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A Delusional Rally to Restore Sanity October 31, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Scott McLemee’s discussion on the eve of the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear cites some disturbing survey results from Susan Herbst’s Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics.

[…]Herbst reports from a survey of university students in Georgia that she and her colleagues conducted in 2008-9. Their findings suggest a pervasive dread of argument as such, at least in public settings.

She writes that “72 percent of students agreed that it was very important for them always to feel comfortable in class,” with “only 7 percent believing comfort not to be an issue.” She calls this “evidence for at least one factor underlying the student anxiety that we find: Feeling comfortable and unthreatened intellectually is a value many students share.”

McClamee comments:

To think or believe something is a strictly personal matter. Hence pursuing an argument is taken as very nearly an act of aggression. Herbst cites interview data suggesting that some students regard it is almost impossible to persuade other people of anything. (This is, of course, a self-fulfilling attitude.) “Contrary to the image of college being a place to ‘find oneself’ and learn from others,” she writes, “a number of students saw the campus as just the opposite – a place where already formed citizens clash, stay with like-minded others, or avoid politics altogether.”

Regarding the Stewart/Colbert rally, he concludes:

But the anti-ideological spirit of the event is a dead end. The attitude that it’s better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor — this is not civility. It’s timidity.

“Here we are now, entertain us” was a great lyric for a song. As a political slogan, it is decidedly wanting. If someone onstage wants to make Saturday’s rally meaningful, perhaps it would be worth quoting the old Wobbly humorist T-Bone Slim: “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”

Juan Cole’s post-mortem on the rally is entirely correct:

Stewart’s was a gentle ‘can’t we all get along’? plea. It at times seemed to echo Barack Obama’s increasingly naive-sounding 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention about the lack of difference between blue and red America.

I am sympathetic to Stewart’s amazement and disapproval of where political exaggerations in the hothouse petrie dish of 24/7 cable “news” may be taking us.

But with all due respect, I think Stewart’s statement mistook the problems as being solely ones of rhetorical imagery. The 80 percent in America have been royally screwed over for 40 years now. They’ve been deprived of a real share in our increasing national wealth, with wages and compensation having been kept down, in part by massive union-busting. They were robbed of whatever little progress they had made by corrupt or greedy unregulated bankers and financiers,who were mostly bailed out with the people’s money. The “tax cuts” of this century were actually a massive transfer of wealth to the ultra-wealthy. As a result of these transfers, the wealth of the 400 billionaires and the more hundreds of near-billionaires, has increased exponentially since the Reagan tax cuts. And, when the voting public finally seemed to have woken up to the scam, the Right wing deployed phony racial and cultural issues to rile up “whites” to make sure they are kept down and the great billionaire bank robbery can continue. At the same time, much of the wealth at the top derives from environmentally ruinous activities, such as exploitation of hydrocarbons or depleting the oceans of life, or mountain-top removal mining, or selling people cigarettes and other carcinogens, or mounting private security armies for deployment in the country’s ever-increasing war zones. The outcome, over the coming decades, of growing inequality and growing environmental degradation, could be catastrophic.

Me, I worry about whether the Republic can survive a situation in which 1 percent of the population has over 40% of the privately owned financial wealth, or in which they take home a sixth of the nation’s income every year. I worry about tens of millions of unemployed, thrown out of work by deregulation and high-level criminality, and millions more of the working poor barely making ends meet. I worry about the end of commercial fishing and the droughts and dust bowls of climate change. And I think those things are worth getting a little hot under the collar about, and that what politics is is a way of attributing positive and negative traits to political ideas and officials, and making these judgments accessible to the public through affect. I don’t think climate-change deniers, anti-science ignoramuses, or laissez-faire capitalists who screw up the economy and put millions out of work are “nice.” And while I do believe we have to convince them and their followers they are wrong with reasoned democratic discourse, I think some snark and outrage is entirely called for.

Conservative politician and media figure Pat Buchanan announced to the 1992 Republican convention that we are in a  “cultural war for the soul of America.”

18 years later, liberals are still not taking his words seriously. Until we recognize we are in a battle, not a seminar room, liberalism will continue to get kicked around by conservative bullies.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com