Circus Maximus MMXVI: Just a little bit longer

8 09 2016

I may wax and wane in my enthusiasm for voting for Hillary Clinton, but I am firm that I’ll vote for her.

And whatever waning there is, doesn’t mean I think I’m voting for “the lesser evil”.

Greater and lesser evils in politics: such horseshit.

Bernard Crick argued that politics requires pluralism, which in turn creates the conditions in which politics may flourish: that there are differences requires some mechanism for negotiating amongst those differences, and politics (as opposed to technocracy or totalitarianism) provides an open, inclusive, and non-violent way for a citizenry to deal with itself.

Politics is more than this, of course, but that notion of conciliation and compromise are key: if factions are only ever maximalist, only ever all-or-nothing, only ever my-way-or-else, then politics will be ground out of existence.

Which is where my evilism-is-horseshit stance comes from: someone is decried as a lesser evil because she isn’t perfect, is compromised, is too willing to compromise, adheres too closely or not closely enough to the party line, will disappoint, will likely fail.

All politicians fail. Good politicians fail well, bad politicians fail badly, but if politics is about advancing an agenda against competing agendas, then the old cliché sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you means that even the greatest advances will contain losses.

It also means that to advance your position, you’re likely to have to settle, to give something to get something. To compromise.

Yeah, sometimes you can hold the line, and those hard-liners do have a place (tho’ not in leadership) in politics, but if your political adversaries are present in enough numbers to get in your way (which is almost always the case, if not at any one moment then certainly over a relatively short period of time), you’re going to have to pay attention to them. You’re going to have to deal.

As with failing, you can be a good (moves you closer to your goals)  or bad (moves you further from your goals) dealer, but if you don’t deal at all you’re not much of a politician, much less a political leader.

To deal is to be political, not to be evil, so any assessment of a politician should not be Does she deal or not but Is she a good dealer or bad dealer?

Again, none of this means candidates, even ones one is waxingly enthusiastic about, are above criticism—criticize away! But criticize them on their politics, not on the fact of their imperfections.

~~~

*It’s not that evil doesn’t exist at all in politics—if you’re a genocidal dictator you pretty much fit the definition of an evil leader—but that in ordinary or functioning politics, the evil quotient is going to be pretty low. (I could go full Crick and state that genocidal dictators are anti-politics by definition, and thus fob off evil on the upside-down, but that’s a little too convenient.)





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Oh won’t you stay just a little bit longer

14 04 2016

It helps to have low expectations of one’s president.

I think that’s a big part of why I’m not really into the Democratic primary: there’s nothing about either of them which leads me to think he or she would be an A-MAZING president.

I like Sanders’s focus on economics and that Clinton’s a hard-ass; I don’t know that Sanders would be that effective and I distrust Clinton’s instincts. That said, I think both would bring in good people to help compensate for their respective weaknesses. So, y’know, they’re both fine.

Still, like many others, I do think that a president can exceed expectations, and when that happens, it’s hard to say So long.

It’s gonna be hard for me to say So long to President Obama.

Oh, there are all kinds of policy decisions with which I disagree with him, and there are certainly disappointments—you probably have your own list—but man, this guy just gets presidenting.

It’s true that I prefer a cool to a hot temperament (not least because I run towards hot, so am unimpressed with it), but I also think a president has to have some kind of core calmness if he or she is to do the job. It’s an impossible job: the president has to make far too many decisions based on both too much and too little information and more often than not has to try to control situations which are not controllable. Thus, the person in that chair has to reconcile him- or herself to the absurdities of the powerlessness of the most powerful position on the planet if he or she is to have any chance at all at failing well.

And yes, he or she will fail, precisely because it is an impossible job. The only issue is will she or he fail well or fail miserably.

President Obama has failed well, exceedingly well. He has grown into his role rather than having been shriveled by it. He seems, against all odds, to enjoy being president, perhaps because he’s never much paid attention to odds.

I wonder if this is how Republicans feel or felt about President Reagan: that the job of the president just seemed to fit him.  That I hated Reagan’s policies meant I was never able fully to see the man’s political gifts, and as Bill Clinton (who wasted what gifts he did have) was the only Democratic president in my adulthood, there were few opportunities for wistfulness at the end of a presidency.

But yeah, I’m wistful. For all of his faults and for all of my disagreements, I’m going to miss Barack Obama in the White House.

I don’t think I’ll see in my lifetime another president who will fail as well as he has.





You know, I’ve got a funny feeling I’ve seen this all before

10 09 2014

President Obama is speaking now about the necessity of going after ISIL, currently the most rabid of death-eaters of the Middle East.

ISIL is terrible, and terrible for the people of Iraq and Syria.

The US, by waging war on and in Iraq, has helped (but did not solely) prepare the ground on which ISIL arose. The Iraqi government, thru spectacular mismanagement and churlish policies toward its Sunni citizens, fertilized that ground, and Syrian President Assad, by emptying his jails of militants, gleefully seeded it.

Whatever the US responsibility for ISIL’s rise, however, it is not at all clear that we have the competence to clean up our own mess.

I wasn’t opposed to the limited bombing in support of the evacuation of the Yazidis, largely because it was limited in time and place and for a specific purpose, and for which the alternatives, including doing nothing, were unlikely to work in preventing a massacre.

But this, this expanded campaign  to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIL?

No.

The president’s speech was short, and of the parts which weren’t filled with the usual boo-yah blather, strove for a combination of modesty and determination: no ground troops, working with allies, humanitarian assistance, strikes in Syria (not modest!), all geared toward long-term peace.

Peace—what a lovely idea.

But if we are determined to eliminate ISIL, modesty likely will not do, and I am concerned that if these modest efforts don’t work or work as well or as quickly as the war-bangers want, then we’ll hear—are already hearing—that determination requires immodesty, and by gum the US is weak, weak, I tell ya!, unless we’re willing to kill and die and kill some more.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do not believe that we act ably or well in our military endeavors in the Middle East.

It’s not so much that I fear that we might fail as believe that we have already failed, and with this re-engagement, are about to amplify that failure.





Through these fields of destruction

2 03 2014

I know zip about Ukraine & Crimea; this will not prevent me from having opinions about Ukraine & Crimea.

(Look ma! I’m pundit-ing!)

Anyway, the one thought that does keep popping up in me noggin is that Putin’s push in Crimea is a sign of weakness, not strength.

Soldiers, guns, tanks: these are artifacts of failure (of diplomacy, of cunning, of imagination); their use signals a breakdown, not a triumph.





5 am, looking for food for her kids

19 11 2013

I haven’t said much about the OBAMA-DOOM-CARE APOCALYPSE because, well, I don’t have much to say.

Yeah, I believe the reports that the launch of the website was a huge cock-up, and that Obama has taken hits on both the cock-up and the you-can-keep-it mantra, but I don’t know how much any of this matters, at least at this point. I’m with Bernstein on this: the much-ado is much too soon.

(And honestly, who was surprised by the problems? Romneycare had issues in its roll-out in Massachusetts, but anyone who’s ever worked for an institution of substantial size knows exactly what’s involved in introducing a “new! improved!” software program, and it ain’t pretty. This is not an excuse, but it does mean the ACA’s site problems should also not be a surprise.)

I’m a single-payer kinda gal for simplicity’s & justice’s sake; the kludge necessitated by the ACA is a turn-off. But I also don’t think a single-payer plan could have made it through Congress (tho’ it would have been nice had there been a bigger push for a public option), and generally believe that the ACA is better, much better, than nothing.

The problems need to be fixed, but as important as those fixes are for the president’s legacy and for Democratic electoral success, even more important is that millions and millions and millions of Americans will soon have access to health care.

That’s who those fixes are really for: those millions and millions and millions of Americans who’ve gone without.

A crappy website for a program is an embarrassment; that program will only become a failure if its site’s crappiness keeps millions and millions and millions of people from seeing doctors, nurses, therapists, and getting the help they need.





We might as well try: Can you hear me?

27 11 2012

I almost turned off the radio.

I’m not a big fan of This American Life as it is—I don’t hate it, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it, either—but this story, ohhh, I couldn’t stand it:

The Dakota War of 1862, the lead-up to and aftermath which led to decimation of the Dakota nation and dispossession of their lands.

The entire episode is devoted to the war, how it’s taught in Minnesota today, what it means in Minnesota, and by extension, the United States, today. If you don’t know the history, listen to it; if you do know the history, listen to it.

I half-knew the story, and made myself listen all the way to the end because I thought, Goddammit, you can’t turn away. You can’t stop listening just because it’s hard.

I used to have such a strong stomach for atrocity. It sickened and horrified and angered me, but I was driven by the twin senses that if others could live through it, I could at least read what they lived through, as well as the notion that maybe, somehow, such witness could be turned to good use. If attention were paid to genocide and abuse and injustice, such attention might lead to survival and protection and justice.

There’s something to that, I’d guess: The whole world is watching! is meant both to exhilarate and to warn. Amnesty letter-writing campaigns have apparently altered the conditions or lengths of sentences for many political prisoners. Human rights activism from afar can embolden those near, and efforts to get the State Department or the president to express concerns about this person or that group can make a difference.

At some point, however, I lost my stomach for atrocity, and whether as cause or result of my turning away, lost the belief that witness—or, at any rate, my witness—mattered. I turned away.

I can beat myself over this. After all, there’s a self-absorption in turning-away, a kind of thinking that my despair is the point, but, honestly, there was a self-absorption in the attention as well, a kind of thinking that my involvement could lead to justice. Kantian abstractions might appeal on the page, but as a practical matter, motives for even the most altruistic act are often mixed.

No, the problem with the despair is less selfishness than the closing out of possibility: doing nothing leads to nothing. Writing letters or e-mails or making phone calls or even just paying attention might not accomplish anything, but is anything accomplished without action? To act may be to fail, but the possibility of failure is not its certainty.

If I accept that as a general matter, for others, then why not accept that for myself, as well? I may not be a Kantian, but there are worse standards than act as if your will were universal law. Or, to bring it down to this cracked earth, if others can do it, why shouldn’t I?

Can I do anything about the Dakota War of 1862? Almost nothing. But if I think it mattered, if I think it matters today, for who and how we are as an American people, then I can do the one thing that is available to me: I can pay attention.

I can listen.





Still looking. . .

27 03 2012

I tried hard to be a grownup and an employee, I really did. At one time I owned a house, a big car, I had a 401k, several neckties, the works. It just didn’t take. It took me a while, but one important thing I learned was if you’re a failure at something, that makes you a success at something else. It’s like the 8th law of thermodynamics or something. Something equal and opposite happens. You just have to find out what it is.

Wally Torta