Sorry for the long absence, I've not had a day off since my last entry. We are, to put it mildly, behind schedule. But I've got not one but two things to talk about today.
One: A response to Peggy Noonan's article on patriotism.
I recognize that this is a shameless sort of necro posting, since this article was written over three years ago. I recently discovered her website and was almost shocked to discover that here was a conservative commentator who managed not to be a braying, dangerous whack-job. I've even agreed with a number of her stances, and her writing is excellent. This, however, demanded a bit of a rebuttal from me. The claim that we can't really love our country without worshipping the "myth" of the nation, and that we don't teach this "myth" in schools anymore. I know it's been almost ten years since I took American History, but all I got was myth. The infallible awesomeness of our country enshrined in a twenty year old 30 pound text. What I did NOT get was "The politically correct nitwit teaching the seventh-grade history class who decides the impressionable young minds before him need to be informed, as their first serious history lesson, that the Founders were hypocrites, the Bill of Rights nothing new and imperfect in any case, that the Indians were victims of genocide, that Lincoln was a clinically depressed homosexual who compensated for the storms within by creating storms without . . ."
That's funny, I thought maybe that stuff should be taught cuz, well, IT'S ALL TRUE. And you know, I think this country would be greater if we acknowledged it. The Bill of Rights IS kinda flawed, in it's ambiguity of nothing else, but look what it has accomplished. Yes, the Founders were hypocrites in many cases, slave owners and misogynists, but they gave birth to a nation free of slavery and working, at least, on race and gender equality. The story loses so much depth when we just say "Look how awesome those old white dudes were. Perfect. Awesomer than YOU'LL ever be, that's for sure." Fuck that.
Some excerpts from Noonan's beloved myth:
"The genius cluster—Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Madison, Franklin, all the rest—that came along at the exact same moment to lead us. And then Washington, a great man in the greatest way, not in unearned gifts well used (i.e., a high IQ followed by high attainment) but in character, in moral nature effortfully developed. How did that happen? How did we get so lucky? (I once asked a great historian if he had thoughts on this, and he nodded. He said he had come to believe it was “providential.”)"
...cuz nowhere else in the history of mankind have a lot of smart people gotten together and done something impressive. Oh, and I guess Washington must have acquired all of that character AFTER he pioneered the slaughter of women and children as a means of victory in the Indian wars. Nice. Founder of the nation? Sure, and props for beating back the biggest army on the planet to do it. But paragon of fucking virtue? Hardly. And how do you think our Native citizens feel when they find out that "our Father" was particular good at murdering people for looking like them, and their teacher lied about it? I'm guessing not patriotic.
"We fought a war to free slaves. We sent millions of white men to battle and destroyed a portion of our nation to free millions of black men. What kind of nation does this?"
...um, for starters, the kind of nation that enslaved them in the first place? Seriously, how do you miss that part, and give our nation credit for freeing slaves while neglecting to mention that they were OUR FUCKING SLAVES??? Also, the kind of nation that started that war for economic and political purposes and used slavery as a convenient moral wedge when public support for that war started to flag (as it always does, pesky peaceniks). Just sayin'.
What Noonan is bemoaning is the supposed passing of a mindlessly jingoistic society that is neither to be mourned, nor actually passing. I see enough "Love it or Leave it" bumper stickers to know that. Acknowledging that our nation was founded and has been run by deeply flawed people is a strength, not a weakness, because it teaches out children that every moment, every person, IS history, not just the supposedly perfect guys in white wigs a quarter millenium ago. That's a far more valuable lesson in my book.
And for part two tonight, a rant I drafted earlier today. Some members of my (mostly in-law) family regularly debate science and politics via mass e-mails, and recently a discussion of the Korean crisis got dragooned into a talk about taxes and budget deficits, in turn hijacked for a talk about the legitimacy of social programs. I don't have reprint permissions, but basically a family member many times removed took a VERY cheap shot at welfare recipients, by posting lyrics to the Raimakers song Government Cheese.
I took exception:
"Wow. I'm really enjoying the respectful tone of this debate so far, but I have to admit that those lyrics are incredibly offensive to anyone, including myself, who has been on government assistance. When I first moved to Oregon, before J*** and I got married, I was having a hell of a time finding a job in the trades...even in 2005/2006 Eugene had an unemployment rate pushing 10%. There were simply NO JOBS. I was working temp shifts, labor ready, doing odd jobs on craigslist, and sending out dozen of employment applications a week. I was broke, I was desperate, and finally I was hungry, so I applied for food stamps. It was degrading, it was humiliating, they probed and prodded every single aspect of my financial history, my employment records, taxes, everything, before approving me for aid. But it got me through until I managed to get a loan and get back into school to finish my undergrad.
"I bring this up, my personal experiences, because the pervasive myth amongst conservative americans that people on welfare or food stamps are stupid, lazy, or greedy is deeply, personally offensive to me, and also complete and utter fucking bullshit. I've lived and (when I could find it) worked in some pretty damned poor neighborhoods, and while I did occassionally see more or less useless people, not trying to find work or anything except their next score of whatever drug they were doing, NONE of them was on government assistance. Because the moment you go on the dole, you are under surveillance to prevent exactly that! One of my dearest friends is on unemployment right now because she got laid off and can't find work with her skill set, and can't afford to move. And she has to meet every other week with a social worker to prove that she is indeed looking for work, by supplying written proof of each application's being declined. It's like she is on parole. But she accepts it, it's fair, because she IS taking taxpayer money, and in her words "it's just a leg up until I find a job, they have to make sure I'm trying." Those song lyrics are insulting one of the hardest working, most selfless people I know, who is having a run of bad luck.
"Because that's what it comes down to. Luck. That's why the conservative movement in this country HATES social services, "entitlements," and spreads propaganda against them ceaselessly. They MUST believe that people on the skids, on the dole, poor as dirt, are just lazy, because if you don't believe that, you have to admit that contrary to popular belief, HARD WORK ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH TO SUCCEED IN THIS COUNTRY. Oh, it is almost always necessary; but almost never sufficient by itself. If you look back honestly, B***, I'm sure you will recollect some point in your past when you had a lucky break. Some opportunity you sensed and exploited and made good on, and you are to be applauded for that. But nonetheless, I'd bet my next paycheck that at some point something totally beyond your control gave you a leg up, and opening, that you couldn't have made for yourself. There's no shame in that, but for some reason the very idea is anethema to conservative thinkers. Their success must, in their minds, be due EXCLUSIVELY to their brilliance, hard work, and moxy. And the only way they can maintain that belief is to shit on people who AREN'T successful. To blame them for their circumstances, universally. And if it's their fault, why should we help them? All they have to do is pull themselves up by their bootstraps (notice the irony that the very metaphor for being self-made is a physical impossibility?), after all, so let the sluts and their brats, the alcoholics and criminals and ignorant hicks starve, right? Not my problem, I've GOT mine, and I feel fine.
"Well, not in this country. People have been starving and dying in the gutters of every civilization since the dawn of history. We can do better. The United States of America is better than that. We were until recently the most prosperous people on the planet, there is NO EXCUSE for any of our people to go hungry, uneducated, homeless, hopeless. Are some of them lazy? Sure. Crazy? You bet. Criminal? Alas. But we can build a system where the hard working can succeed, without the fear that failure means utter destitution, even death, for themselves and their children. That the best and brightest of our nation can accumulate great wealth and properity while STILL providing everyone with the most basic needs of life, so the liberty and happiness can be persued as promised so long ago. I would rather my tax dollars supported a hundred useless free loaders than let ONE child know the hopelessness that comes with crushing poverty and lack of opportunity. Because opportunity isn't just access to a free market system, it is access to a system that will help you up when life knocks you down, where a people have banded together and declared that no one will starve, not in their neighborhood. The very behaviors that conservatives hold high in small towns they revile on the national scale; why?"
I did not recieve an answer, not really. Just a bullfaced declaration that I was wrong (from someone who has never been or worked with poor people, I gather. Upstanding business owner, this guy), and that hard work IS all that is necessary, and that I could take everything from him, including his education and starting money (not his gender or race, I noted), and he GUARANTEED he'd be a success in 20 years.