Sunday, September 18, 2005

The personal is politi...ah, screw it


The problem with a posture is that, eventually, somebody asks you to do something, or asks 'did you REALLY do that?' and it rarely ends well if the action began and ended with a posture.

I've never quite accepted the whole "The personal is political" argument if it's brought up at a dinner party. It's a cheap posture that you can take in a group of like-minded people (or be the stand alone hero to kick up the dust if that is your want) and feel like you're accomplishing something.

(the Karmic Boomerang is being flung far and wide with this one I'm aware...but hoping for the best)

It's not the phrase or philosophy itself, but the company it keeps. I've had it tossed-off in my direction (an especially apt turn of phrase, that), with the casual air of one who is sure they are in the know by:


-A woman insisting that if I didn't protect the unborn child I wasn't worthy of a higher education (U of T, 1992). I think the University had not condemned abortion, or had a safe-sex initiative week, or some such. Regardless, my personal choice of heading to (for corn's sake) a religious studies class was, to her, a political statement.


-A guy (on the clearly opposite end of the spectrum) putting a pamphlet on my windshield as I sat in my car, eating a slice of Domino's pizza. Domino's sponsors family-values type groups in the United States, most of which (if not all, do the research yourself) run a pro-life agenda. "You've just contributed to reproductive tyranny," he said, slipping the pamphlet under my windshield wiper, and leaving without explaining what the pamphlet was about (he put it face up, so I couldn't read it through the windscreen).
The pamphlet turned out to be a quite informative listing of the groups that Domino's financed, and a number of US and Canadian agencies that promote planned parenthood rather than pro-life. But the guy, in a fit of righteous indignation, was simply putting me in the not-part-of-the-solution-part-of-the-problem file. To top everything else off, the pizza wasn't great.

This struck me as pretty awkward as political discourse goes, although I was sort of impressed at his gumption. I didn't even know that there WERE any Domino's pizzas in Toronto, or in Canada for that matter, I'd just happened to find one on the way back from a job interview and decided I was hungry. But THIS guy had taken the time to stake one out. For a moment I thought he was a representative from Pizza Pizza or Pizza Nova or some other Canadian-owned franchise, but how it tied into reproductive tyranny I didn't know.


-A Jehovah's witness at my door, asking if I had time to discuss my relationship with Jesus, if I had one, and maybe if I had an open mind I might want to learn. My personal choice was not to debate religion at that particular time. Her political reading was a bit bleaker, she said "So does this mean that you are happy with all of the horrible things happening in the world today?" and my personal statement (to hope that the door didn't bump her ass on the way out) was to her a political statement that the various wars, famines and diseases were just fine by me and, since they were happening on her watch, were somehow my fault.


-A friend dismissing the death of Pauline Kael a few years ago. She was never a favorite of mine (too many indiosyncracies), but she was an undeniable groundbreaker as US film criticism goes, so credit where credit is due. His comment was along the lines that it was a shame that she didn't spend more time promoting a feminist perspective in her film criticism, to wit, "Having ovaries isn't enough." And this from a man who lacked ovaries.

All of the above strikes me as easy posturing, the political (or, I suppose personal) equivalent of pubs in Boston which used to have cans for quarters that would be sent to the IRA ("Kill a British Soldier"). Or for that matter, the LEGEND of those pubs, those cans, those quarters. The kind of posturing makes for a grand position at a dinner party with no fear of getting one's hands dirty. Or bloody. Or simply, worked.

So with all this preface...sections of a good editorial on the nature of posturing from today's New York Times.

September 18, 2005
Message: I Care About the Black Folks


ONCE Toto parts the curtain, the Wizard of Oz can never be the wizard again. He is forever Professor Marvel, blowhard and snake-oil salesman. Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to endure in the American psyche as long as L. Frank Baum's mythic tornado, has similarly unmasked George W. Bush.

The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television...another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show.


Nor can the president's acceptance of "responsibility" for the disaster dislodge what came before. Mr. Bush didn't cough up his modified-limited mea culpa until he'd seen his whole administration flash before his eyes...It came only after America's highest-rated TV news anchor, Brian Williams, started talking about Katrina the way Walter Cronkite once did about Vietnam...The "compassion" photos are outweighed by the cinéma vérité of poor people screaming for their lives. The government effort to keep body recovery efforts in New Orleans as invisible as the coffins from Iraq was abandoned when challenged in court by CNN.

...The two top deputies at FEMA remaining after Michael Brown's departure, one of them a former local TV newsman, are not disaster relief specialists but experts in P.R., which they'd practiced as advance men for various Bush campaigns. Thus The Salt Lake Tribune discovered a week after the hurricane that some 1,000 firefighters from Utah and elsewhere were sent not to the Gulf Coast but to Atlanta, to be trained as "community relations officers for FEMA" rather than used as emergency workers to rescue the dying in New Orleans. When 50 of them were finally dispatched to Louisiana, the paper reported, their first assignment was "to stand beside President Bush" as he toured devastated areas.

...With or without a 9/11-style commission, the answers will come out. There are too many Americans who are angry and too many reporters who are on the case. (NBC and CNN are both opening full-time bureaus in New Orleans.)...If the era of Great Society big government is over, the era of big government for special interests is proving a fiasco. Especially when it's presided over by a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch.

What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.



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