Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reason to Believe


I gave my lefty friends a ration earlier this week about their, shall we say, ardor toward the candidacy of Senator Obama. There's something fascinating about it and while it would be easier (and maybe funnier) to chalk it all up to something like a "man crush," I think there's something else going on this year over on the port side.


I think that a lot of Democrats want a reason to believe. Okay, cue the Tim Hardin:


If I listened long enough to you

Id find a way to believe that its all true

Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried

Still I look to find a reason to believe


Someone like you makes it hard to live without

Somebody else

Someone like you makes it easy to give

Never think about myself


If I gave you time to change my mind

Id find a way just to leave the past behind

Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried

Still I look to find a reason to believe


If I listened long enough to you

Id find a way to believe that its all true

Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried

Still I look to find a reason to believe


Someone like you makes it hard to live without

Somebody else

Someone like you makes it easy to give

Never think about myself


This old chestnut was most likely about some sort of failed romance - I can't claim to be a Tim Hardin scholar; perhaps the Anonymous Truck Driver might know more about it. But as I've been watching the election coverage in the past few weeks, I've been getting the sense that while the Democrats are energized, there's a lot of disillusioned people on the Left. And that made me think of this song. I get the same sense here - a lot of people are hanging on to a failed romance.


There are a couple interesting ideas in Hardin's song. First is the notion that if you listen long enough to something, you can trick yourself into believing it. That's a trick that politicians have understood since time immemorial. It's one reason why the Democrats are chanting the mantra of change in this election. The change that's on offer for 2008 is hardly anything new; as a practical matter, the Democrats have been running on the same platform since 1964. They have stood for the same thing - more governmental programs, more governmental oversight, more everything. This stance has not changed since Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the big chair. And all LBJ did is expand the vision that has guided the Democrats since 1932.


Hillary Clinton wanted to overhaul health care 16 years ago. She still does. Al Gore wanted to impose an onerous new regulatory regime for the environment 16 years ago. He still does. Ted Kennedy wanted to do both these things 40 years ago and might have been able to do them save for his inability to control his appetites and his Oldsmobile. I don't know what Barack Obama wanted to do 16 years ago but he's for the same things that the others in the Democratic Party have been supporting for the past 44 years.


We are, apparently, being asked to believe that turning over the keys to government to a party that hasn't changed its thinking in any essential way for 44 years is a good way to bring about change. We are asked to believe this even though the vast majority of the current Democratic agenda was put in place over 40 years ago and has not been altered in any real way since, despite the ministrations of five different Republican presidents since then. I often wonder if, somewhere deep down, a lot of people who support the Democrats understand all this. I have to think that at least some of them do. Still they look to find a reason to believe.


Coming next: Patty Hearst heard the burst

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mark,
this is apropos to nothing stated in your "Reason to Believe" post, but since I don't have my own blog, I will share it here. God bless James Fallows, who made the following observation in Vanity Fair this month: "(Hugh) Hewitt has his head so far up Mitt Romney's ass he can see the world through Mitt's clicking eyes, achieving complete parasitic identification with his host."

Laughed coffee through my nose.
I was particularly taken by the clicking eyes.
Rich

Anonymous said...

Correction! It was James Wolcott who made the Hewitt comment. Not James Fallows

Anonymous said...

Mark,
it looks like the folks in your party are starting wake up:

From the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Jan. 9-10, 2008. N=397 registered voters nationwide who are Republicans or lean Republican. MoE ± 5.

"Please tell me which of the following people you would be most likely to support for the Republican nomination for president:"

1/9-10/08
John McCain 34%
Mike Huckabee 21%
Rudy Giuliani 18%
Mitt Romney 14%
Fred Thompson 6%
Ron Paul 5%
Duncan Hunter 1%
Unsure 2%

Now I will comment on "Reason to Believe."

Mark, I believe that the ardor many Dems, myself included, are displaying toward the Obama candidacy is as much about our general dislike for HRC as it about any particular issue. But it isn't even really Clinton that we dislike, so much as what she represents. Which is the status quo and the tired politics of culture war that the Bush’s, Al Gore, John Kerry, Bob Dole and the Clintons have all done their damndest to promote over the last several Presidential election cycles. You are correct to point out that on the domestic front, Obama supports more of a change of tone but not really a change of policy. But that doesn’t mean that he is an old school liberal. (And if we wanted that, we would vote for Huckabee). Obama isn't suggesting there is anything fundamentally wrong with society, and he isn't suggesting we need grand policies to address those wrongs. That is now the MO of the alleged Conservatives in this country. Obama wants to end partisanship and create a new civil tone with partisans in politics and those in the larger society. He isn’t too concerned with who did or did not burn their draft cards in the 60’s. And while he certainly promises a new direction in foreign policy, honest conservatives should welcome the reversal of the huge and disastrous changes of Bush and Cheney.
I plan to vote for Barack Obama because he is a rational, centered personality who speaks the language of idealism and national unity. He represents the future, not the past. And, I like big government…just not too big.

Rich

Mark said...

Hey Rich,

You should get your own blog. You can set one of these things up on Blogger.com in about five minutes.

Having said that, I'm delighted that you are choosing to post here.

I don't disagree about Hugh Hewitt. It's become a running joke among a lot of starboard side bloggers; Hewitt can be entertaining, but he's completely in the bag for Romney. And like a gambler who's made a bad bet, he continues to double down on it. Romney isn't the worst candidate running by a long shot, but he doesn't exactly inspire any enthusiasm.

I'm not especially happy about partisanship, especially the toxic variant that has been part of our politics for most of our lifetimes. But it has to be said - at bottom, the reason for a lot of partisanship is because there have always been big ideas at stake. And as long as that is the case, you aren't going to see anyone back down too easily.

I'm going to write more about all this over the weekend, of course.

Best,
Mark

Mark said...

Oh, one other thing - the poll numbers have three big problems:

1) 397 people is way too small a sample.

2) It's of registered voters, not of likely voters. And it's certainly not of likely primary voters, which is a smaller subset yet.

3) On the port side, the poll shows that Mrs. Clinton has a big lead. And that sample size is only 443, which isn't representative, either.

About all you can say for sure is that it proves that both McCain and Mrs. Clinton have higher name recognition at this point, which is hardly surprising, because both have been major political figures for years.

Best,
Mark

A. Truck Driver said...

Tim Hardin wrote some incredible songs, was a great singer and a pretty good guitar player and is represented on my ipod by about 25 of the best American folk/rock singer/songwriter work of the sixties, but he was also a junkie who didn't really have a reason to believe and thought of nothing but himself, and would have stolen the last dollar from his lover, his mother and his dog for his next fix. Reason to Believe may have been an expression of outrage at a lover who abandoned him after he stole from her to ride the White Horse.

Rich pretty much conveyed how I feel about Obama, but as a lefty in the age of AM radio, saying "ditto" is not an option. In the Iowa afterglow, I was thinking of Obama more along the lines of REM's "It's the End of the World as we Know it, and I feel fine." I guess that sums up what appeals about Obama, although I suspect that Republicans/Right would mostly view it as "It's the End of the World." I would view Hillary as "I Won't Get Fooled Again." I would view Fred Thompson as "Knocking on Heaven's Door, Romney as "(Can You See) The Real Me," Bill Clinton as "Let My Love Open the Door," and Kucinich as "Mellow Yellow." I could go on all night.

I don't know what happened in New Hampshire, and I don't know if we are seeing more in Obama than is there, but I do know that when I hear him speak, I feel far more inspired about our country and where it could be than I do when I listen to, say, Mitt Romney talk about how his opponents are weak on tax cuts, on punishing illegal immigrants and on national defense if they question "The President" or on hearing Rudy suggest Democrats don't appreciate the lessons of 9/11 by questioning the decision to prosecute, and execution of, the war in Iraq. I do find the Republican obsession with tax cuts rather tiresome, and though I am not an economist, it is my impression that the supply side economics theories embraced since the 1980's derived from a cocktail napkin, and have not been decisively judged as establishing that the economy was in ruins from 1932 to 1968 because of Democratic economic policy.

A Democrat in the White House is not the beginning of the end of America, the advent of socialism and government control of society and the destruction of our economy, and the end of all private initiative. This is an argument the right the right throws out every time an election comes around in order to sway the people in small towns who aren't swayed by the argument that the Democrats are trying to kill Jesus (who I believe in, though not the same one referenced by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed. That must by the Jesus from The Big Lebowski, whose death would be welcome, even during League Play) or free criminals to kill again.

I don't hear the current crop of Democrats talking about a Great Society (we can't afford a Great Society anymore) or think that Democrats intend to impose a clampdown on our economy and drive all employers outside of our borders. Democrats might listen to some segments of the economy in addition to only CEO's. Obama has not been running as a left wing firebrand who advocates class war; that would be Edwards. The right has portrayed the Democratic Party as a Doomsday Scenario ever since Nixon won with it in 1968, and I would say that Republicans have pretty much controlled the agenda in this country for nearly 40 years, through either being in power through what I view as a coalition of greed, ideology and bigotry, or by waiting out and/or sniping at ineffectual (Carter) or self destructing (Clinton) Democrats who rose to power, and are now fostered by a TV network that, between sensationalistic low brow crap, spews forth the Republican Party line under the Orwellian slogan of "Fair and Balanced."

The Bush Administration is the final culmination of Nixon's Southern Strategy, which has led to a fair segment of the American public believing anything Republicans say, including the illusion that Democrats, at least 50 percent of the population, are elitist, degenerate, anti-American subversives with nothing to contribute to the public dialogue. We are tending now to a Republican Party that is far to the right of anything than Barry Goldwater and possibly Ronald Reagan could have dreamed of, and that should concern libertarians as well as liberals. When a fringe candidate like Ron Paul, who either maintains a white hood in working order or has a generous policy regarding use of his official letterhead, is the only Republican candidate who dares to question the propriety of Bush's conduct with regard to Iraq, I do not think this country is in a very good place right now, regardless of what may be reported on the Fox News Channel for the true believers, and I don't believe you can blame it on the Democrats, although I am sure Sean Hannity can explain why it's all FDR's fault.

The problem I have with a single minded focus on eliminating government involvement in society is that government is not the only threat there is to decency, health, breathing and the financial well being of Americans who are not on Dubyah's golden donor list. It is not some radical myth to point out that corporations operate on a quarterly profit and loss schedule, and those in charge have what is regarded as a sacred obligation to proceed in a clear eyed and cold blooded manner to do whatever is in the best interests of the shareholders for that quarterly period; this is the simple truth, and that's fine for them, that is their job, their duty, and competition in the economic sphere is the right thing, but it does not mean that government should only answer to their financial needs. They do very well at looking after their needs.

It doesn't mean Democrats want to go in and strip Donald Trump of his money, his hair dresser and his TV show, but maybe it means we do not have a government that meets secretly with "energy advisors" and appoints industry lobbyists to run agencies that are supposed to regulate those industries in the interest of the American people, appoint "Brownies" to run FEMA, announce that there are scientific "controversies" based solely upon the theories of "scientists" who are employed by industries that could be the subject of unwelcome regulation and have cozy links with companies profiting obscenely from a war started under false pretenses. I do believe there is such a thing as a public interest that should be a concern of an informed citizenry and the leaders they elect and may not always correspond with the quarterly profit and loss statements of Bush's corporate donors, and I don't think that the only function of government in pursuit of the public interest is to have a police force, firemen, and army recruiting center.

I know that libertarians view the public interest as a myth, or perhaps as some magical gift that is bestowed upon us all by Adam Smith if we just eliminate all government regulation, like the ball descending on Times Square on New Years Eve, but it is not overly cynical to suggest that government is not going to be eliminated anytime soon, that we have a society of competing interests and that after what we have seen for the last 7 years, with an Executive Branch that has been remarkably focused on catering to the needs and desires of the elites of society and implementing the programs and testing the theories of varied right wing idealogues and crackpots, all the while seeking to impose an unprecedented cloak upon their activities and thereby limit or control oversight by governmental entities and an informed citizenry, it could profit us to have a different party in power, different people calling the shots, and different interests counted as legitimate.

Besides, the Packers only win championships when there is a Democrat in power, though I would welcome that theory being belied in the next few weeks.

Anonymous Truck Driver

Mark said...

ATD,

No way I can respond to all that. But a few comments might help.

1) First, I haven't said that Obama wants to start a class war. Don't think that's the case. I don't see a lot of difference between his stands on the issues and those of his competitors. And that's the point I'm making.

2) I would agree that Republicans have controlled the White House for most of the last 40 years. That is not the same as controlling the agenda, of course. If the Republicans really had controlled the agenda, you would have seen large parts of the legislation passed during the Great Society years either rolled back or eliminated completely. Hasn't really happened, has it?

3) As for the influence of corporate interests with the current administration, as I've said before, of course they are going to do what they can to seek rent. Kinda the same way that trial lawyers and teachers' unions do with the Democrats. And I would also remind you that while Republicans are identified with business, there are many people of great wealth who support the Democrats - George Soros, Warren Buffett, Nancy Pelosi's husband, the entire Kennedy clan, etc. Why would this be? Here's one thought - the CEOs support Republicans because the CEOs are responsible for making their quarterly numbers and need to minimize outside sources of interference. You've acknowledged that. People like Soros and Buffett already have their pile and have the ability to hire very talented people to protect their pile, so they don't worry much about taxes. We don't tax accumulated wealth in this country; we tax income. And that's where the battles take place.

4) If Mrs. Clinton or Obama get elected, the Republic will survive. While some of my more excitable colleagues on the starboard side might think otherwise, I'm not especially worried.

5) I do have libertarian tendencies, but over the years my view has changed somewhat. My main thought about government is this - it should be limited to doing those things that it can do better than I can. And the level of government control should be in direct proximity to my ability to go and influence it. If decisions that a government makes are made at the municipal level or a state level, that's almost always better. I've met the mayor of New Brighton. If I really wanted to get in Tim Pawlenty's face, I could do it most days. I can't really do a damned thing about George W. Bush and won't be able to any more with whoever succeeds him. Thus, I want whoever succeeds him to have only limited power over my life. Republicans at least pay lip service to this world view. In my experience Democratic politicians are too busy trying to save the world ostensibly on my behalf to actually listen to me and they get pissed off when I point out that I haven't asked for their ministrations and/or I raise concerns about the efficacy of their efforts.

Anonymous said...

Mark,
I was doing my weekly read of the National Review Online (it is how I reinforce and reinvigorate my liberal leanings) and, as ususal, Kathryn Jean Lopez did not disappoint. I came across this missive from Wedenesday: "To Senator McCain, congratulations. But he has not got this thing wrapped up by any stretch. It’s less than a year since he tried to push a disastrous immigration bill into law — one as manipulative as any pork-laden appropriations bill — with vigorous opposition from talk radio, conservative bloggers, think tanks, and the grassroots. I don’t see how such a man wins the Republican nomination. I’m second to none in praising him on his surge leadership. But on a whole host of issues — including water boarding, tax cuts, and the freedom of speech — he’s not one of us." I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to be a Liberal when I see the editor of the primary mouthpiece of Conservatism in this country holding up a torture technique favored by the Spanish Inquisition, Pol Pot and Joe Stalin as a central tenet of Republican party. Do you think they can get water boarding worked into the party plank at the convention this summer?
Rich

Mark said...

Tell you what, Rich - the convention is taking place in St. Paul this year and I only live 11 miles away from there. I'll see if I can walk over and forward your suggestion.

I have no idea why Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote that; I don't look at NRO that often, actually. But I can only hope that it was a matter of inartful phrasing.

If we want to torture these guys, my suggestion would be to make them stand in line at the DMV, then when they get to the counter have someone tell them their form is not filled out correctly and send them to the back of the line. Do this over and over again and they'll crack.

And it would be a good gig for some of your side's guys. They could even get up their own AFSCME Torture Local 2142 or some such.

Best,
Mark