Why Hillary Clinton is the Donald Trump of the Left

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

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If you just went on images from rallies, you would think that Bernie Sanders would be running away with the race for the 2016 Democratic nomination. If you went on the basis of marches, murals, bobblehead dolls, homemade posters and T shirt designs, you would think that he’s in the lead.

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Given that he started polling at 3% a little over a year ago and now is neck and neck with Hillary Clinton nationally, his rise has been phenomenal. The fact that President Obama mentioned him by name at his final White House Correspondents’ Dinner (an annual comedy show) tells you that he has gained notice in all of the nation’s inner circles.

So why has Secretary Clinton still earned so many votes? After all, she’s not as progressive as Bernie Sanders is. She doesn’t want to tax financial speculation to pay for tuition at public colleges and universities. She doesn’t want to make ending war a priority; in fact, it’s likely that she will be more aggressive in foreign policy that President Obama was, and she might even be more aggressive than a President Trump would be. She doesn’t want people to make a minimum wage of $15 per hour. She says sometimes that $12 would be neat, but she doesn’t say it very often. She doesn’t want to break up the big banks, and she doesn’t want to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act that would regulate Wall Street. It’s pretty clear that Wall Street influence on her campaign is keeping her from being all that enthusiastic about any sort of financial regulation, in fact.

So let’s look at some of the possible reasons. It’s fairly clear that a lot of people, particularly older people, are ready for there to be a woman in the Oval Office, and they think that Hillary is qualified to be that woman. She has been a senator, and she has served a term as Secretary of State.

She also has a strong following in the African-American community,  particularly in the South. This seems to date back to the days of Bill Clinton, when he was a master of assembling a party machinery, oozing empathy all the way and promising that he could beat the Republicans. It also has to do with the fact that Bernie Sanders still didn’t have a lot of name recognition in the South by the time those primaries came through.

Some people say that there has been a widespread campaign of fraud. While there are Department of Justice fingers prying the Arizona results, and there is a whole legion of lawsuits probing the New York primary, it’s difficult to say, at least for now, that these discrepancies aren’t anything more (or less) than a rash of incompetence in the election administrators of county party structures, which are accustomed to much smaller turnouts than what we have seen this year.

But here’s another reason. I think there are a lot pf people who don’t like the GOP but don’t want to do what Bernie Sanders wants to do either. Bernie Sanders is about giving all people — particularly those at the bottom of the social ladder — a stab at equality. Free college — if they qualify for admission. A $15 minimum wage. A real fight against climate change. Health care coverage for everyone, at a cost less than what people who have insurance are paying now.

Why don’t so many of these self-identified Democrats (who, allegedly, are the liberal party in the United States) want these things? Here is what I imagine is going through many of their minds.

Well, if the kids get to go to college for free, they won’t have to work as hard as I did. Besides, if you can’t afford college, and you can’t afford the loans, is that really my problem?

Well, if we give people a $15 minimum wage, my prices might go up. Besides, I don’t work for minimum wage. Teenagers work for minimum wage, and then those who are going to do well go to college and avoid the minimum wage later.

Well, if we really fight climate change, I won’t be able to get gas for less than $2 a gallon. I think that electric cars are really cool. Can’t I just get one of those? I don’t live in a neighborhood that has a fracking tower, and I don’t live anywhere near Flint. So that doesn’t really have anything to do with me.

Well, if we bring about real social change, that could help people who, in the dark recesses of my mind, people who didn’t work as hard as I did might get what I have.

The great thing about the Clinton campaign in 1992, and the Clinton campaign in 2008, and the Clinton campaign in 2016, is that it gives people who like to think of themselves as liberals coverage.

Just like voting for Donald Trump gives conservatives coverage.

Donald Trump represents the id of a part of the American populace; he represents what happens when the anger of a people turns against those who are on its edges. Hillary Clinton gives those who cling to some of those same prejudices — but realize that the GOP has stopped even pretending to serve the people — cover. So they choose an option that sounds reasonable, gives lip service to progress, and then services the same corporate interests in a quieter way. That is why Hillary Clinton is the Donald Trump of the Left: she is the outlet for their unstated willingness to leave the poor, the disenfranchised, the polluted, the broken, where they are, while the rest of us get back to watching television.

So if you think that Hillary Clinton is a better option than Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz), you’re right. But if you think that she’s a better option for all of the American people than Bernie Sanders, then you really need to rethink your perspective on the very least of our nation. Trump, Cruz and Clinton are all willing to let them suffer for four or eight more years. We finally have a candidate who is ready to represent everyone.

Trump or Cruz would march us into fascism, whether motivated by xenophobia or misguided theology. Clinton would leave us exactly where we are, because her corporate paymasters like the status quo, and the balance sheet of the Clintons shows you that they like it as well. Only Bernie Sanders would take us up toward greatness as a nation, as a people, as a society.

But greatness is costly and uncomfortable. The next generation is ready to embrace it. Why aren’t the rest of us?

 

Weekend at Bernie’s

Posted in Theater of the Absurd with tags , on February 29, 2016 by onlookerslowdown
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Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders take the stage during campaign stop at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Sat. Feb. 27, 2016. (Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News)

Sometime last Friday afternoon, an announcement came across my Facebook feed telling me that #BernieSanders would be appearing in the Dallas area the next day. I had never attended a political rally in all of my 44 years, but the Sanders candidacy is unlike anything I have ever seen. I can’t remember a candidate for either party ever talking about freedom in any terms other than carrying out a military campaign; about crime in any other terms than making sure that we are tough on it; about taxes in any other terms that they are evil and must be eradicated…at least enough to get rid of the programs that the candidate on the screen didn’t like.

But where the hell does Bernie Sanders get off suggesting that a public college education should be free for everyone who wants to go? How dare he suggest that the problem behind the huge number of African-American men in prison is anything other than their own unwillingness to follow the law? How dare he argue that we have, somehow, failed because the greatest nation on the planet has not figured out how to help all of its workers live above the starvation level (I said workers, not the unemployed — his argument that the $7.25 federal minimum wage is a starvation wage has been borne out time and time again).

That’s not what we do anymore, is it? That’s the sort of liberalism that Ted Kennedy kind of railed about but no one has listened to since Lyndon Johnson’s War of Poverty got pre-empted for that conflict in Vietnam. After all, President Clinton saved the Democratic Party by driving it to the center. Today, even if the Puritan witch hunts have become a curiosity, that Puritan work ethic remains, and the mere idea of having us pay taxes to help people who are having hard times causes shock waves all over this land.

But then I learned about Bernie Sanders, and here is why I wanted to make sure that my children got to hear from this radical exception of a candidate. Yes, he refuses Wall Street money. No, there isn’t a SuperPAC collecting millions of dollars to fund campaign expenses for him.Yes, he is turning the idea of what the government should do for its people into a moral question, rather than a phrase that sucks the oxygen out of the room.

So why are all of those young people turning out in droves to hear Bernie Sanders? Why are some of us who are a little older but who have dismissed all politicians as self-interested hacks now wearing buttons and hoisting signs?

It’s not the policies themselves. Yes, they are liberal, but they’re not that outrageous on the spectrum of ideas. After all, President Obama already suggested free community college, and Vice President Biden came out in favor of K-16 education for free as well. Sanders isn’t the only person agitating for a $15 minimum wage — the New York Times is too. Sanders isn’t the only one who wants comprehensive immigration reform. He’s not the only one who wants a fair criminal justice system.

However, he’s the only one who wants these things for the reasons he wants them.

You see, you had to stay until the very end of his speech to understand that. He had already gone through his policy proposals. Some people were walking down the stairs in the balcony to try and beat the traffic home. But the vast majority were still hanging on the edge of their seats, even 45 minutes after he had begun (and several hours after they had taken their seats to see the man they’d made so many memes about).

Bernie does not like to philosophize much. Interviewers have asked him why he took on injustice at an early age in life, and he said that he didn’t know, but that he had always thought that bullying seemed wrong. But he closed his speech with these words: “community trumps selfishness, and love defeats hatred” (yes, ever tweaking the Donald until the end).

But if you didn’t stay, you missed the whole foundation of his program. It’s not about pleasing donors; it’s not about building a personal fortune. It’s not about personal prestige; it’s not about the accolades.

Instead, it’s about a vision for our country. After all, the Puritan work ethic wasn’t all witch hunts and bootstraps. When people’s barns burned down, their neighbors pitched in and helped them build another one. When people ran short on their crops, their neighbors helped them out. We don’t farm anymore; instead, we Facebook. We have become so attuned to believing whatever comes out of the electronic device in front of us that we have forgotten the importance of community and the elegance of love.

If we really believe in community, then we don’t want any child to grow up in poverty. We can’t make everyone make the right choices as adults, but we can give all of our children an even starting point, and we can put together jobs programs that give all of our adults hope. Yes, it’s expensive, but so is incarceration. The problem is that jobs programs aren’t a source of profit, but the incarceration industry has become a privatized sector of the economy that makes profits — and those revenues go to fund lobbyists, and all of a sudden our representatives have a vested interest in voting against compassion.

If we look around us with fear, then our national fabric shreds. Donald Trump isn’t new, after all. There were the bigoted rants of Father Coughlin before World War II; there was the seemingly endless series of hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the wake of the monstrous 9/11 attacks, what was initially an outpouring of American community became the Orwellian Patriot Act. The rise of Trump should not be a surprise.

So when I vote for Bernie Sanders, I’m turning my back on fear. I’m refusing to hate other people. Instead, I’m assuming the very best of them, while demanding the best of myself. You see, when I do that, I have a lot harder time thinking that the main export of my country should be precisely calibrated warfare. Instead, our main export should be what we say it is on July 4 — liberty and freedom. We should take our amazing ideas and our terrific people and build a society where hope isn’t something we laugh at — it’s something we really believe in. No one will ever have to call hope “audacity” again, because it will be the chief dynamic of our national life.

And is that pie in the sky? I used to think so. But now, I don’t think so anymore. #FeelTheBern

The Church at the End of the World

Posted in Thoughts about the Next Plane with tags , , , on February 16, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

As a teacher, there are few things you can hear that are sadder than that a student of yours has passed away. I’m also a dad, and the idea that one of my children would ever pass away before I do is unthinkable. But as a teacher, I’ve always taken pride in the idea that the students I have worked with are now out in the world, bringing change and hope and excitement and passion to whatever they have decided to do. Now that I teach seniors, I give each of them my home e-mail on the last day of school, ask them to reach out if they need a recommendation for a scholarship, if they need advice about school, or just to let me know how college and life are treating them.

Last week I heard about the passing of a student who just graduated in the spring of 2015. Her name is Karla. She had missed some time during her senior year with some health issues, but she had worked hard, a lot harder than some of her classmates who missed no time at all, to make sure that she stayed up with her work. When she came back, she took a lot of pride in the progress that she had made — and she should have.

You never want to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t have to make up any platitudes to tell you that Karla was a very cool kid. She worked hard to improve her writing. She had a sweet disposition — not the sort of sweet that becomes a pushover, but the gentleness that you only see in people who are secure in themselves, who have already decided what kind of person they are and what they want to be. She did not have as many friends as some, but the ones that she had were clearly close friends to her.

But then another illness came and took her with it. And so I found myself heading to her funeral on a Monday morning, a time when churches are only open for sad occasions. No one gets married on a Monday morning. We only say good-bye to loved ones on a Monday morning.

The church is a little to the west of where I live, in a perplexing suburb of Dallas that sits less than 10 miles from the city center, called Cockrell Hill. The streets here are narrow, worn, cracked. The water tower could have been brought in from a tiny town in West Texas. When I finally found the turn-in for the church, which sits at the end of a bluff, the trees stretched off to the west, the February-brown branches blowing in that strange wind that, once you get west of the Trinity River in Texas, never really stops blowing. And so not 10 minutes from the downtown skyline of Dallas, I really was at a church in the middle of nowhere.

The yellow church and the patio before it told me that I was getting even further away from Dallas. When we go to say good-bye to our loved ones who have passed, I can see why the Greeks thought that there was a ferryman who would meet them, collect the souls, and then row away into a mist. I felt not four miles from my house, but hundreds, even thousands, and I felt that inimitable hourglass turn on its side as I went in for the ceremony.

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Karla grew up in a family where everyone spoke Spanish; her funeral Mass was conducted in Spanish. I don’t speak very much Spanish at all, but the service reminded me of what going to church must have been like back in the era when the priests only spoke in Latin, so none of the people in the congregation had any idea what was going on. I prayed for Karla and for her family, but I was also taken by the priest’s occasional burst into song, which the congregation would follow, swelling into hymns that brought comfort in minor keys.

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The apse of the church faces west, and on the day when I was at this funeral, each of those cubes you see was a vibrant blue, giving the etched-glass triptych the look of a gateway into the beyond, into the presence of whatever plane you think comes after this one. I believe in the gospel of Christ’s grace, but I have a feeling that the afterlife is going to be a bit different than what the legion generations of ministers have told us to expect.

On this day, I was sad, mourning Karla’s passing at such a young point in her life, sorrowful for the grief that clearly shook her friends and had her family weeping. There are some who like to step in at this point and talk about the beneficence of God’s plan and the greater glory that awaits her in God’s Kingdom, but for those of us who are still on this side of the door, losing someone hurts in a way that this sort of salve makes us want to punch, at least until the pain eases.

As the service progressed, though, in a tongue alien to me but so familiar to the rest in the church, I was struck by the way that, even though Karla is (the way I see it) home with her Father, there is still so much of her here. Her image — on the T-shirts that her family and friends had made and wearing. But most of all the mark that her spirit had made on all of us. So even if you envision (as I did) her spirit passing through that blue apse that looked less like the end of a church than the gateway to what is next, I could also see that so much of her was still here, will always be here, as long as we are here, and will be even after.

So when I left the service, I knew that for her family, and for those of her closest friends, grieving would continue. When I returned to school, I would notice the chair where she had sat last year, the table where she had done her writing, and where she had sat in thought before making those infrequent but insightful comments about what we were reading in class, what we were discussing, sometimes about nothing much at all, but still interesting to hear.

So I drove away from the middle of nowhere and slipped back into the city, those February-brown branches replaced more quickly than you would expect with the leafy green trees that live in that dark, rich soil on the other side of the Trinity.

From John Lennon to #Bernie2016

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

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I was looking through some old binders in my sons’ room the other day, and I came across a collection of drawings that one of my boys had started in the first grade. At the time, he wanted to keep his artwork in a binder and keep adding to it. His drawings are not the stuff of a budding Picasso, but they represent his way of seeing things, his visions of the world around him.

Over time, he stopped drawing and took up sports, as many boys will do. Baseball. Basketball. Soccer. Football. Now, his vision is a future as a general manager in the NBA or the NFL. What’s important is that he still has a vision, a dream ahead of him.

Keeping a vision and a dream in front of you is what keeps you young. It is what keeps you energetic. It is what makes you compelling. The vision and the dream can change, but losing those is the only thing that can push you “over the hill,” not turning 40 (or 50, these days).

When I talk to people my age (I’m 44) about the rise of Bernie Sanders, my friends talk about how there’s no way that his ideas can come to pass. No way the health insurance industry will go gently into that good night, even if some of its workers could stay in order to run a compromise in which elective procedures and cosmetic surgeries could be covered through private insurance policies on top of what people are now calling SandersCare, a general care system overseen by the government.

They’re saying that there’s no way that Bernie Sanders has any idea how to handle foreign policy. The villains in the Middle East will run roughshod over the aging VW Bus that they imagine would be Bernie’s motorcade.

They’re saying that there’s no way we can afford free college for everyone. After all, they’re saying, not everyone needs to go to college. There are plenty of trades that people can pursue — and earn even more than degreed professionals make.

For me, the most important part of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is the fresh perspective he has brought to the idea of government. We had almost accepted that the government was an entity we couldn’t trust — after all, Ronald Reagan told us that, and he ended the Cold War, right? And so after 9/11, we began to accept the possibility that government was there to oversee us — not to work for us. We accepted the growing tendrils of government surveillance of us; we accepted the metastasis of war from something we do to fight evil to something we do to bolster our economy. And so what had once been a frightful tale came closer and closer to reality:

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We even came to love the dystopian novel. We adored Katniss’ salute; that little Mockingjay pin became so popular that several other authors decided to pen their own awful visions of the future and use a symbol that looked just about the same. But the implicit message was this — that this was what the future would be like, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it.

But to accept this missed the real message of 1984 and all of those other books that came after it, warning of an awful future if we didn’t change:

Orwell

Orwell, and those like him, didn’t want us to settle for the future that was coming for us. Instead, the hope was that there would always be truth-tellers, and that they would represent our conscience, keep us moving toward what is right, what is good, away from what we know to be just good enough.

Because “good enough” soon becomes awful. It becomes toxic. How do I know this? Because of the water in Flint, Michigan — which was “good enough” for the people in Flint because it made life easier for the government functionaries. Because of the water that comes out of the ground near “fracking” locations throughout the United States, rendered dangerous by the natural gas emissions that are necessary for that cheap gasoline that we all love. All of these things are “good enough” for now, and they end up costing us dearly.

The difference between what is “good enough” and what is “right” is compelling for those who are tired of settling, tired of compromising. It’s one thing to compromise for the greater good of everyone. It’s another thing to compromise for the interests of those who don’t have anyone else’s good in mind except their own.

How do I know that this difference is compelling? Because of the raw energy at work in some of the art that young people are posting about the Sanders movement. Some of it is silly, some of it is stupid, but it is all a sign that people are thinking, people are hoping, people are believing that this year, this year, things can be different. Take a look:

Yes, some of it is silly (these are from a Facebook group called Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash)::

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A lot of it is inane:

But a lot of it is sincere and heartfelt:

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A lot of those ideas scare people who have locked their visions and dreams away, or who have simply forgotten about them. After all, it’s a scary world out there. There are immigrants coming to take our jobs; there are terrorists coming to blow us up; there are poor, lazy people who want to spend our hard-earned money.

But those aren’t the things that should really scare us. It’s not like ISIS or al Qaeda poisoned the city of Flint. It’s not like Saddam Hussein destroyed the I-35 bridge through Minneapolis. We poisoned our own water because we were too busy watching TMZ to advocate in our communities. We let our bridges, roads and schools crumble because we’re too busy moving into gated communities and shopping on Amazon and worrying about what’s happening down at the southern border of the United States.

Guess what? The corporate interests will let us. Because none of those causes bring them profits.

So what’s the difference between #Bernie2016 and Hillary? It’s the difference between dreaming and settling. It’s the difference between changing the nation and believing that the items on that list up there are just pie in the sky. Who needs privacy rights when the terrorists are coming? (And how many companies are willing to donate huge money to make sure that our representatives don’t believe in privacy rights) Who needs veteran care? That’s just money down the toilet, because those servicemen and servicewomen knew what they were signing up for. Who needs equality? All of my friends look like me anyway.

So if you support Hillary, that’s fine. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll most likely agree that she’s a better choice than whichever lunatic emerges from the Borg cube that is the modern GOP. But you’re not supporting America’s possibility if you support Hillary. Instead, you’re supporting what we can get to work. And what will sneak through Congress. And what will likely evaporate once Hillary no longer has Bernie Sanders reminding us that a progressive believes in just that — in PROGRESS. In moving toward a better society, not finding ways to entrench the shoddy ways of living, of thinking, of voting, of dreaming, that we’ve accepted…because they’re “good enough.”

Just Say Yes: #Bernie2016

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

When I was a kid, I learned in school that the American Dream was out there waiting for everyone to claim its promises. From those early years, when the New World was still a wooded canvas that Europeans had not yet managed to win to the ways of God, Gold and Glory, the seemingly infinite expanses seemed a tabula rasa that people could turn into anything that they wanted.

The Puritans, of course, imprinted their vision squarely on the new continent, even though they only clung precariously to its northeastern tip during their early years here. The idea was that hard work was its own reward; those who did not prosper were simply not working hard enough.

So if you weren’t realizing the American Dream, you just weren’t working hard enough.

That’s why so few people cared when those rubes fresh off the boats ended up working for nonexistent wages in the Chicago meatpacking industry after some sharpies had signed them to predatory mortgages on homes that were too shabby and shoddy to provide decent shelter for an extended period of time, which is what made it so fortunate that the immigrant families ended up in foreclosure instead.

But then it turned out that more people cared than Capital had thought, and the Progressive movement was born. Such oddities as a minimum wage, protections against child labor, safety standards in the workplace and protections against fraud slowly eked their way out of the primordial ooze. This is when Teddy Roosevelt rattled his big stick and tried to take on the trusts, urging Americans to protect themselves from a growing inequity of wealth.

It turned out that the protections didn’t quite hold. So when the Dust Bowl wiped out so many American farmers in the Midwest and when the speculation bubble burst in the financial industry, the Great Depression made the Republic twist in the winds of disorder not heard since the fields of Antietam.

So in came Teddy Roosevelt’s cousin, who instituted what many called “socialism” back in the day in the form of the New Deal. That Puritan work ethic reared its Iagoesque head, trumpeting that if people were not lazy, they would not be poor. If those Okies had just worked harder, they wouldn’t have had to limp their way to California, lured by flyers promising a lot more jobs than were actually available, so that the fruit growers could control wages and shuffle through workers as quickly as injuries and deaths could get the existing ones down off the ladders.

But then came World War II — arguably the real rescuer of the economy. We needed so many tanks, bombers, fighters and carriers to fight the quite real menace presented by Hitler, Tojo and their ilk that factories jolted into action and people jolted back to work.

So war changed from being an occasional crisis to a necessary prop for the American economy. Ike warned us about this growing complex, but we didn’t listen. After all, radio had become television, and the television developed color. We almost learned what peace could be during the 1960s, but President Johnson decided that he could send half a million men to Vietnam AND fight the War on Poverty, and he basically failed at both.

So today, when writers brush the popularity of Bernie Sanders off as some sort of 1960’s pipe dream, they take that same Puritan work ethic back out and shake it at us. Those lazy hippies were too addled on drugs to do anything meaningful, right? Where did that peace movement get us, anyway?

President Carter tried to call us back to the sort of idealism that could have led in such a better direction. But then came the Iran hostages. Then came President Reagan, who used the icon of the Western cowboy fighting the Russian bear to distract us from what we could be. Instead of peace, he promised us a real-life Star Wars. This iconography dragged the Democrats to the right, giving us Bill Clinton, who excelled at the saxophone, who dripped with sincerity, but who also told us that the “era of big government” had come to an end.

But it didn’t, did it? It just took on a different shape. Yes, we trimmed spending on social issues, but then we started spending money off the books. The war industry, which had steadily grown during the Cold War, now found a happy target in the Middle East, where the terrorism never ends and all we have to do is keep sending drones in to ensure that the anger against our country never passes. That’s why there is an entire generation of Iraqis who have grown up knowing nothing about the United States except as a source of destruction raining down from the skies, of torture of its citizens — anything but the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

But then something interesting happened. It looked like we were going to have Hillary Clinton against whomever the Republicans could prop up, maybe Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio. The same tired arguments of the past two decades — should we dismantle government like the Republicans want (which means shutting down more of the publicly accountable side of the government and throwing more cash into the maw of the off-the-books side, either by growing the military even further or giving more tax breaks to the corporations and the 1%) or should we make some incremental changes to public policy that sort of tug things a little to the left while we still let the shadowy forces of the military establishment and the large corporations keep draining the economy?

Because that’s what Clinton vs Whoever would have represented. But then some strange things happened, called Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are both candidates driven by anger — Trump taking the anger of the Right, particularly the working-class Right, and forging it into a message that addresses their fears (immigrants taking their jobs, all Muslims somehow sharing the radical beliefs of the terrorist minority, those hedge fund managers screwing the rest of us) in a shrill, vague, bombastic torrent that could sweep him to the nomination.

But what of Bernie Sanders? Here’s why I’m voting for him.

Some people say that Sanders is soft on foreign policy. But, as Atticus Finch used to ask, Do you really think so? He thinks that we should help the Middle East resolve its difficulties — but that THEY have to resolve them. Do you really think that radical Islam would be able to market the United States as the Great Satan if our warplanes and our drones and our soldiers went home? Do you really think that a giant caliphate would form and then take over the United States from across the globe? Or does the fact that al Qaeda and ISIS have already turned on each other tell you that our advisers, our troops, our weapons aren’t the answer?

Some people say that Sanders’ solutions represent “pie in the sky.” Free college for everyone. Single-payer health insurance. However, for just eight months of the Iraq War, we could have paid for ten years of free college for our next generation. What’s the better investment? Lockheed-Martin might tell you one thing, but what makes more sense? If more than 30% of people would ever bother to vote in an election, if they were presented with these choices what do you think they would say?

Some people say that Sanders’ single-player health insurance plan fell apart in Vermont because of its sheer cost. However, it looks like political realities facing then-Governor Shumlin played as big a role as the cost in ending that experiment. And who is Shumlin endorsing in the Democratic primary? Hillary Clinton, who has cashed millions in checks from the pharmaceutical industry.

Some people say that Bernie needs to be tougher on gun control. But his point that a law-abiding hunter who wants to carry his rifle in checked luggage should be able to do so resonates. Before we launch some sort of massive buyback of Americans’ guns, we should make the background check system and the mental health system stronger so that more and more of the people who have access to guns are the ones who won’t cause these atrocities.

Bernie Sanders represents what America would look like if you took the wonderful part of the American Dream and left that shadowy Puritan caveat out of it. If people are willing to work hard in pursuing their dreams in life, they should be able to have a level playing field awaiting them when they finish learning what they need. We need to let go of that idea that everyone who is struggling is doing so because they are lazy.

What does that mean? If people get sick and can’t work, they shouldn’t go into bankruptcy because insurance only pays for some — or because they can’t afford the insurance that’s available.

When children enter school for the first time, the relative financial success of their parents shouldn’t determine the quality of their learning environment. That’s not what a “level playing field” means.

When trouble springs up across the globe, our first response shouldn’t be to scramble the jets and fire up the drones. It should be to initiate dialogue, to find alternative solutions. This doesn’t mean that we should stop being vigilant, because the geopolitical calculus can shift radically in a matter of minutes. It does mean that we should think, think and think again before we send our children, our young men and women, off to carry what really are, if we think about it, weapons of mass destruction, because they kill our enemies, but they also kill innocent civilians, and they warp our own soldiers in the process — an epidemic that we have not yet shown the will to eradicate, because that fight doesn’t enrich the defense contractors, doesn’t resolve into a 140-character sound bite.

Bernie Sanders represents new solutions to a set of problems that have plagued us for decades — if not longer. These are not easy solutions — they require thought, they require dialogue, and most importantly, they require that we set aside that impulse to judge one another, to look down on those who haven’t attained our level of success. They instead require that we assume the best of one another and demand the best of ourselves.

Before you tar me with the sticky pitch of the mindless tax-and-spend liberal, you should know that I’m just as tired of wasteful, corrupt government entities as Rand Paul is. However, I’m also tired of corruption in the private sector. I’m tired of greed running rampant simply because it can.

So why Bernie Sanders? Because he calls to the best of our natures. It’s easy to drown out the best and accept the mediocre, the acceptable. It’s easy to drown out the best and listen to the worst, to let the anger have its way.

I’m ready to listen to our best impulses for once. While I accept that Hillary Clinton could also win the Democratic nomination and represents a better solution than Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, I believe that a Bernie Sanders presidency would allow what is terrific, what is wonderful, what is transcendent about each of us to shine forth in ways that the Republic has never seen.

 

Blood Moon

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on September 28, 2015 by onlookerslowdown

blood moon

Blood Moon

I know why the moon is red tonight.

I know it is just an eclipse or something, the earth getting in the way of the sun.

A thousand years ago, it might have made me

Run for the hills, thinking

The End was at hand.

Even though I know what I know what I know,

That red moon makes me wonder.

Where did all those monsters go, anyway?

Did Satan really become our own id?

Was Grendel just a myth? So that lake never really bubbled fire?

Or did science make them smarter too?

Are they now hiding behind the names of conditions and phobias and fears?

Or do they still lurk, inside us as they always were,

Only too ready to tear us to pieces?

You go watch your television.

I’m keeping an eye on this moon.

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The Future of “The Secret History”

Posted in Book Reviews on October 25, 2014 by onlookerslowdown

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think I would be able to count all of the books that I have read during my life so far. However, there are only a small number of books that I re-read on a regular basis. Stephen King’s “Insomnia” is on that list, and so are Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News,” John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” and Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” One of the books I re-read most frequently, though, is Donna Tartt’s debut novel “The Secret History.”

And so when Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” came out in 2013, 11 years after her second novel, I grabbed it for my Kindle as soon as I could. However, it sat in my reading list, as I was waiting for some time to give it my undivided attention. What I found was, in addition to a rich novel of its own right, a set of crib notes to the motivations behind “The Secret History.”

In “The Secret History,” a group of students who do not fit into mainstream society in any discernible way cover up the accidental killing of a local farmer and then the extremely intentional murder of one of their own, when the first secret is about to unravel. The main character, one Richard Papen, is a young man aesthetically displeased with his upbringing. His surroundings at Hampden College in Vermont look like what he thinks college — and life — should be. The dorms look like cottages; the fall brings apple trees and red-cheeked girls just finishing their field hockey. However, Hampden is a college for people who did not do well anywhere else, and Richard and his cohorts have separated themselves from the rest of the college, as they take all of their courses from Julian Morrow, the Greek teacher who even has his own building on the edge of campus.

It is the pursuit of beauty for its own sake that undoes Richard; as his initial advisor at Hampden tells him, beauty can do nothing without truth. However, Richard falls in love with a group that turns out to be cold-blooded; gives his heart to a classmate who does not appear to have an affective cell in her body; he ends up in Southern California, just as wretched and alone at the end as he was when he first looked at brochures of Hampden College.

And so now, 15 years after “The Secret History” and 11 years after a wonderful mystery entitled “The Little Friend,” Tartt has taken on the topic of beauty again. One of the Greek epigrams that the crew in “The Secret History” learns is that “Beauty is harsh,” but nowhere is it harsher than in “The Goldfinch.”

The title of the book comes from a painting that Theodore Decker, the main character, loves because his mother loved it. The last day he spends with his mother is the day terrorists attack the art museum in New York City where they are visiting. Theodore ends up dazed in a gallery with an old man who gives him a ring and a cryptic destination — the green bell at an intersection in the city. He also spirits away “The Goldfinch” with him, “saving” it from the rubble of the museum but never quite managing to return it, or tell others where it is from.

Theodore loves the beauty of the painting so much that he keeps it with him always, but he is so afraid of losing it that he hides it inside a bag and then squirrels it away int a public storage unit — the irony, of course, being that no one gets to see the beauty of the painting at all.

In the painting, the bird is chained to its perch, much the same way in which the painting is held captive in its sack (or so Theodore thinks, but that would be a spoiler).

With his mother dead and his father having disappeared, Theodore moves in which the family of a friend to avoid the hell of life with a foster family; his father eventually shows up and drags him out to a new life in Las Vegas (as in “The Secret History,” there is nothing west of the Mississippi that is aesthetically pleasing). But his father ends up committing suicide, leaving Theodore once again quite alone.

Instead of being left at the mercy of Social Services, though, Theodore moves in with a man he had befriended shortly after the museum disaster — the person who lives behind the door with the green bell. James Hobart had been the business partner of the old man who gave Theodore the ring in the museum gallery. Theodore learns how to run Hobart’s business so that he gets out of trouble with the IRS; unfortunately, Theodore is fraudulently selling the furniture that Hobart is restoring by billing it as having a much finer provenance than it actually has, replacing the very real wrath of the IRS with the potential destruction of the business by ruining its reputation with buyers.

And so the old truism “Beauty is harsh” returns with a vengeance in “The Goldfinch.” A bitter rogue in the antiques industry uncovers the fraud and begins to blackmail Theodore; he realizes that the painting is not where he thought it was; the two loves of his life (Boris and Pippa) are not accessible to him in the way he wants; the woman he asks to marry him (Kitsey) is as ambivalent about him as he is about her. The questions that the end of the novel asks about the sufficiency of doing one’s best in life seem more like Theodore’s own soul-searching than anything else.

The best parts of Tartt’s writing involve the epic sweep of the tale, as well as the intricate workings of the description. Many reviewers compare her to Dickens in terms of the scope of her stories. I prefer to compare her to Fitzgerald, who seems to have been just as anxious to ensure that each word is in the right place before moving on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, even the next page. It is one thing to mass produce literature in the vein of today’s James Patterson. It is quite another to edge, one unit of thought at a time, across the vast canvas of a novel, until one steps back and realizes that a masterwork is at hand.

Both Theodore Decker and Richard Papen struggle to find a place in the modern world. No matter how many drinks or drugs they try, their very square shapes do not resolve to the round holes that the world has waiting for them. It is this tension that makes them characters of interest. It is the unstinting lens that Tartt gives the reader to view them that has added “The Goldfinch” to the list of books I plan to re-read. And re-read some more.

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