Circus Maximus MMXVI: All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter

21 08 2016

Few bits:

I’m a fan of President Obama’s cool-competence approach to governing, and think he’s right to wait a bit before visiting flooded Louisiana (or burnt-over California): aid before optics.

That said, optics do matter, and some extended public remarks by the president (and candidate Clinton) about these disasters beyond a tweet or two wouldn’t interfere with the recovery, and might help to soothe some (although certainly not all) distressed people.

Material help matters, a lot, but so does recognition.

~~~

Is the Trump statue body-shaming?

Yeah, maybe, probably. From a cultural-studies point of view, the critics of the statue (and of many mirthful reactions to it) are likely correct.

But I’m reading this less from a cultural perspective than a political one, and that political one says, Look at this ridiculous man who thinks he should be president.

Is it nasty? Absolutely, as are the Hillary nutcrackers, as are most political paraphernalia  aimed at political opponents. They allow Us to smirk at Them, to cut them down, to reduce the other side’s champion to a joke; it’s not elevating, but then, put-downs rarely are.

There’s a lot that Carl Schmitt missed about politics, but he also nailed an aspect of it the more genteel would prefer to ignore: politics is a fight, and anything that can be weaponized, will be.

~~~

Have you listened to this old audio of Hillary Clinton’s Wellesley address?

She sounds so relaxed, so confident.

So unlike how she sounds today.

It was another online writer—who I can’t find—who first pointed out how at ease she was back then in front of a microphone. She was direct and open and conversational and even inspirational. She is as yet unbroken.

It’s tough to think of her, likely 45th president of the most powerful nation on earth, as broken, but I think the decades of political battering have shattered some bones. And while I admire those who, like Obama, seem to glide right past whatever hits are directed their way, there’s something to be said for the scrappers.

In any case, that she has been shattered doesn’t mean she hasn’t recovered: she is hardly fragile. But she is scarred, and that her experiences have toughened up has meant she’ll likely never be as easy and open as she was as that 21-year-old graduate.

There’s no tragedy in that—many of us grow wary as we grow older—nor any pity. It’s just the cost of experience.





What are words for?

19 07 2016

Sorry, little but little bits:

*I don’t care about Pokémon Go, and don’t care that others care about Pokémon Go.

*Melania Trump’s plagiarism was a) not that big a deal in and of itself, but because it was b) an easily avoidable error, it c) plays into an already-existing narrative that the Trump campaign is a mess. While this might not matter to his supporters, he can’t win the election unless he picks up new supporters, who might side-eye such chaos; thus, d) Melania Trumps plagiarism matters.

*That said, political scientists (yes, the same folks who argued that Trump wouldn’t win the nom, but, moving on. . .) aren’t sure how much campaigns matters.

*I like gin sours more than gin sours like me.

*PSCUNY has finally managed to wrest a contract from the state. Some are opposed, but, man, I don’t know that we can do better than this. It actually more of the past than the future—it deals with 2010-17—so whatever the weaknesses, well, the union’ll be back at the table for the next round soon enough. I’m voting yes.

*Unlike last year, I did stuff my air conditioner into the window and am using it—tho’ not enough to please my cats.

*I have no idea who Hillary Clinton will pick as VP. I’d like to see a pol (not a general), but I’m sure s/he’ll be fine.

*This will haunt me to the end of my days:

 





It ain’t me, babe

29 06 2016

Oh, to be innocent.

Innocence excuses every excess, every error, justifies every act, however unjust.

Think: He started it!

This is bad enough when dealing with small children, and one for which the correct response is usually I don’t care who started it—knock it off!, but in adults, arguing over politics?

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnn.

It will surprise exactly none of you that I am skeptical of the notion of innocence in politics; in fact, it has no place. There is no political action without complicity: to make demands is to take responsibility, to legislate is to compromise, and to lead is to maneuver.

You can be good, in politics, but you cannot be innocent.

Which is why I’m not much moved by yelps from the likes of Rod Dreher that (almost) anything Christian conservatives do to resist anything queer is justified because, wait for it, the queer folk started it.

This is all over his blog: Well, okay, maybe in the past one or two people were mean, but now, the social justice warriors are all hellbent on attacking us poore wee Christian folk.

I want you to notice something. The Left always accuses the Right of advancing the culture war, even though it is usually the Right playing defense. The pharmacists’ situation is a classic example. Nobody in Washington state had the slightest problem finding RU-486 Plan B. If they couldn’t get it at the Stormans’ pharmacy, there were plenty pharmacies nearby where they could. Conscience exemptions are standard nationwide, and state and national pharmacy professional associations filed amicus briefs supporting the Stormans. Nobody wanted this regulation, except the Jacobins of the Sexual Revolution.

Now, I get that, on many sexual issues, the Right may feel under siege: same-sex marriage is now a constitutional right, trans issues are on the rise, and the death of Scalia (with a likely replacement by a Democratic nominee) means the wide latitude often afforded to mainstream Christianities is likely to be trimmed back.

These are losses.

But that one has lost does not mean that one is innocent—losing hurts, but it neither purifies nor sanctifies—or that playing defense somehow makes you more righteous than those on offense.  The mere fact that one is fighting to advance or fighting to defend is morally meaningless.

What is meaningful is the cause you seek to advance or defend.

Now, Dreher, in advancing his Benedict Option (as a defense against degeneracy), clearly believes his cause is just—boy, does he believe it

You may not be interested in the Jacobins, but the Jacobins are interested in you — and your children. We must fight them every opportunity we get, but we have to know what we’re fighting for, and we have to know how to continue the fight underground if we are ultimately defeated.

Leaving aside the infinitely more important cause of the eternal fate of souls, there is the matter of making sure that there are people alive in the generations to come who can properly bear witness to the past — not just the particularly Christian past, but to Western civilization, the civilization that — I speak symbolically, of course — came from Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. We fight for Christian civilization itself, which includes what emerged from Moscow too. And therefore we must fight against the nihilistic successor civilization of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Brussels. We fight for the Paris of St. Genevieve, not the Paris of Robespierre. Modern civilization has no past, only a future. If our civilization is to have a future, it must be rooted in our past. We must remember our sacred Story.

I believe we will have a future, and I will fight for that future by fighting to keep alive the memory of the past. I won’t stake my life on defending New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Brussels, but I will stake my life on defending Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and Moscow. That’s where the battle is. It’s a battle taking place in every city, town, and village in America. Which side are you on?

—but that it is a defense grants it no more moral urgency than, well, the Jacobin advance.

Dreher, like every other partisan, believes his cause urgent and just, but being knocked off one’s pins doesn’t make the cause more just.

If that were so, then no political victory could be just, and every political loss, a tragedy.

A slaughter of the innocents, indeed.





When they ask me, “What are you looking at?”

26 05 2016

So, two months with the smart phone, and. . . all right, it’s all right.

Mostly, because I’m paying less with this phone plan than I did with the last one, but also, those weather and MTA apps are pretty darned convenient. And it’s nice that my friends are no longer harassing me to, y’know, get a smart phone.

Oh, it’s also useful for another thing: Twitter.

I’d read tweets online, Twitter-er by Twitter-er, but with the Twitter app, I’m just reading them as they all come up. And while I thought I would find tweeting addictive, it’s actually the reading of tweets that I can’t quit.

It’s mostly a nifty diversion, a few minutes here and there (and, yeah, here and there and here and there) to check Jamelle Bouie and Jeet Heer and Dick Nixon (who’s far more entertaining dead than he ever was alive), and, occasionally, to plink out a few thoughts of my own. Harmless, mostly.

But, it must be said, people can also be really fucking stupid and mean, too. I know: shocking. I’m not talking about the racists and anti-Semites and misogynists (who litter others’ feeds), however, but the puerile shit tossed around by and at folks on the left side of the line—not least over who “deserves” to stand left of center.

I am adamantly not a boundary enforcer. Yes, I can perhaps see some small point to having someone patrol the line, but ye gads, only if that patrolman or -woman is unarmed and otherwise unable to do much but yell “Trespasser!”

Left Twitter is full of boundary cops, they’re all armed, and they want nothing better than to hold you up and demand the secret password, and to shoot if you can’t be bothered to mouth the right words.

It is contemptible, and exhausting.

My fatigued disgust (or disgusted fatigue, take  yer pick), is almost certainly because I am old and crabby and do not have time for this shit. Yes, when I was younger I would have FUCKIN’ LOVED to have jumped into every single feed and fight and throw punches and stomp and whoo-hoo!

I think. Maybe.

Or not. You see, when I was high-school young, I WAS the leftist, and if I fought (using my words, not my fists), I fought with the guy who was conservative. There weren’t that many people in my high school who cared about politics at all, so it’s not like there were a lot of people on my side I could go after (or who could go after me) for insufficient purity.

College? Well, plenty of leftists and liberals, but even there I don’t recall much interest in calling out others for their insufficient commitment to The Cause—and not a little irritation when I was called out. I don’t know, maybe it’s just not in me.

The boundary patrolling, I mean. Fighting the right? I’m all over that.

And that, in the end, is what I’ll do. As I said, I’m old and tired and have only a limited amount of energy to hoist up my rifle and take aim, so I’m not going to waste that energy taking potshots at folks more-or-less on my side of the line.

Especially now—not with an orange-colored Stay Puft Marshmallow Man about to stomp his way across the country.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: You’re so nice

21 05 2016

When I lived in Minneapolis I used to gripe about “Minnesota Nice” by quoting the lines from Sondheim’s Into the Woods:

You’re so nice.
You’re not good,
You’re not bad,
You’re just nice.

Fake, I’d mutter, it’s all so fake. Nice is overrated.

Now, I have since come around somewhat to the notion of ‘It’s nice to be nice’, but only somewhat, and not particularly in politics.

Oh, sure, avoid, as Machiavelli warned, being hated (something Ted Cruz couldn’t manage to do), but virtù beats nice every time.

Thus, Hillary Clinton should take to heart the next lines—

I’m not good,
I’m not nice,
I’m just right.

—and go full hard-ass on the road.

Now, I do understand that Clinton has the reputation of being great one-on-one: warm, gracious, attentive, and wonderful at drawing people in. In front of a crowd, however, she lacks the looseness which would ingratiate her to that crowd. She’s fine, she rarely messes up, but she also rarely inspires or impresses.

So she should stop trying to impress anyone, and just go full on “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I am all out of bubblegum.

As to her opponent, well, Trump is a bullshitter, and as I’ve noted a couple of times previously, it is tremendously hard to respond to or pin any kind of responsibility on a bullshitter. Instead of going after the bullshitter—which forces you on to his territory—you just reject him outright.

You say “Nah”, and refuse to engage; roll your eyes and laugh; toss his words back at him with a heaping dose of “really?”

The great strength of the bullshitter is the unwillingness to  take anything seriously; it is also a weakness which can be turned against him.

So Clinton should go full “No Bullshit”. It gives  her a way to blunt Trump’s mad libs, and coolly to deride his seriousness while signalling her own, very serious, approach to politics.

It also allows her to admit “Nope, I’m probably not going to bring tears to your eyes, but you can bet your sweet bippy that Imma get the job done.”

And that might actually impress.

(ETA: credit for Into the Woods lyrics)





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Hold me closer, tiny dancer

11 05 2016

So, a coupla’ months ago I wondered why those who saw the Republican party as dysfunctional didn’t think to connect this dysfunction to an inability for the party to ‘decide’ on an acceptable nominee.

Which is a long way of saying: why didn’t any of us see Trump coming?

Apparently, one guy did: Norm Ornstein.

I had focused for so long on the growing dysfunction inside the Republican Party, and I believed that its leaders had generated an awful lot of the anger out there. And eventually, I combined that with the set of polls that we began to see that showed 60 to 70 percent support for outsiders and insurgents.

He lays Tiny Hands Trump’s triumph squarely at the feet of Republican leaders, where it belongs:

[I]f you forced me to pick one factor explaining what’s happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.

Over many years, they’ve adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.

And add to that, they’ve delegitimized President Obama, but they’ve failed to succeed with any of the promises they’ve made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, “what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you’re going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?”

He traces the problem back to Newt Gingrich and his efforts to tear down Congress; I’d guess the problem goes back at least to Reagan—“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”—if not further, but clearly the Republican establishment’s willingness to rip apart the establishment goes back a ways.

What’s the appropriate cliché, here? Came back to bite ’em in the ass? Fanned the flames of a fire that consumed them? Something something boomerang something?

Whatever.

When you basically move dramatically away from what we call the regular order, when you almost debase your own institutions — you’re gonna find an opening for somebody who’s never been a part of it and who can offer you very, very simplistic answers.

It’s not that I blame the GOPper bosses wholly for Trump’s popularity—I think he did hit on some kind of whacked-out beat that got a lot of people clapping—but that they couldn’t be bothered to take him out when the taking was good.

And now they—and we—are stuck with him. Sad!

Ornstein also kicks at our profession:

Political scientists in some ways, just like journalists, pursue false equivalence. They do not want to suggest anything flatly or that one party is to blame. There’s a kinda cynicism whenever you suggest something might be different than it was in the past. “Oh, no, it’s always the same.”

[…]

And there’s a herd mentality too, I think. People glom onto The Party Decides and you look like a fool if you say, “Well, no, that’s not right” — because everybody believes it! I don’t know if I would call this a black swan moment, but people’s unwillingness to take a risk of breaking from consensus or believing that it will come out differently than it has before is pervasive.

Yeah, I followed that pretty much down the line. In my defense, I’m a political theorist, not an Americanist—but that line could also be turned against me: why so willing to follow along?

And I (still) do follow Jonathan Bernstein‘s admonition that any major party candidate, by virtue of being a major party candidate, has a shot at winning the presidency. As Ornstein notes

We do know that straight-ticket voting has increased dramatically. This to me suggests we’re not gonna have a 45-state blowout like Goldwater faced, or a 49-state one like Mondale or McGovern had. You’re gonna start with some states and you’re gonna start with 45 percent of the votes. Most Republicans are gonna come back into the fold.

Yep. And, Oh god.





From California to the New York island, 3

16 03 2016

I’ve half-joked before that political scientists don’t do either love or humor.

Plenty of political scientists are lovely and funny, but in our intellectual approaches to politics, we forget about passion and about the weirdness of political activity itself. Politics is about ‘interests’ and ‘resources’ and ‘distribution’, ‘policy’ and ‘governance’ and, oh yes, ‘power’. Some of us might speak of the ‘common good’ or talk about Aristotle vs. Plato, but in our rush to impose a rational structure across the sprawl of politics, we all seem to forget Hume’s admonishment that reason follows passion.

Yes, we attempt to come to terms with political ardor in terms of cognitive biases or philosophical error—which is fine!—but passion is not merely something to be explained away, but something in and of itself, which may in turn help to explain something (like politics) else—both explananandum and explanans, as it were.

This is a long way round to the point that those of us who study politics should not be surprised by passion, that people pick sides, and that they will defend—with words, with fists, with guns—what their (our) sides.

This isn’t an excuse for violence—for Hera’s sake, does that really need to be said?—but it is a defense of passion itself as a legitimate driver in politics. Unlike Hume, I do think reason may also be a driver, and just as passion may inform reason, so too may reason discipline—if only the expression of—passion.

But reason does not, should not, erase passion. Especially in politics.

cont.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,568 other followers