This Thanksgiving weekend, we have driven all the way to Indiana on Wednesday, and we'll be driving all the way back to Kansas on Saturday. All in our good old 2005 Toyota Sienna. We've done a lot of driving in this family, in this very car, but still, no matter how used to it you may be, I think that after 400 miles of interstate or so, as the numbness of the mid-afternoon really sets in, Gary Neuman's hypnotic beat would probably always feel appropriate.
Good luck digesting, everyone.
Friday, November 28, 2008
This Thanksgiving weekend, we have driven all the way to Indiana on Wednesday, and we'll be driving all the way back to Kansas on Saturday. All in our good old 2005 Toyota Sienna. We've done a lot of driving in this family, in this very car, but still, no matter how used to it you may be, I think that after 400 miles of interstate or so, as the numbness of the mid-afternoon really sets in, Gary Neuman's hypnotic beat would probably always feel appropriate.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I'm thankful for a wife and children who love me and put up with me and forgive me when I make mistakes.
I'm thankful for friends who support us and humor us and counsel us when we're stressed and worried and in trouble.
I'm thankful for peers and acquaintances, both far and near, both old and new, all of whom remind me--whether they realize it or not--never to let the bad times crowd out all the good.
I'm thankful for parents who raised me well.
I'm thankful for a church filled with fellow members who are there to serve (and, with occasional sharpness, to reprove) each other as we struggle through life, making foolish choices along with wise ones, and then, when all is said and done, to help each another put things back together again.
Most of all, I'm thankful for God's grace this Thanksgiving, because I'd be nothing without it. And really, today, that's all that needs to be said.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And now, onward into the rest of the holiday season. Let's see if we can get out of this one only slightly further in debt than we were before for a change.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Let's slow things down a tad with some Brenda Russell this morning, who was recording neo-soul when Alicia Keys was still in elementary school. And hey, didn't everyone always want to hang out at some smokey, jazzy dive, thinking about love while the rain pours down outside? Especially when nobody coming in or going out ever seems to be wet.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Or perhaps just some subset of Italians. Or maybe just one Italian, who works in a cubicle as an online journalist somewhere. Or something.
So I've been getting a bunch of hits from L'Espresso, arguably the leading newsmagazine in Italy. Following the links back, I discover that this blog has been deemed (forgive the no doubt lousy translation; I'm depending on Babel Fish here) an "authoritative site for entertainment and infomation." I outrank the RealClearPolitics, Slashdot, Joseph Stiglitz and Brad DeLong.
Well, I'm honored. Confused and a little disbelieving, but definitely honored.
Anyone who has any connections to Italy--or, for that matter, can read Italian, and thus can perhaps provide a fuller explanation here--want to pass along my thanks to the appropriate parties? Thanks, I appreciate it.
P.S. It occurs to me that maybe someone just thought it was cool that my blog uses a Latin phrase as its name.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 9:58 AM
Monday, November 17, 2008
First of all, the new Star Trek trailer: watch it here.
Ross Douthat has alreacy voiced some basic concerns here, and they are concerns that every geek ought to take seriously--just what kind of "reboot" is this? Is it a mere prequel? Is it a re-imagination of the whole premise of the series? Something in between? Something more? The leaks thusfar have been in some ways promising, but in other ways sobering, suggesting that what J.J. Abrams is bringing to the franchise is a lot of up-to-date Star Wars-style punching, with a bildungsroman pasted on top, and not much more. Well, as someone who has stood in line for opening night for more than a few Star Trek films, all I can say for sure is that we'll see.
I have a deeper concern though, which I think the trailer begs to be answered, and which I don't even know if I can frame as a question properly. But let me try anyway.
Just about every other pop culture property that Hollywood film studios or cable television networks have appropriated for the sake of creating new entertainments over the past century did not start out tied to a visualization associated with particular actors. James Bond was a series of books, Batman was a comic book, and so forth. Through all the films since, obviously certain cinematic conventions and expectations formed, but still, the fact remains that those conventions and expectations were not foundational. Daniel Craig may be measured against Sean Connery in the eyes of critics and movie-goers, but nobody really believes that Sean Connery was, in some literal sense, the "original" Bond. The same goes for Christian Bale (or Michael Keaton, or Adam West)--there's a Batman that can be gone back to, by screenwriters, by producers, by viewers, which is not Christian Bale or any of the rest.
Can that really be possible with Star Trek? Of course there was Gene Roddenberry there at the beginning, and dozens of other writers and technicians creating that series. But, as anyone who has been alive at any point since 1966 knows, William Shatner is James Tiberius Kirk. And Leonard Nimoy is Spock, and Deforest Kelley is Dr. McCoy, and so forth. They inhabited those roles, defined those roles, through not just the original series but also the cartoon series and the movies and all the novelizations and all the fiction (and all the fan fiction) which followed: millions and millions of words and images, all of which take that hair, that accent, that glance, that diction, all the composite elements of an actor's recorded performance, as a given in one's imagination of, and identification with, a character. Can you really get away from that?
Perhaps one could point to some successful movies that have been made of television shows where the main character was deeply identified with the person to who played him or her: Mel Gibson playing Maverick, for instance, or Nicole Kidman playing Samantha from Bewitched. But neither of those stories were treated--either in their original incarnations, or in their remakes, or by their fans in either case--with anywhere near the seriousness with which Star Trek has been (I would argue deservedly) been taken. Well, how about Battlestar Galactica, then? As Ross observed, making somewhat the same point I am making here, BG "was never a pop culture phenomenon along the lines of Trek" (and I would add it was never as character-centric as the original Trek was, besides the obvious point that it didn't last nearly as long). So the question, for me at least, remains unresolved.
We still don't know, I suppose, whether or not a successful re-imagining, in a visual medium, of a story-telling tradition that has so powerfully and for so long existed in our imagination in its own pre-existing visual medium, is at all possible. All this won't stop me from pre-ordering tickets, of course. I mean, watching the movie is the only way to find out.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 1:51 PM
Friday, November 14, 2008
No, not having second thoughts about my vote from last week. (Second thoughts about last night's dinner, though.)
I was, of course, a politics geek in junior high and high school, and remember--little Reagan fan that I was--making a lengthy and pretentious historical analysis and critique of this song at one point. Cold War, first strike capability, mutually assured destruction, detente, Soviet paranoia, all of it. Man, I loved Men at Work. Them and War Games.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
1. Why now, when the election is over and done with and the passage of the proposition to restrict the legal definition of marriage in California to heterosexual couples is a done deal? First, because the fall-out--much of which has focused upon my own church, both institutionally and in regards to individual members, with diverse consequences--continues, and is likely to continue for quite a while to come. Second, because a bunch of mostly Mormon friends of mine and I have just finished a long, rambling discussion of the topic. Third, because Stephen asked me to.
2. What do I think of my church's involvement in pushing the proposition? I have mixed feelings. Part of me has long wished my church would get more political, partly because I think religious voices need to be contended over back and forth in the public realm, partly because I think my church has ideas which could be a helpful contribution to that continuing contention which is modern democratic public life, and partly because--and this is important--by getting political, I hope that my church (which is, by any reasonable measure, still very much a fairly inwardly focused, fairly authoritarian institution) will learn some structural from those modern democratic exigencies, and be therefore better able to handle disagreements and compromises. So yes, the political scientist and fan of organized democratic action in me admires this move by my church, admires its ability to harness foot soldiers and efficient lines of communication in the service of political goal, and I feel this way even while thinking that--pragmatically speaking--more harm than good, in the long run, will come to my church because of its involvement in this particular effort, to say nothing of all the misunderstandings and anger and potential harms that may come to the citizens of California, both gay and straight, because of it.
3. Would I have voted for Proposition 8 if I'd lived in California? I think probably yes, reluctantly.
3a. "I think probably," because I don't live in California, and therefore I'm not confronted directly by personal situations and frustrations and aspirations which could have pulled my beliefs one way or another. As I've said before, arguments over tradition and marriage, in contrast to arguments over, say, abortion, are the sort of thing that "I simply nod my head in regards to, acknowledging their importance...in the abstract, but finding the practical efforts involved in the issue often misconceived and directed against the wrong target." Consequently, I could easily see me being swayed away from my tentative, somewhat theoretical support for it if the issue had confronted me more starkly.
3b. "Yes" for, I think, four reasons:
1) because my church asked me to (more on that below);
2) because I agree with some (but not all) of the philosophical arguments which my church and others who pushed for the proposition adduced as part of their case for the proposition (again, more on that below);
3) because, all things considered, I will almost always side with any proposition or referendum that involves setting matters directly before voters and thereby demands of them democratic deliberation and legislative compromise, rather than contenting ourselves with all-or-nothing decisions issued by courts (this is my wonky, political science preference for democracy coming out again);
3) because--and this is important--it was a narrowly focused proposition, one which would have re-established a formal distinction between same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriages in the state of California, but which would not have removed any substantive rights that gay couples currently enjoy under state law.
3c. "Reluctantly" for at least two reasons:
1) because California is almost certainly the wrong place for this kind of struggle: it is far too large and too diverse to be, I think, responsibly conceived of as an arena wherein an argument about what a community wants or expects or believes when it comes to marriage could be worked out (and if no such arena is being conceived, then we're apparently not talking about collective self-government, but rather than just tyrannies of courts or majorities, take your pick, and I don't want any part in that);
2) because the specific political arguments which the "Yes on 8" side made use of--as opposed to the more tentative and general philosophical ones which I, in part, agree with--were often complete paranoia and nonsense, and such crummy and inflammatory arguments are enough to make me want to vote against something in principle, even if I see the general point of the proposition.
4. In reference to 3b.2 (good grief, I'm writing a lawyer's brief here)...what do I see as the general point of the proposition? A great many people--not entirely accurately, I think, but entirely legitimately just the same--see its general point as one of hate and contempt, of moral busybodies cobbling together a majority and shoving their preferences down the throats of a tolerant and open-minded people. I'm sure there was some of that at play, amongst the thinking of my own people as well as the many others who turned out to pass Proposition 8. But to me, the general point of the proposition was one of drawing distinctions. I do happen to accept the deep cultural and/or communitarian and/or conservative presumption at work behind most traditionalist thinking about marriage: that is, I believe that civilized society depends upon the sustaining of certain norms (like heterosexual marriage), I believe that many (not all, but many) norms reflect essential characteristics of the way the majority of human beings have historically related and will continue to relate to one another, and I believe that opening up social institutions to forced redefinitions--as if said institutions were based on nothing more than self-satisfying, mutually agreed upon contracts--undermines their ability to support and draw the good out of those norms regarding human relationships for the benefit of society. Is that clear as mud, or what? Let me turn, as I always do when it comes to this topic, to Noah Millman, who I still believe thought it through as well as anyone ever has (scroll down a little to get to the relevant post; you should also read his original, lengthy post on the topic, here):
[Many advocates of same-sex marriage want the state to] redefine marriage to mean any exclusive partnership...between any two individuals regardless of their biological sex....That's not what marriage means, nor ever has meant, because the complementarity between men and women is at the heart of the meaning of marriage. Marriage has changed an awful lot over the centuries, and we in the West have ultimately repudiated the polygamy and consequent second-class status for women that were central to marriage for its first few thousand years as a legal institution. But the proposed redefinition would be, essentially, a linguistic falsehood. For that reason, I fear that it would have the practical consequences I identify in my original piece: because it would make the traditional language of marriage relating to complementarity of the sexes appear to be nonsensical, it would make it that much harder for men and women to learn how to relate to one another, and form stable marriages. And because it would have advanced under the banner of rights such a reform would implicitly concede that marriage is a choice rather than a norm - a choice we all have a right to make but, by the same token, the right not to make if we prefer to live otherwise.
While it's unlikely to get much of a hearing by partisans on both sides of this struggle, I would note that the above is not an argument against any kind of legally recognized same-sex marriage; it's merely an argument against our currently existing marriage regime (which is by no means the only possible set of marriage laws and understandings available either today or historically) being expanded to include same-sex couples. So what do we do for same-sex couples? We do what Noah suggested: create "a new institution...exclusively for same-sex couples, that would have many--perhaps even all--of the rights and responsibilities of marriage." Will that ever fly? Probably not; the accusations of reviving the principle of "separate but equal" would go up before the ink was even dry on any such law, assuming it ever came to pass. But if so, then perhaps that is just so much the worse for American jurisprudence. We reduce so much to either-or questions of legal rights in this country; partially by (unintentional) constitutional design, partially by inclination and habit. The sort of consensual, democratically deliberated distinctions that might emerge otherwise in the absence of such--distinctions along the lines of "distinguishing between black and white people in deciding which kind of jobs are appropriate for them is unfair and discriminatory, whereas distinguishing between gay people and straight people in determining which sort of marriage union is appropriate for them is not"--simply wouldn't survive in our legalistic environment. To quote Noah once more, "we live in an era when the hegemonic paradigm abhors difference." And, depending on the day you ask me, I might sigh and say that's the way it should be: I mean, I hardly want to throw Brown v. Board of Education out with the bathwater!
I tend to think the French were on the right track when they established PACS (pacte civil de solidarité) to serve as an alternative to marriage in order to avoid unnecessary fights with various religious communities. But they failed to articulate what they were doing as a route for gay couples in particular, and as a result the heterosexual couples looking to avoid the social implications of marriage flocked to civil unions, which warped the legislation's potential to be a model for addressing the deeper issues of "distinction" which I think are--or at least ought to--relevant here, to the extent you think any of this is worth worrying about (and, again, of all the "traditionalist" issues worth worrying about in our individualistic world, this one comes very far down the list). In any case, one last quote from Noah:
"Gay marriage" [has become] a wedge issue rather than a serious topic, and is eclipsing the serious questions about marriage. We are talking about the non-existent "threat" from gay couples instead of talking about the real damage caused by no-fault divorce. [Some] have argued, in a nutshell, that advocates for a more robust marriage culture need to focus on stopping same-sex marriage because that's (a) a popular cause, and (b) a negative trend that has to be reversed before a positive trend can be started. I can't get on that train. I can't tell a lesbian couple with children that I oppose any effort to publicly recognize their relationship because fighting them is the only way to get other straight people's attention, and that I hope, some day, to use that attention to focus on the actual problems of marriage. That's simply not just.
I agree completely...which is why, if the California proposition had moved beyond what I saw as a simply insisting upon a distinction, I wouldn't have voted for it (recognizing as I do that, especially given many of the arguments which were put into play in this election, and the expansive and diverse range of understandings at work on both sides in the huge state of California, the likelihood that anyone seeing the proposition as fundamentally an opening for democratic discussion about distinctions is pretty small).
5. And now, 3b.1--so, I would have voted against it, if it hadn't had been written in the way it was, even though my church, which I am an Sunday-attending, temple-going, life-long member of, had told me to?
Well, yes--partly because my commitment to and belief in the church doesn't ever quite override my reasoning faculties, and partly because the church leadership didn't "tell" anyone to. We are not talking about the man we hold to be a prophet (and we can leave my own personal hermeneutical consideration of what statement actually means for another time...) "commanding" anything in this case. Did our prophet, and all the rest of the church leadership (or at least, that portion of the church leadership which actually spoke out on this matter, which was actually only a tiny minority of all those who could have spoken out) want the Saints in California to vote a certain way? Absolutely, and there were statements read in California wards encouraging members of the church to organize and vote in support of the proposition, and there were references to scripture, and there were statements put out by church media, and there were directives which came down from church leaders giving advice and support to regional leaders in California who contacted members and involved them in various campaign activities, and many millions of dollars were raised along the way. But does that equal "commanded"? I don't think so. As for what happened on the local level--and rest assured, some of it was sometimes ugly--I can't comment, but the official language from Salt Lake was always one of "encouraging" the membership, not ordering them about.
Let's put it this way: Mormons in California were "expected" to vote for and help support the proposition. The question then is what kind of "expectation" we’re talking about. I am expected abstain from smoking or drinking or sleeping with anyone I'm not married to; if I do not so abstain, then by basic commitment to fundamental church doctrines and practices comes into question, and I could lose privileges as a member, or even my membership itself. Often, these kind of lay judgments (and ours is a lay church, so there are many inconsistencies along the way, I assure you) can be socially hurtful, even ostracizing, and they may involve things that have very little to do with the aforementioned fundamental church doctrines and practices. But I just can’t imagine that my bottom-line personal worthiness as a Mormon--usually measured by my receiving of a recommend allowing me to attend one of the Mormon temples--would ever be subject to sanction or judgment on such a basis. Does that mean I would have gone against the preferences of my community casually? For myself, no--I value not just my membership, but also my affectivity for, my belonging to, that community too much. But for me--and, I think, most American Mormons as well, though the majority of them (for reasons more having to do with history and demography than anything else) are already conservative enough on "culture war" issues that the church involvement in this case likely didn't make much difference in the way they were already going to vote--that belonging is just one important factor amongst many others, some equally important. Which is one more way of saying, I suppose, that I'm a liberal communitarian at heart.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 11:30 PM
Friday, November 07, 2008
Well, I started the Friday Pop Songs That Say Something series back in June 2007, and it was enjoyable thinking about and transcribing all those lyrics from the various songs I'd mentally or emotionally relied upon or been inspired by over the years. In the end, though, I kept running out of enthusiasm for the project--I maintained it over the summer, let it mostly languish over the fall and winter, revived it this past spring, mostly stuck with it through late summer, but then it disappeared again. Not a bad run for a blogging feature, I guess--about 26 songs altogether. I'm sure, until The Great and Terrible Day the Internets Die, I'll continue to get occasional Google links from being searching for the lyrics to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," or whatever. To all you anonymous searchers, I'm glad to be of service.
But now, something new, something lighter, something nostalgic and fun. This Belle Waring post got me to own up to what has, over the past several months, become an enormously pleasing hobby of mine: tracking down old music videos from the 1980s or thereabouts on YouTube. They're all there, or practically all of them...it's a matter of remembering the name of that song that you woke up one morning with the tune on the cusp of your consciousness--or if not the name of the song, then the artist, or a snatch of lyrics, or something. It's all perfectly ridiculous because it's a perfect waste of time, looking for perfectly disposable bits of video art from fifteen or twenty or thirty years ago. So hell, I'm going to document it--right here, beginning today.
Why the title of this feature? Because we didn't have cable growing up, and so my original knowledge of music videos was entirely shaped by Friday Night Videos on NBC, which I would sneak into the living room and watch every week. (By my senior year, I had television of my own doubling as my computer monitor for my Commodore 64 in my room.) Friday is the end of the work week, and who so doesn't want to start their Friday with a little pop fun from a different era? I know I do.
So, for today? Well, the election was about hope, a hope that we all know will likely be dashed, perhaps numerous times, but it got us to vote anyway. And so here, in honor of hoping, is Go West's "King of Wishful Thinking." (See if you can figure out the actually rather clever sight gag at the very end.)
Thursday, November 06, 2008
A "liberal America"? That's what John Judis is calling our country now, and he's got a point--several of them, in fact. Many of them, perhaps the majority of them, I'm happy to agree with...but some I'm most certainly not.
I agree that there are good historical reasons for seeing the election of Barack Obama as the distillation of a potentially strong and long-lasting realignment in American politics, perhaps as strong as the one which gave the Democrats dominance over the federal government for decades following FDR's election in 1932, mostly having to do the cyclical nature of such periodic alignments. But is there real data to support Judis's historical analogies? Well, there is some. Judis--along with his occasional partner, Ruy Teixeira--has been arguing for years that demographic trends in America are placing the shape and destiny of our national politics primarily into the hands of highly educated professionals (the great majority of whom work in knowledge or arts-based service industries), working and/or single women (most of whom are also college educated), and minority ethnic groups. Moreover, all of these demographic slices of the electorate are predominantly relocating to "ideopolis" urban areas--high-tech metropolitan cities surrounded by extensive exurbs, like Denver-Boulder, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, and so forth. And all of these trends seemed present and very much accounted for on Obama's election night. If you rank all the states on the basis of their percentage of people with advanced degrees, Obama won all of the top twenty (for 232 electoral votes alone). Nationwide, he won the votes of all women 56% to 42%, and of working women by 61% to 38% (a close to two-thirds majority). In regards to ethnic minorities, he predictably won a huge majority of the African-American vote, but he also won Hispanics and Asians by a spread of nearly or more than 30 percentage points in each case. In fact, some of the data seems to suggest that it was Obama's success with these groups alone, without any significant change in the non-Hispanic white and/or "working class" vote, that brought him the votes to win states which Kerry lost to Bush in 2004. Thus, it all seems to point in the direction of Judis-Teixeira's conclusion: the balance of electoral power is moving away from those traditional constituencies which built the primary elements of both the New Deal coalition and its predecessors, as well as the "Reagan Democrat" backlash (white, and/or European ethnic, traditional Christian, Southern and Midwestern, blue-collar and/or rural workers), and into the hands of those whose worldview, vocations, educations, and lifestyle choices are thoroughly aligned with a globalized world. In short, "the heart of the new majority is no longer blue-collar workers, but the professionals, minorities, and women who live and work within post-industrial metropolitan areas [italics added]....[Their beliefs] are socially liberal on civil rights and women's rights; committed to science and to the separation of church and state; internationalist on trade and immigration; skeptical, but not necessarily opposed to, large government spending programs, particularly on health care; and gung-ho about government regulation of business, including K Street lobbyists." This is a progressive majority that, as Ezra Klein writes, "look[s] like the America we expected to see tomorrow, not the America we remembered from yesterday."
I suppose I could be happy with this diverse and new majority; after all, it won Obama the election, and, as Matt Yglesias suggests, it may promise to win him and candidates reflective of a similar multi-racial coalition more of the same in the future. And to be sure, I'm not necessarily unhappy with all that; I particularly like--but of course, I would--Judis's acknowledgment that there is a "Naderite" streak in this new electoral grouping, in that it appears strongly committed to advocacy and participation and a distrust of those corporations and social structures which get in the way of the voices of consumers and voters being heard. But taken as a whole, I must admit I'm also a little suspicious of it, and little depressed about it. I've expressed my (perhaps desperately willed) disbelief in, and my opposition to, the Judis-Teixeira thesis several times before; I find it a condescending and misguided appreciation of what both community respect and social justice require, dealing as it does with the assumption that progressives can either count on the American working class absorbing the professional, centrist liberalism of their better-off cultural superiors, or else that they should simply plan on avoiding anything that smacks of reaching out to the (usually still church-going) working poor and lower-middle-class, both black and white (and that means unionization, anti-free trade policies, vouchers, faith-based initiatives, etc.), because doing so could turn off their new upscale electoral base.
But perhaps all this is inevitable. After years of continued globalization, years of collapse in rural populations, years of immigration, and, perhaps especially, eight years of the Bush administration--an administration that in so many ways (some intentional, some not) helped to work up the red-state/blue-state divide along class and cultural and religious lines, with the result that plenty of perfectly ordinary white middle-class exurban professionals recognized themselves in those accusatory labels: upscale, egghead, liberal elite--well, who would be surprised that the predictions of Judis and Teixeira appear to be bearing fruit, with these voters accelerating their movement towards mainstream liberal candidates? The "conservative" elements of their professional, exurban, bourgeois lives were being ignored or read out of the conservative cocoon which grew up around and through Bush's years in office. (I'm reminded of the frustrated realization felt by conservatives like John Schwenkler, Rod Dreher, or Ross Douthat when it became apparent that elements of the conservative machine had a problem with them them just for, say, assuming that everyone ought to like good healthy food, or that everyone ought to want to be exposed to different cultures, or for making the obvious point that populist politics ought to be balanced with "elite" book smarts.) Sounds like a recipe for a new majority to me, as much as I may be frustrated by parts of it. And as for the folks I tend most to trust and like, the old school, rural or ethnic populists, progressives, and New Dealers, the deep (often conflicted but always present) Laschian backbone of the 1932 (and, in an inverse way, the 1980) realignments? Well, perhaps they can be just forgotten. Why not? Doesn't this election conclusively prove that Democrats can win without the non-Hispanic white and/or working-class South, and all its white "homelander" traditionalists/populists? Perhaps it does.
But then again, maybe I shouldn't say that the liberalism of Judis and Teixeira has triumphed quite yet; maybe all that triumphed was Obama over Bush. Leaving aside the frame provided by Judis's analogies, it's clear that his victory wasn't that large of a sweep: a difference of about 7.5 million votes separated them, or about 6% of all votes cast. Besides the impressive (for Obama, anyway) developments amongst non-white voters, little fundamentally changed: the rich and the South still voted primarily for McCain, young people still didn't turn out in large numbers, and the basic red-blue geographic distribution of votes didn't change much--enough to flip a few close swing states, obviously, but not much more than that. Obama's victory did not translate into big wins in Congress. Perhaps most revealingly, on several key culture and social referendums across the country, you had a majority voters (including a fair number of white voters, of course, but in particular large majorities of religiously inclined black voters as well) supporting Barack Obama while at the same time endorsing positions that on first glance don't fit together under the umbrella of the kind of urbanized, secularized, professionalized egalitarian liberalism Judis takes his win to represent: voting against gay marriage (in California, and elsewhere) on the one hand, and for better public transportation and laws regarding the prevention of cruelty to farm animals on the other. Of course, there is one label under which I, at least, could argue that high-speed rail and traditional marriage and humane food production all fall...and that's Rod Dreher's crunchy conservatism, of which I'm a fan. But it's hardly likely that a movement as focused on things traditional and local as Rod's could really do something, ideologically or electorally speaking, with a pattern of votes like this. More likely, a different frame is going to be needed: a different way of expressing and packaging those voters which Obama picked up and which whom he shares so much ideological and demographic territory, but which also seems to reflect priorities that don't quite carry all the way through with the liberalism which Judis predicts (and has long been waiting for). It would have to draw upon the existing tendencies towards "crunchiness" out there, but which also--I hope at least--makes space for the sort of populism that Obama's liberal America, in reference to all of the above, might well touch upon, but which as yet may not be coherent enough to drawn out of him the way I'd like to think it could be.
When I first picked up the phrase "left conservatism" I was mostly just making a theoretical argument, one with only incidental relevance for actual politics; it was a frame to lump together a huge range of superficially dissimilar, but I would argue deeply connected, "socially traditionalist" and "traditionally socialist" political motivations, to use a couple of overly general labels for it. Christian social democrats, Red Tories, egalitarian populists, various "Third Way" and communitarian types--really, just about anyone who, whether they articulate it this way or not, rejects some of the more individualistic and/or secular presumptions behind many modern liberal arguments, and thus are interested community empowerment, unionization, participatory democracy, parental involvement in education, civil service, anti-consumerism, progressive taxation, media responsibility, fair trade, civic religion and respect, localized and decentralized bureaucracies, limitations on corporate power, and so forth...all could be captured by this umbrella. Obviously, it describes a very different (ideologically, at least; perhaps less so demographically) umbrella coalition of progressive voters than does Judis and Teixeira's, and--given America's political culture--a far less likely one as well. Obama, in so far as anyone can reasonably guess, wouldn't place himself under this coalition. So it's probably not going to be of any use in analyzing what happened this week and where American politics is apparently heading from this week forward; certainly it's not likely to help organize efforts to capture, respond to, or even direct the movement (however large or small) which Obama's win may (hopefully!) have begun. (Which is too bad; if that were the case, I could probably snap up a book contract real quick.)
So why bring it up? Because the crunchy cons and reactionary radicals and dissident leftists and conservative Democrats out there have a few of choices before them. They can push for legislation and initiatives and habits of behavior which may work against the demographic and socio-economic trends that Judis's analysis depends upon, so as to make that kind of liberalism less dominant in our political life and less controlling of Obama's agenda and those of his successors: stricter immigration policies, more support for rural life and blue-collar industries, a more pro-natalist tax code, etc. Let's call that Douthat's and Reihan Salam's "Reform Conservatism" option. But maybe the compromises with modernity therein are too much--and strategies involved too beholden to a party and a political language which Bush has thoroughly discredited--to really engage the scattered progressives that Judis, et al, are more than happy to lump together which what they see the new, inevitable, perhaps already-arrived America. So, instead, they can look to investing in their own local or familial retreats from the changing culture, happy to make use of the best, most progressive (in some ways) parts of it, but otherwise just hoping to tend to their own gardens. This, of course, is Dreher's "Benedict" option. It's an appealing one...but, for me at least, I think our obligation as moderns--and as Christians--to attend to and make something more justice and more beautiful and more equal out of the interconnectedness we have inherited requires more than small-scale solutions, however radical they may be and however worthy and important in their particular ways.
So that leaves me thinking that, if we who care about conserving communities and raising our children right, but who also care about the best elements of the liberal possibilities we have before us, who voted--sometimes in the midst of religious or personal or moral conflict and doubt--for Obama, who supported for both Proposition 8 and Proposition 2 in California, who wanted to be part of a change in our politics and policies in the direction of something more respectful and responsible, more deliberative and civic-minded, and most of all more humane and communal...well, our only option is to try to rethink and repackage populism for a world where so much of what made the old egalitarian conceptions politically viable is going or gone. Rod, for one, expresses respectful doubts; he just doesn't see any kind of thoroughgoing populist rethinking as plausible in an America as diverse as ours is today. He may be right. Maybe there can be no populism--not a "true and defensible populism" anyway--in a political world where rural and working-class voters (white or black or otherwise, Christian or otherwise) are all caught up into--and are embracing!--a social environment that, for all its current problems (and they are many), is still far more liberated, far wealthier, far more mobile, far more individualistic, far more aspirational, and far less disciplined, than that which existed thirty years ago, much less seventy, much less a hundred. And no, I don't hope for a war or a peak oil apocalypse to force us back to those conditions (though the latter may be unavoidable at this point); John Holbo nailed the perverse complications of a conservatism that secretly longs for those kind of crises long ago, and I don't want to even gesture in the direction of such. No, we're moderns (we're blogging, after all, aren't we?), and that means we are, in a small but essential way, already liberal, already attuned to individual liberty and the diversity and prosperity and technology which both supports and follows such. So no, I'm not going to try to delude myself into believe that there's wholly original kind of liberal communitarian politics available for Americans today on a broad basis, one which is just hidden within all this voting data (or within myself, for that matter), just waiting to be articulated. But neither am I going to throw in the towel of rethinking. I'm a theorist, after all; it's what I do.
Obama's progressive and mainstream liberal Democratic politics are going to be good for this country, in many ways, and that means good for many of its citizens, wherever they place themselves in the midst of all this political reflection (assuming they even both to do so, which probably would be a waste of time for most). And as he attempts to implement them, I trust he won't forget the what Bill Clinton knew--that however cosmopolitan American may be becoming, culturally populist and localist religious believers can be a part of a progressive coalition too. Obama just about made up all the ground which Al Gore and John Kerry lost amongst evangelicals, particularly amongst the more communitarian and engaged believers in the Midwest and the West as opposed to the South. And then of course there is Obama's improved performance amongst Catholic voters. Certainly, all these progressive and liberal and believing Christians aren't going to let him forget! So perhaps these believers, black and white and otherwise, many who are foot soldiers in an emerging demographic change in American Christianity, can also--at least a few of them, at least some of the time--contribute to making sure the new liberal America, whether it's already here or merely on its way, doesn't completely lose the popular and cultural aspect as it moves (again, hopefully!) into a more sensible, more egalitarian, more progressive response to our complicated world. A hard thing to work toward, but not an intellectually or politically impossible thing. Yes we can.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 10:17 AM
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I have quite a few men and women from America's political and social history whom I take to be models, heroes, figures to admire or emulate or at least learn from. Of them, some--like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson--wouldn't have had the slightest idea what to make of Barack Obama. An intelligent, responsible, independent black man? Even at their best, I suspect they wouldn't have been able to see him as anything other than a trained monkey.
By contrast, others--like William Jennings Bryan or Jane Addams--probably could have seen him as an independent, even admirable thinker, I warrant. But his policies--and his presumption as a black man to go so far as to challenge the patterns of wealth and belief in this country--would probably struck them as unseemly and irresponsible, maybe even a little wicked. He could be the noble and learned black man in their coalitions and movements, but certainly not a challenger or a driving force within them.
Yet others--Christopher Lasch, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, even Ralph Nader, who ran against Obama for president on the ballots in 45 different states--would hopefully have been able to look past his race and engage his ideas, and perhaps be conflicted as well as impressed by what they found there. But none of them, I think, would have been at all likely to have picked Obama--with all his progressive notions, populist promises, and communitarian convictions--from out of the mix of liberal advocates littering the landscape, and seen in him a future president.
I guess that just goes to show.
An African-American president of the United States. My daughters will never grow up thinking such was impossible, or even out of the ordinary. It will just be...the way things are. Which is as they should be. Damn straight.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 12:01 AM
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
It's a beautiful mid-autumn day here in Wichita. It's warm out (maybe a little too warm for November, but the wind is blowing, so it isn't too noticeable), the leaves are falling or have fallen from the trees (and are blwoing all around) and the sky is a marvellous blue. It's a good day to be an American, as Rod says, and a good day to vote.
Yesterday was equally nice, but I felt somewhat dark on the inside; my long (too long, as usual) rumination over the frustration--and, yes, the guilt--I feel as a religious believer opposed to abortion who is drawn to cast his ballot for Barack Obama really kind of depressed my mood. But today, at this moment, I don't feel it. I'm focusing on the class as half-full, right now--more than half-full, in fact; maybe even three-quarters. Obama is a good man, and he will make a good president, even if he isn't nearly as sensitive as he ought to be to tragedy of abortion in our midst. As much as I suspect my religious beliefs ought to incline me in such a direction, I just can't find it in myself to make such sensitives the primary measure of a candidate, at least not this candidate, on this wonderful day.
Obama is not a populist, or at least not my kind of populist. I'd like to believe he has elements of that old-school, radical, prairie perspective within him, and at times it has seemed to me he might. But no, his beliefs about our democratic system are those of pragmatic mainstream Democratic politician; he certainly won't be taking even baby steps towards a Jeffersonian or localist or populist conception of social and economic sovereignty.
Obama is not a socialist, and certainly not my kind of socialist. Obama has said--and has associated himself with people both past and present who have said--good things about consumerism, about class, about the social and cultural costs of progress, all of which partake of the original Christian socialist insight about the way a self-interested focus on rights and possessions invariably divides us and sets us against one another. But none of that means that Obama is anything except a capitalist, and one apparently content with the basic operations of today's state-based, globalized, thoroughly liberalized capitalist economic structure. The accusation that Obama's belief in the justice of "spreading the wealth" in an egalitarian makes him into some kind of socialist class warrior is, of course, complete nonsense, and John Holbo humorously and devastatingly explained. In truth, Obama is in some ways may be the ideal "liberaltarian" candidate, a liberal who has learned the libertarian and free trade lessons which the Clinton years presumably taught us all, and who is ready to follow through on what he was taught at the market-friendly University of Chicago in order to pull us out of the economic crisis. Perhaps. But I don't think so, and I have reason to hope for something at least a little more communitarian, a little more Christian, of him.
As so often seems to be the case, my unwillingness to reject modernity (meaning modern life, modern technology, modern ways of dealing with the diversity of people and information) entirely, as much as I recognize the harms it does to the cultural and religious forms of communal life that I think we all, as human beings, invariably need to sustain as a moral and psychological foundation, has the result of robbing me of the ability to hope for any "pure" populism or socialism, assuming there could ever be such a thing (and maybe there can't be). So what's left? Some kind of liberal communitarianism--or, given that Christian social democracy isn't available as a plausible electoral option in the U.S. right now, the compromise of progressivism. Under the banner of progressivism there are, to be sure, a host of possibilites. Mark Schmitt sees in Obama's progressivism a "soft, communtiarian populism," one that is "characterized by few enemies and very little talk of 'rights,'" with a focus instead on sustainable, inclusive policies expressed in a language that "invok[es] a sense of natural order in which all of us live up to our responsibilities, in service of a sense of national purpose." Peter Levine long ago argued that Obama's style of populism is really more of a progressive, egalitarian, civic republicanism, with an emphasis upon "deliberating together as a diverse population." Now, in the face of broad Obama victory, he has hopes for a new progressive era, but also hopes that the hints of a "Midwestern populist pluralist" perspective in Obama--a perspective that, even in the midst of global diversity, won't forget about the importance of having roots in a place, both spiritual and literal--won't be crowded out by the rush of events; "Barack Obama [should] stand on the side of his Midwestern Progressive forebears, people like Jane Addams and Robert LaFollette, as opposed to the technocrats of the Progressive Era." And as readers of this blog likely know, part of what enamours me in particular to progressives like Addams and LaFollette was their Christian sensibility was fundamental to the communitarian and civic improvements and reforms they worked to put into place.
The Democrats have been talking ever since the debacle in 2004, and the many arguments about religious values and American democracy which followed it, about the need to development a liberal language of the community, of civic purposes, of the common good. The ideas are out there, as are the debates over them; what was needed was an opportunity to put them into practice. With Senator Obama, I believe they may. It won't be the mixed-up, left conservative, populist, localist, Christian social democracy that I dream of...but it'll be something good, nonetheless. And it's a good day to vote for all that, yes indeed.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 1:01 PM
Monday, November 03, 2008
Abortion. That's it.
(And yes, this is another long one. Cut me some slack; I've been tossing this back and forth in my head for months now.)
Please note that I'm not saying this because I believe that anything relevant to abortion policy is in any way going to be affected by my vote. I'm confident that won't be the case, because the possibility that my vote as a resident of Kansas will have any kind of electoral significance one way or another when all is said and done tomorrow evening is just ridiculously unlikely. (Check out the polls if you're curious.) Sure, sure, upsets are always possible, nothings over until the fat lady sings, etc., etc. But basically, I see this vote of mine as being entirely a matter of personal expression, of standing up and being counted for something, rather than being at all likely to contribute electorally to the direction of the country, much less the direction of abortion policy. Fortunately, self-expressive voting doesn't bother me; I've done it more than a few times before, after all.
Another note: I don't mean "abortion" here to be taken as a Trojan horse within which I am bundling up a host of socially conservative or "faith and values" views, so as to once again regretfully voice my by-now patented complaints about the lack of morally-traditional-and-economically-progressive voices in American politics; in this case, I really am just talking about abortion policy and abortion rights. That's not to say there aren't plenty of other areas where I could petulantly voice my frustration at the world's refusal to sign on to my old manifesto and appreciate what I see as the importance--both electorally as well as intellectually--of politically articulating a "left conservatism" or a populism than genuinely expresses both the religious and the socio-economic side of the communitarian sensibility which I believe makes for decent individual lives and a decent society. But this isn't about them. Some culture war battles (like those having to do with sexist body images and pornography), I think are extremely important; others (like the one my own church has heavily committed itself to in California), I simply nod my head in regards to, acknowledging the importance of the argument in the abstract, but finding the practical efforts involved in the issue often misconceived and directed against the wrong target (as usual, Noah Millman got this right long ago, observing that the question of divorce is a hundred times more relevant to a defense of tradition and marriage than anything having to do its definition). But in neither case do I usually see my singular cultural concerns as sufficient to trouble my overall electoral judgments. But abortion...abortion stands apart from all the rest. And as such, abortion frustrates me this election, enough to make me feel guilty for voting for the man who is, by practically every other measure in my judgment, clearly both the better candidate and the better man.
In 2006 I put my support behind the Democrats, and my concerns about abortion policy and rights really didn't trouble me at all; why are my feelings different this time around? Partly because that wasn't a presidential election, and while I may grouse about the imperial presidency and how the role of Congress has been eclipsed and how much better some things would be if ours were a parliamentary democracy, I'm hardly blind to today's reality that American presidents generally set the tone and agenda for American politics. Hence non-presidential elections get weighed differently in my mind that presidential ones. More importantly, I was able to focus on numerous Congressional races that year (Bob Casey in particular, but also Harold Ford, James Webb, and numerous others), in anticipation that, assuming they got into office, they might be able to contribute to a change in the party along the lines of my social hopes. Did that happen? Looking back at what I wrote following the 2006 midterms, I'd say the answer depends on your frame of reference--more than a few socially conservative and economically progressive representatives and senators did get elected, but did that suggest a movement in the Democratic party towards a greater acceptance of traditionalism and populism, or rather towards a kind of Perot-style "soft libertarian" nationalism? Or neither? Either way, 2008 and the rise of Barack Obama to the presidency is changing so much of what had been anticipated or calculated regarding the Democratic party; it's better to treat his candidacy and what he will mean and do as president on its own terms--and that means, for me at least, looking at his position on abortion separate from all that came before, and making a fresh judgment. Unfortunately, that doesn't making me feel any better.
I begin--and I know that for many of you this is old news, but bear with me--with the Democratic party's new platform language on abortion, language which Obama and his people helped to shape. It's language which drops the old Clintonian phrase about needing to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare," replacing it with an even stronger affirmation of the fundamentals of Roe v. Wade, while also making substantive, practical promises to assist women who choose not to have an abortion. As such, it's been praised by Democrats on both sides of the abortion divide. No one has done a better job at parcing than this language Steven Waldman, whose reporting--and conclusions--on this issue I've really come to trust. Here's his upshot:
It's classic Obama, really. Ultra-pragmatic, consensus-building, favoring incremental steps in the right direction over broad culture war battles....But the plank will end up as meaningless if Obama doesn't push the Third Way approach aggressively. He spoke a bit about it at Saddleback but it was overshadowed by his lousy answer on whether determining the beginning of life was above his pay grade. Dropping a sentence or two into Q&As is not going to do the trick, especially given the attacks against him as a pro-abortion extremist. The abortion issue is stuck in a particular groove. Both pro-life and pro-choice forces have something in common: they like to focus on questions about legal restrictions. Most Americans take a different view, wanting abortion to be legal despite thinking that it's wrong. The Democratic Party plank opened the door to a new abortion politics, but it's far from clear that Obama is going to plunge through the door and attempt to rally the country behind a Third Way approach.
What is the "Third Way" approach Waldman--and therefore presumably Obama--is referring to? In this case, it's the idea that arguments over abortion ought to eschew discussions of rights and restrictions, and instead treat the topic like a social problem, the sort that can best be resolved through changing the economic and health circumstances under which abortion as a choice enters into the discussion between a couple or between a woman and her doctor in the first place. Hence the argument, advanced by some (see here and here), that the Democratic party, under Obama's leadership, would do far more to practically advance the heart of the pro-life cause--namely, reducing or stopping or deterring abortion--than any amount of Republican braying about liberal appointments to the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade ever will.
Waldman, to his credit, is dubious about all this, and rightly so. The problem is not the proposals, all of which sound pretty appealing to me; indeed, the failure of the Republican party and the pro-life movement generally to think about social spending and instead to fetishize "life" as a slogan without thinking about the context within which it may be recognized as valuable in the first place is a huge failure on their part. But the same thing, only in the reverse, applies to Obama's Democratic party. In order for the "pro-Obama, pro-life" argument as a set of policies to be fully enacted, to even just be treated as a fully respectable policy option for a President Obama to pursue, there needs to be some recognition that the practice of abortion is, in the great majority of cases anyway, a wrong, a harm, one that may be and should be, however minimally, however subject to other civil rights and prudential concerns, a topic about which democratic and popular judgments which acknowledge that wrong or that harm can legitimately be made (as I've argued for before, and which, for all their limits and pitfalls, really do make a difference). And Obama's promises on the campaign trail, especially about the Freedom of Choice Act, would make that important element of pursuing a true Third Way, if not impossible, then perhaps at best only a little better than mere window dressing.
This does not mean that Obama has nothing at all to offer voters who, like me, consider abortion to be a wrong and a harm, and want to know if his apparent disagreement with or lack of acknowledgement of our considerations--at least insofar certain definitions of "wrong" or "harm" are concerned--means that our point of view is completely anathema to him, one with which there is no common ground possible. Such is not entirely the case, at least not insofar as I can tell. I'm not comfortable with the culture war language many others have used to describe the man; he doesn't strike me as an "abortion radical," if only because a great deal of the raw material used to construct that label depends upon extremely marginal evidence, such as his vote in the Illinois senate on the Born Alive bill. To be sure, the conclusions which can be drawn from Obama's vote against that bill, and the excuses he has come up for doing so, are pretty clear evidence on their own that Obama isn't often thinking seriously--when he thinks at all--about abortion. But to build a major case against the man on the basis of a legislative movement that is, to a great degree, a distraction and semantic trap, strikes me as a mistake, especially in light of his comments from the final debate, comments which, as Waldman insightfully observed, suggested an appreciation of those voters worried about abortion rights for reasons having to do with sexuality and responsibility and religiosity and dignity. Which really means me, I guess. (The fact that strongly pro-choice defenders of Roe v. Wade read his comments the same way suggests that I'm not wrong in seeing Obama's words in this light.)
But maybe all this just suggests that I'm the problem; that I'm looking for words and possibilities--not likely ones, but at least glimmers of potential ones, if nothing else--to put off having to put my own beliefs regarding abortion fully on the line, and measure them against a candidate I'm not crazy about, but whom, despite his flaws, I've nonetheless really come to respect. So maybe I should do that here.
But my own beliefs regarding abortion aren't the sort of thing which are really amenable to being put on a line, because they aren't black and white. Or rather, I believe that there are black and whites out there in the thicket of issues surrounding the practice of abortion, but they aren't always blacks and white which can be codified morally, much less legally. Sometimes they can be, and indeed, I would insist that perhaps often they both can and should be...but still, not always. I admire--and in some ways even envy--the serious but relatively straightforward electoral calculations that Ross Douthat describes abortion opponents needing to make here, drawing upon the wise words of Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. But then, I'm not Catholic--I'm not even, as the words are usually used, "pro-life." I don't, to get right down to theological fundamentals, believe that after my death I will be confronted by the souls of the victims of abortion in the next life; Mormon theology just doesn't support a reading of the human spirit and its creation along those lines. Or, at least, it doesn't mandate such a reading. But I must admit it may be--for a variety of reasons, grounded in scripture as much as politics and culture and demographics--moving in that direction, and is therefore calling me out as a believer and as an opponent of essentially unlimited abortion rights to oppose Obama's candidacy, if only with my own symbolic vote here in Kansas. This is almost certainly would be the view of Mormon bloggers I respect like Adam Greenwood; I would be willing to wager it is similarly--and more importantly, for a believer like myself--is almost certainly the view of many, if not all, of the leaders of my church. Implicitly refuting the facile answer Obama gave at the Saddleback forum to a question about abortion and the status of the fetus (his "that question...is above my pay grade" comment, a comment which he subsequently admitted was too flip, but which hangs around his neck nonetheless), Elder Russell M. Nelson defended a basically Catholic/natural-law understanding of human development by detailing the growth of a person from conception on, and asserting that "to legislate when a developing life is considered 'meaningful' is presumptive and quite arbitrary, in my opinion." Moreover, rebuking the Obama's idea that abortion is a "moral and ethical" issue about which we need to respect the "profound struggles" which go into making a decision about abortion, Elder Dallin H. Oaks suggests that it is our obligation as believers to shape society positively, which means in particular in this case to "encourage righteous choices on matters [like abortion, which] God’s servants have defined as serious sins." And there are many more instances I could invoke besides these. Put it all together and it suggests a much more simple calculation--a calculation that may not involve a confrontation between our spirits and those which abortion killed whom we did not express ourselves on behalf of, but perhaps something close. Something much more substantive, anyway, than my own preferred mucking about with questions of responsibility and relationships and reduction. Something which--when set against Obama's honest statement at Saddleback that "if you believe that life begins at conception and you are consistent in that belief, then I can't argue with you on that because that"--seems to point towards only one conclusion.
And then there is this: just as above I admitted that the election of a president alters the way I prioritize voting issues, even though I don't think I should, it is similarly the case that discussions of Roe v. Wade affect me, even though I wish it were the case that the Supreme Court played a much smaller role in our lives as American citizens than it does presently. Because Roe v. Wade was, in my view, not just badly decided, but one of the most pernicious decisions the Supreme Court has ever given us, a decision which has had massive and mostly negative consequences for our collective ability--or even our willingness--to use legislatures to seek for the kind of democratic compromises which true self-government depends upon. In other words, again, I find myself nodding along with Ross Douthat: "returning control over abortion law to the hands of the voting public remains a necessary goal for any pro-life, socially-conservative politics that takes itself seriously as a change agent in American life." (And again: "[A]ny middle-ground, 'compromise' position on abortion [worth being called such]...would have to entail returning control over abortion policy to the legislative branch, and implementing, at the very least, more European-style restrictions on second and third-trimester abortions.")
So perhaps that clinches it? It's a presidential election, and there is likely to be at least one--if not two or three or four--position on the Supreme Court that'll open up over the next four years. Shouldn't I vote for McCain, if only for my own personal satisfaction, so as to vainly gesture (vain because 1) McCain isn't going to be elected, and 2) McCain probably wouldn't be able to get a truly reliable pro-life judge past a Democratic senate) in the direction of a defeat of Roe v. Wade? Moreover, perhaps Obama's language regarding abortion is all therapeutic nonsense and weak promissory notes at the very most. Shouldn't I vote for McCain, if only as the only responsible candidate on my ballot who can receive a vote to register my frustration at being obliged to overlook many admirable things in order to be counted in opposition to one truly evil thing?
But no. To walk away from standing up for many good things in the name of speaking out against one great bad thing doesn't necessarily lead to McCain: it could just as easily, here in Kansas anyway, lead me to Charles Baldwin and the Constitution Party, or Bob Barr and the Libertarian Party, and then I'd be investing myself, however nominally, in a whole host of presumptions--social and economic, as well as moral--that run even further against my overall political philosophy than McCain does...there have, after all, been a few things that I've supported McCain on, once upon a time: national service, election reform, etc. (Of course, there's also Ralph Nader, who is pretty squishy on the whole matter of abortion, but I believe I'm going to arbitrarily rule that I refuse to vote for the same person for president more than twice. Anyway, when I look at that range of options, I demur. I just don't believe it--or a I don't want to believe it. Maybe, on some terribly insignificant level, my turning away from the strong likelihood that an Obama presidency will take stands on abortion that will make things, in my view, worse rather than better in regards to that one issue; my grasping at straws ("sexuality is sacred," the responsibility of parents, reducing the need for abortion through social spending, etc., etc.) in the face of the obvious conclusion that Senator Obama is, while perhaps not a radical, than at least, as Steve Waldman put it, "very, very, very pro-choice"; my denial, if that's what it is, is simply some evidence in favor of all those conservative Republicans who have insisted that Obama's celebrity, his "cult," has convinced people to abandon their good judgment in the name of "hope."
Well, I do have hopes for what a President Obama will do--a lot of hopes, in fact. And my fears regarding what his presidency will mean for the future of abortion in America do not outweigh those hopes. Perhaps this is because I guess I'm not fully a believer in my own church's stated doctrine (or, to be exact here, in the direction which that stated doctrine seems to be evolving, even assuming that my own interpretations and applications of said doctrine adhere completely with the ones promulgated by church leaders; in the meantime, the fact that my church officially distinguishes between "the crime of abortion" and "the shedding of innocent human blood" suggests that there is at least a little bit of ambiguity left yet). Perhaps this is because Obama's focus on the social and economic context within which choices are made--whether for aborting a child or for raising and nurturing it as one should--fits in better with my own basic understanding of how to build a more egalitarian world in the midst of diversity and poverty. Perhaps this is because my own grasp of the communal dimensions of human life and politics necessitates that any serious ethic in the service of life and families and tradition--which would include a deterrance of abortion--be joined with a concern for the common good which focuses on overall well-being, and not just one's "ownership" of that which one claims as one's own. (In this final analysis, the Republican party platform today is more obsessed with "rights" than the Democratic party one, and all the worse for it.) Perhaps this is because I really am more interested in social justice than social righteousness. Or, perhaps I'm superficial, and I just like the cut of Obama's jib.
In the end, I feel conflicted. I feel conflicted because it may very well be that in four or eight years, the movement to discourage or deter abortion will, in the face of a newly invigorated Roe v. Wade-supporting majority, have been ground down to nearly nothing, with the concomitant result that one of the most important obstacles, in my view, to the thorough-going commodification of our sense of human life, to the increasingly disposable way in which we view relationships and sexuality and the obligations they should entail, will be all but silent. I hope I'm wrong, and I hope that all the good things that an Obama presidency may involve--a return to responsibility, a grasp of both the costs of and the need for genuine compassion and fairer taxation and better health in America--might rebound to make neighborhoods and families and jobs sufficiently more secure and stable as to make those same trends somewhat more minimal, or at least to hold them in place. And I hope, most of all, that my doubts are validated, and that when I die, my support in this election for a proponent of a terrible (perhaps very occasionally necessary, but still terrible) abortion regime, won't count against me at the judgment bar.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4:11 PM