Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Virtues of "Coming Out"

My blogger friend Jim recently wrote me to tell me that "I've switched sides, so to speak. Here is my coming out party. Be gentle."

Now, in today's world that could mean just about anything, so I approached the "coming out party" ( with some trepidation. But to my relief he had neither left the government service, nor changed religious or sexual persuasion. Instead, he wrote about his pride in the President's selection for the Nobel Peace Prize. Jim has always been fairly conservative, so he was exploring how his feelings contrast with the general response from the right. At one point he noted that "The Republican backlash against President Obama continues to astound me."

Holy unsanitary matter, dude, that's an understatement. When did the "conservative" faction in this country become borderline fascist revolutionaries? People in my area actually kept their kids home on the day the President addressed the schoolchildren of the nation. Wake up, folks...he's the President, for crying out loud. YOU don't get to pick the President--WE do. ALL of US. Together. And once WE decide, we support OUR government. It's a democracy, remember? What part of democracy includes only supporting the government when your side wins?

Now, I didn't vote for President Barack Obama. Generally, I consider myself socially moderate, fiscally conservative, and probably more of a Libertarian than anything else. I'm philosophically opposed to an awful lot of what the President has proposed...I think the best way to solve the problem with poorly-run companies going under is to let them fail, and the best way to screw up anything--including health care--is to let the government run it. But the Republicans had eight years of running the country which didn't do much for the general welfare, so I suppose that the other side gets a chance now. As another friend of mine pointed out at the height of the anti-Clinton fervor of the mid-90's (VERY different, in my not-so-humble-opinion--the reaction against Clinton was based more on revulsion at his not-so-secret indiscretions than his policies, but I may be being naive), what this country seems to lack is a "loyal opposition."

If we had a couple other credible parties, we might see some real options; as Ross Perot pointed out back in '92, there's no real difference between the two that we have (yeah, I threw away my vote in that one,too). But we get the government, perhaps, that we deserve. A nation addicted to reality TV and pre-digested entertainment could really hurt itself if it tried to THINK about the economy. It's so much easier to wonder if Falcon Heene is really in the balloon. And then wonder if maybe his dad did it for publicity.... So we get, in the sage words of P. J. O' Rourke, two choices: "Democrats are...the party that says goverment can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it."

Which makes the right wing outcry against Obama's "socialism" particularly duplicitous and embarassing. The last administration didn't cause the current economic situation anymore than it caused sunspots or my expanding waistline or the rather regrettable reappearance of bell bottoms. But I don't remember any mass shrinkage of the Federal Government between 2001 and 2008, either. And didn't the bank bail out start under Bush?

This country has been sliding towards socialism since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There are serious problems with that. But then again, there are serious problems with standing by and watching people suffer when we could do something. So WE, the people, represented by the government WE elected, try to help. Mostly WE screw it up. But it is US, the people of the United States, and our duly elected government. So Barack Obama is OUR President, whether we voted for him or not, and the short sightedness and narrow mindedness of a substantial part of our population wishing ill to his policies and efforts to improve the national situation is mind boggling. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And, as for socialism...if WE elected a socialist government, then that would be the government of the United States, as long as it operated under the constitution of the United States. Which, I might add, doesn't explicitly forbid socialism, though I do think it demonstrates a marked preference for less government in favor of more. It does guarantee us certain rights, which are admittedly open to some interpretation. I hope the administration's interpretation is close to mine. But if it is not, I will join in what will hopefully be a mass attempt to change the government. In the way the founding fathers established and condoned--by voting against it.

In the globalized village, hard power alone will not make our country or our way of life more secure. Without soft power--what Joseph S. Nye has defined as "the ability to influence others to get the outcomes you want through attraction rather than coercion" we could become a "Fortress America," a closed, paranoid armed camp. Soft power is a measure of the respect and admiration of the world. It's hard to gain, easy to lose, and critically important. Without soft power, America has lost it's place as the beacon of liberty.

The beacon of liberty still shines. The Nobel Prize committee has recognized and supported that beacon--a victory that, as Americans, is ours to enjoy, and to take pride in. If President Obama's Peace Prize was, perhaps, premature, his acceptance "as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations" was dead-on.

So, I'm enjoying myself at Jim's coming out party. If you are also strangely pleased--because of, or in spite of, your political leanings--that America's often unappreciated efforts to make the world a better place have received this recognition, welcome to the party. Welcome to the Moderate Middle, where we wish well to all who would advance the cause of freedom, regardless of political affiliation.


  1. Hi Jeff, Mooch turned me on to your blog based on a conversation he and I are having on economics. Hope you don't mind me adding my $0.02.

    I agree with all your points and would like to raise a point of clarity that I gained from reading your post. Many times our abilities to dialog are plagued by the labels we use to describe a person/situation whatever. You self-describe yourself not as a general "liberal" or "conservative" but according to multiple domains, socially, fiscally, etc. How very clear it is to understand your positions once you engage. Imagine the roadblocks to effective conversation you would face had someone labelled you a "conservative".

    Extrapolate that to our current political system. Indeed, our politicians even use the labels as ammunition to avoid standing out, to follow the pack. Imagine if the singular label was gone - no assumptions of position prior to engagement. If you call that socialism (small s), can that be so bad?

  2. "Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?"
    - General Jack Ripper

    Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your sense of the plurality of our political is it that our country has allowed the spectrum of political thought to be "digitized" into the ones and zeroes of a two party system where everything is either "right" or "left", "Republican" or "Democrat", "Capitalism" or "Socialism"?

    It seems to me that if we cannot devise a more nuanced approach to our politics our government is at risk of become a cartoon where everything is tinted in primary colors and complexity and what my sociologist friends call "richness" is lost in the quest for visual impact.

  3. It's clear to me that our society has been lead down a primrose path. Our viewpoints must be easily digested into 240 character sound bites. How can you possibly understand anyone's view in a haiku-eske description? I'm convinced too that the gobs of information available to us have created this situation. Remember when we used to learn of news from listening to Walter Cronkite each evening for 30 minutes? We got the whole story, in depth analysis, serious thinking. Now we get a ticker tape of "news" 24/7. No time to digest, no analysis, raw data, unsubstantiated rumors, sensationalism, my son's missing....

    I agree that we need a new approach to politics, but I fear the truth and therefore the solution, lies within us. We must not be complacent, we must ask the unaskable questions. We must demand accountability. We can make it happen (aren't those lyrics from an old motown song?)

  4. You have hit the nail on the head. When Walter intoned "That's the way it is, 20 October, 2009" you could believe that to the best of Walter's knowledge, that was a solid account of WHAT HAPPENED TODAY THAT MATTERED (sorry, Falcon). There may have been a smidgen of bias, but it had been scrubbed out as best we knew how.

    THAT was the acme of television news. Everything since has been decline, as networks post ever more sensational stories to attract viewership. Serious thought is pushed aside as we follow car (and now balloon!) chases in real time, watch "ambush" interviews of victims, and take each successive "newsworthy" individual through a predictable pattern of discovery, lionization, skepticism, a virtual stoning, and the final "feeding frenzy" as each sordid detail is laid bare.