A reply and an uncertain smile.

So, I’m still considering replying with what I had spent so much time on.   Here it is:

”The disillusionment on the Internet is becoming increasingly repetitive – the country’s backbone is waking up.  Will they listen?  Or do we have to embrace the radicals she mentions?”

I’m not entirely sure who “they” is supposed to represent, though I see the overall gist of it clearly enough.

That’s an interesting letter, [name removed].  I got this from a family member as well, and for some reason it was rather thought provoking to me, though not in the way you both had probably hoped.  I do so hate to disagree with people I so obviously admire, but then if it were an impossible to do so, perhaps I wouldn’t even be able to speak to my own father, who to me is completely wrongheaded, smart and loveable, but in the end a bit of a dittohead from Goodoleboyville.   To him I am probably a bit of a godless Communist, despite being neither an atheist nor a Communist (though I admit to being too secular and too liberal for his standards).  But then, we can work on cars together, we both love action movies and sci-fi novels for the same reasons, and we can even talk about our political differences without throwing punches.  So what if he reads Robert Heinlein and I prefer Stephen Baxter.  But anyway, I read the anonymous preface to this little letter taking the email world by storm, which was highlighted above the letter itself, and can only say: kids in the Bible Belt say the darndest things! Yeah, I’m not really from around here and it shows, sometimes.

One small but potent argument to this letter is obvious: Where was this lady when Medicare Part D was passed? Where were the people shouting “Get your ***damned government hands off my Medicare!” when Bush was talking up converting everything over into Health Savings Accounts?  Where was she or others of her ilk when we funded two wars (one of which – Iraq – was planned for as a contingency several years in advance, and so really should have had a better plan both for funding and for realistic expectation of outcome) both of which were set into motion with a ChinaBank credit card and by the end of which had very nearly doubled the national debt, before Barry Obama had even set foot in the door? But she presumes to lecture the AARP, the single biggest populist lobby in Washington, about fiscal responsibility (which, interestingly enough, was initially founded only to be useful as an extended advertisement for the nascent health insurance industry of the 1950’s).   Bold move, lady friend, though a little presumptuous.  I would take these Beck/Palin/Tea Party activists a LOT more seriously if I felt like they had any philosophical consistency.

No, I do not lean as far to the right as most of my Southern friends, to their eternal consternation and my eternal mischievous delight, but I know all I have to do is look at one chart to see that, really, there is no need to lean in either direction when it comes to noting the decrease in our financial security:


Everyone gets blame here.  No-one is spared, least of all the average American, who cares little about politics and much about American Idol.  I won’t go into that here, though it merits an awful lot of braintime on its own.  But when it comes to our current economic dilemma, to my mind the biggest cause of it rests not with risky homebuyers or risky lending policy, but in the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era safety valve separating the financial world from the banking world, which was enthusiastically rolled back through legislation by a Republican congressional majority and happily executed by a Democratic president ten years ago.  The now infamous collateralized debt obligations begun by Citibank and other institutions are directly descended from its repeal, and if you follow any major economist writing today (including Alan Greenspan, who presided over their creation) none of them are very sure that the drama they created is really fully contained.   It only took ten years to bring the pain, after more than 60 years of success with its use.  One might rightfully ask these people if they can ever be rich enough for their own satisfaction, as sector lobbyists are fighting tooth and nail to prevent Glass-Steagall from getting re-enacted.  I recognize the right for these movers and shakers to make their money: I know if I had that sort of all-consuming ambition (and I thank God that I do not), it would be important to me too.  But at this point it would take Jesus himself coming down from heaven to say “No, really man, CDOs are okay.  The key is good management!” before I ever trusted those guys again.  (And I’d probably ask his reasoning before I let it drop.)

In reference to the vague mention of socialism in the letter, one is always free to agree or disagree with the tenets of socialism as a societal engine, and there is a valid argument to make about the limits of effectiveness that any social safety net can provide for people on the skids, but this lady has said nothing to lead me to believe that she even knows what the word means.  There is simply no “there” there, as they say.  Socialism is not an on/off switch, it is simply a question of degree. Road-building is socialism. Nation-building certainly is, and both parties have been doing plenty of that since WWII. From firefighting to Medicare to corporate farm and energy subsidies: isn’t it really just any policy which allocates tax dollars to the application of works for the “public good”?  A pretty general idea that doesn’t automatically put one in mind of Chairman Mao.

Anyway. I’m a fiscal policy small-c conservative, a social policy liberal, a foreign policy minimalist.  In the early 80’s, I could have happily been a Republican or a Democrat. Now I can be neither, and how messed up is that?  The lady in this letter is right in that there is certainly a constituency in this country that has grievances enough to complain about, but it’s not the Right: it’s the centrists.  Because the center is no longer considered a tenable stance. Moderation is now thought of simply as equivocation.  Compromise is weakness.  If that trend-line continues, the smarmy hints that this lady made to armed revolution are going to come back and bite her on the butt.  Look, let’s say that she is right, her secret dreams come true and The Great Reclamation of Apple-Pie America From The Undercover Muslim And Yet Somehow Also Black Liberation Theologian Barack Obama happens in 2011.  She is going to find out that her side isn’t so big after all, because I believe the great majority of people who think about these things at all agree that both the far left and the far right are equally obsessed with being correct, in a world where “correct thought” is constantly pimp-slapped to submission by harsh reality.  No, this next civil war, if it were to happen, won’t have two sides, it will have three and the third (and by far biggest) side will win simply by attrition, assuming the Chinese don’t just decide to call us out on our long-term debt, ruin our currency exchange rate and destroy us through the wonders of economic consequence, along with the rest of the Western nations we love to criticize.  But going to all this trouble for some stupid ideology is obscene in my view, because ideologies are not and never were meant to be taken as “right” or “wrong”, because ideology is not a teleological basis for any sort of accurate model of reality: it’s just people trying to drive a square peg (our worldview) into a round hole (our puny understanding of the world around us), and is only helpful for the purposes of debate.  Any anthropologist worth their weight in pottery shards can tell you that human beings on the whole are just not very good at making organizations of more than a few hundred people work in any meaningful and lasting way: disease vectors increase by several orders of magnitude as population increases; economics becomes completely opaque and mysterious (as we’ve seen, the Wall Street Masters of the Universe who were supposed to be keeping our economy going really had no useful knowledge for the prevention of the latest disaster, even though some of their own regulatory guys saw it coming since early 2007); finally, you’ve got the fact that the human brain (for all of its great potential), is really only capable of making a few dozen friends at a time on an emotional level. You only have to look at the dozens and dozens of factions of Baptists that exist in the South to see that: if anything I’m saying is true, certainly it seems to be true that humans are happiest when at odds with each other, no matter how trivial the argument.  If the Baptists can’t even hold an effective quorum on whether or not dancing or secular music is an allowable form of self-expression, why does anyone think that placing faith in one political ideology versus another is going to lead to anything but tears?

That’s why, to my mind at least, the best thing a “patriot” can do is to try and participate less in this fun but ultimately mindless bickering between the two parties and try his best to get rid of the two-party system altogether.  There is no constitutional precedent which mandates a two party system, it’s just grown up out of nothing, from tradition perhaps, or in the interests of the consolidation of power.  In Thomas Jefferson’s time there were dozens of parties on the fringe and five or six at any one time in Congress.  If we could get back to that, it would do more to make our leaders honest than K-Street reform and campaign finance reform put together, because then the moderates would have more control by far than the purists.  Making things happen more slowly through checks and balances in Washington is always a good thing, whether you are an advocate for the fair tax or socialized medicine or the next war against [insert tribe here].

I’m not going to go far into the anti-immigration argument.  It’s touchy.  Myself, I’m only three generations removed from the unskilled Polish immigrants who came here (legally, though immigration law was not so straightforward back then) to work because of the encroaching Nazi threat.  My ancestors happened to be whiter than some, which perhaps made it easier for them to assimilate our hodge-podge of a culture which was itself cobbled together from previous immigrant settlers, but more importantly, they came at a time when the doors to America were thrown wide open because as it was in the midst of the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, America was actively fighting against under-population for a long time.  Things are different now in many ways, and I’m not arguing against that reality. I AM saying that some “compassionate conservatism” would be in order here at the very least: no one is coming over here from over there with the intention of wrecking the country. Sure, you might have your occasional bum or terrorist (or the ever-elusive terrorist bum), but I dare you to try and find a way to keep those guys out that actually works.  It just cannot be done, the country is too big and border is naturally too porous. No, by and large, the illegals are just coming for the same reasons my own family did: because the hand they’ve been dealt currently stinks, and because they heard this place might increase the odds.



2 Responses to “A reply and an uncertain smile.”

  1. 1 kathequa January 25, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Nice response my friend, but it has been my experience that even with the most educated, thought out, non-pushy response to someone who agrees with the sentiments of the aforementioned letter, you will always be a leftist, Commie, Marxist liberal. Facts simply don’t matter. It is like beating your head against a wall. I don’t recall the Congressman that responded in this way, but when presented with facts on abstinence only education, he said, “Values trump data.” How can you argue with that?

  2. 2 bootsinowski January 25, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Of course, you’re right. I did not actually send the reply. The person I would have sent it to is normally a very reasonable guy, but the healthcare reform bill is stressing him, because apparently it is not very supportive of small healthcare business (he runs a local respiratory services company), and anyway, while he used to rather sensible, now he has become hyper-partisan.

    Oh well, what can you do. At least somebody had a good week.

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January 2010
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Currently Reading:

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame - Charles Bukowski

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Mr. Bungle - California

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