Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Not This Time

1980. I was 23 years old. I remember watching the presidential debates with my father, and thinking, “Is Reagan serious?” My father, who was a genuine cynic said, “This guy is going to win! People love this kinda bullshit!” I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m sure it was a sarcastic remark.

The day after election day, my father said, “I told you he was going to win.” Well, I was young, no wife, no kids, in a band that was going to “make it big!” I didn’t worry too much about it. So what if a “B” actor got elected? So what?

I was vaguely aware of some of the stupid things that were coming out of his mouth. I remember some time in about ’82 or ’83 people were starting to use the word “Liberal” in a sneering, mocking, derisive tone of voice. So what?

I also remember not wanting to reveal how I felt about it all. The conservatives were loud and bold. They aligned themselves with red, white and blue, patriotism, and Mom and apple pie. I felt very defensive, and didn’t want to be perceived as against those things. I slowly began to shy away from the term “liberal.” So what?

The 80’s began to fly by. I wasn’t very political. I started my family. I gave up my dream of being a full-time musician. We invaded Grenada. Hippies oddly morphed into yuppies. Ketchup was redefined as vegetable. Evolution was openly being questioned. The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Steely Dan, Bad Company faded away and were being replaced by Huey Lewis, Robert Palmer, Journey, and all those English synthe bands. And conservatives continued to label anyone who disagreed with their pernicious agenda as “liberals.” So what?

1988. Michael Dukakis, a Massachusetts intellectual, secured the Democratic nomination. Surely the nightmare would be over now. George Bush was such a loser! He was unlikable. Then the smear machine started up. Willie Horton TV commercials. Pictures of this scary man and a story of how he terrorized a couple because Michael Dukakis let him out of prison. Then that stupid tank ride. Then the debates.

BERNARD SHAW: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?

DUKAKIS: No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We've done so in my own state. And it's one of the reasons why we have had the biggest drop in crime of any industrial state in America; why we have the lowest murder rate of any industrial state in America. But we have work to do in this nation. We have work to do to fight a real war, not a phony war, against drugs. And that's something I want to lead, something we haven't had over the course of the past many years, even though the Vice President has been at least allegedly in charge of that war. We have much to do to step up that war, to double the number of drug enforcement agents, to fight both here and abroad, to work with our neighbors in this hemisphere. And I want to call a hemispheric summit just as soon after the 20th of January as possible to fight that war. But we also have to deal with drug education prevention here at home. And that's one of the things that I hope I can lead personally as the President of the United States. We've had great success in my own state. And we've reached out to young people and their families and been able to help them by beginning drug education and prevention in the early elementary grades. So we can fight this war, and we can win this war. And we can do so in a way that marshals our forces, that provides real support for state and local law enforcement officers who have not been getting that support, and do it in a way which will bring down violence in this nation, will help our youngsters to stay away from drugs, will stop this avalanche of drugs that's pouring into the country, and will make it possible for our kids and our families to grow up in safe and secure and decent neighborhoods.

SHAW: Mr. Vice President, your one-minute rebuttal.

BUSH: Well, a lot of what this campaign is about, it seems to me Bernie, goes to the question of values. And here I do have, on this particular question, a big difference with my opponent. You see, I do believe that some crimes are so heinous, so brutal, so outrageous, and I'd say particularly those that result in the death of a police officer, for those real brutal crimes, I do believe in the death penalty, and I think it is a deterrent, and I believe we need it. And I'm glad that the Congress moved on this drug bill and have finally called for that related to these narcotics drug kingpins. And so we just have an honest difference of opinion: I support it and he doesn't.




Dukakis’ response was intelligent, cohesive, and measured, but devoid of any passion. He lost the “Average Joe’s” attention by the third or fourth sentence. This was the defining moment of clarity for the neo-conservative movement. An average candidate who talks like the guy down the block can beat an intellectual every time.

Imagine if this was Michael Dukakis’ response:

Bernard, what an awful thing to say. I love my wife, and I would be heartbroken and angry if that were to happen to her. Emotionally. I would want to kill the guy myself, but we are a nation governed by laws, not by emotions. The rate of violent crime in Massachusetts has gone down without a death-penalty, and in the end that is what we all want. "

Then The Gulf War. Unlike many liberals, I was for the gulf war. We didn’t need another ruthless dictator using military force to increase his influence and power. The thing is, I was appalled at the attitude of President Bush. The night that he announced that we had invaded Kuwait to repel the Iraqi forces, he was not somber. He was gleeful. He had this menacing grin on his face. I was further appalled at the attitude of many fellow Americans. They were thrilled at the prospect of war. They acted as if it was a football game, seemingly oblivious (even callous) to the fact that many innocent people were dying. It was disgusting. There was also the disturbing, orchestrated backlash against the Americans who opposed the war. People were saying that the protestors should be thrown in jail. Huh? This is America. This is a free country. I did not agree with the protestors, but didn’t they have a right to their opinion? Isn’t the democracy healthy when all opinions are allowed to be expressed in an open debate?

A lesson was learned from the Viet Nam war, but it wasn’t the right lesson. The lesson the government learned was, “The press reported the war accurately, and this turned people against the war. The people rose up and convinced the government that it was finally time to leave Viet Nam. We must control the press and the message so this does not happen again.”

After the war though, something happened. The country was in a recession, and the President didn’t notice. The Democrats finally got it right again and nominated someone with charisma. He spoke to the people in a universal language. He was good, and he was also lucky, because one Ross Perot had a personal grudge against George Bush, and he entered the race as a spoiler. Most people who voted for Perot would have voted for Bush, and this helped to put President Clinton in the Whitehouse.

Here is where the story really starts to get creepy. From the moment that Clinton was inaugurated, the smear campaign started. The neo-cons knew that they could not defeat the policies of the left based on principal.

Enter Rush Limbaugh. I believe, more than any other politician, artist, or journalist, Rush Limbaugh is responsible for the predicament we find ourselves in today. He figured out that since he was not a journalist, he did not have to tell the truth. He got on the air, and lied, joked and spun the opinions of millions of Americans away from real issues and toward invented bogus ones. He tapped into the anger of the white man. He railed against feminists, blacks, the ACLU, and of course, “LIBERALS.” He did it with lies. He was able to do it because he controlled the debate. He used fallacious arguments. He argued against a straw-man liberal that never existed in this country. He turned America’s focus away from the deeds of the richest people, and blamed liberals for any and all problems of the middle class.

This is where the fear started. Anyone who dared to disagree with the policies of the conservatives was immediately labeled “LIBERAL.” “Liberals” were soft on crime, they were against hard work, they were against the nuclear family, they were accused of hating the rich because liberals were for a fair and progressive tax structure. Liberals were the “communists” of the 90’s. All lies, but the lies stuck. The lies worked on me. I would express an opinion, and I would be called a “liberal.” It would immediately put me on the defensive. “I’m not a liberal!” Before and after Monica, people would talk about Clinton’s sleazy character. My attitude was, “So? Who do you think runs for president? Mother Teresa?” It still irks me to this day that the Republicans have convinced people that their sleazy characters with their shady skeletons in their closets (usually related to weapons deals and oil money) are somehow morally superior to their Democratic counterparts. When one woman once complained to me about Clinton lying about oral sex, I said to her, “You love Ronald Reagan. He lied about ‘Iran-contra.’ Clinton lied about his sex-life. Which is worse?” With a straight face and a tone of incredulity and condescension she said, “Clinton.”

I have to remember my Jonathan Swift quote at the top of this page.

It worked on the media too. The term “liberal media” put the news organizations on the defensive. If you told the truth, but the truth was in conflict with the government’s story, then you had a “liberal bias.” Outrageous, but it worked!

In 2000, 8 years of a Democrat in the Whitehouse gave us peace, prosperity and a budget surplus. They proved that higher taxes on the wealthy were good for all. This infuriated the neo-conservatives, because they do not want what is good for all. They want a plutocracy. They want to go back to the pre- labor pre-New Deal America. Sadly, Clinton also gave them a sex-scandal, which gave them the country. Bush did not talk about the real issues. He talked about an imagined decline of family values. He wrapped himself in a flag and talked about God and Jesus. And we denied that we were liberals.

Next, the War in Iraq. This time I was with the protestors. Aside from all the bogus reasons they gave us for this war, there was also the “Bread and Circuses” tactic that told people to “blame” the French and turned the public’s attention toward the Dixie Chicks on the first day of the invasion. Worked again.

Limbaugh on the protestors:

"It's beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything other than what they are: Anti-American, Anti-Capitalist Marxists and Communists."

Not this time. This time I spoke up. Someone reported me to human resources at my company because I dared to speak out against the war and the Republican administration. Fortunately, HR and my manager were steadfastly on my side, and just explained to me that there was a complaint but that I had a right to my opinion and that there was no problem.

By being on the defensive, we helped them. By being afraid to speak up, we helped them. By not admitting we are liberals, real liberals, we helped them. That was a mistake that I regret, that all of us who are guilty should regret. We should never have let them bully us like that. I don’t anymore. I admit that I am a liberal. I say what I believe. I do what I can to dispel the myths of the likes of Limbaugh. I tell them, “If you want to know what a liberal believes, ask a liberal. Don’t ask Rush Limbaugh because he is a lying drug addict who can’t be trusted.” People need to know that liberals are not the “straw men” that have been invented by the conservative think tanks. We need to tell them at every opportunity. Liberals are not communists. We love America. We believe in the Constitution and The Bill of Rights. If we do not speak up, we are destined to live in an oppressed society of lies.


Anonymous Kevin Wolf said...

Interesting to read a personal take on the past 25 years.

I've been one of those damn liberals since college (I'm about your age) and I wasn't in favor of the first Gulf War necessarily but it did at least have a rationale, a goal and an end. Man, how far we've fallen since.

I do think there's danger in putting too much of a gloss on Clinton. Still, it's hard not to look back and see that we all seemed to be having more fun then (Bill included). These days, Bush and his crew seem determined to make us all miserable.

9:46 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Personally, I didn't *like* Clinton but compared to Bush? I think you know!

10:32 AM  
Anonymous blue girl said...

Hi Al -- I can't believe you were reported at work! I work from home and am always amazed by the "corporate life." Yikes!

Remember Reagan's biographer? I forget his name -- but he had to MAKE UP different characters and personalities because there was nothing there to write about? (hee-hee!)

During Reagan's funeral-extravaganza -- no one was talking about what a divisive figure he was -- and I found that very odd. I completely remember the hatred for Reagan on the left (and the weird Reagan admiration/obession -- which still continues -- from the right.)

I'm going to use your Limbaugh line from now on -- everytime someone brings him up. Yuck.

I always tell people I'm a liberal. And when they look at me like I should be arrested, or at the very least -- be thrown in a mental institution -- I just tell them not to fall so easily for the propaganda being spewed by the Right.

My favorite one about *liberals* -- is the story about how we are responsible for all the gutter level music, TV, etc.

I just remind them -- that's not liberal or conservative -- that people wanting to MAKE MONEY!!

12:40 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Excellent comment Blue. Thanks!

1:11 PM  
Blogger fuckstick2020 said...

Isn't it ashame that we live in a country where you can't be president if you come across as too intelligent, ie Dukakis or poor Adalai Stevenson.

One of my 13 year old students and I were talking about politics this year and she told me that her uncle said that sure, people can be democrats and that's okay but then they grow up and become republicans because real adults aren't liberal.

Isn't that henious? I was however, teaching in Texas.

Strange this of note: I vividly remember the 1984 election. I was only 4 years old but I remember my mother talking about Geraldine Ferraro. I also remember that being the poorest time in our lives. I also remember vividly watching the 88 debates and getting angry because as an 8 year old I knew that Bush Sr. was up to no good. Sheesh, Why didn't I go into politics???

4:09 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I apologise for the long post. Just my two cents from living in a small town. It's all about blending in and acceptance in social situations. I learnt the realities of school and workplace situations and the 'dumbing yourself down' that is necessary to be seen as 'normal', and 'not rocking the boat'. Otherwise you become a social pariah.

I was educated in schools where any kind of independent thought or questioning of what was being taught rather that rote recital was a cause for punishment. (I'm always struck by a Simpsons Episode featuring the teachers pressing an 'Independent Thought Alarm' under their desks).

Over and over again I'd hear people discussing in the workplace about waiting to get home to 'turn off their brain', or describing their choice in viewing or reading as "I like watching that show / movie / book because I don't have to think", and i'd just think of the tragedy of living in a world where this is how people deal with their intelligence - by ignoring it.

One conversation has always haunted me: Constructing shelving to re-house archival material and sorting through rate books and police charge books from the previous century. I'm covered in the dust and mud of a hundred years, muscles aching from the physicality of the work, (for some of these books stand almost as tall as I do), and I'm struck by the passage of time and who might have handled the books before me. The idea of these poor little well-dressed Victorian clerks running around lugging these enormous tomes struck me as intrinsically funny, and I laughed out loud.

My workmate looked confused and asked me why I was laughing. I figured it wasn't an idea that anyone but me would find funny, so I just said "... Just something I was thinking".

"What do you mean?"

"Just lost in thought".

Then he looks at me. "But how can you be doing that? You were working".

Now I'm confused and don't understand. "I was thinking about other things as I worked".

"But how can you do that?"

"Sorry, I don't follow".

"You're working. Don't you have to think about moving the books and putting the shelves together?"

"No," I reply, very confused. "I'm on autopilot. It doesn't require all my attention. It's like when you're walking, you think about other things, you're not thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. It's unconscious instinct".

My workmate looks at me. "You can do that? I can't think and walk at the same time. All I think is 'left foot, right foot' as I walk".

I laugh, for I figure he's taking completely taking the piss. It's only when I see how hurt he suddenly looks that I realise he was *completely serious*.

"It's ok," I end up saying. "I was only joking. I can't really do that".

He smiles, and for months after the fact I'm struck by the fear that 'How many more are like him?', and 'Is there something really wrong with me?'

My mother's worked a physical factory job for 30 years or more. I eventually ask her what she thinks as she does it.

"I'm writing books in my head. I'm singing songs. I'm thinking about the world. Anything but the reality of the mindless work that i'm doing".

"The work requires no thought at all, doesn't it? You do it without thinking".

"Exactly. They can have my physical body there, but they can't limit where my mind is taking me".

It was the best thing anyone could have said to me. But I have to ask: "Has anyone ever... noticed?"

She looks at me. "Yes, they have. And they *don't* like it - they don't understand how I can do it, and it makes them resentful if they think you're more intelligent than they are".

Now I don't see myself as particularly intelligent - I didn't even finish High School. I just naturally assumed that people's minds all process information in their heads the same way, other than those who are obviously mentally underdeveloped. It's the first time my basic world view is challenged and I'm suddenly very frightened for society, for if people can't think and walk at the same time, how will earnest, informed and logical reasoning ever reach them?

This song always touched me, the futility and the frustration describing what i feel each day, (and I really don't even see myself as particularly intelligent):

Divine Comedy - 'Dumb It Down'

You've got a personality
We'll throw you in the sea and watch you drown
Dumb it down
Your concentration span's too long
It's longer than this song: that's not allowed
Dumb it down
You don't need books to know what's what
We'll pile them up and burn them to the ground
Dumb it down
And if you say that we're corrupt
We'll round you up and run you out of town
Dumb it down

Down and down and down it goes
Where it stops nobody knows
And not a lot of people seem to care
Well it's so crazy, it's so great
We can all communicate
But no one's saying anything out there
Is there anybody out there?

Intelligence is dangerous
A virus of the brain you pass around
Dumb it down
We'll vaccinate each boy and girl
Lobotomise the world through sight and sound
Dumb it down
No one can tell you what to think
And if you think that's true then you're a clown
Dumb it down
'Cause freedom's wasted on the free
You just don't see the beauty all around
Dumb it down

Down and down and down we slide
It's too tricky to decide
Between channels one and sixty-three
'Cause everything is mindless fluff
Like this world's not dumb enough
Does anybody feel the same as me?
Is there anybody listening?

It's the "Is there anybody out there? Is there anybody listening?" lines that really fill me with a deep sadness.

6:00 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

HFR - My mind is always spinning. Always. I wake up in the middle of the night with a solution (or a theory) to a problem I'm trying to solve at work. Unlike the poor fellow in your story who can only think on the task at hand, I always have 2 or 3 things going on in my head and I think that is a handicap as well! Hard for me to fully concentrate on something when I need to.

Actually, your old workmate lives in a Zen world - many people devote their lives to getting where he is naturally.

Never apologize for the length of your comments. Excellent reading, and I'm flattered that you would put that much time into posting a comment at my blog.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Whilst I can understand and respect the idea of deliberately seeking Zen thought, there’s a thin line between a noble intention and being willfully ignorant.

I love the fact that my mind’s always working. I’m happier doing three things at once, and my partner got used to my ‘scribbling down of ideas at two in the morning’.

As to thoughts of your being ashamed of being liberal, and why other can’t understand your moral reasoning, I’m struck by something I remember from my psychological studies. Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stage Theory of Moral Developmental.

What Wikipedia fails to mention is that Kohlberg believed that most adults stop in at stage 4 and never develop any further. Now if you believe your own moral reasoning to be at a higher stage, you can see the problem that arises when you try to argue a point with a Stage 4 if you’re a Stage 6. They simply are incapable of understanding your line of reasoning. (Take note, I’m not positing that being a Stage 6 is a superior state of existence to Stage 4, just pointing out the differences in understanding how arguments are perceived).

I believe verbal discussion is too intangible, and further moral growth is only possible for them through a direct personal challenge that makes them question their own moral view. (Witness how frequently the death of a son or daughter in Iraq shatters a parents worldview and politicises them). However, as a human being, I hope they never have to go through that suffering to take that step onwards.

Stage Seven (Transcendental Morality) was rarely discussed back when I was studying, and although they’re positing that it has religious overtones, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not simply:

a) understanding the reality of injustice in the world;
b) realising a lack of any power to challenge this injustice; and
c) a resigned acceptance to this fact and the fate that follows.

I’m struck again by Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and my grandmother’s Final Days.

Like any good theory, it’s open to criticisms and countertheories. They’re taken on board, rather than being blindly dismissed out of hand, suggesting avenues for further research in the field. For Psychological Researchers realise that we can never definitely prove anything, we can only suggest possible theories drawn from hypotheses. We can never say “A Directly Causes B”, no matter how often the media tries to twist and reduce our research to suit that very purpose.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

There's an echo of Martin Niemoller in those last two paragraphs, along with a little Elie Wiesel.

"First they came for the communists..." etc."

Followed by "Never again."

1:35 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...


>Now if you believe your own moral reasoning to be at a higher stage, you can see the problem that arises when you try to argue a point with a Stage 4 if you’re a Stage 6. <


8:13 AM  
Blogger bad blue girl said...

Linkmeister: I love Elie Wiesel. I wonder how he's doing? And also, I wish he'd speak out -- I'd love to hear his opinions on the state of our world.

12:25 PM  

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