Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Today we head to Lookout Mountain, Tennessee for a rendezvous with Starr. After a stroll along the revived Chattanooga riverfront, perhaps a hike along Point Park, we'll have dinner on the Mountain.
Tomorrow we drive to Fall Creek Falls where we shall meet up with the Gossett family with whom we'll have thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.
Fall Creek Falls
Autumn (by Jack)
Our two nieces will accompany us to Nashville for the weekend and we'll all gather at the Grand Ole Opry and other Nashville favorites. Starr will join us there Saturday.
Sisters: Kimmie and Lita
Fall Creek Falls
Monday, November 24, 2008
Marriage on the Rocks
Dianne Feinstein is not sure she’ll ever be able to watch the movie “Milk,” even though she’s in it.
There is 1978 footage of a stricken Feinstein in the opening minutes of the new Gus Van Sant biopic of Harvey Milk, her colleague on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay elected official in American history. (Sean Penn soars as Milk.)
“I was the one who found his body,” the California senator told me Friday, on route from the airport to her home in San Francisco. “To get a pulse, I put my finger in a bullet hole. It was a terrible, terrible time in the city’s history.”
The movie, chronicling the rancorous California fight of gay activists against church-backed forces in the ’70s to prevent discrimination against gays, is opening amid a rancorous California fight of gay activists against church-backed forces to prevent discrimination against gays.
Milk was gunned down by Dan White, who had served on the board with Milk and Feinstein. White, an Irish Catholic former policeman and Vietnam vet, opposed Milk’s equal rights initiatives for gays. He resigned and immediately wanted his seat back, a move Milk helped persuade the mayor, George Moscone, to reject. White climbed through a City Hall basement window with a loaded gun and shot down Moscone and then Milk. (In the infamous “Twinkie defense,” White argued that junk food had left him stressed out.)
I asked Senator Feinstein, who became mayor after the tragedy, if she would see the movie.
“It’s very painful for me,” she replied. “It took me seven years before I could sit in George Moscone’s chair. It took me a long time to talk about it. I was only recently able to talk about it.”
This month, gays who supported Barack Obama had the bittersweet experience of seeing some of the black and Latino voters who surged to the polls to vote Democratic also vote for Proposition 8, which turned gay “I dos” into “You can’ts.” About 20,000 gay couples had exchanged vows before Prop 8 passed, backed by a coalition that included Mormon and Catholic opponents.
Now that donor information can be found on the Internet, gay activists have called for boycotts of anyone who contributed to the law’s passing, from businesses small (El Coyote restaurant in L.A., where Sharon Tate had her last meal and Fabio and George Clooney nearly came to blows) to large (Utah ski resorts and Park City, Utah, theaters where Sundance movies are shown).
Feinstein felt sure that gays who have been married in the state since June are still married. “You can’t redact it,” she said. “You can’t blot it out. It’s so intrinsic to the Constitution that you cannot remove it by a vote of the people.”
Jerry Brown, the California attorney general who is also featured in the archival reels in “Milk” from his days as governor, agreed: “I believe those are valid,” he told me, saying that he will argue in the appeal before the State Supreme Court that there cannot be “a retroactive invalidation of these marital contracts.”
Brown harked back to the defeat of the Milk-era Prop 6, which sought to root out gay teachers from California public schools. (“If it were true that children mimic their teachers, we’d have a hell of a lot more nuns running around,” Milk says in the movie.)
“Any time you take an issue that has such deep feelings connected to it and you frame it in terms of a political initiative,” Brown said, “you drain out some of the anger and convert it to an issue that people can approach in a more reasonable, open-minded way.”
Feinstein agreed: “I think as more and more people have gay friends, gay associations, see gay heroism, that their views change.”
The gays were outfoxed by their opponents. In both Prop 6 in 1978 and this year’s Prop 8, the specter of children being converted to a gay orientation was raised. Feinstein said the TV ad of Prop 8 supporters insinuating that “gay marriage would be taught in school really hurt.” (“I can marry a princess,” a pigtailed girl told her mom in the ad.)
“I think people are beginning to look at it differently, I know it’s happened for me,” Feinstein said of gay marriage. “I started out not supporting it. The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve seen the happiness of people, the stability that these commitments bring to a life. Many adopted children who would have ended up in foster care now have good solid homes and are brought up learning the difference between right and wrong. It’s a very positive thing.”
I e-mailed Larry Kramer, the leading activist for gay rights in the era that followed Milk’s, to get his read on Prop 8. (In 1983, I interviewed Kramer about the new scourge of AIDS, and he read me a list from a green notebook of 37 friends who had died. )
“DON’T WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE RIGHTS?” he e-mailed back, blessedly cantankerous. “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU THAT YOU HAD TO ASK ME THAT QUESTION.”
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The Undying Animal
A critic reminds us why literature still matters
By Morris Dickstein
Caught up in the rush of our ongoing lives, we rarely get the chance to step back and reflect on why we do what we do or, more important, why we love what we do. Working with literature as scholars, editors, and critics can become as habitual as any other form of work. Our criticism grows procedural or theoretical, betraying the spirit of the writers we admire. Slipping out of routine into reflection is part of the discipline of literature itself, which pares away the casual and the incidental, the merely lifelike. Instead it concentrates impressions, ideas, and feelings into language that yields meaning. The poem is the poet’s way of suspending time and attending to the minute vibrations of the inner and outer world. The demands it makes on us as readers are personal, not professional, or personal before they are professional. At a time when literary study is on the defensive, even in universities that once nurtured it, we need to raise the question why literature matters, hoping this will illuminate why the collective work of an organization of writers and scholars matters as well.
One of our goals is to keep our eye on literature itself, without getting bogged down in questions of theory or methodology, politics or social history, that have often pushed literary concerns aside. My initial idea was to look at literature briefly through the prism of a single poet, Wordsworth, whose work has often moved me deeply, and to explore how one poem, the celebrated “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” can crystallize the qualities that give purpose and power to a literary work. If we think of literature as a way of taking stock, a constructed moment of self-recognition that also resonates with the reader, few poets do this with more emotional clarity than Wordsworth. In “Tintern Abbey,” “Resolution and Independence,” and the Intimations Ode, and ultimately in The Prelude, Wordsworth steps back from the flow of present time to contemplate the young man he was, the person he has become, and the man he is yet to be, measuring the losses and gains built into living a human life. Confronting inexorable change, the poet also feels intimations of death, most explicitly in “Tintern Abbey,” written when he was only 28. In a long conclusion, he turns to his beloved sister to imagine his own absence and her feelings about him after he is gone. Other poets, beginning with Keats, made sport of Wordsworth’s ego, but few denied how much his self-absorption had illuminated the dark passages in which we live our lives.
My Wordsworth project went awry when a larger figure intervened. If Wordsworth explored the ages of man, Shakespeare seems to have invented or at least named them. If Wordsworth made sense of life as a pattern of loss and recompense, a bumpy road from bright beginnings to ultimate extinction, Shakespeare put this at the heart of his tragedies. When I saw Trevor Nunn’s production of King Lear with Ian McKellen last year, I knew I had to change course. It was a hot ticket, largely because of McKellen’s fame as a movie star, but also because the play is not performed as often as the other major tragedies. It requires a great actor, but such actors frequently put it off until late in their careers, when they may no longer be equal to the physical demands of the role. The play is so shockingly stark that for a century and a half it was seen only in a version bowdlerized by Nahum Tate, complete with a happy ending. Even Dr. Johnson, always sensitive about death, preferred it that way. Preparing his edition of Shakespeare, he found himself extremely reluctant to edit the play, even to reread it. Keats wrote a great sonnet steeling himself, but also consecrating himself, to reread it. In the 19th century, when Shakespeare’s text was restored, it was seldom put on, thanks to the notion popularized by Charles Lamb, that it was too profound for the stage. I myself had not read or seen it for a long time, which heightened the shock of seeing it afresh. Yet it seemed I knew much of the play by heart, reciting lines under my breath just before they were spoken, which added to the dreadful sense of inevitability.
In place of the many elements of literature I planned to discuss here, this performance of Lear brought an unfashionable one to the fore: wisdom. Wordsworth had written of “the years that bring the philosophic mind,” by which he meant not philosophy but stoicism, a hard-won knowledge wrenched from experience, a yielding to the ineluctable. Those old men so important to Wordsworth — Michael, Matthew, the Leech-Gatherer — are not so different from the abused protagonists of Lear, though their station is more humble. Their dwindling lives have become the sum of their losses, though the shaft of self-knowledge comes not to them but to younger men who encounter them, who try to plumb the secret of their lives, their strange endurance. Unlike Lear, they do not rage against the storm. Their condition comes through in what they don’t say or do: the silent suffering of Michael, becalmed by grief when the child of his old age is gone from him; the numb rehearsal of routine by the Leech-Gatherer, when the poet beseeches him, “How is it that you live, and what is it you do?”; the glimmer of disappointment in the blithe Matthew, “the man of mirth,” who, in a rare moment, blurts out how bereft he feels, and how unloved.
Literature spurs such acts of recognition, but it can hardly be a source of timeless values. Like human nature, it changes from writer to writer, from one culture, one generation, one century to another. Literary works impart experiences, not doctrines. They are more likely to undermine certainties than to uphold them. Works like King Lear are rich with internal debate, spinning off contradictory ideas in situations fraught with feeling. The blind Gloucester, at his low ebb, concludes that “as flies to wanton boys are we to th’ Gods; / They kill us for their sport” (IV, i). But his abused son, Edgar, who has every reason to know this, will say just the opposite to his bastard brother, who viciously betrayed them: “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make instruments to plague us; / The dark and vicious place where thee he got / Cost him his eyes” (V, iii). The gentle and dignified Gloucester sounds like a Russian nihilist, the frantic Edgar like one of Job’s orthodox comforters. Shakespeare endorses neither view but allows us to entertain each in turn, not as abstractions but as something the characters — and, by extension, the audience — have proved on their pulses, to borrow Keats’s phrase. The wisdom of literature is therefore something special, not moral or metaphysical generalities, but piercing insight into relations between men and women, parents and children, figures of authority and their retainers, mortal beings and their universe. Though Lear may be one of the darkest plays ever written, it features characters of astonishing, almost irrational, fidelity — Edgar, Kent, Cordelia — who repay brutal rejection with unwavering loyalty.
My Shakespeare professor at Columbia, Andrew Chiappe ’33CC, made light of the Romantic idea that King Lear was too large for the stage; he insisted that it was utterly theatrical. Yet the performance I saw in September 2007 was dramatic in a special way. It was played in two long acts, as if the first — made up of all the folly and betrayal that deprived Lear and Gloucester of their place, and drove them out onto the heath — were simply the ritualized premise of the action, while what followed, essentially Shakespeare’s last two acts, was the horrific and overpowering consequence. The first half ended with something not in the play, the hanging of Lear’s Fool, as prologue to the universe of death that envelops us in the finale. Shakespeare’s genius was to take a domestic and dynastic quarrel, barely plausible, stripped of ordinary dramatic motivation, and transform it into a disruption of the whole moral order: the exigencies of nature, the betrayal of kinship, the confusions of old age, the inhuman cruelty, the ravages of vanity and sexual appetite, the caprice of the gods. This wide purview, affronting the ultimate, is what leads us to compare Lear to the book of Job and The Divine Comedy rather than to other Elizabethan or Jacobean plays. Yet it is only a more extreme example of what literature always does: to confer order and meaning on a chaos of memories, observations, and feelings, forcing us to “burn through” them, as Keats put it in his sonnet “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again,” like an ordeal of fire.
We will never know what drew Shakespeare into this dark pit, nor do we need to know. It is enough to discover what he found there. The play itself proposes questions rather than answers:
LEAR: Is man no more than this? . . . a poor, bare, forked animal” (III, iv)
LEAR: Is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts? (III, vi)
And finally, when Lear enters with Cordelia “dead in his arms”:
KENT: Is this the promis’d end?
EDGAR: Or image of that horror?
ALBANY: Fall and cease. (V, iii)
The play will answer none of these questions. But I was touched to the quick when Lear, whose madness witnessed not only his suffering but his want of self-knowledge, grows lucid:
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester;
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither:
Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry.
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. (IV, vi)
Later this is picked up by Edgar in a different key:
Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
Ripeness is all. (V, ii)
Taking this forward into our own century, how can we fail to hear the same note in the telescoping of birth and death in Waiting for Godot:
POZZO: They give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.
VLADIMIR: Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on his forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener.
Beckett has his own music, yet we hear reverberations of Lear in Molloy, Krapp’s Last Tape, and especially in the comic repartee of Endgame, which echoes the strain of black humor in King Lear, as when the mad Lear meets the blind Gloucester on the heath, and asks, “Dost thou squiny at me?” Lear then goes on to pun on his sightless condition. In Endgame this terminal byplay on physical debility turns vaudevillian, at times even lyrical. Both works sound an apocalyptic note: The “promis’d end” of Lear becomes Beckett’s more facetious “endgame” suspended between pathos and levity. Beckett seems to have learned from Shakespeare that the graver the vision, the more varied the ways of rendering it real. As Nell says, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”
In King Lear there is no stranger scene than the one in which Edgar, who is mock-mad, though he has reason to be mad, and mock-naked, as if parodying Lear’s actual nakedness, leads his blind father, determined on suicide, to the edge of what he describes, in vivid detail, as a precipice overlooking Dover. By his own lights, he means to purge the old man’s death wish — and perhaps his own unconscious need for revenge — in enabling him to act it out. “Hark, do you hear the sea?” he says, as he evokes the dizzying view from the heights of the cliff, all completely imagined. The passage haunted and inspired Keats; in a play so preoccupied with death, but also with blindness and misperception, especially between parents and children, it reflected Shakespeare’s contrapuntal gift for echoing his own theme and rehearsing it in a minor key.
What does all this prove? Works that channel the vision of King Lear, including some poems of Wordsworth and Keats, plays of Beckett, even the late novels of Philip Roth, especially Sabbath’s Theater, confront our complacency with their dark knowledge. They express the blight or rage of the dying animal. They remind us that the journey toward self-understanding can be rough, that the world is a perpetual insult to our self-importance, that the examined life can only be lived under the sign of death. We cannot even know when we have hit bottom. As Edgar says, “The worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst’” (IV, i). Less extreme works give us lesser helpings of the same chastening wisdom. We readers and critics do what we do because we love it, but also because it disquiets us, throws us off balance, unsettles our easy assumptions. No two readings of a genuinely significant book, no performances of a living play, are ever quite the same. When they work their spell, they enfold us in an action that is radically provisional, not easily paraphrased, open to interpretation — and therefore to the unexpected. Since literature resists closure, our work — which is not exactly work — remains open-ended, with no real endgame. Always provisional, never definitive, this wisdom is our special form of knowing.
Morris Dickstein ’61CC is Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and the author of Gates of Eden, Leopards in the Temple, and A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World. His new book, Dancing in the Dark, a cultural history of America in the 1930s, will be published next year.
This article is adapted from the presidential address given at the annual conference of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics in October 2007.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
- The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach. We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!
- Oglethorpe University Commencement Address (22 May 1932)
Monday, November 17, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
or click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8WTH0zBjYQ
Wonder who the singer is?
By Hisham Matar
The Tunisian vocalist Dhafer Youssef is one of the leaders of an renaissance in Arabic music. A new generation of artists is engaging with both classical tradition and international audiences...
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
President-Elect Barack Obama: Opening a New Era and Ending the Age of Reagan, Obama Must Now Act, Cornel West Writes
By Cornel West
This historic significance of the majestic victory of Barack Obama is threefold.
First, Obama's brilliance, charisma, and organizational genius have ushered in a new era in American history and a new epoch in American politics. For the first time in the history of American civilization, a black man will occupy the White House and lead the nation. The shattering of this glass ceiling has a symbolic gravity difficult to measure—here and around the world. On one Election Day and one January morning, the self-image of America undergoes a grand transformation. In the eyes and hearts of young people of all colors, the sky is now the limit. And for millions of adult citizens and fellow human beings across the globe, some sense of sanity, dignity, and integrity have returned to the Oval Office. We now have an American president-elect of vision, courage, and maturity who also is black. Race matters in the story we tell about this special moment in history.
Second, Obama's glorious victory brings to a close the age of Reagan, the era of conservatism, and the epoch of the southern strategy. The economics of greed, the culture of indifference to the poor, and the politics of fear have run their course. The war in Iraq, Katrina, and the Wall Street collapse were the three nails in the coffin of the age of Reagan. For nearly 30 years, the elevating of deregulated markets, the glorifying of the lives of the rich and famous, and the trivializing of poor peoples' suffering have shaped the climate of opinion. And like the American Hamlet Blanche DuBois, in the white literary bluesman Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, the world of make-believe in which we lived was shattered by reality, history, and mortality. Truth and justice crushed to earth do, at some point, rise again. The positive role of government in the lives of citizens now has a new claim on our visions for the future. Democracy matters in the public sentiments we shape to forge new policies in the age of Obama.
Third, Obama's grand ascension to the White House will challenge him to translate symbol into substance. He is now an American hero whose name will forever be sketched in the pantheon of American achievement—a global memory. Yet at the moment, Obama is a concrete symbol whose substantial use of power as president is highly anticipated. What kind of team will he assemble? Which advisers on domestic and foreign policies will he choose? Which issues will have a priority? Will he become a great statesman like Abraham Lincoln, a masterful politician like Bill Clinton, or a pragmatic experimentalist like FDR? The crucial answers to these questions depend not only on President Barack Obama's decisions but also on who we are and what we do. As he rightly noted in his monumental campaign, change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. Our hopes are on a tightrope, and America hangs in the balance—and we either hang together, or we hang separately.
Cornel West teaches at Princeton University and is the author of the new book Hope on a Tightrope.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
As George Tooker gets a Retro in New York:
Take a look at this Tookeresque photo from AP:
AP – Members of the Secret Service accompany President-elect Obama, center, to his vehicle as leaves the gym …
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Before me, dancing and shimmering, is change.
Tree limbs are swaying as a breeze scatters
Blue sky into white shards. Every single leaf
I see is changing, thousands of leaves,
Oak, Maple, Magnolia, Bartlett Pear,
Filling the sun speckled garden before me
Red, yellow, gold, orange, green, brown.
Each color is intense, as if
To emphasize the deepening color,
The darker, richer hue of the skin
Of our new leader, our new Commander--
The Decider who is deciding to
Offer a new garden soil
For the fallen acorns thumping
The rooftop like never before.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Barack Obama’s America: richer, smarter, less white... Daniel Finkelstein ... Louis Henry Gates Jr. ... Sara Hebel ... John McWhorter ... Laurence Tribe ... Elizabeth Wurtzel ... Frank Furedi ... Anne Applebaum ... Robert Fulford ... Richard Cohen ... Joel Kotkin ... Gerard Baker ... Brendan O’Neill ... Roger Cohen ... Michael Gerson ... Ward Connerly et al. ... John Dickerson ... Irwin Stelzer ... Maureen Dowd ... Shelby Steele ... Alan Wolfe ... David Brooks
My favorite today is the ever perceptive Paul Krugman who conjures up, as we all have, FDR:
The Obama Agenda
Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you.
But will the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.
Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.
Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.
About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.
Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won.
Maybe the best way to highlight the importance of that fact is to contrast this year’s campaign with what happened four years ago. In 2004, President Bush concealed his real agenda. He basically ran as the nation’s defender against gay married terrorists, leaving even his supporters nonplussed when he announced, soon after the election was over, that his first priority was Social Security privatization. That wasn’t what people thought they had been voting for, and the privatization campaign quickly devolved from juggernaut to farce.
This year, however, Mr. Obama ran on a platform of guaranteed health care and tax breaks for the middle class, paid for with higher taxes on the affluent. John McCain denounced his opponent as a socialist and a “redistributor,” but America voted for him anyway. That’s a real mandate.
What about the argument that the economic crisis will make a progressive agenda unaffordable?
Well, there’s no question that fighting the crisis will cost a lot of money. Rescuing the financial system will probably require large outlays beyond the funds already disbursed. And on top of that, we badly need a program of increased government spending to support output and employment. Could next year’s federal budget deficit reach $1 trillion? Yes.
But standard textbook economics says that it’s O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn’t stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn’t take effect until 2011.
Beyond that, the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda.
Now, the Obama administration shouldn’t emulate the Bush administration’s habit of turning anything and everything into an argument for its preferred policies. (Recession? The economy needs help — let’s cut taxes on rich people! Recovery? Tax cuts for rich people work — let’s do some more!)
But it would be fair for the new administration to point out how conservative ideology, the belief that greed is always good, helped create this crisis. What F.D.R. said in his second inaugural address — “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics” — has never rung truer.
And right now happens to be one of those times when the converse is also true, and good morals are good economics. Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it’s also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.
So a serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs.The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.
Speaking of FDR, Dar and I visited the Little White House in Warm Springs on the eve of the election: It was an enchanted place filled with FDR's spirit.
Roosevelt's Little White House Historic Site
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic
His victory really may mark the beginning of a new era in American history.
By Michael Lind
Nov. 7, 2008 | WASHINGTON -- The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic of the United States.
In the past generation Bruce Ackerman, Theodore Lowi and I, in different ways, have used the idea of "republics" to understand American history. Since the French Revolution, France has been governed by five republics (plus two empires, a directory and a fascist dictatorship). Since the American Revolution, we Americans have been governed by several republics as well. But because we, like the British, pay lip service to formal continuity more than do the French, we pretend that we have been living under the same government since the federal Constitution was drafted and ratified in 1787-88. Our successive American republics from the 18th century to the 21st have been informal and unofficial.
As I see it, to date there have been three American republics, each lasting 72 years (give or take a few years). The First Republic of the United States, assembled following the American Revolution, lasted from 1788 to 1860. The Second Republic, assembled following the Civil War and Reconstruction (that is, the Second American Revolution) lasted from 1860 to 1932. And the Third American Republic, assembled during the New Deal and the civil rights eras (the Third American Revolution), lasted from 1932 until 2004.
Yes, you read that correctly -- 2004, not 2008. A case can be made that the new era actually began four years ago. True, Bush, a relic of the waning years of the previous era, was reelected. But immediately after his reelection, the American people repudiated his foreign policy and his domestic policy, including Social Security privatization. In 2006 the Democrats swept the Republicans out of Congress, and in 2008 they have recaptured the White House.
To be sure, every shift in partisan control of government does not amount to the founding of a new republic. Obama did not win a landslide or have long coattails. His coalition is a slightly larger version of the Democratic Party that was forged in the partisan realignment of 1968-72. And the public is still divided among liberals, moderates and conservatives much as it has been for a decade or two. But my scenario does not depend on Obama's election or even on Democratic control of Congress. The Fourth Republic might have gotten off to a start -- a bad
Policy shifts, more than public opinion polls or election results, suggest that a truly transformative moment may be upon us. The first three American republics display a remarkably similar pattern. Their 72-year life span is divided into two 36-year periods (again, give or take a year -- this is not astrology). During the first 36-year period of a republic, ambitious nation-builders in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton strengthen the powers of the federal government and promote economic modernization. During the second 36-year phase of a republic, there is a Jeffersonian backlash, in favor of small government, small business and an older way of life. During the backlash era, Jeffersonians manage to modify, but never undo, the structure created by the Hamiltonians in the previous era.
We see this pattern of Hamiltonian nation-building and Jeffersonian backlash in the First, Second and Third Republics of the United States. Between 1788 and 1824, the ideas of the centralizing, nation-building Federalist Party of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton succeeded. Although Jefferson and his small-government allies controlled the White House and Congress for much of this period, in practice they implemented a streamlined, cheaper version of the Federalist plan for America. Jefferson's Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, for example, supported a program of infrastructure and industrialization not all that different from Alexander Hamilton's. And Jefferson himself, contradicting his small-government philosophy, exercised sweeping powers as president, purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France on his own initiative and promoting a federal embargo on U.S. exports to Britain and France. The first Jeffersonian backlash came later, under Andrew Jackson and his allies between 1824 and 1860.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 triggered the secession of the South, the Civil War and Reconstruction -- the Second American Revolution and the founding of the Second Republic of the United States. During and after the Civil War, Lincoln's Republican Party remade the United States. In addition to crushing the South and freeing the slaves, the Republicans nationalized the banking system, promoted U.S. industry through high tariffs, carpeted the continent with federally subsidized railroads and used the sale of federal lands to pay for state colleges. From 1896, the Jeffersonian backlash against the system created by the Lincoln Republicans was led by Southern and Western agrarian populists and middle-class Progressives in the Northeast who, for different reasons, were alienated from the new order. While they achieved some reforms, the Jeffersonians failed to modify the essential features of the Lincoln-to-Hoover Second Republic.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The not-so-strange birth of liberal America
The US is no longer a conservative nation. The Democrats have won a powerful mandate to move the country leftwards
Not all the vote is in as of 2PM EST, but it looks like Prop 8, the Mormon- backed California Amendment denying gays the right to marry is going to pass-- this time. This will not eliminate the rights of gays to have domestic partnership rights that for all but name give gays equal rights. But it is a psychological defeat and now makes gays second class citizens in CA.
But there is a silver lining:
64% of voters aged 18-24 voted against this homophobic, bigoted act.
59% of voters 25-29 voted against it. It was the old and black women who voted overwhelmingly for it.
The future looks bright. And black women may one day see the evil and the danger of the "Down Low." and change their vote.
Let's hope so, anyway..
PS What a shame this film hasn't been showing the last month or so-- It might have made a difference:
Another note of victory:
New York state senate: Democrats pick up two seats to take control of the chamber, which opens the door for the state to potentially pass a gay marriage bill (New York's assembly has already passed a marriage legislation, Gov. David Paterson has indicated he would sign the bill into law)
Reflections on California's Proposition 8
The United States took away rights yesterday.
It's a stunning thing to acknowledge. On the same day we culminated a civil rights struggle that spans our nation's entire history by electing the first African-American president of the United States, California voters revoked the right of some citizens of their state to marry the people they love, and nullified the bonds of some who already had.
California's Proposition 8 amends the California state constitution to eliminate the right to marry awarded to homosexuals by the California courts in May 2008. Further, it states that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized by the state, thus shredding the marriages that have occurred since the court decision. It passed yesterday by a vote of 52-48.
If you look at the front page of any newspaper today, you'll find heart-warming plaudits for the country about racial healing and America's progress since the civil rights movement. Count me out. Barack Obama won because the Bush Administration hung a 30-pound anchor around the neck of every Republican in the country, because the economy cratered just before the election and his opponent showed no capacity to understand the problem, and because he ran the best campaign in recent memory. You cannot divorce his victory from those facts. Yes, his ascendance to the White House is a wonderful thing for everyone in this country — black, white, or otherwise — who have struggled for rights, and it a wonderful thing for children of all colors, who now know without a doubt that there are no limits on their potential. But Obama's victory is muddied by too many other factors, some small but some quite large, to be taken as a clear sign that we have made substantial progress on the question of tolerance.
You see, Proposition 8 was a test of our tolerance, unmuddied. It was a straightforward question to a state that likes to think of itself as the most progressive in the Union — do you want to take away civil rights already granted to a minority group? The issues of unemployment, the stock market, gas prices, healthcare — all of which added nuance to the presidential election — were stripped away. It was a question of California's tolerance in a vacuum. And California failed.
The reason why this pains me to such an extent is because I'm from California. The decision violates, violently, the image of my state that I have held with such pride my entire life. California is a wonderful place for a lot of reasons, but foremost among them is the way in which it welcomes people and their lifestyles. The state cherishes its diversity — I've written before, in a defense of a humane immigration policy, that I grew up in Northern California schools that were routinely over half Asian-American. The rest of our community was white, Hispanic, and to a lesser extent, African-American. It was impossible to leave without some vague notion that our lives are brighter for the diversity of people we get to share them with, and that our understanding of the world is richer for all the reflections of it in our day-to-day experience. And, ultimately, one emerges with an even stronger commitment to a future of shared success when the struggles of African-Americans, immigrants, and the gay community are before one's eyes.
And so it is a shock to acknowledge that my vision of California is not shared by the majority of the state's residents. It is particularly ironic, considering how the measure succeeded. Minorities voted for it. Barack Obama's victory is a clear statement that respect is owed people of all races, who have the capacity to excel equally. It is a short step away from believing that respect is owed people of all sexual orientations, who have the capacity to love equally. And yet, African-Americans voted in favor of Proposition 8 by a huge margin, 70-30. Latinos supported it by a much smaller 53-47. Whites and Asians both voted against by a slim 49-51. These numbers dumbfound me.
The other strong predictor of how someone voted on Proposition 8 was age. Only the 18-29 age demographic voted against it. Young people rejected the idea of limiting the right to marry 61-39. Voters 30-64 voted in favor by about 10 points, and voters over 65 reversed the youngsters' vote, 39-61.
The fact that younger Americans support marriage equality by such vast numbers means that the writing is on the wall. Proposition 8 and what it represents will not stand the test of time. In the coming days it will likely face legal challenges, and a constitutional amendment reversing the decision is possible in the short term. But it is the long term that holds out the real promise of change. Martin Luther King Jr., in a quote that is more relevant today than ever, said the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. King's statement was never meant to apply exclusively to African-Americans. In applies to every group treated unequally in this country. It is simply the case that for some, the arc bends more slowly.
Proposition 8 is just one hurdle in a race that equality will eventually win. But that does not make its passage any easier to stomach. California now joins the ignominious list of states that have had the opportunity to expand civil rights and decided instead to take them away.