Thursday, May 25, 2006


As a kid, I used to play baseball in my backyard with some of my friends (and occasionally my brother). The house behind mine had a golden retriever named Cassandra who used to come out to the property line and watch wistfully, since her boy had already gone on to college. After a while, her resistance dropped, and sometimes she would join the game (usually standing on pitcher’s mound, such as it was).

Cassandra was a great dog, and she was my first encounter with the name. I remember liking the name, since it sounds nice on its own, but it can also shorten to any number of other things – Cassie, Cass, Sandy, Sandra, etc. Lots of flexibility. (I’ve also had a soft spot for golden retrievers ever since.)

Sometime in college I first encountered the myth of Cassandra. As I remember it (and it’s fuzzy), it boiled down to being cursed to speak the truth and not be believed. It struck me as an incredibly poignant fate. After all, the rational response to Cassandra’s curse would simply be to shut up. But somehow, that just wasn’t possible.

I was reminded of Cassandra by the Dixie Chicks, of all people. Their new single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” is a response to their vilification by much of the country-music world when they came out against the Iraq war in 2003. I’ve never held much of an opinion either way on the Dixie Chicks, and the new song isn’t really anything special musically, but something about the proud defiance of a stupid and violent culture hit home with me.

For all of the hatred, slander, and self-righteous fury we progressives get thrown at us, there’s something redeeming in asserting our dignity unapologetically. After all, for all that we aren’t believed, we’re still right.

We were right about the Iraq war. Nobody seriously disputes that anymore. We were right about the Bush tax cuts being irresponsible. The deficit explosion under the Bush administration has pretty much settled that question. We were right (as far back as the seventies!) about the need for alternative energy sources; now even conservative Republicans working for think tanks drive Priuses. (Archival research indicates that it was a Democratic President, one “Jimmy Carter,” who first called attention to this.) We were right about the consequences of staffing the government with anti-government ideologues and cronies; after Katrina, this is no longer an arguable point. We were right about the growing wealth gap, about the state of our health care system, about the dangers to our civil liberties (Gitmo, tapping telephones of reporters, Abu Gharib), about the utter harmlessness of gay marriage (do you know what happened in Massachusetts? Nothing, really.), and the incredible harm to our standing in the world that results from an arrogant cowboy approach to diplomacy. All of these are beyond reasonable dispute.

Yet, for all that, we’re still on the outs. That’s why I think of Cassandra.

When we speak the truth, we’re called ‘strident.’ When we try not to be strident, we’re called flip-floppers. When we point out inconvenient facts, we’re called ‘out of the mainstream.’ By the time the mainstream finally catches up to where we’ve been patiently waiting, we’re called ‘tired.’ When we take offense to being slandered, we’re called ‘angry.’ When we turn the other cheek, we’re called ‘wimps.’

Honestly, I’m torn between a faith in the persistence of the truth over the long term, and a fear of the stupid shit than can happen in the meantime. The likeliest outcome looks like this: the government will pull all kinds of unbelievably offensive and ridiculous stuff, we’ll call ‘bullshit’ on it, we’ll lose public respect as people fall for God and Country, and the country will quickly decline along exactly the lines we said it would. By the time we’re widely perceived with having been right, the damage will be done.

Bravo to the Dixie Chicks for sticking to their guns. Cursed like Cassandra, they didn’t ‘shut up and sing.’ They’re pissed and they’re proud. It’s a heartening sight.

Cassandra, the myth, met a terrible fate. Cassandra, the golden retriever, got into the game. In this, as in so many things, the dogs have it. We have to get into the game. As Stephen Colbert would say, it's hard to play by the same old rules when there's fifty pounds of furry, smelly, drooling truth holding the ball.