Saturday, October 30, 2010


I know that ultimately this is just a whisper being fired into a tornado...but it's my whisper and I'll do with it what I please. Vote.

Technically it may invest you in the process that gets us into this mess we're neck deep in...and I know it doesn't feel good to know that whomever you voted for didn't achieve what you'd hoped. Vote anyway.

I know it's a fuss and a bother and involves standing in a line with a bunch of people that you have nothing in common with...except that you Vote.

It really is a great deal like a lottery...there is very little chance that you'll hit the perfect combination and get what you want...but there is no chance of any kind if you don't get up and get out and join in. Vote.

The choices are like most choices in life, no better or worse. It's usually a range of compromises that aren't always fun to make...but that's life. Get over it and vote.

Vote because you can, because others paid a bitter price to give you that freedom. Vote because it is something that exists in many other places...but which still escapes many countries. Vote.

The national scene has comparatively little impact on your daily life, but the city, county, and state electorate is directly tied to your vote...and has an enormous impact on how you live every day. Vote.

Vote not because you agree with me, but because it is an expression of your beliefs, whatever they may be. In this we are true equals. Vote.

You have a voice. It is a very small voice. One among a din of millions. Not everyone will hear you...but you will be heard. Vote.

Vote because it is the one truly momentous thing you share with every nearby neighbor and with every far flung citizen...people as far away as geographically possible...Americans one and all. We all have one thing in common...we can vote, and let that tiny voice be heard, take that tiny chance at getting what we want or believe in, express that freedom that was bought so dearly by others and given to us as a gift...with only one string attached...we have to use it to keep it.

So vote.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Beast With A Thousand Heads: Why is the Tea Party so hard to pin down?

Like the Lernaean Hydra of old, the Tea Party presents the media, and average people everywhere with a political bent to their nature, with a tantalizing conundrum. It came into being quickly, gelling as a national force, albeit a smaller one than many would like to admit, and devouring as much media attention as groups many hundreds of times their size. Despite this, when the topic of the Tea Party comes up there are as many definitions as there are people in the room. It is all things to all people, a ghost in the machine that cannot be explained away, a different mask on each of a hundred different faces. What the hell is the Tea Party?...and more importantly, if we're defining it inaccurately, how can we honestly oppose it when we aren't genuinely sure of what it is?

And therein lies the truth of the problem. We can't easily define it, because in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the vast coalition of smaller groups that dominated the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party Movement is everything and none of the above. It is comprised of widely varying groups as well as lone citizens joining others for the first time. It is anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-white, pro-Christian, anti-Federal reserve, and pro or anti ALMOST anything you can a few more things besides.

You can't easily lump them all as bigots or racists...because a vast many of them are not racist at all. One of the heads of the hydra bellows the N-word...and the other heads disagree and drown it out, sheepishly embarrassed by one of their own number. Another head shouts out for the belief that America is a purely Christian nation chosen by God to dominate the world...and the other heads roll their eyes and facepalm themselves while trying to quiet things back down. Likewise the conspiracy theorists, the Birthers, the 9/11 Truthers and more more more.

For every diverse little face in the crowd, there is someone outside of the Tea Party who equates that person with the totality of the movement itself. If a person hates Fundamentalist Christians, then Fundamentalists become the aspect of the Tea Party that he despises most and perceives as the dominant characteristic of the Tea Party. If a person despises racism, then the fringe of white power activists in the Tea Party becomes the powerhouse of the movement, defining it utterly as a racist organization.

This is neither truthful or productive...and by micro focusing an attack against a tiny portion of the Tea Party (even if you believe that its not tiny) it becomes like struggling in quicksand. The tiny grains cannot be dealt with...but the whole is the greater problem. Insulting a large number of people who may be very genuinely opposed to the taxes they pay and the general corruption of federal government isn't the answer. Being clear and concise in criticism of the worst elements is more effective than attempting to brand the whole with a label that won't stick...because people, despite their faults and foibles, generally trust personal experience over simple labeling.

I've been as guilty as others...sometimes venting my frustration at the general ignorance of Tea enthusiasts by blasting them with broad strokes...and I have to admit that after giving due consideration to the matter, I was wrong. I may have been right about the individual I was dealing with, but I was wrong about their relevance to the whole movement. In the future, I will try to aim my criticism with precision, because I would appreciate and admire the same courtesy being shown by others, and even if they don't do this it would still set my mind at ease and prevent hypocrisy on my part.

What do I see the Tea Party as now? They're new, largely white and Christian, fast forming into a national brand, and concerned with a wide variety of different issues...but focusing broadly on the reduction of taxes and the curtailing of federal authority.

And unfortunately, despite the degree to which I agree with those two concepts, they are massively underwritten by powerful conservative groups who are channeling that general dissatisfaction into a movement that will vote alongside the neo-conservative bloc of the GOP. There is no question in my mind on this single issue. Despite some bucking at the reins and complaints from within, the Tea Party as a whole is completely co-opted at the national level, and is being manipulated to help coalesce support for the party and policies that treat government's task as the facilitation of ease for business interests...not service to the people of the nation that elected them. This is worse in principle than even "big government liberalism" at its most onerous.

Government's role is not to facilitate the creation of an atmosphere conducive to easy money for the top percent of citizens. Government may serve best when it serves least, but it should be a duly elected body that serves all of its people, equally, not just a few...and its ability to act should be supreme when necessary. If you want an example of weak central authority and free markets...look no further than Haiti. It isn't pretty, but it's an honest picture of how those principles fare in the real world. Government is a necessary evil...but one which should be kept in check by various balances of power...and if I could encourage Tea Party enthusiasts to adopt one single platform it would be the restoration of the checks and balances originally framed in the Constitution and Bill Of Rights of the United States.

One helpful side note for them as well...if you undertake anything as radical as a call for real and effective change to make the government the servant of citizens and not vice versa...neither FreedomWorks nor the Koch Bros. will be there for you with free buses and pickets...there will be no website developers leaping to your aid on the house, and there will be no media firestorm beating its path to your office doors...because the minute you no longer serve the interests of the supremely wealthy individuals who are footing the bill and seem so sympathetic now, you will be on your own. If power welcomes you to speak truth and hands you a microphone to do must not be dangerous to them...and if it doesn't meet that criteria, you are just an quiet ally to entrenched power and a fart in the wind tunnel of public discourse.

But if they should need advice on how to cope with that sudden loss of support and the distance suddenly placed between them and access to media and influence...they can always talk to the real Left. The genuine Left (which is to be distinguished from the DNC...a completely separate being with nearly no relationship, political, philosophical or otherwise to the political Left) have been experiencing exactly that for generations now, and they already know its the price they pay for threatening the flow of money between powerful people with interruption and expecting government to serve rather than represent those who expect service from all.

In the end, even if the Tea Party's members can't acknowledge that every single member doesn't share their personal branch's beliefs...and that some of those members' beliefs are so radical as to be horrifying and even downright evil, they will splinter and fragment, remaining a vocal new minority...but they'll never have national relevance as they collapse in on themselves.

At some point the 'big house' times must come to an end, and an honest appraisal of what they expect from members will have to come. At that point, honesty about the fringes in their ranks will take hold and the worst elements will have to be chased off. The militant Christian brigades, the Aryan Nation spin offs, and others will have to be toned down or ejected. In all likelihood, as this happens, they will also form a coherent platform that pretty much represents the best interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, and vote as one alongside the bought and paid for politicians they despise, and with the same results...stagnant corruption in our leadership and financial duress for most Americans. It isn't really going out on a limb to predict this, since they're lined up eagerly, with representatives who have spelled out most of what they support, ready for election time in just a few weeks...and I don't see that trend changing until after the November dust settles.

I hope that, in the aftermath of this time of chaos and uncertainty, the rancor isn't so great that common ground is impossible to find. There are core principles in the Tea Party that I find principle...but I see a great rush to apply them in a way that will only diminish both our personal rights and prosperity. I actually feel great regret that a movement that emerged partly as a response to genuine frustration with corrupt government has become the fighting arm of that which it theoretically opposed. If the Kool Aid wears off and the desire to fight for justice and the rule of law over corporations and people alike ever kicks in, I will welcome them with open arms as brothers and sisters in the fight to leave something better for our children, but for now, however much sympathy I may have for the principles, they are effectively little more than well meaning dupes for the enemies of all who value freedom and democracy.

And lest anyone think I am painting with too broad a brush stroke: they are not all racists, they are not all Fundamentalists, and they are not all crazy or stupid...but they're still just working for the wrong side, and because that's a terrible thing to understand and live with, they just don't want to know it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Death By Convenience

America is clamoring for change...some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it downright ridiculous, but most of it is wishful thinking or the essence of a pipe dream at best. Much of it is powered by good intentions and emotionally charged visions of a better America...but all of it stands to face an uphill battle against the status quo...and the status quo is more powerful than ever before.

What makes even the smallest changes such an uphill struggle? Corruption, negligence, crony-ism and more reasons roll off the tongue easily, but there is a hidden poison that has added to the problem at every level, altering the mechanisms that would bring about changes for any party interested in making them.

What separates this era from any other? What marks this time and place as unique in history? What impedes the normal process of flux and change from progressing as it normally would?

Given the title of the article, it's clear that I think the problem is convenience, so let me outline why I believe this to be true.

First and foremost, just since the advent of television as a medium for entertainment and advertising, the culture of consumerism and the sedentary nature of leisure activities is a fact so well documented and evident that it literally requires no evidence to back it up...beyond asking people to examine the contents of their homes and assess for themselves the nature of their entertainment/leisure pursuits.

The hallmark of American life is the vast variety of creature comforts that are available to us. In fact, it's even the way we advertise our superiority to the world, advocating that they too could someday be as comfortable as we. Our food is price fixed to stay affordable so that chain restaurants can keep those cheap meals flowing fast. Even households not blessed with great income have DVD players, CD players, radio, wireless, cellphones with internet access and more more more.

We are a convenience culture, with stores on every corner, food that comes ready made or can be prepared and consumed in minutes, and entertainment that can soothe the restless mind always ready at hand...and this is not all bad...but there are side effects that may not have been given the consideration they were due.

In a world where one struggles for little, what value does patience or determination really have? Thinking cautiously and planning for the future are reflections of an ethos that was necessary a few generations ago...but is no longer relevant the way it once was. A person prepared to endure go without what they desire in the short term so that they may have what they prioritize in the long a person well prepared for survival in ANY era...but that person is rarer than ever.

As clear as in our personal lives, our politics also darkly reflect an intemperate, hasty, slapdash sort of thinking...a hunger for immediate satisfaction that can quickly turn into outraged frustration... more-so now than ever before. The overwhelming and sudden success of the Tea Party is a mirror held up to our own nature as a society. Where once people rose up and faced violence to fight for labor conditions that weren't terrifying or downright routinely lethal...or for civil rights so that each individual citizen might have the same access to the benefits of citizenship in a free society as any we are treated to the spectacle of people rising up on behalf of the well funded pundits and think tanks that answer the question in their souls: Why am I not happier?

Like snake oil salesman, the pitch is delivered fluently, sympathetically and skillfully...aimed at people who in the midst of overwhelming plenty, still are not content, and who need somewhere...someone on whom to lay the blame. The secret of advertising is to know your target understand what moves their hearts. Insecurity? Fear? Anger? Loneliness? Whatever your emotions may be, an appeal is being made to them, calculated to have an impact that isn't thought about...but which is responded to quickly.

The great peril in a free society where advertising and convenient entertainment is an everyday experience is that the people so exposed to that culture of convenience may become less conscious of their own responses, simply reacting from the gut without any understanding of how they can be manipulated. Our society has been built on the back of self determination and self management...principles that in theory are quite conservative...and very agreeable to me in principle.

But what becomes of such a society if it allows the minds and spirits to degrade into a state of pure, animalistic reaction? How then will a people, supposedly the masters of their own destinies, manage themselves well in a democracy? The answer is that they don't. It ceases to be a democracy in anything but name, and the gifted will simply manipulate vast herds people into believing, with righteous indignation, that they are enacting their own will...rather than echoing what has been spoon fed to them as the latest cure-all for their ills.

And here we are...nearing the eve of mid-term elections with a new and thundering voice being heard...clamoring not for freedom, but for the right to reduce inconvenient freedoms. Sounding off, not for the rights of people...but for the rights of corporations. Crying out not for equality...but for a limited superiority for certain classes of citizens.

How low have we fallen from the ideals that brought us into being as a country? How much lower can we fall? We'll find out in our lifetimes...and we should have a fairly clear vision of what that fall will be like...just a few weeks from now. An electorate driven by emotional responses to carefully selected buzzwords cannot prevail and choose a wise course, or wise leaders...and in due time we'll see where a life no longer built on patience and self determination, but instead crafted of convenience, has led us.