Tom Foley’s passing recalls the bipartisan spirit of a bygone era

By Robert H. Michel, Washington Post, October 20, 2013

(Robert H. Michel, a Republican, represented Illinois in the U.S. House from 1957 to 1995. He was Republican leader from 1981 to 1995. Thomas Foley represented Washington in the U. S. House as a Democrats from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995 when he was defeated for reelection during the Gingrich Revolution. Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, succeeded him as Speaker.)

Excerpt  

Speaker Tom Foleysaid it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week [October 18, 2013) that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust…The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency…This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power…

Full text

Try as he might, Speaker Tom Foley could not gavel the House to order. It was Nov. 29, 1994, the last day of the 103rd Congress. I had just offered a resolution honoring him, and the speaker was being given a standing ovation for his 30 years of service. Our fellow members would not sit or quiet down.

It was a fitting tribute to a great public servant who assumed the mantle of leadership in the House at a difficult time.

Tom had just been defeated for reelection, and I was retiring. In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and comity, Tom invited me to assume the chair on the speaker’s podium while he gave his farewell address. For the first time in 40 years, a Republican presided over the House, if only for a few minutes.

Tom’s remarks were eloquent. But one comment struck me then and came to mind again recently amid all the rancor and partisan brinkmanship our country can ill afford.

Tom said it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust.

When Tom became speaker, he suggested that we get together once a week to discuss matters before the House. One week, he said, I will come to your office, and the next you can come to mine. We did that regularly. We had disagreements over policy and we pushed and pulled politically, but the hallmark of our conversations was the trust underlying them. We could talk about anything, knowing that our discussions would remain private unless we decided otherwise. We had some very personal and delicate exchanges and never compromised their confidentiality.

The meetings themselves were a rarity in Washington. House Speaker Carl Albert and Minority Leader Gerry Ford used to park themselves on a bench just off the House floor and talk, but so far as I know the regular meetings Tom and I had in our offices have not been repeated since.

Tom and I last spoke four days before he died. We recalled one of the toughest tests of our relationship. It occurred in 1991 over Operation Desert Storm. It was important to President George H.W. Bush that Congress authorize military action over Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. Rep. Steve Solarz (D-N.Y.) and I introduced a resolution authorizing military action. This was an agonizing decision for me, having served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II. Sending Americans into combat is always tough. Tom harbored personal reservations about military intervention, and a substantial number in his caucus strongly opposed an invasion. Allowing the resolution to go to the floor for open debate and a recorded vote took political courage and personal decency. The debate that ensued did the country proud. The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency. As speaker, he had replaced Jim Wright (D-Tex.), himself a tough partisan who had been forced from office. This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power.

Tom and I conversed many times publicly and privately after leaving Congress. In all of those exchanges, we agreed on how to govern, how to get decisions made and how to find reasonable solutions to difficult problems.

We were too conditioned by our personal and political upbringing to assume that we had the market cornered on political principle or partisan superiority. We knew, too, that there should always be a distinction, and separation, between campaigning for office and serving in office. We were pupils of the old school.

When we stood side by side at the speaker’s podium on the last day of the 103rd Congress, political adversaries but personal friends, we knew that we were icons of a bygone era. As we visited last week, almost 20 years later, I think we both felt good about that. We both took great pride in knowing we had made things happen. I hope the past turns out to be prologue, and I think Tom would have agreed.

Read more on this topic: Chris Matthews: Breaking the deadlock on Pennsylvania Avenue Eric Cantor: Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation Joseph A. Morris: Shutdowns have been frequent tools of policy. Just ask Reagan. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Our fantasy is a Congress that gets stuff done

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-foleys-passing-recalls-the-bipartisan-spirit-of-a-bygone-era/2013/10/20/897201ca-39ab-11e3-b6a9-da62c264f40e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Poll Conducted for Aspen Ideas Festival Shows ‘American Dream’ Unreachable for Most Americans 2006

US Newswire | July 6, 2006

Excerpt

…a new survey conducted by Dr. Douglas E. Schoen finds that a majority of Americans say they are not living the American Dream…Some of the key findings of the survey are as follows:– While 81 percent agree that America is the land of opportunity, the idea is not something that is being realized, it is simply an abstract concept. — Today, 61 percent of Americans say they are not living the American Dream.

Full text

Aspen, Colo., Jul 6, 2006 (U.S. Newswire via COMTEX) — With Americans having just celebrated their nation’s independence, a new survey conducted by Dr. Douglas E. Schoen finds that a majority of Americans say they are not living the American Dream. Dr. Schoen’s findings were presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival, a weeklong exploration of ideas across an array of timely topics that is being co-presented by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic magazine.

Some of the key findings of the survey are as follows:

– While 81 percent agree that America is the land of opportunity, the idea is not something that is being realized, it is simply an abstract concept.

– Today, 61 percent of Americans say they are not living the …

http://business.highbeam.com/1208/article-1G1-147885220/poll-conducted-aspen-ideas-festival-shows-american

The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure by Terrance Heath

Campaign For America’s Future, January 8, 2010

 Excerpt

…I hereby dub the past ten years “The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure.”
…the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice…it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in. (Even if we find along the way the fingerprints of some Democrats Who Should Have Known Better™.)
It was a decade during which conservatives controlled both Congress and the While House, and could thus enact much of their agenda.

…Conservatives turned a budget surplus we had then into the deficit we have now…. It was the predicted outcome of conservative policy decisions.
Conservatives shrunk the economy. Despite what Glenn Beck [9] and the rest of the conservative noise machine say, what happened to the economy didn’t just happen in the past year. And it didn’t just happen. It was the predictable outcome of conservative politicy decisions…

Full Text

“Stuff happens.” — Donald Rumsfeld on the looting of Iraq following the U.S invasion.
Forget about “the Aughts.” Never mind “the Naughts.” The decade just passed — and which promises to leave a lingering, bitter aftertaste — deserves a far better, more descriptive name. So for what it’s worth, I hereby dub the past ten years “The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure.”
It’s as good as any of the others I’ve heard. Perhaps better. Here’s why.
Because despite the wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld, “stuff” doesn’t just happen. Despite what Joel Achenbach [1] seems to think, the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice. And, despite what Matt Yglesias [2] seems to think, it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in. (Even if we find along the way the fingerprints of some Democrats Who Should Have Known Better™.)
There were plenty of messes. And, like the clean-up crew after a wild, drunken party, we’re still uncovering messes, some of which we can smell before we actually see them.
It was a decade during which conservatives controlled both Congress and the While House, and could thus enact much of their agenda. Thus, it was a decade of “uh-ohs” [3]
Uh-oh is an ubiquitous interjection or expression of dismay in the English language, usually said in anticipation of something bad about to happen, with the sly admittance of guilt that one may have caused something bad to happen, or perceiving that something bad has already happened.
From the economy to energy to security, the “Uh-Ohs” abounded.

Uh-Oh! Conservatives turned a budget surplus we had then into the deficit we have now. It’s true. Even the Wall Street Journal [4] had to acknowledge that the perhaps the biggest legacy of the Bush years is the huge deficit.
In other words, the deficit didn’t just happen, and it didn’t have to happen. It was the predicted outcome of conservative policy decisions.
Basically:
• Bush and congressional conservatives came into office with a $236 billion surplus [5] projected to last years into the future. They turned it into a $412 billion deficit, in just four years [6].
• Bush used the existing surplus (and the $5.6 trillion surplus projected over the next ten years) as justification for huge tax cuts for the wealthy [7].
• Even as the costs of the was in Iraq and Afghanistan spiraled skyward, Bush refused to pay the costs of waging two wars with tax increases [7] or other budgetary offsets.
• As a result, the government ran a deficit, and paid for some of its biggest expenditures with borrowed money.
• Ever “reality-based,” in 2007 the Bush administration predicted a $61 billion surplus by 2012 [8], but presented a 2008 budget that added $251 billion to the deficit [5].
Uh-Oh! Conservatives shrunk the economy. Despite what Glenn Beck [9] and the rest of the conservative noise machine say, what happened to the economy didn’t just happen in the past year. And it didn’t just happen. It was the predictable outcome of conservative politics and policies during their decade of “uh-ohs.”
• Bush and congressional conservatives who supported him, presided over the weakest economy in decades [10]. The number of jobs increased by only about 2% during the Bush years, and the gross domestic product grew at just a 2.1% annual rate.
• It was the worst decade for the stock market, which was down 26% from where it started in 2000 [11].
Uh-oh! It was the worst decade for jobs. Some 7 million jobs were lost (perhaps permanently), 14.5 million were left unemployed, and 6 million out-of-work adults became discouraged and stopped looking for works and are thus not even counted among the unemployed.
• Manufacturing fell to its lowest level in 26 years [12].
• By the end of the decade, the jobless rate reached a 26-year-high [13].
• There were 6.5 job seekers per job opening [14], by the end of the decade.
• ”One in five Americans are unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work.” [15]
• Bush finished his term with the worst track record ever on jobs [16] since the government began keeping records in 1939.
• In fact, there’s been zero net job creation since December 1999 [17].
• The 10% unemployment rate isn’t expected to change in 2010 [18], and probably won’t return to pre-recession levels of less than 5% in the next six years.
This is just a beginning; a brief foray into a decade that was — but certainly didn’t have to be — filled with more items like those above. Such a decade, after all, deserves far more than one blog post.
Besides, we haven’t yet covered Iraq, Katrina, economic inequality, e. coli… With ten years of conservative failure to cover, there are definitely more “Uh-Ohs” to come.
Summary:
Forget about “the Aughts.” Never mind “the Naughts.” The decade just passed — and which promises to leave a lingering, bitter aftertaste — deserves a far better, more descriptive name. So for what it’s worth, I hereby dub the past ten years “The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure.”
http://www.ourfuture.org/trackback/43689
• The Big Con
• An Economy for All
• The Uh-Ohs
Links:
[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/26/AR2009122601822.html
[2] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/causes-of-the-financial-crisis.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: matthewyglesias (Matthew Yglesias)&utm_content=Google Reader
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uh-oh_(expression)
[4] http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB120183030007834031-_ODGkYMWSHHx1q_0YZJ5HF6ojK0_20090131.html
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/washington/05budget.html
[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc6yFPoc0JU
[7] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/02/24/national/main274334.shtml
[8] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/04/AR2007020401174.html
[9] http://airamerica.com/really/01-05-2010/beck-obama-intentionally-collapsing-our-economy/
[10] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/11/AR2009011102301_pf.html
[11] http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1942834,00.html
[12] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7706905.stm
[13] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8238358.stm
[14] http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/jolts_20091208/
[15] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-warren/america-without-a-middle_b_377829.html
[16] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/01/09/bush-on-jobs-the-worst-track-record-on-record/
[17] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/01/AR2010010101196.html?wprss=rss_business
[18] http://money.cnn.com/2010/01/07/news/economy/jobs_outlook/index.htm
http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010010108/uh-ohs-decade-conservative-failure

 

Reflections on Iraq tragedy

The Neoconservatives

The Bush Doctrine – ABM, Kyoto, and the New American Unilateralism by Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, June 4, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 36

The Real New World Order – The American and the Islamic challenge by Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard  Vol. 7, No. 09,   November 12, 2001

Open Letter to the President A letter to George W. Bush about our nation’s defense budget. The Weekly Standard, January 23, 2003 

Chalmers Johnson on the fall of the republic By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch.com, September 9, 2003

The Project for the New American Century By William Rivers Pitt, Information Clearing House 02/25/03

Neocons and the Iraq War: Their view then and now 10 years later By Eric Black, Minnpost.com, March 15, 2013 www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2013/03/neocons-and-iraq-war-their-view-then-and-now-10-years-later

Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 20, 2009 

The war

Context of ‘September 25-26, 2001: Neoconservative Commentator Kristol Advocates Regime Change in Iraq, Slams Powell’ HistoryCommons.org

It’s About A Lot More Than A “Goddamned Piece of Paper” by Steve Watson,  Capitol Hill Blue, December 12 2005

Bush Never Said “Mission Accomplished”by Reginald Dale, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 19, 2013

Mission Accomplished - Speech on YouTube  

Cost/benefit of war

War Is a Force That Pays the 1 Percent: Occupying American Foreign Policy by: J.A. Myerson, Truthout | News Analysis, November 14, 2011

Iraq War Cost U.S. More Than $2 Trillion, Could Grow to $6 Trillion, Says Watson Institute Study By Daniel Trotta, Reuters 3/14/13 on

American Militarism: Costs and Consequences By Melvin Goodman, City Lights Books | Book Excerpt, Truth-out.org, 05 March 2013

Looking back

Democrats Share the Blame for Tragedy of Iraq War, 17 March 2013 06:59 By Stephen Zunes, Truthout | Op-Ed

Minnesota senators’ ‘No’ votes on Iraq War — and other 10th anniversary thoughts By Eric Black, MinnPost.com, March 19, 2013

10 Years After Iraq Invasion: Continued Myths, Hundreds of Thousands Killed by Andrea Germanos, staff writer, Common Dreams, March 18, 2013

10 years after Iraq War: What do we have to show for it? By Eric Black, MinnPost.com, March 14, 2013

Ten Years Later, Eyes Still Wide Shut on the Iraq War by Ray McGovern, Consortium News,  February 25, 2013

How the Bush Administration Sold the War – and We Bought It by Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, The Guardian, February 28, 2013

The Worst Mistake in U.S. History — America Will Never Recover from Bush’s Great Foreign Policy Disaster By Peter Van Buren, Tom Dispatch , March 7, 2013

10 Years Later: Looking Back on the Iraq War So We Can Clearly Look Forward by Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, 03/06/2013

Tony Blair should face trial over Iraq war, says Desmond Tutu by  The Observer,   September 1, 2012   – Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for Tony Blair and George Bush to be hauled before the international criminal court in The Hague and delivered a damning critique of the physical and moral devastation caused by the Iraq war.

 

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

by Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | News Analysis, 27 February 2013 

Excerpt

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry...Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable…

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think criticallyAt the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged…a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good…things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility….

…What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s. What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society...

the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world…

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life… The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

 

…We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts. We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignoranceAt stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation…The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish…what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each otherThe radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

Full Text

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

 

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

 

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

 

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

 

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

 

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

 

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

 

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

 

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

 

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

 

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

 

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

 

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

 

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

 

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

 

Toward a Radical Imagination

 

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

 

    This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

 

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

 

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

 

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

 

Endnotes

 

1.

David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

 

2.

See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals

 

3.

See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti War.com (February 26, 2013). On line: http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2013/02/25/boots-on-campus/ and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

 

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,” New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/sports/ncaafootball/a-company-that-runs-prisons-will-have-its-name-on-a-stadium.html?_r=0

 

4.

Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

 

5.

Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online: http://www.thenation.com/article/163690/cruel-america

 

6.

Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/18/cops-nab-five-year-old-wearing-wrong-color-shoes-school

 

7.

Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/since-recession-more-young-americans-are-homeless.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

8.

Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/24/guns-children_n_2359661.html

 

9.

John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0115-01.htm

 

10.

Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

 

11.

See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

 

12.

Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).

 

13.

Ibid.

 

14.

Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

 

15.

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

 

16.

This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

 

17.

I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

 

18.

Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

19.

Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-f-35-a-weapon-that-costs-more-than-australia/72454/

 

20.

John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

 

21.

Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

 

22._

Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online: http://www.alternet.org/story/155515/is_texas_waging_war_on_history

 

23.

Ibid.

 

24.

See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

 

25.

Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,”Desmogblog.com (January 31, 2013). Online: www.desmogblog.com/2013/01/31/three-states-pushing-alec-bill-climate-change-denial-schools

 

26.

Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

 

27.

John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online: https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/18-2

 

28.

Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

 

29.

Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

 

30.

James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/jan/07/an-open-letter-to-my-sister-miss-angela-davis/?pagination=false

 

31.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

 

32.

Ibid, 296.

 

33.

James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

Henry A Giroux

 

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books:   Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.

2012 or Never

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, Feb 26, 2012

Republicans are worried this election could be their last chance to stop history. This is fear talking. But not paranoia.

Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away.

“America is approaching a ‘tipping point’ beyond which the Nation will be unable to change course,” announces the dark, old-timey preamble to Paul Ryan’s “The Roadmap Plan,” a statement of fiscal principles that shaped the budget outline approved last spring by 98 percent of the House Republican caucus. Rick Santorum warns his audiences, “We are reaching a tipping point, folks, when those who pay are the minority and those who receive are the majority.” Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”

The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states. Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

Obama’s victory carried out the blueprint. Campaign reporters cast the election as a triumph of Obama’s inspirational message and cutting-edge organization, but above all his sweeping win reflected simple demography. Every year, the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point—meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country. One measure of how thoroughly the electorate had changed by the time of Obama’s election was that, if college-­educated whites, working-class whites, and minorities had cast the same proportion of the votes in 1988 as they did in 2008, Michael Dukakis would have, just barely, won. By 2020—just eight years away—nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, nonwhites will outnumber whites.

Now, there are two points to keep in mind about the emerging Democratic majority. The first is that no coalition is permanent. One party can build a majority, but eventually the minority learns to adapt to an altered landscape, and parity returns. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then an obscure Nixon-­administration staffer, wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, arguing that Republicans could undo FDR’s New Deal coalition by exploiting urban strife, the unpopularity of welfare, and the civil-rights struggle to pull blue-collar whites into a new conservative bloc. The result was the modern GOP. Bill Clinton appropriated some elements of this conservative coalition by rehabilitating his party’s image on welfare and crime (though he had a little help from Ross Perot, too). But it wasn’t until Obama was elected that a Democratic president could claim to be the leader of a true majority party.

The second point is that short-term shocks, like war, recession, or scandal, can exert a far more powerful influence than a long-term trend: The Watergate scandal, for instance, interrupted the Republican majority at its zenith, helping elect a huge raft of Democratic congressmen in 1974, followed two years later by Jimmy Carter.

But the dominant fact of the new Democratic majority is that it has begun to overturn the racial dynamics that have governed American politics for five decades. Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.

Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head. In the aftermath of George McGovern’s 1972 defeat, neoconservative intellectual Jeane Kirk­patrick disdainfully identified his voters as “intellectuals enamored with righteousness and possibility, college students, for whom perfectionism is an occupational hazard; portions of the upper classes freed from concern with economic self-interest,” and so on, curiously neglecting to include racial minorities. All of them were, in essence, people who heard a term like “real American” and understood that in some way it did not apply to them. Today, cosmopolitan liberals may still feel like an embattled sect—they certainly describe their political fights in those terms—but time has transformed their rump minority into a collective majority. As conservative strategists will tell you, there are now more of “them” than “us.” What’s more, the disparity will continue to grow indefinitely. Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.

Portents of this future were surely rendered all the more vivid by the startling reality that the man presiding over the new majority just happened to be, himself, young, urban, hip, and black. When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.

In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a high-profile presence on the Republican intellectual scene, wrote a 2010 book titled The Battle, urging conservatives to treat the struggle for economic libertarianism as a “culture war” between capitalism and socialism, in which compromise was impossible. Time was running short, Brooks pleaded in apocalyptic tones. The “real core” of what he called Obama’s socialistic supporters was voters under 30. “It is the future of our country,” he wrote. “And this group has exhibited a frightening openness to statism in the age of Obama.”

The same panic courses through a new tome by James DeMint, who has made himself probably the most influential member of the Senate by relentlessly pushing his colleagues to the right and organizing primary challenges to snuff out any hint of moderation among his co-partisans. ­DeMint’s book, titled Now or Never, paints a haunting picture: “Republican supporters will continue to decrease every year as more Americans become dependent on the government. Dependent voters will naturally elect even big-government progressives who will continue to smother economic growth and spend America deeper into debt. The 2012 election may be the last opportunity for Republicans.”

That apocalyptic rhetoric is just as common among voters as among conservative eggheads and party elites. Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociologist, conducted a detailed study of tea-party activists and discovered that they saw themselves beset by parasitic Democrats. “Along with illegal immigrants,” she wrote, “low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services.”

It’s easy for liberals to ­dismiss these fears as simple racism—and surely racism, to some degree, sways the tea party. But it is not just conservative white people who react fearfully when they ­see themselves ­outnumbered by an influx of people unlike themselves. Minorities do it. White hipsters do it. Recall the embarrassing spectacle of liberal panic, in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s reelection, when Kerry voters believed their country had been taken over by gay-bashing Evangelical Christians.

That the struggles over the economic policies of the last few years have taken on the style of a culture war should come as no surprise, since conservatives believe Obama has pulled together an ascendant coalition of voters intent on expropriating their money. Paul Ryan, the House Republican budget chairman, has, like many Republicans, cast the fight as pitting “makers” against “takers,” with the latter in danger of irrevocably gaining the upper hand. “The tipping point represents two dangers,” he announced in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, “first, long-term economic decline as the number of makers diminishes [and] the number of takers grows … Second, gradual moral-political decline as dependency and passivity weaken the nation’s character.”

Of course, both parties make use of end-times rhetoric, especially in election season. What’s novel about the current spate of Republican millennialism is that it’s not a mere rhetorical device to rally the faithful, nor even simply an expression of free-­floating terror, but the premise of an electoral strategy.

In that light, the most surprising response to the election of 2008 is what did not happen. Following Obama’s win, all sorts of loose talk concerning the Republican predicament filled the air. How would the party recast itself? Where would it move left, how would it find common ground with Obama, what new constituencies would it court?

The most widely agreed-upon component of any such undertaking was a concerted effort to win back the Hispanic vote. It seemed like a pure political no-brainer, a vital outreach to an exploding electoral segment that could conceivably be weaned from its Democratic leanings, as had previous generations of Irish and Italian immigrants, without altering the party’s general right-wing thrust on other issues. George W. Bush had tried to cobble together a comprehensive immigration-reform policy only to see it collapse underneath a conservative grassroots revolt, and John McCain, who had initially co-sponsored a bill in the Senate, had to withdraw his support for it in his pursuit of the 2008 nomination.

In the wake of his defeat, strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, “a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.”

None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states—ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,” overshared William O’Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.

And to what end? The Republicans’ most audacious choice is the hyperaggressive position they’ve adopted against Obama to sabotage his chances for a second term. Frustrated liberals, assessing the methods of the Republicans in Congress, see a devious brilliance at work in the GOP strategy of legislative obstruction. And indeed, Republicans very skillfully ground the legislative gears to a halt for months on end, weakening or killing large chunks of Obama’s agenda, and nurturing public discontent with Washington that they rode to a sweeping victory in 2010. At the same time, their inability to waver from desperate, all-or-nothing opposition often meant conservatives willingly suffered policy defeats for perceived political gain, and failed to minimize the scale of those defeats.

Take the fight over health-care reform. Yes, Republicans played the politics about as well as possible. But it was their hard line on compromise allowed the bill to pass: The Democrats only managed to cobble together 60 votes to pass it in the Senate because conservatives drove Arlen Specter out of the GOP, forcing him to switch to the Democratic Party. Without him, Democrats never could have broken a filibuster. When Scott Brown surprisingly won the 2010 race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats were utterly despondent, and many proposed abandoning comprehensive health-care reform to cut a deal for some meager expansion of children’s health insurance. But Republicans refused to offer even an olive branch. Presented with a choice between passing the comprehensive bill they had spent a year cobbling together or collapsing in total ignominious defeat, the Democrats passed the bill.

Last summer, Obama was again desperate to reach compromise, this time on legislation to reduce the budget deficit, which had come to dominate the political agenda and symbolize, in the eyes of Establishment opinion, Obama’s failure to fulfill his campaign goal of winning bipartisan cooperation. In extended closed-door negotiations, Obama offered Republicans hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts and a permanent extension of Bush-era tax rates in return for just $800 billion in higher revenue over a decade. This was less than half the new revenue proposed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. Republicans spurned this deal, too.

Instead the party has bet everything on 2012, preferring a Hail Mary strategy to the slow march of legislative progress. That is the basis of the House Republicans’ otherwise inexplicable choice to vote last spring for a sweeping budget plan that would lock in low taxes, slash spending, and transform Medicare into ­private vouchers—none of which was popular with voters. Majority parties are known to hold unpopular votes occasionally, but holding an ­unpopular vote that Republicans knew full well stood zero chance of enactment (with Obama casting a certain veto) broke new ground in the realm of foolhardiness.

The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.

Will the gamble work? Grim though the long-term demography may be, it became apparent to Republicans almost immediately after Obama took office that political fate had handed them an impossibly lucky opportunity. Democrats had come to power almost concurrently with the deepest economic crisis in 80 years, and Republicans quickly seized the tactical advantage, in an effort to leverage the crisis to rewrite their own political fortunes. The Lesser Depression could be an economic Watergate, the Republicans understood, an exogenous political shock that would, at least temporarily, overwhelm any deeper trend, and possibly afford the party a chance to permanently associate the Democrats with the painful aftermath of the crisis.

During the last midterm elections, the strategy succeeded brilliantly. Republicans moved further right and won a gigantic victory. In the 2010 electorate, the proportion of voters under 30 fell by roughly a third, while the proportion of voters over 65 years old rose by a similar amount—the white share, too. In the long run, though, the GOP has done nothing at all to rehabilitate its deep unpopularity with the public as a whole, and has only further poisoned its standing with Hispanics. But by forswearing compromise, it opened the door to a single shot. The Republicans have gained the House and stand poised to win control of the Senate. If they can claw out a presidential win and hold on to Congress, they will have a glorious two-year window to restore the America they knew and loved, to lock in transformational change, or at least to wrench the status quo so far rightward that it will take Democrats a generation to wrench it back. The cost of any foregone legislative compromises on health care or the deficit would be trivial compared to the enormous gains available to a party in control of all three federal branches.

On the other hand, if they lose their bid to unseat Obama, they will have mortgaged their future for nothing at all. And over the last several months, it has appeared increasingly likely that the party’s great all-or-nothing bet may land, ultimately, on nothing. In which case, the Republicans will have turned an unfavorable outlook into a truly bleak one in a fit of panic. The deepest effect of Obama’s election upon the Republicans’ psyche has been to make them truly fear, for the first time since before Ronald Reagan, that the future is against them.

http://nymag.com/news/features/gop-primary-chait-2012-3/

President Barack Obama, Editorial

New York Times, January 21, 2013

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation… explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage…President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women….Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort…With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

Full text

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action. In the coming days, there will be no let up of political combat over the debt ceiling, gun control, national security and tax policies that can either reduce income inequality or allow such inequality to stifle economic growth and opportunity for all but the very wealthiest in this society.

But, on Monday, the president stepped back from those immediate battles to explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage.

“We have always understood that when times change, so must we,” he said, “that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

In every sphere of life — improving education, building roads, caring for the poor and elderly, training workers, recovering from natural disasters, providing for our defense — progress requires that Americans do these things together, Mr. Obama said.

That applies, he said, to “the commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other. The choice is not “between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said.   “For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women. Disappointingly, the need for stricter gun controls was noted solely in a reference to the safety of children in places like Newtown, Conn.

On foreign policy, President Obama expressed with fervor a view of the role of the United States in a world that is threatened by terrorism on many continents. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that what he wants to achieve in his second term must be done in the next two years — perhaps even in the first 18 months. Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort.

Time is not on his side. It is pointless to wait for signs of conciliation from the extreme right, whose central ideology is to render government ineffective. He has gotten off to a good start by putting forward a comprehensive plan to tighten gun laws, despite outrageous propaganda against sensible controls from the gun lobby.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that there is much left to be done to shore up the economic recovery and invest in education and opportunities for the next generation. And, above all, he stressed the importance of the middle class to America’s economic survival. “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said.

It’s natural for a second-term president to be thinking about his place in history. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama has the ambition and intellect to place himself in the first rank of presidents. With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/opinion/president-obamas-second-inauguration.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122&_r=0

In four short years, how the world changed

By Ken Smith, Washington Post, January 14, 2013

…We can’t know what travails and triumphs the next four years will send President Obama’s way, but we can be certain that the list won’t be what’s on his docket this Inauguration Day. In Obama’s first term, revolution swept the world’s most volatile region, the American Dream was redefined, the economy collapsed and gasped its way toward recovery, nature turned destructive to an almost unprecedented degree, and a man murdered a small town’s children. As Obama prepares to shoulder whatever comes next, we look back on 10 trials of one presidential term:

1. Economic Crisis

2. The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

3. Occupy Wall Street

4. Gay Marriage

5. Natural Disasters

6. Affordable Care Act

7. Arab Spring

8. Automotive Bailout

9. Apple’s iPad

10. Gun Violence

Full text

In four years, presidents age a decade, sometimes two. They turn gray, their faces sag, their voices grow huskier. Whatever mandate they’ve been elected to fulfill, whatever sense of control they felt on that first January morning when the crowd’s hopes carried them down Pennsylvania Avenue, quickly runs up against a cold fact:

The world stops for no president.

We can’t know what travails and triumphs the next four years will send President Obama’s way, but we can be certain that the list won’t be what’s on his docket this Inauguration Day.

In Obama’s first term, revolution swept the world’s most volatile region, the American Dream was redefined, the economy collapsed and gasped its way toward recovery, nature turned destructive to an almost unprecedented degree, and a man murdered a small town’s children. As Obama prepares to shoulder whatever comes next, we look back on 10 trials of one presidential term:

1. Economic Crisis:

The collapse hurt everyone, then things got weird. In the first months after Obama took office, it seemed that the entire nation had been dealt a body blow: Stocks plummeted, foreclosures mounted, factories shuttered, jobs evaporated. But in the following years, even as corporate profits rebounded nicely and stocks proved resilient, unemployment remained stubbornly high. The yawning inequality between the rich and the rest expressed itself in a realigned economy, with most Americans facing suddenly and unhappily lowered expectations. Basements filled with 20-somethings who had neither careers nor clear trajectories, the nation’s birthrate dropped to a record low, Europe’s woes provided a warning about the deeper pain that austerity could bring, and meanwhile, the rich were doing better than they had pre-collapse. Thus do fairness and populism poke their way back into the nation’s politics.

2. The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

It never even had a name; it was just the war in Iraq. For the war’s entire nine-year history, debate raged over what would constitute a win. The president who started it said this was part of a war that might never end, a war not against a country, but against an idea, an -ism. Obama ran for office promising to end that war and win the one in Afghanistan, another war with no name. When we finally declared the end to the fighting in Iraq, we had neither ended terrorism nor created a vibrant democracy. But had we planted the roots of the Arab Spring? And when the president doubled down on Afghanistan, just as we had in Vietnam, did he do so knowing there would be no victory, just a never-ending rearguard action against something worse? We couldn’t claim to have made life much better for Afghanis, we lost thousands of our own men and women, we spent ourselves into unfathomable debt, and the best we could say is that we maintained a grim status quo.

3. Occupy Wall Street:

American history offers this constant: When times get tough, the frustrated turn back to the principles that got us started. Suddenly, people who had never had much interest in politics were carrying copies of the Constitution, allying themselves with the Founders, revving up their inner Tom Paines. As unemployment soared and foreclosures flourished, the tea party flared, fed by cynicism about Washington and anger aimed at corporate powers. Then came Occupy Wall Street, similarly cynical. Despite their ideological differences, both movements were wonderfully American and almost irrationally optimistic, attracting people who truly believed they could change the system just by making themselves known and clear. Not long after they flared, both began to drift into history. Coming together in frustration is one thing; governing is harder.

4. Gay Marriage:

It was the biggest shift in social attitudes since the civil rights movement, but this change happened without lunch counter sit-ins or shameful images of men in uniforms wielding fire hoses against people asserting their humanity. By the time the president announced what most people had long assumed, that he supported the right of men to marry men and women to marry women, there was no shock. This social revolution occurred not in the public square, but at home, in kitchens and living rooms where family and friends learned that their loved ones loved people of their own sex. It was a revolution of private persuasion, helped along by popular culture, and by the new shape of the American family — single parents, childless couples, people in ever more complex stepfamilies. By the time laws and votes and presidential pronouncements started piling up, the change was pretty much done.

5. Natural Disasters:

The heavens raged. Storms with the names of sirens, Sandy and Irene, altered the coastlines. Quakes ravaged Japan and jostled Washington. Hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis — for years, experts on both sides of the global warming debate warned us that weather does not equal climate: Stuff happens, and it’s only the long, long run that makes the case. But although a few big weather events don’t prove that the planet is warming, climate change in the form of warmer sea temperatures is contributing to the strength of the recent megastorms. For now, the insurance industry and government, like 3-year-olds after they’ve knocked down their blocks, gamely pick up the pieces. But like any reasonable toddler, the taxpayer will eventually tire of repeated cleanups. And then?

6. Affordable Care Act:

The history of economic security, from feudalism (bless you for feeding me, lord!) to fraternal organizations (the Masons and Elks take care of their own) to the modern nation-state (poorhouses to pensions), is a story of slow expansion of the minimum we think people need to get by. There have been times when thousands marched on Washington to demand more security. That kind of uprising — and the crushing, nearly universal pain of the Great Depression — brought us Social Security. Three decades later, Lyndon Johnson expanded the definition of security to include health care for the elderly and poor, with Medicare and Medicaid. Half a century after that, Barack Obama — for once able to set his own agenda — asked Americans to see health care as a basic right for all. Like Social Security and Medicare before it, Obamacare — the wholesale acceptance of the term is the best evidence that the program will stick — aroused horrified visions of American socialism. But its provisions proved immediately popular (covering preexisting conditions, keeping young adults on their parents’ policies). As ever with expansions of security, the new minimum is quickly accepted, even if the price continues to sting.

7. Arab Spring:

In a part of the world where long-gone colonial powers drew artificial borders and a few men wielded awesome and autocratic authority, revolution came not with guns or fires, but through videos posted on YouTube and messages sent via Facebook. Dictators fell across North Africa and in the heart of the Arab world: Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, Gadhafi in Libya. Ordinary people, newly able to see what they were missing out on in other lands, used the newfangled — social media — to facilitate the old-fashioned — people power in public squares. Tyrants were also toppled through traditional means: American power and ingenuity finally got Osama bin Laden, and natural causes claimed Kim Jong Il, but the Arab Spring demonstrated that cellphones trump truncheons and tanks. What next? Technology is a superb disrupter, but taking apart is always a lot easier than building anew.

8. Automotive Bailout:

Almost two years passed between a big bailout that rubbed millions of Americans the wrong way and two moments that provided a patriotic pick-me-up. Wall Street and the banks had received all manner of federal support in their time of need, so when GM and Chrysler — makers of the product most associated with the American Dream — started into the death spiral in 2009, the president saw himself with little choice but to lavish them with billions. Many disagreed, of course, seeing the bailout as a symbol of a society grown soft, a country where failure no longer had consequences. But then, after the automakers’ near-death experience, Chrysler recruited Eminem and Clint Eastwood for 2011 and 2012 Super Bowl ads that would prove far more powerful than any Obama reelection spot. From “a town that’s been to hell and back,” Chrysler made a gut-wrenching, emboldening case for American cars, American jobs and American spirit. “We’re certainly no one’s Emerald City,” the voice of Detroit said. Eminem pointed at us and said: “This is the Motor City — and this is what we do.” A year later, Eastwood captured our anxiety: “We’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.” But “all that matters now is what’s ahead. … The world’s gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it’s halftime, America, and our second half is about to begin.”

9. Apple’s iPad:

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, it seemed to be the culmination of his 1983 dream to “put an in­cred­ibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes.” But the tablet computer and advances in smartphone technology offered far more than simplicity and convenience. Ordinary people could now manipulate systems previously controlled by experts. The latest burst of innovation smashed borders and hierarchies, allowing Wikileaks, Anonymous and other hackers to gain power previously reserved to nations and corporations, presidents and CEOs. The new gadgets brought people together digitally but also atomized our lives, making it ever harder for a president to rally the country to his agenda. “We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine,” said Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn, reacting to his teammate Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide. “But … it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us.”

10. Gun Violence:

Mass shootings are powerfully effective at making parents hug their children tighter. What they don’t do is change the rules on guns. A Batman-batty gunman killed 12 and injured 58 in a movie theater in Colorado; a schizophrenic college dropout killed six and injured 13, including his congresswoman, at an Arizona shopping center; a psychiatrist who fancied himself a terrorist is charged with killing 13 and injuring 32 on an Army base in Texas — and the political calculus across the ideological spectrum was that the best course of action is to change the subject. There was a time when mass crimes and assassinations and attempts — King, RFK, Reagan — prompted debate about who gets to buy which weapons. But of late, gun control advocates were unable to find traction; gun control opponents could relax. Last month brought Newtown and the murder of 20 first-graders and their teachers. Would politicians merely express sorrow, attend a funeral and wait for the next big story to distract the nation, or would a moral imperative kick in as a president shaped his final term?

Marc Fisher is a Washington Post senior editor. Comment at washingtonpost.com/magazine or send e-mail to marcfisher@washpost.com.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/01/14/in-four-short-years-how-the-world-changed/?wpisrc=nl_headlines

The Obama Majority

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

There is an Obama majority in American politics…whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come. That majority…would not exist but for Americans’ struggles to expand our foundational belief in the equality of all men. The drive to expand equality, [President Obama] said in his speech’s most historically resonant line, “is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Our history, Obama argued, is one of adapting our ideals to a changing world. His speech…reclaimed U.S. history from the misrepresentations of both constitutional originalists and libertarian fantasists…the moral and practical arc of U.S. history bends toward equality..The president closed his speech by asking his supporters to join him to help “shape the debates of our time.”

..The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges

Full text

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek,” candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. At the time, his comments came in for criticism: They were narcissistic; they were tautological; they didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But in the aftermath of Obama’s 2012 reelection and his second inaugural address, his 2008 remarks seem less a statement of self-absorption than one of prophecy. There is an Obama majority in American politics, symbolized by Monday’s throng on the Mall, whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come.

That majority, as the president made clear in his remarks, would not exist but for Americans’ struggles to expand our foundational belief in the equality of all men. The drive to expand equality, he said in his speech’s most historically resonant line, “is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Our history, Obama argued, is one of adapting our ideals to a changing world. His speech (like recent books by Michael Lind and my Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr.) reclaimed U.S. history from the misrepresentations of both constitutional originalists and libertarian fantasists. “Fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges,” the president said. “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.”

Having established that the moral and practical arc of U.S. history bends toward equality, Obama vowed to push his demands for equality still further — to ending the systemic underpayment of female workers; the voter suppression that compels some Americans, usually minorities, to wait hours to cast their votes; the deportations of immigrants who would otherwise help build the economy; and the laws that forbid gay Americans to marry.

As the president acknowledged, however, social equality is rising even as the relative economic equality that once defined American life has sharply and broadly receded. “Our country cannot succeed,” he said, “when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” For this, Obama prescribed revamping our taxes and reforming our schools, but these are by no means sufficient to transform our nation into one that, as the president put it, “rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” The waning of the middle class is, with climate change, the most vexing item on the president’s agenda and requires far-reaching solutions beyond any he laid out. U.S. workers must regain the power they once had to bargain for their wages, but that only begins the list of economic reforms that are as difficult to achieve as they are necessary to re-create an financially vibrant nation.

The president closed his speech by asking his supporters to join him to help “shape the debates of our time.” The biggest mistake Obama made when he took office was to effectively disband the organization of the millions of Americans who had worked for his election — for fear, in part, that it might upset members of Congress whose votes he would need for his policies. He wants no such unilateral political disarmament now; his operatives hope to keep his 2012 campaign’s volunteer army in the field for the legislative battles ahead. Obama’s legions have proven that they can win elections, and this matters a great deal more, the president has learned, than whatever trace elements of goodwill he may win by deferring to Congress.

The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges. As he left the stage, he stopped and turned to marvel at the crowd, at the new American majority they represented. They were the ones he, and we, were waiting for.

Read more from Harold Meyerson’s archive or follow him on Twitter.

Read more on this from Opinions: E.J. Dionne: Obama’s unapologetic inaugural address David Ignatius: A flat, partisan and pedestrian speech Michael Gerson: Obama shoves idealism into its grave Eugene Robinson: The black president no longer Marc Thiessen: An inaugural gift from the GOP

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-obama-forges-a-new-majority/2013/01/22/c66489a6-64a7-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

In Ignorance We Trust

By TIMOTHY EGAN, New York Times, December 13, 2012,

… history, the formal teaching and telling of it, has never been more troubled. Two forces, one driven by bottom-line educators answering to corporate demands to phase out the liberal arts, the other coming from the circular firing squad of academics who loathe popular histories, have done much to marginalize our shared narratives…we are raising a generation of Americans who are historically illiterate….And today, in part by design, there’s a lot of know-nothingness throughout the land…This is but one byproduct of the rage among educators to use math and science like a stick against history, literature, art or philosophy…But in the great void between readable histories and snooze-fest treatises have stepped demagogues with agendas, from Glenn Beck and his paranoid writings on the perils of progressivism, to Oliver Stone and his highly selective retelling of the 20th century….Faulkner’s immortal line – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” – but also understood what it meant.

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A packet of letters arrived the other day from the honors English class at St. Lawrence School in Brasher Falls, N.Y. Snail mail, from high school sophomores? Yes, and honest, witty and insightful snail mail at that. They had been forced to read a book of mine.

“Personally, I don’t like reading about history or learning about it,” wrote one student, setting the tone for the rest of the class.

“The Dust Bowl? Really?” So began another missive. “When we heard we were reading your book…heads dropped. Let me rephrase that, heads fell to the floor and rolled down the hallway.”

You get the drift: history is a brain freeze. And, writers of history, well, there’s a special place with the already-chewed gum in nerd camp for them. But as I read through the letters I was cheered. Some of the last survivors of the American Dust Bowl were high school sophomores when they were hit with the nation’s worst prolonged environmental disaster. In that 1930s story of gritty resilience, the Brasher Falls kids of 2012 found a fresh way to look at their own lives and this planet.

History is always utilitarian, and often entertaining. It stirs the blood of any lover of the past to see Steven Spielberg’s majestic “Lincoln” – at its core, a drama about politicians with ZZ Top beards writing legislation – crush the usual soulless, computer-generated distractions at the box office.

But history, the formal teaching and telling of it, has never been more troubled. Two forces, one driven by bottom-line educators answering to corporate demands to phase out the liberal arts, the other coming from the circular firing squad of academics who loathe popular histories, have done much to marginalize our shared narratives.

David McCullough, the snowy-headed author and occasional national scold, says we are raising a generation of Americans who are historically illiterate. He cites Harry Truman’s line that the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know. And today, in part by design, there’s a lot of know-nothingness throughout the land. Only 12 percent of high school seniors are “at or above proficient” in American history, which, of course, doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

For knuckleheaded refinement look to the state of Florida, a breeder of bad ideas from its dangerous gun laws to its deliberate attempts to make it hard for citizens to vote. Gov. Rick Scott’s task force on higher education is now suggesting that college students with business-friendly majors pay less tuition than those in traditional liberal arts fields.

“You know, we don’t need a lot of anthropologists in this state,” the governor said in October. “I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on.”

Notice he said “all.” If the governor, who’s been trying to run Florida like a corporation, had applied the skills of the liberal arts, his approval rating might be higher than 38 percent. Any anthropologist could tell Scott how he misread human behavior in the Sunshine State.

It’s fine to encourage society to crank out more engineers, computer technicians and health care specialists. We need them. But do we really want to discourage people from trying to understand where they came from? The Florida proposals would enshrine the unexamined life.

This is but one byproduct of the rage among educators to use math and science like a stick against history, literature, art or philosophy.

And yet, as McCullough has said, the keepers of academic gates in these fields are their own worst enemies. Too many history books are boring, badly written and jargon-weighted with politically correct nonsense. There are certainly exceptions among the authors – the witty Patricia Limerick at the University of Colorado, for example, or the prolific Douglas Brinkley at Rice. And I defy anyone to read Robert K. Massie’s “Catherine the Great” (enlightened German teenager takes over Russia) or Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts” (Nazis, oozing evil in diplomatic circles) and not come away moved.

But in the great void between readable histories and snooze-fest treatises have stepped demagogues with agendas, from Glenn Beck and his paranoid writings on the perils of progressivism, to Oliver Stone and his highly selective retelling of the 20th century.

One of my best friends in college ripped through chemistry, engineering and advanced calculus courses. And then, degree in hand, he felt strangely uncompleted. On his own, and for a full year, he read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Fitzgerald and Civil War histories. He spent the next 30 years at Boeing. No doubt, he was one of the few mechanical engineers who not only was aware of Faulkner’s immortal line – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” – but also understood what it meant.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/egan-in-ignorance-we-trust/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20121214