Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things August 14, 2012

Wells Tower: “Desperately Seeking Mitt”

On some level, he must know that the world’s more complex than this, and that these past three decades have been very good to people like him and Harold but not so good for everybody else. It’s a big, ugly truth to have to willfully ignore. Not that it’s his fault. Romney’s presidential bid would combust the instant he stopped talking about America as though it is a pretty hologram in a block of cut glass and that its only flaws, easily effaced, are a few thumbprints Obama left on the crystal. Still, it is lamentable that if you ever hope to get elected, your most closely guarded secret is your honest, unairbrushed vision of the nation you want to run.

As I shoulder my way to the rope line, I’m thinking how emotionally fatiguing it would be to spend all day, every day telling America it can be rescued by rich men and hymns and keeping secret for the quiet room his real worries for the land he wants to govern. Secrets are exhausting. Coming down the rope line, Romney looks exhausted. Haggard, bleary. He grasps my hand. A really good grip: firm, but not a knucklebuster, choked up solidly into my hand-crotch of thumb and forefinger, wholly avoiding one of those awkward fingertip-clutching situations. His skin is dry and warm. I look him in his hooded eyes. “You must be very tired,” I say.

“Heh, heh.” Two popcorn emissions of dry, synthetic jocularity. “I’m doing all right.”

Daniel Altman: “How Republicans Sabotaged the Recovery”

Imagine, for a moment, how difficult it would have been to land a man on the moon if half of the U.S. Congress had believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Or consider how the War in the Pacific might have progressed if half of Congress had still thought the world was flat. Or whether polio would have been eradicated if half of Congress insisted that the best cure was bleeding using leeches. Unfortunately, this was the situation the United States in January 2009, when Barack Obama assumed the presidency. The nation was trying to climb out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression, but the Republican Party had about as scientific an approach to the economy as medieval alchemists did to the periodic table.

Peter Montgomery: “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics”

1. There can be no religious test for public office, nor a religious test for participation in the political process.

2. While it is appropriate to discuss the moral dimensions of public policy issues, religious doctrine alone is not an acceptable basis for government policy.

3. Public officials have every right to express their personal religious beliefs, and no right to use the power of their office to proselytize or coerce others to adopt any religious beliefs or practices .

4. Government institutions must show neither official approval nor disapproval of religion, or favor one religion over another.

5. Religious institutions may cooperate with government in programs supporting the common good, but public funds must not be used to support proselytizing, religious education, worship or discrimination.

6. Government has a right to demand that religious institutions and individuals comply with reasonable regulation and social policy.

7. Public officials cannot use their religious beliefs as a rationale for failing to uphold the duties of their office.

8. Political discourse should respect religious pluralism.

9. Political figures and the media should not treat religious constituencies as monolithic; political and religious leaders should not claim to speak for an entire religious community on public policy issues.

10. Politicians and media should not equate orthodoxy with authenticity.

11. Religious and political leaders should not “cry wolf” about religious persecution.

12. Religion should not be used as a political club.

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  • Completely serious question:

    Is there any hope?

    Say Mitt Romney loses and Obama wins.  Even if things go great odds are that Republicans hold the House and retain the power of filibuster in the Senate which means two to four more years like the last two.

    Obama and Democrats might be able to stop things from getting markedly worse in the ways Republicans want them to, but given those conditions is there any hope for improvement?

  • Saintjebus

    I think there is hope. Yes, we can look at the current state of Republicans and despair, but I look at:
    More and more states are legalizing gay marriage. Prop 8 was struck down.
    Women’s rights are being fought for at the federal level. Yes, the attacks on equality are fierce, but so is the defense.
    Finally:
    We just put a science lab on Mars. Again: We have a laboratory on another planet! When YEC or Flat Earth Creationists, or even climate change deniers have done that, let me know.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    There is always hope. In the end, progress wins. It takes too long and there are too many casualties getting there, but progress always wins.

  •  

    Is there any hope?

    Depends on how good an outcome has to be before it’s worthy of hope, I guess.

    I mean, it’s always possible for things to get better than they are right now, just as it’s possible for them to get worse. If I’m falling off a cliff, I might remember a song that I really enjoyed as a kid and have a moment of nostalgic fondness as I tumble to my doom, or I might spend that time screaming in terror.

    The question is, do I care? Is that moment of nostalgic fondness worth hoping for? Or is the only thing worth hoping for that I not hit the ground?

    Ditto wrt government, I guess.It’s certainly possible for things to get better than they are. The question is how much better they have to get before I consider that worth hoping for.

    Personally, I’m usually of the “there’s no hope” school. Sure, it can get better, but we’re all going to get weaker and older and die, and we’ll be replaced by a generation just as fucked up as we are, and there’s no getting around the fact that we’re a flawed species living in an unforgiving world.

    But I don’t like the effect that kind of thinking has on my experience of life, nor on the experience of others around me. So I try to behave as though there were hope, as though the possible improvements (many of which have become actual in my lifetime!) actually are valuable, as though one human life is worth something.

    I am sometimes successful.

  • GDwarf

     

    Personally, I’m usually of the “there’s no hope” school. Sure, it can
    get better, but we’re all going to get weaker and older and die, and
    we’ll be replaced by a generation just as fucked up as we are, and
    there’s no getting around the fact that we’re a flawed species living in
    an unforgiving world.

    But we’re living! Just stop and think about what that means. We are the hearts of stars woven into wonderful machines that can make copies of themselves. Of course we’re flawed, but we’re so, so much better than we might be and we’re getting better with every generation.

    And, y’know, in the end it probably all is meaningless. Alpha Centauri couldn’t care less what we do. Heck, even our own Sun will probably never be influenced by us in any meaningful way. But that just means that it’s up to us to make meaning. To look at the universe that we are made from and craft a purpose from it. Why does it matter that the cosmos won’t look on and approve? My friends and family- Everyone I ever meet or interact with in any way- Will care. What else could possibly matter?

    Sure, at some point we’ll all end up hurting others and doing stupid things, and some of us will strive to keep doing harm for their whole lives, but we’re trying, and we are learning and growing and advancing. Eventually we’ll reach a world where petty maliciousness becomes unacceptable. It’ll take longer than anyone wants to spend, but the history of humanity shows that we steadily crawl towards such a world. Sometimes we backslide, or go sideways, but the overall trend is clear to see.

  • Altman is saying that the Republicans sabotaged the recovery out of ignorance and stupidity.  I think he is wrong.  They were quite clear in saying that they saw their job as making sure that Obama did not succeed.

    I’m inclined to think that what the Republicans did is more accurately described as a combination of racism and treason.

  •  Wonderfully put.

  • Wingedwyrm

    The thing to bare in mind about social issues is that all of the social improvements that’ve happened in America have happened because people have shoved the issue in the faces of America for decades, in some cases centuries.

    Up until a couple decades ago, you wouldn’t not be forgiven for it but nobody would be shocked if you expressed your opinion that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to teach schools, serve in the military, get married.  That was because a certain belief set was allowed to dominate.  Make that about seven decades ago, and we might expect a stranger on the street to be lukewarm about whether or not black men should vote… and that would be being hopeful.  Again, a certain belief set about people with a certain melanin content was allowed to dominate.

    The truth does win out when you shove it right in people’s faces and don’t allow them to easily turn away.  And, that’s also how we’re going to have to treat economic issues.  We have to force into people’s faces the stories of people who are on welfare/Snap/other forms of public assistance who are using that assistance as the very bootstrap that many a conservative wants them to pull themselves up by.  We have to make it impossible to easily turn one’s head to the notion that Obamacare is deathpannels and rationed medicine.

    Then, over time, yes, there’ll be hope.  And, yes, I realize that, in this case, we can point to Fox News as the enemy of hope, an entire news organization dedicated to making it easy to feel ideologically safe and simultaniously get an addictive jolt of fear.  But, that’s difficulty, not impossibility.

  •  I’m currently re-watching Babylon 5. It’s helping.

  • JonathanPelikan

    Been trying for a while now to write up even a decent answer to this. Short version: In the long term, there is no doubt that we shall overcome. We always have in the end. 

    Shorter-term? I can’t say yes for sure but acting as if there is hope is infinitely better than acting as if there is not. Hopelessness means you’re defeated. 

    How many people are going to live who would have died without Obamacare? That’s what we’re talking about, here. We’re talking politics. We’re talking the fate of America. We’re talking about, what, 300 million living and breathing people? 

    Whether we like it or not, and whether for good or for ill ends, what happens here doesn’t stay within our borders. We send disaster or success out like we’re fucking radioactive.

    Given that, we simply can’t afford to lose hope. We’ve got enough problems from the Right and the Centrists.

  • Is there any hope?

    Say Mitt Romney loses and Obama wins.  Even if things go great odds are that Republicans hold the House and retain the power of filibuster in the Senate which means two to four more years like the last two.

    I am not so pessimistic.  Look at the polls for the congress’ approval ratings.  They are still awful, which ought to be murder for the incumbents.  Considering who controls the house at the moment, the pendulum is set to swing the other way.  

    We just need to hold on until that point, and that is reason to keep hope.

  •  Well, Congress’s approval ratings are always pretty bad. It’s safer to look at individual Congressperson’s chances of keeping their seat, as well as who they’re running against. Sometimes a candidate who isn’t very popular in their district can survive because the opposition nominates someone who is just awful, and sometimes Congress in general can be unpopular but individual members are doing pretty good. You also have to look at who is retiring and if there’s anyone in place; one of the worst things that a lot of long-serving Congresspersons do  in my view is when they fail to groom successors for their seat. They often act as if they plan to live and serve forever, and then when they finally do choose to retire they end up throwing their guys into a lurch trying to find someone decent to run for their seat.

    It’s unlikely that Democrats will take control of the House and retain the Senate at this point. I don’t think that their losses will be as severe as 2010 but it won’t be like 2008 either.

  • Paul Durant

    “The nation was trying to climb out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression, but the Republican Party had about as scientific an approach to the economy as medieval alchemists did to the periodic table.”  
    Uh… medieval alchemists were scientists. Like, this isn’t even up for dispute. Chemistry as we know it today is descended directly from alchemy. It isn’t like bloodletting where one day we said “hey, this doesn’t work at all, let’s go do something totally different,” they were trying to understand and explain natural phenomena based on the results of their previous work, and the shift from philosophical underpinnings of their explanations to materialistic ones was just what happened when they got better at what they did.

    Comparing alchemists to Republican economics makes them sound like willfully ignorant malicious hucksters instead of “scientists who didn’t know as much as we do now because they hadn’t done all the scientific research that gave us our current understanding of the world yet”. You may as well derisively compare them to Isaac Newton, because Newtonian physics isn’t accurate either.

  • I think I’m taking the wrong message from Daniel Altman’s comments– now I’m thinking “crap, there actually are evolution ‘deniers’ in congress, not to mention climate change deniers.  Now I am legitimately worried that there might be geocentrists & Flat Earthers….”

  • Thank you for getting the back of alchemy!  Proto-science is a fine & noble failure.  In fact, you should literally compare them to Newton, since he was an alchemist.

  •  

    Thank you for getting the back of alchemy!  Proto-science is a fine
    & noble failure.  In fact, you should literally compare them to
    Newton, since he was an alchemist.

    Beat me to it.

  • aunursa

    Is there any hope?

    If Mitt Romney wins, there is no hope.

    President Romney will outlaw collective bargaining and most federal and state regulations that restrain businesses, especially those that protect workers rights and the environment.  In order to stimulate the economy, Romney will cut the tax rate for the top 1% to 1%.  In order to balance the budget he will eliminate the departments of Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, Housing & Urban Development, and Labor.  Funding for public broadcasting, the arts, Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and college loans will be eliminated.  Funding for law enforcement, prisons, and the military will be tripled.

    President Romney will issue an executive order outlawing abortion in all 50 states in all cases (except if the woman’s life is in danger); women will be thrown into prison for exercising their reproductive rights.  Contraceptives will no longer be available over-the-counter; purchasers will have to complete a lengthy questionnaire with intrusive questions to ensure that only married folks are able to purchase birth control.

    The Republican Congress will enact legislation, signed by President Romney, that invalidates state and local marriage laws in order to return a single definition of marriage.  The law will invalidate all same-sex marriages currently recognized by a handful of states, as well as civil unions and domestic partnership laws.   A secret military commission will be set up to investigate the sexual orientation of soldiers, as gays and lesbians will again be prohibited from serving in the military.  In order to get these outrageous laws upheld, Romney will pack the Supreme Court with new justices Paul Clement, Roger Vinson, and Miguel Estrada.  They will replace retiring justices Ginsburg and Kennedy, and Justice Stephen Breyer, whose tragic accident under questionable circumstances will never be fully explained.

    A Romney administration will immediately move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip; American troops will assist the IDF in forcibly removing Palestinian residents to neighboring countries.  And the president will finally make use of America’s vast nuclear arsenal to bomb Iran back to the stone age; this bold move will prevent the crazy mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons that they would use to pre-emptively attack other nations. 

    In short, if Mitt Romney wins, God help us all!!!

  • Blogs like Fred’s and the ones he links to talk a lot about problems and little else. And so those of us who spend a lot of time on the internet (and who get e-mails from the Obama campaign) hear a lot about problems and little else. But imagine a blog like Fred’s in 1852, if there had been blogs in 1852. 

    We’re doing better now than we ever have, and not just in this country. The far-right runs the Republican party, we only have two parties, there are a lot of problems. But we’re moving ever forward. There’s no other option.

    Social reformers used to be crucified, literally, only 2000 years ago. Now violent authoritarians around the world are running scared, even when they control things. They’ve always been scared, of course, that’s why they’re violent authoritarians, but they’ve never had so many real reasons to be scared. 

    So long as humanity survives global warming, we’ll continue to improve. The recent laboratory on Mars gives me hope that we will.

  • Beroli

     Are you aiming for deliberately over-the-top parody with the occasional slip to let it show that it’s not what the writer really believes, or is this your entry in the contest Lori is not having with you?

  • aunursa

    Actually I was aiming for frequent slips in order to make it obvious it’s not what the writer really believes.

  •  One irony is that, since I usually read the comments here with usernames stripped out, I didn’t realize that comment was you; I assumed it was an over-the-top but sincere “why a Romney Presidency is bad for the country” essay. It wasn’t until I saw this comment and backtracked that I deciphered it properly.

  •  Another one is — Romney doesn’t even have to be that bad to be an awful president. He basically has most of Obama’s flaws as well as a bunch of ones specific to conservative Republicans. That’s already terrible; he really wouldn’t need to do anything illegal or over-the-top to make things worse for many if not most people.

  • Delurker

     Shut the fuck up, Donny.