Monday, November 14, 2005


Because They're Fragile

I’m often mistaken for a conservative. Some of it is superficial: short-haired white guy in the suburbs, whose wife stays home with their two kids. Some of it is temperamental: I’m soft-spoken, uninterestingly-dressed, introverted.

On a personal level, it’s probably true. I got married relatively late, specifically so I could get married only once. I rush home to have dinner with the family. One of my great joys is tossing a nerf softball to The Boy in the backyard, so he can hit it against the house. (The Boy already hits for power, which pleases me to no end.) Yesterday, I wrestled the bike rack onto the car, and The Wife and I schlepped the kids to a local park, where we rode for hours. Watching football didn’t cross my mind.

The Girl has me wrapped around her little finger. Despite having only a few syllables at her disposal, we have extended conversations. “Where’s Grover?” “Ock.” “Are you sure?” “Ock.” “There he is!” “Doccum!”

It’s a great life, really. I’m as content as I’ve ever been. And it’s incredibly fragile. A single illness, an accident, a bad break, and it can all fall apart. It’s not timeless and given; it’s passing, carefully built, and delicate. I treat it with care, hoping not to tempt the fates.

Something similar is true of my country. The aspects of America that make it worth defending are delicate. Freedoms are fragile. Weirdly enough, knowing that is enough to make me a liberal.

Since Bush took office on his mission from God, we’ve lost two towers, one side of the Pentagon, the respect of the world, trillions of dollars, 2000+ American soldiers, the bill of rights, and a major Southern city. We’ve started a war we didn’t need to, for reasons that weren’t true, and committed felonies to silence those who blew the whistle. We’ve specifically targeted Social Security, which (not to put too fine a point on it) has been the single most successful anti-poverty program in the history of civilization. We’ve tortured the helpless, on camera, and smiled in the photos. We’ve resurrected Soviet-era gulags, in the name of freedom.

He doesn’t get it, and his supporters don’t get it.

Historically, the wisdom of conservatism consisted of pointing out how delicate the wisdom of the ages is, and how hard we should fight the temptations of immediate gratification in deference to their dictates. Contemporary conservatives believe that swagger is the solution to everything. Yesterday Bush actually had the gall to blame critics of the war for making it harder to fight! It’s as if an entire political party has suffered brain damage.

For believing that the big-swinging-dick theory of foreign policy is a bad idea, I’m a liberal. For believing that it’s a bad idea to leave 45 million people without insurance, I’m a liberal. For preferring to keep the National Guard closer to New Orleans than Fallujah, I’m a liberal. For believing that enshrining torture as policy is a bad idea, I’m a liberal.


This man, and this party, does violence to my country every day, on purpose, with a smile. For even noticing, I’m outside of the mainstream.

The Boy and The Girl deserve a country worthy of them. A civil country, a country that respects of all its inhabitants, is a delicate thing. It is not to be trifled with, taken for granted, or abused. Republics have been lost to arrogance before. I would expect conservatives to know that.

You don’t defend your kids, or your freedoms, because they’re timeless. You defend them because they’re fragile.

Sorry for the rant. I’ll return to academia for the next post.

Well said. It's ok if you inject politics in every once in a while...
Yes. And the thing is, defining "liberal" as outside of the "mainstream" is one of the things that makes today's "conservatives" so radical. This country was founded on liberalism--precisely the kind of "conservative" liberalism you practice in your life, and I in mine (no matter what people think). Tossing liberalism out the window is, ironically, a complete repudiation of tradition when it comes to the American state and body politic.
Very well said. And please, no need to apologize for a good political rant every now and then.
Beautifully stated. RANT ON!
Your post was absolutely on the mark with regard to our country's current state; it was also moving to read about your appreciation towards your family. Your thankfulness alone should cause your luck to continue.
Liberalism is a label to bear proudly -- the founders of our nation would have agreed.
This post is so beautiful that I have to put my lurker status aside for a moment. You wrote exactly what and how I feel. Thank you!
You tell it.
Lovely. Thank you.
The best writers are able to articulate what we are all thinking.
I think America needs more rants like this. I *know* we would all benefit from more ranters like you. Bravo.
I'm pondering the academic apology, where an academic does not rant, where s/he might even be (unjustly) perceived as "conservative." Perhaps the role you have as a CC Dean and the readership (on the Home front and à l'étranger) you have cultivated as a writer of words which resonate are the very things that make such a passionate and political posting academic. Thanks for being a conscientious (and vocal) neighbour. L:)
Since Bush took office on his mission from God, we’ve lost two towers, one side of the Pentagon, the respect of the world, trillions of dollars, 2000+ American soldiers, the bill of rights, and a major Southern city.

At the risk of being discourteous to our host: cough.

9/11 happened nine months after Bush took office. To the best of my knowledge, no one (the odd conspirazoid aside) has ever claimed that the Al Qaeda was not planning the attack for years before it happened. Certainly several of the conspirators were in the U.S., taking pilot training, during the Clinton administration.

Since this is a self-advertised rant, I won't pick the paragraph apart bit by bit. But you do yourself no favors by rewriting history in this way. Speaking as a political centrist, it's this sort of overblown rhetoric that made me drop my Democratic party affiliation a few years back and go Independent. (I'm not a Republican, either, because the Democrats have no monopoly on overblown rhetoric.)
You know, Bush, Cheney, Rice, et al, sat on their butts for nine months thinking, well someday it might be nice to do something about bin Laden, but that Dick Clarke he is much too concerned. So yeah, there is no guarantee that if they had kept up the pressure from the Clinton administration we might have gotten lucky.
Dicty -- sorry if you were put out, but that's sort of the point. The Bush crew is so absurdly over the top that even pointing out facts is considered shrill. Richard Clarke documented Bush's indifference to Bin Laden, and I'd add that if Clarke was wrong, we would have caught Bin Laden by now. The FEMA failures in New Orleans are simply beyond dispute, as are the Abu Gharib photos. 2000+ American soldiers dead is an objective fact.
And nobody disputes that, under Bush, we went from paying down the national debt to setting new records for indebtedness. Nobody even disputes anymore that we hold prisoners without charges, or that we commit torture.

It may seem bad form to catalog all of these misdeeds, but I'd argue that it's much worse form to commit them. And even worse form than that to rule criticism out of bounds.

The apology was not for the substance of what I said, every word of which I stand by. It was for breaking my self-imposed rule of keeping the blog focused on higher ed and family, which I've done pretty well most of the time, and intend to return to doing. Bush's attack on the right to criticize just happened to be the straw that broke this camel's back.
Dicty -- sorry if you were put out, but that's sort of the point. The Bush crew is so absurdly over the top that even pointing out facts is considered shrill. Richard Clarke documented Bush's indifference to Bin Laden, and I'd add that if Clarke was wrong, we would have caught Bin Laden by now.

(raised eyebrows) Indeed? Wonder why it took so long to capture Eichmann, then.

I don't dispute that Bush did underestimate the threat of bin Laden. Point is, so did everyone else. I have a small collection of older newsmagazines (circa 2000) that I found during a cleaning recently; the man wasn't even a blip on the radar. (You know who was? In the pages of Newsweek and The New Republic? Saddam Hussein.)

My annoyance is not with legit criticism of Bush--the man is spending like a drunken sailor, for example. However, broad rants, which mix in lots of long-range problems and lay them entirely at the feet of the current administration, are not useful.

For example: I agree entirely that FEMA completely dropped the ball on New Orleans. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that the levees would not have held, no matter who was in the White House. There are documented warnings about a Katrina-size storm hitting NO from two decades back. A good, competent FEMA response could have saved many lives (and should have!), but it would not have saved the Ninth Ward. So, it's over the top to blame Bush for "losing a major American city". Can't blame Mayor Nagin or Governor Blanco for it, either, even though they dropped the ball, too.

Understand, I had the same problems with a lot of Republicans during the Clinton administration. There were legitimate things to criticize there, too, but people were blaming him for drug dealing. Heck, Dan Barton was hanging out in his backyard with a watermelon (sorry, a "head-like object") and a handgun, trying to prove who killed Vincent Foster. A Congressman doing this, no less.

When did people decide that the President is the only person in the country with moral agency, and the rest of us are just spectators?
Beautifully said. Thank you.
An email I received today:

**George Bush has started an ill-timed and disastrous war under false
pretenses by lying to the American people and to the Congress; he has
run a budget surplus into a severe deficit; he has consistently and
unconscionably favored the wealthy and corporations over the rights
and needs of the population; he has destroyed trust and confidence in,
and good will toward, the United States around the globe; he has ignored
global warming, to the world's detriment; he has wantonly broken our
treaty obligations; he has condoned torture of prisoners; he has attempted to create a theocracy in the United States; he has
appointed incompetent cronies to positions of vital national importance.**
** Would someone PLEASE give him a blow job so we
can impeach him? **
It took so long to find Eichmann because he was not running a terrorist campaign in Argentina. AFAIK bin Laden is still in the business having escaped over the hill at Tora Bora. Another example of the acompetance of this administration which endangers us all.

Does anyone else have a bunch of red herrings to throw out the truck?
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