one which could find in a couple of hours of research. Within hours of the announcement I did find what you cite here plus a ton of other far more compelling reasons to reject her. The only way I could meet the standard you assert I should be able to perform at is if upon immediate receipt of the Palin announcement, God divinely revealed to me what Sarah Palin was really like. So shame on me for depending on my own research and thinking skills.

  • You disqualify Ms. Palin for a factor that would not be on her resume but one which could find in a couple of hours of research.

    No, I initially disqualified Palin because I’d never heard of her, and she immediately struck me as another “ousider” with no experience, no accomplishments, and no other qualifications to be VP. The couple of hours of research came after that assessment, and showed she was even worse than I’d originally thought.

  • I don’t understand how someone could, or why someone would, sit there mindlessly applauding an endless string of cliches, platitudes and shallow applause lines.

    I’m not a huge fan of conventions or political speeches in general, but the emotional reaction that people have is to the speaker, not merely to the words they say. Yes, it’s a lot of platitudes and cliches, but such speeches serve as a signaling mechanism that the speaker is one of you, and the audience signals right back with their applause. There’s no great mystery here.

  • Yes, it’s a lot of platitudes and cliches, but such speeches serve as a signaling mechanism that the speaker is one of you

    No, they don’t. They outright say that the speaker is one of you, which generally speaking he is not. That is indeed a signal, but one of the cheapest and weakest ones possible, which is Ed’s point. As such it barely deserves a condescending smile, let alone a standing ovation.

  • dingojack

    Two examples of Ed’s ‘poitical platitudess and empty rhetoric’:

    “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting p/lace for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.

    “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

    Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

    But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

    In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

    But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

    We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

    It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

    But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

    The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

    We cannot walk alone.

    And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

    We cannot turn back.

    There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

    I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

    Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

    And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    I have a dream today!

    I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

    I have a dream today!

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

    This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

    With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

    My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

    Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

    From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

    And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

    And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

    Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

    Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

    Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

    Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

    But not only that:

    Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

    Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

    Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

    From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

    And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

    Free at last! Free at last!

    Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

    Dingo

  • Raging Bee wrote:

    I suspect that Ed — like a lot of people who like to think of themselves as “out-of-box thinkers” — is himself emotionally invested in the old idea that both of the “establishment” parties are equally bad, and we need some sort of (unspecified) third party to shake things up.

    You can suspect this only if you ignore the innumerable times when I’ve said the opposite. Not only have I never said that the two parties are equally bad, I think that idea is patently absurd and I have hammered people for thinking it. And I’ve said many times that Obama is clearly, absolutely and incontrovertibly better than Romney. I completely understand voting for him and working for his reelection on that basis. I still don’t understand screaming and applauding when he, or anyone else, fires off empty platitudes at us. And no, I didn’t, and don’t, “get” pep rallies either.

  • akkonor

    Spoken like a true useful idiot.

  • oranje

    On the pep rally note, we had them in high school, but we didn’t have any sports teams. It was the oddest damn thing. No one, from students to teachers to administration, really knew why we bothered.

    For the conventions, well, I do ignore them, but that’s because I already know for whom I’m voting and why. I also avoid domestic media until after the election, as I can’t take the jingoism, distortion, and pathos appeals. It’s getting harder, though, as the BBC is covering the hell out of this election.

    It’s starting to remind me of Sportscenter being on all night: the scores never change, but they keep finding small things upon which to report. Conventions are like the first round of the playoffs, but you don’t have to pay too much attention to know what’s going on.

  • abb3w

    @51, Ed Brayton:

    And no, I didn’t, and don’t, “get” pep rallies either.

    I wonder if it might be tied to comparatively lower levels of “mirror neurons”? (I don’t much “get” them either, aside from a vague abstract understanding of how other people may be responding.)

  • Ed,

    If it makes you feel better, I think I understand what you are trying to say. You understand why someone might prefer one candidate to another. You might even have a preference for one candidate to the other yourself. But You don’t see any good reason for anyone to get truly excited about either candidate.

    If that’s so, that’s pretty much how I feel about it too. It’s a choice between “meh” and “Blechh”. I just can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic for “meh” just because “Blech” is worse.

  • akkonnor@52:

    Thanks for participating in the discussion; now, go fuck yourself.

  • Jordan Genso

    Ed wrote:

    I still don’t understand screaming and applauding when he, or anyone else, fires off empty platitudes at us.

    I would dispute the claim that the convention speeches only contain empty platitudes, if that is in fact what you are stating. I think many speeches do have some parts of real substance, wedged between the empty platitudes. In that situation, the platitudes can serve the purpose of keeping the energy of the crowd engaged in order to help the real substance make an impact.

    Of course, the empty platitudes also serve less beneficial purposes, but I don’t accept the idea that they provide no benefit at all.

  • Jordan —

    But it’s the empty platitudes that tend to get the loudest applause. And Obama’s speech had very little substance to it; it was mostly rhetoric. Bill Clinton’s speech was much more substantive and policy-focused (and he was right about most of it too, which matters far more to me than it does to the political cheerleaders). It’s the stupid cliches — “We must get America moving again” or “It’s time for Americans to believe in America again” — that fire people up. And again, I just don’t get it. They should have their intelligence insulted by such tripe, but they scream and cheer and cry. And this is exactly what I find creepy about the whole thing.

  • akkonor

    Shorter ed brayton: why isn’t everybody as cool as me?

  • Pep rallies must be one of those uniquely American things. We certainly didn’t anything like that in the UK when I was growing up and for all I know they still don’t now.

    Yes, there are annual party conferences, but they’re typically ignored by the general public, and the most people get to see of them are sound-bytes on the news, which tend to be selected because they are about some policy or other.

    I think in the eyes of most foreigners, the US obsession with patriotism, pep-rallies, pledges, platitudes (how’s that for alliteration!) and other aspects of American exceptionalism reminds them of the stuff that goes on in the more autocratic regimes around the world. The fact that so many Americans don’t seem to notice that, seems flat out bizarre to many who come to these shores.

    There is a place for national pride — I’m the first to be proud of Great Britain when there is something substantial to be proud of — like the recent Olympic Games, whose success was, in part owed to the thousands of tireless volunteers who made the whole event a joy to experience. But that’s very different from what happens these days in the US, where everyone seems to want to puff themselves up with meaningless rhetoric.

  • Jordan Genso

    It’s the stupid cliches — “We must get America moving again” or “It’s time for Americans to believe in America again” — that fire people up.

    I agree that it is irrational when the cliches move people. But if the rhetoric is original, I’ll admit to allowing that rhetoric get me inspired. When the President was talking about how it was our actions/votes in 2008 that caused DADT to be repealed (and the other accomplishments of his administration), I found it very effective. When the focus is so often about what the President was able to accomplish, that part of the speech was an eloquent way for him to remind us he’s only there to accomplish those things because of our work in 2008. And therefore, if we work that hard again this cycle, we can take pride in the accomplishments of his second term.

    After the posts you’ve written in praise of Hitchens for his eloquent writing style, I’m surprised if you can’t at least empathize with those who appreciate the President’s ability to inspire through speeches (and/or be inspired by them). As Dingo noted @50, some of the greatest speeches in history can be viewed as mostly rhetoric.

  • Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    Cynicism is not an arguable motivation to avoid the obligations required of us in a legitimate liberal democracy. – Michael Heath

    Sure… but what relevance does that have to the USA as it is in 2012?

  • Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    Somewhat OT, but while we’re discussing different varieties of “true believer: Cato Shrugged: The new president of the Cato Institute wants to remake the think tank in Ayn Rand’s image.

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  • mantistoboggan

    I often hear my fellow citizens lament that they must choose the lesser of two evils. There are two problems with this view:

    -If what they say is true, they’re still voting for evil. Your vote is a violent act that forces a preferred flavor of coercion on your fellow citizens.

    -A much more accurate characterization would be to say that you’re voting for the evil of two lessers. Free people do not vote for these swinish Napoleons.

  • Michael Heath

    akkonor writes:

    Shorter ed brayton: why isn’t everybody as cool as me?

    No, as smart as Ed in terms of critical thinking skills; where I confidently assert it would be a far better world if Ed’s capabilities and integrity were the median.

  • Chiroptera

    Michael Heath, #66:

    At first I thought akkonor was MrBongo until I noticed that there was no mention of Muslims.

  • Michael Heath

    Chiroptera writes:

    At first I thought akkonor was MrBongo until I noticed that there was no mention of Muslims.

    Ed’s immunized himself from exposure to mrbongo for several days with today’s post about the Pakistani Christian girl: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2012/09/11/pakistani-girl-free-for-now/

    • Michael–

      That was not an attempt to immunize myself against that lying moron, nor would it be effective if I’d tried. I’ve been writing about Islamic barbarism for years and none of that immunized me from his lies.

  • Pseudonym

    To understand how people can do this at political conventions, it helps to know that they’re all drunk.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    That was not an attempt to immunize myself against that lying moron, nor would it be effective if I’d tried. I’ve been writing about Islamic barbarism for years and none of that immunized me from his lies.

    So I needed a wink or [/snark] following what I wrote? [It was a joke; I wouldn’t read you daily if you demonstrated any concern about what mrbongo and his ilk think when it comes to what you blog about.]

  • mantistoboggan: voting for the lesser of two evils means you get less evil than you had before. It means incremental change, which is, most times, the only constructive change you can get.

    Besides, what else are we supposed to do — sit by and not support any improvement until a saint or messiah runs for office?

  • Rike

    But there is no reason to put any facts or promises in any speeches, since most of the time it will be impossible to follow up on them later, as we have seen already.

  • “Besides, what else are we supposed to do — sit by and not support any improvement until a saint or messiah runs for office?”

    And that worked out so well in the fable about JESUS.

  • mantistoboggan

    Bee:

    As noted in the second part of my post, I don’t really buy that the choice is between the lesser of two evils within the War Party. Evil of two lessers is much more accurate.

    My recommendation is to withhold sanction of the War Party by declining to participate in election day violence. There will be no messiah.

  • akkonor

    I am not this mrbongo whoever he is

  • dornierpfeil

    Mr. Brayton,

    You are not a tribalist. You do not rely on your lizard brain for 99.99% of your decision making. That is not a bad thing.