Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Views Of Johnny One Note.

Dear Colleagues:

When this blogger left Logan Airport in Boston in approximately mid-October to fly to New Zealand and Australia, the Red Sox were down three zip to the Yankees and George Bush was favored to win the presidential race. When I returned on November 7th, the Sox had won the World Series and Bush had won the election. Oh well, I suppose one for two isn’t bad. Especially since one can hardly help believing, even though it probably is not true, that although they jointly lost eight straight games, the Yankees and Cardinals probably provided more competent competition than John Kerry did.

Incidentally, with regard to both the presidency and, naturally to an infinitely lesser extent the World Series, it is remarkable to see how closely American events are covered by the print and electronic media abroad. It could very well be my own inexperience and ignorance -- I usually go abroad only once every few years -- but I do not remember American events receiving such extensive coverage previously. As I recently read somewhere, much of the rest of the world seems to feel that it had a great stake, but no vote, in the American election. (When it came to sports, however, cricket and rugby were the cynosure of all eyes (as soccer too would be at other times), with the World Series results, though covered, being in, say, 25th place or so.)

Beyond that, much of the coverage of the election campaign was exceptionally knowledgeable; though others might disagree, the coverage seemed to me to often rank with the kind of coverage one reads in major American newspapers such as The Globe, The Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

In any event, having returned to the States after the election, there are some points this blogger wishes to make about the candidates, the election, and the already unfolding and potential future aftermath of the election. Lots of the points may not be new to readers of this blog (if any). For after 65 years of life this blogger, unlike John Kerry, knows what he thinks. The consequence is that this writer generally does not blow with the wind, and consistently urges the same points -- points which seem to the writer fundamental. That is why the title of this post includes the phrase "Johnny One Note." It is not that, as true of Johnny One Note, this blogger has but a single, continuously resurfacing idea. But there is a kind of kinship with Johnny One Note in that there is, one believes and hopes, a constancy of position.

The constant positions, of course, will be seen as and called "political" by many of those who disagree with them, regardless of the extent (if any?) to which they are based on established or likely facts. It is the American way to denigrate positions one disagrees with by calling them "political," or "emotional," or "soft hearted," or "idealistic but not practical." Yet, whether they are denigrated or not, the positions are ones I believe. One realizes, of course, that people of enormous, sometimes nearly uncabined, acumen may well disagree with them, perhaps will almost certainly disagree with them. One hopes that those who disagree (and also those who agree) will respond, especially on the particular subjects that will be listed at the end of this post. Responses would enable there to be a dialog rather than a one way conversation. And if someone wishes to respond, but does not want his or her name attached to a public posting of the response, I would be glad to accommodate that desire so long as the writer tells me his or her name in private. Such has been done previously here, and it will be done again if a writer desires.
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Unless one thinks that George Bush’s policies have been good, and that the people who advise him on those policies are capable, decent people, one almost inevitably has to conclude that the country is likely to be in for at least four more years of big trouble. Much verbiage has been spilled, of course, to urge that perhaps Bush will change, perhaps he will soften, perhaps this, perhaps that. This all seems nonsense. The mother of a close friend used to say that, as people get older, they do not change. Rather, they just become more so. Exactly.

Bush is a true believer. Not a smart man -- except for apparently being a shrewd politician for a nation whose local, state and national politics are all pretty much gutter level -- but a true believer. He has said that he now has capital. He will use that capital, viz, nominating for attorney general (and maybe later for the Supreme Court) a man who supervised the drafting of memorandums seeking to immunize the use of torture.

With regard to Bush’s possession of capital, incidentally, it has been said that after this election Bush is no longer a one term accident. That is true. He is now a two term accident (which is probably not what one expected to be said). For in the 2004 election he had the great good fortune to have as an opponent a man whom many people couldn’t stomach, a man whose driving ambition since teenage years was to be president, who has been inconsistent as hell in service of this ambition, who sounds like a phony when he talks, and who millions of people obviously felt they couldn’t trust. Just as many of us voted for Kerry not because we like him, but only because he wasn’t Bush, so too, it seems, millions of people voted for Bush only because he wasn’t Kerry. Bush, as said quite a while ago here, can evince an appealing personality, especially in a country where the frat boy persona, and the "mucker pose," play well, are almost even demanded by a host of people.

Nonetheless, millions seem to have voted for him mainly because he wasn’t Kerry, whom they (understandably) could not stomach. As I say, not a one term accident. A two term accident.

None of this is to say, incidentally, that everything Bush wants to do is bad. Reform of social security is apparently needed, and reform of our horrendous tax system is certainly needed. As well, one of the two major tax reform ideas currently floating around the Administration -- a flat tax with many fewer deductions than presently -- is not all that different from the proposal of a gross receipts tax with no deductions and no credits (but perhaps progressive albeit generally much lower rates) that was put forth here in a post of July 6, 2004. It would be hypocritical (and inconsistent) for this blogger to say that all potential Bush tax proposals are entirely no good. And, whatever the reasons may be, and though some of the possible reasons have serious downsides, it has to be said that there have (at least thus far) been no major terrorist attacks on American soil after 9/11.

But while not everything Bush wishes to do is necessarily bad, the list of known bad and potentially bad policies, and bad personal traits, is far too long. Some examples will suffice.

To begin with, and in my judgment most importantly of all, the misbegotten war in Iraq continues, and God alone knows for how long. The war in Iraq, moreover, is symptomatic of the even worse fact that the country, and Bush, are in the grip of militarism, a condition in the country as a whole which can be dated back at least to 1947 or so and, if one wants, to 1898 or even earlier. This militarism causes us to have no concerns over how many people of other nations we kill or cause to be killed -- I have rarely heard concern over the fact that we bear overwhelming responsibility for the deaths of three million Viet Namese, I have never heard concern that we bear responsibility for the deaths of 200,000 Filipinos (at the turn of the 20th Century), and only very rarely have I even heard it mentioned in America -- although it apparently is a big thing elsewhere in the world -- that we already are largely responsible for civilian Iraqi deaths variously estimated at from 10,000 to 20,000 (or even more?) . Our militarism, and our lack of concern for the deaths of others arising from our misbegotten belief in military solutions, has made us a pariah in many other nations, not all of them enemy peoples; it is not Al Qaeda or anyone else whom these nations consider the world’s major terror threat, but the United States. Nor are our leaders deterred from militaristic adventure by fear of criminal responsibility, by fear that their own families or friends could be killed, or by personal experience of the horrors of war. We do not impose criminal punishment on our leaders no matter how reprehensible their conduct, nor is it our leaders or their families or friends who have gone or who go in harm’s way.

Our militaristic belief in military solutions has been detailed on this blog and elsewhere, and those discussions shall not be repeated now. Suffice it to say that over the long haul nothing good ever came out of militarism -- as was well known to the founders of the nation; the very people whom conservatives and reactionaries hypocritically love to cite.

Then too there is the desire of the right wing religious fundamentalists like Bush to fasten their religious views on all the rest of us. This is true in such matters as abortion, gay rights, judgeships, and military actions. (A striking cartoon I saw abroad showed a figure marked militarism with a figure marked religious right, and a pastor saying he now joins them in holy matrimony.) The fundamentalists, after all, have the greater word of God, to which you would do well to attend (to use phrases appearing on the outer walls of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C.). And, if one takes Bush at his word, he gets his marching orders not from Daddy (as Pedro Martinez might), but from the big fella in the sky.

Then there is the questions of judgeships. No elaboration is necessary here. The mere mention of the problem suffices.

There are also Bush’s disagreeable and/or inept personal actions and characteristics. He only reads one page summaries of elaborate topics. He is known to be "incurious," a code word for dumb and/or for not having any depth. He brags about merely setting overall policy while leaving all the details to others -- a sure fire recipe for failure, as leaders in almost any field will tell you. (Bush’s people say that he does this because he only became successful when he started to do it -- which in actuality is a comment on the lack of acumen which sunk him repeatedly in business but did not handicap him in politics, where true competence is not necessary and can even be a handicap.) He is a man who, starting with every conceivable advantage, was a serial failure in business and a drunk who repeatedly "failed upwards" (as someone recently said) after being bailed out by Daddy’s friends and wanna-be friends, until he finally became a politician, where, as said, true competence is not necessary and can be a handicap. He was, beyond legitimate doubt, deeply fooled by Saddam’s (extensive) plans -- which equally cannot be doubted -- not to make a strong conventional military stand against the Americans but to instead fight them in a guerrilla war (and, being deeply fooled, stupidly announced that major combat operations were over when the guerrilla war had hardly even begun). He and his colleagues missed obvious signs of the impending attack by airliners that was 9/11. He is on afficionado of the extensive secrecy which facilitates and often is a prerequisite for governmental misconduct. He is also, in all likelihood, guilty of war crimes, as has been discussed previously on this blogsite, and knew of and condoned the torture of prisoners, including in this regard the sending of prisoners to foreign countries where they would be interrogated by torture that the Administration hoped would be beyond the purview of American law because done in places like Thailand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.

Then there is the South, which is primarily responsible for both his elections. The South is another country, and has been from the beginning of the nation. Anybody who knows American history knows that, except for 1861-1876, the South, the eleven states of the old Confederacy, has had vastly disproportional, even controlling, power in this country. It has extensively controlled the country by, at various times, having vastly excessive power in one or more of the Presidency, the Congress, and the courts. Since 1876 it has always been largely or exclusively a one party region, first being solidly Democratic and now being solidly Republican, and the immense power it possesses by virtue of being a largely one party region has always been exercised in favor of conservative to deeply reactionary causes, including slavery, then segregation, religious fundamentalism, economic oppression of the poor, and militarism. Much as one may like individual southerners, as I do, or much as one may respect certain of their traits, as I do, there is no blinking the fact that the South’s influence on this nation, the influence of the eleven states of the old Confederacy on this nation, has been malign in many ways since the beginning of the country. Bush is a product of the South, much of today’s Congressional leadership is likewise a product of the South, and the malignity continues. And, as made clear many times and in many venues, including in a new book of essays by dissenting present or former southerners called Where We Stand (the title is a take-off on the 1930 work by the Vanderbilt agrarians called I’ll Take My Stand), the solid eleven state block of the old Confederacy, coupled with the support for bad or savage policies given by various rural or mountain areas, is too much for more humane or sensible positions, national candidates and legislators to overcome. That the South is another country was discovered to their shock by millions of northerners who trained there in World War II, and in significant respects, particularly religious fundamentalism, militarism, abortion and gay rights (and hidden racism?), it remains another country even sixty years after World War II.

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Can anything be done about the unhappy prospects we face for the next four years? Well, there are, of course, whatever actions the Democrats in Congress can take, especially in the Senate. I don’t wish to opine here on those. Rather, I would like to discuss certain more long range and fundamental questions of philosophy.

It is widely thought that the Democrats suffered from, and perhaps lost the election because of, a values gap. True, Frank Rich correctly points out that conservatives seem not to be hindered by values when it comes to soliciting or making money. Yet it also seems true that the Republicans made great headway with their talk of values in regard to abortion, gay rights and family.

Values are in fact a nation’s most important attribute. Its values shape a country’s culture and its power. This blogger therefore suggests that those who oppose Bush adopt as a platform, as it were, and seriously attempt to implement, a set of values that are clearly correct and, beyond this, hopefully will resonate to the point of making political success possible even in some of the red states, conceivably even in one, two or even more states of the old Confederacy.

As this blogger has previously said in part here and elsewhere, there should be a new dedication to certain fundamental principles, or values. They include:
• Honesty, which is the basic requirement for being able to arrive at sound policy in any field, since flawed policy generally results from flawed information. This has so often been shown in life and politics (including in Viet Nam and Iraq), that elaborate discussion is superfluous. Yet lack of honesty is rampant in America.

• Competence, since failure is the general result of lack of competence. There need be no elaboration of this obvious point, need there? Yet, here again, lack of competence is rampant in this country, especially in government.

• A reasonable concern for others as well as for oneself, including a concern for the have-nots of society. This is a moral position and, even aside from morality (or idealism), as a practical matter we cannot really expect to have a decent, peaceful society if the have-nots are continuously and increasingly screwed over, can we?

• Antimilitarism. This does not mean we should disarm or fail to maintain appropriate levels of military strength. It does mean that we should almost always try to solve problems by non-military means and should not try to maintain our military at its current strength relative to the rest of the world -- we currently spend more on our military than approximately the next 20 or so nations of the world combined, and some say we spend more than all the rest of the world combined. This level of expenditure is crazy.

• A commitment to reasonable, civil discussion of our internal and external problems.

It is immediately obvious, of course, that except for the antimilitarism plank, these principles or values are all procedural principles or values, not substantive ones. Yet they are values that most people probably can accept. And, while it admittedly is a matter of philosophy, one does believe that these values or principles, if seriously followed, and not merely given lip service, will lead to decent, even enviable, policies. They work in non-governmental institutions that follow them, and they would, I believe, work in governmental ones too if seriously followed. Perhaps, of course, expecting them to be seriously followed in government is too much to ask. But what is the alternative: surrender to the values of the old Confederacy so that, as partly discussed in an essay in Where We Stand, the whole country becomes even more southernized than it already is, and therefore becomes more militarized and less humane than it already is and becomes a nation where fundamentalists’ views of religion and its social requirements are forced on everyone? Or are there other values, more substantive and thus less procedural in character, which can be adopted and which will prove able to break through the South’s stranglehold on the country? If so, what are they?

A last point here. Suppose there is a desire to adopt the values set forth above. Should and can this be done by the Democratic Party? Or is a new third party needed? (One does not think it will be done by the southernized Republican Party.) Well, maybe it would be nice if it were done by the Democrats, but one fears that the Democrats, like the Whigs of the early 1850s and the Democrats of 1860, may be played out, with too many vested interests and too many people of little competence -- Kerry wants to remain a Democrat leader; can you imagine that? On the other hand, in 1964, after Johnson smashed Goldwater, it was bruited that the Republican Party might be finished, yet look what happened. Yet again, however, on the basis of what one currently reads and hears, it is questionable whether a Democrat resurgence would accomplish much for the country. For one of the major notions one reads and hears these days in regard to a Democrat comeback is for that party to move to the right, to become more southernized and more like the southernized Republican party in order to compete with that party.

With regard to a permanent third party, that could well be the best solution, because it would be a fresh start, just as the Republican Party of 1854 and 1856 was a fresh start. But the Democrats and Republicans have created duopoly ballot laws that would make it nearly impossible for a third party to get on the ballot unless it began early and, probably, were bankrolled by the wealthy entrepreneurs and the 527s that tried unsuccessfully to bankroll a victory by Kerry.
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I hope some readers will respond to this blog, so that there can be a dialog on points made here. In particular, it seems to me, it would be very helpful if people would respond with agreement or disagreement, whole or partial, on any of the following topics discussed here:

• Will Bush change?

• Has the 2004 election given Bush capital? (Or is he a two term accident?)

• The war in Iraq, and whether America is a militarized country.

• The prospects that religious fundamentalist values will be forced on all, including fundamentalist values regarding abortion, gay rights, judgeships and military action.

• Bush’s personal characteristics and actions.

• The South, its long influence on this country, and whether the whole nation already is, or is becoming, southernized.

• The adoption, as a basic platform, of the values discussed here, or of other values. Also, whether the values discussed here, if adopted, will lead to decent and reasonable policies.

• The possibility that the Democrats might adopt the values discussed here.

• Other values that might produce a desirable Democratic resurgence.

• The need for and feasibility of a third party.*


*If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at velvel@mslaw.edu. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please


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