Monday, November 20, 2017
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Andy Schmookler


Battles Forfeited

Part III of "Dispirited Liberal America"

This series is about the role of Liberal America in creating America's current dangerous political dynamic. The thesis is that it is the weakness of Liberal America that has allowed a destructive force to become to powerful, and that this weakness is due to a disconnection from the power of "the spirit."

The previous installment ended with this statement: "One side is serving the dark spirit. The other side is impotent to rise to the defense of all that's sacred that's being destroyed." The essay now continues thus:

But the sacred is something that Liberal America, by and large, has not been tapping into. That was not always true.

One can sense the sacred in the words of FDR, for example, engraved in the granite in that memorial on the National Mall. (And FDR was not shy about going toe to toe against his enemies, whether it be to help make the nation a better place or to stop the predations of the fascist powers against much of the world.)

That was then. But if one listens to the voice of Liberal America in these times, one does not get that same sense of being on not just a constructive effort but a sacred mission.

Lacking connection with the spirit and the power it confers, Liberal America has been consistently weak as this crisis has grown. For the spirit not only gives hope, but strength as well.

Evil Spirit v. No Spirit = Triumph of Destructiveness

Part II of "Dispirited Liberal America"

Part I discussed how hopelessness is a sign of loss of contact with what might be called "the spirit," because the spirit infuses a sense of possibility. History shows, too, that when the spirit enters in, "the apparently impossible can happen."

Liberal America's disconnection from the power of the spiritual dimension is not only manifested in this hopelessness I've heard from people. The costs of this condition go a lot deeper. Indeed, it is through Liberal America's "dispirited" state that this side of America's political divide has played an important role in letting destructive forces wield so much power in our political system.  

The whole of the American body politic is exposed as defective by our current political pathology.

A famous line from the poet Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."

Here is what I see as the two-part central truth regarding our current national crisis.

  • The once-respectable Republican Party has become the instrument of something that warrants being called an "evil force"; and the response from Liberal America to this threat has been woefully weak in ways that reveal important defects in much of Liberal America in relation to the spirit.

Wondering About Hillary

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports on some ways in which Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama, as she tries to convey to the electorate that a Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn't be a "de facto third Obama term."

At one point, the article says: "In another contrast, Mrs. Clinton has said U.S. presidents must never stop courting Congress."

At that point in the article, I inwardly screamed, "Oh, no!"

Let me put it this way. I can understand the politics of such a statement. It's probably smart to say. But if that's what she really thinks, she's not the president we need.

Not courting the Republicans in Congress could hardly be further from President Obama's error. They have made war on him from Day One, and his repeated attempts to "court" -- and appease -- them has brought him to his present pass: a president who can achieve virtually nothing legislatively.

(And now the Republicans are taking him to court to stop his accomplishing things by executive order. Next year, they quite possibly will try impeachment.)

Again and again, Obama reached out to the Republicans in Congress, only to get his hand bitten again and again. This president's giving up on the idea that the Republicans had any interest in accomplishing anything for the good of the nation was an important step forward.

A Democratic president dealing with this congressional Republican Party has no business "courting" them. But I'd agree with Hillary's statement (assuming the WSJ reported it rightly) to this extent: there's something better to do with this Congress -- i.e. with the obstructionist Republicans who control (by strangling) the legislative process -- than merely ignore it.

Dispirited Liberal America — Part I: Hopelessness and the Spirit

This is the first of four installments of this essay.

Some of my liberal friends say they have lost all hope for American democracy (and a great many others act as if they had).

They see that the Money Power is wresting power from the American people and, with the help of the Supreme Court, making it ever harder for the people to retrieve what's been taken from them.  

They see that one of our two major political parties is systematically blocking the Congress from implementing solutions to our nation's considerable problems, yet rewarded by the people with enough power to inflict terrible damage on our country.

And they see that in our public discourse the truth no longer prevails over the lie.

Game over, they conclude hopelessly.

I, too, see that darkness. These are indeed frightening times. But such hopelessness is not wisdom. It is a sign of disconnection from the power of the spirit. I say that on the basis of my own experience, in my own effort to address our national crisis of moving back and forth between a mundane framework and one inflamed by what I can only call a spiritual energy.

From the mundane perspective, it is only too clear how improbable it is that what I do can have the impact I'm seeking. But when I am in touch with that spiritual energy that drives me, I find my attention directed only toward that scenario that best serves the sacred. The spirit drives me on a mission.

We See Now More Clearly All that The Supreme Court Stole from the People...

The decision in Bush v. Gore was so disgraceful on the face of it that the Court itself warned against using its "reasoning" in other cases. The five conservative justices elected Bush president.

After eight years -- after, that is, a couple of botched wars, and after the dismantling of financial regulation combined with the mishandling of monetary policy in the face of a hugely inflated housing bubble wrecking the American economy, and after the degradation of our political system -- we managed to get rid of the man the Supremes appointed president.

But this week reminded us, if any reminder were needed, that the impact of presidents outlive their terms in office. Because of Bush v. Gore, we now have Roberts and Alito on the Court. The Court that gave us Bush v. Gore was bad enough, but their decision ushered in a Court still worse.

And now, too, it becomes more visible what has been the essential purpose of the right's long and determined campaign to create this Court: to shift power from the American people to the Corporate system.

Unhinged! Fresh Evidence in the Aftermath of Cochran’s Victory in Mississippi

We often hear about the disconnect from reality on the right.

Paul Krugman keeps exclaiming about the way his peers as professional economists, who are on the right, continue to generate zombie ideas (disproved but never die) and refuse to recognize when they've been proven wrong-- contrary to every value of intellectual integrity that Krugman holds dear.

Here at Blue Virginia, Lowell Feld tells us, again and again between parentheses in the morning news report, how bat**** crazy so much of what we see on the right (think E.W. Jackson) is.

And so on.

The picture keeps being presented, showing a disconnect from reality over there on the right. Unhinged in some really troubling way.

Now from Mississippi there comes further proof of the unhingedness of that spirit, and why it's something America must reject.

I saw it last night on Rachel Maddow's show, when she reported -- in a piece called "Schism"-- how the Tea Party world is responding to Cochran's victory-- particularly to the way he won by appealing to black Democratic voters to support him against McDaniels, a fiercely right-wing candidate who seems to appeal to the Klan and militia types.

A lot of right-wingers reject the outcome, and McDaniel himself refuses to concede defeat, questioning -- for no good reason that I can see -- the legitimacy of Cochran's victory.

Now, I don't like open primaries, but that's the law in Mississippi. And politics is played to win however one can, for the most part, and anyone who follows the rules and wins the election has done what he's supposed to do-- by the ethics of political campaigns. Particularly if there is no lying involved, as it seems there was not in Cochran's play for black voters.

Cochran won, fair and square.

And he had no need to lie because the black Democrats of Mississippi simply needed to see the truth: they had a strong and quite legitimate stake in preventing someone to come to power who seems to represent (albeit with some subtlety) the very force that inflicted generations of pain upon African Americans -- in slavery, in Jim Crow, in the politics of segregation.

And one would think that a sane Tea Party might interpret the willingness of black people to vote for Cochran as a sign that maybe they are showing themselves to be something too ugly to win acceptance from America, taken as a whole. Maybe it would get these Tea Partiers to take a closer look in the mirror.

My Take on Billy Graham (and Liberty University), in Spiritual Terms

A Reader (a conservative Christian) commented, on a post in which I condemned Liberty University as a "bastion of hypocrisy"-- [see Note below for what I wrote about Liberty]:
Just curious; what do you think of Billy Graham ?
He's deluded ?
A false 'prophet' ?
I think he did not object to his grandson attending Liberty (?)
Do you think he could help the cause of Christianity by denouncing Liberty U ?
And I responded:

I basically have respect for Billy Graham, and I think he was in some ways a man of God. One could tell that he had some godly virtues that were real.

(He's a whole lot more whole a spirit than this Franklin Graham (his son?) who seems a very warped spirit, at heart.)

But he was in other ways broken, too.  Billy Graham truly believed in some Christ-like things, but he also had a weakness for power, for being seduced and attracted by power.

His relationship with Richard Nixon is powerful evidence that within Billy Graham there was another spirit -- a spirit of brokenness -- besides the Christian spirit.

Gov. McAuliffe and My Motto (“See the evil. Call it out. Press the Battle”)

That's the motto of my campaign. That's what I believe is the winning strategy for Liberal America to defeat this destructive -- evil -- force that's taken over the political right.

And, I'm thinking that what Governor McAuliffe is doing is what that motto looks like, when it's played out in the budget battles of Virginia.

Glad to have McAuliffe's kind of pugnacity in the Governor's chair when the Republicans are making war for this disreputable purpose in this disgraceful way.

We need Democrats who are fighters-- and who understand where the opportunities are to defeat this destructive force that's made the Republican Party so ugly in our times.

I hope that he will fight by picking up the mirror and use this episode to expose the ugliness of what the Republicans have been doing on this expansion of Medicaid issue. Including the perhaps criminal deal for Puckett's seat.

See the evil-- and show it to the people of Virginia. These Republicans have behaved in an ugly fashion, from beginning to end. They are a microcosm of the persistently destructive force that's taken over the Republican Party.

Governor McAuliffe has the opportunity to expose this part of that ugly picture. It is his best way to fight the battle that's already at hand, as he has rightly chosen not to surrender. (This is like Obama and the debt ceiling crisis this last time, and we all remember how the Republicans got creamed on that one.)

Governor McAuliffe has stood his ground, and now we must encourage him to press the battle.

I'd say to him: Offense, not defense. Don't expend great energy on defending yourself against their charges. Brush those quickly aside as nonsense and hypocrisy and pour your energy into an attack on what it is that they have shown themselves to be.

That truth is their greatest vulnerability.

It is only by fraud that these "conservative" and "Christian" Republicans get the credibility they need to wreak their damage on our society.

See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle. Take their power from them.

Minority Rule: A Culturally Transmitted Political Skill?

Putting a couple of things together.

Thing One: We observe how in Republican World these days, a rabid minority is often dominating the majority. Most Republicans, polls show, are in favor of a variety of measures -- universal background checks, some immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, etc. -- that the Republicans continually block from being enacted.

We see how even the Establishment Republicans will speak and act like Teapublicans, because they are afraid of being primaried from the right. The problem, of course, is that it is the Tea Party people who disproportionately show up for primaries -- even more so for conventions -- and thus a minority can dominate the majority.

With the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, and with the Republicans intimidated by their activist fringe, it turns out that this minority not only controls the Party, but exercises veto power over the whole American legislative process. A minority of one Party -- which is somewhat of a minority party to begin with -- thus dominates the rest of the nation.

Thing Two: I have been developing the idea that the spirit that's taken over the Republican Party represents the re-emergence of the spirit that took hold of the South in the decade leading up to the American Civil War. In several pieces, I've been outlining some of the interesting parallels that suggest that the patterns have been transmitted through the generations, maintaining rather intact the same basic destructive force, which has now -- once again, in our times -- gained the power to do great damage to the nation.

See for example these:

Lest We Forget What White Racism Looked Like When it was Unapologetic

People on the right take umbrage these days whenever anyone talks about racism. But of course, in these unfortunate times, they take umbrage at the mention of most aspects of reality.

So a propos of racism, I thought it might be useful to look at this little bit of history, from a bit more than a century ago, depicted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her excellent book -- The Bully Pulpit -- about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the progressive journalists who helped make that an era of political progress. Here's a quote from page 321:

"[S]outhern Republicans had never forgiven [President Theodore Roosevelt for the unprecedented dinner invitation extended the previous fall to the black educator Booker T. Washington.  At the time, the vehement reaction in the South had stunned and saddened Roosevelt. Newspaper editorials throughout the region decried the president's attempt to make a black man the social equal of a white man by sharing the same dinner table. 'Social equality with the Negro means decadence and damnation,' announced one southern official. 'The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place,' declared South Carolina's [U.S. Senator] Ben Tillman."

(Whatever else Senator Tillman's statement meant, it certainly signals as clearly as could be that terror was the instrument of choice in the South to maintain the regime of racial tyranny and oppression.)

I've written before about "the persistence of culture." (That's the idea that the patterns embedded in a culture tend to continue -- to succeed in transmitting themselves -- over long periods of time.)

Do you suppose that response to a president's having invited a black man to dine in the White House in 1901 has anything to do with how some Americans have responded, since 2009, to the black man that's now actually the President of the United States?

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