Mike Bland

Instigator

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

A personal reflection on the 2012 United States Presidential election, the current United States political and social climate, and Jimi Hendrix

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Tags: Jimi, personal, politics
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Today I’d intended to publish my “Leaving Google” post, describing the full process whereby I decided to leave Google on September 16, 2011. That post is already completely finished, but I’ve fallen behind my self-imposed schedule, as I hope to get my last “whaling” post done and publish a few more posts about my Fixit experiences before publishing “Leaving Google”. That post, when finally published, will likely be my last Google-related post—or at least, the last Google-related post of interest to folks who don’t know me personally.

As it turns out, I’ve something completely different to talk about today. This post started life as a footnote to my final “whaling” post, but that note took a life of its own; and after yesterday’s revealing video of Mitt Romney’s remarks at a private fundraising event, I feel the need to vent before I move on with my remaining Google business. Those of you who follow my blog for {Google, testing, grouplet, fixit, etc.}-related information, feel free to skip this one. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, or even lean right to any significant degree, I’ll understand if you pass, though I hope you won’t. In fact, I’d welcome thoughtful feedback, and corrections if I err in any of my arguments.

I’ll preface this by saying that I am not deeply-educated or otherwise well-read in political science, sociology, or economics. But, I’d like to think that I’m a somewhat well-informed, free-thinking citizen who’s entitled to his opinion and his voice in public debate.

Socialism and Communism
Get Elected; Stay Elected
Talking Points
Economics
Health Care
Security and the Middle East
Religion
Taxes
Leadership and Exceptionalism
Democratic Legacy from the Bush Years
Hope
Remembering Jimi
Footnotes

Socialism and Communism

This past Saturday morning, I had a few moments to contribute to writing my final “whaling” post on Google development and testing tools, and started making the reference, as I’ve made several times in this blog to date, to Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals, particularly to my favorite paraphrased point that if people don’t have the power to solve a problem, they won’t even think of trying. Bill Moyer’s article Who is Saul Alinsky has a direct quote from a 1972 issue of Playboy1 whereby Alinsky paraphrases himself:

My only fixed truth is a belief in people, a conviction that if people have the opportunity to act freely and the power to control their own destinies, they’ll generally reach the right decisions.

Somehow I was thrown into a flashback of the United States Republican Party presidential primary elections earlier this year, when failed candidate Newt Gingrich made a big deal out of pointing to Saul Alinsky’s influence on President Obama, decrying Alinsky as a dangerous socialist. Before I knew it, the cloudburst came…

Since when did a civil rights strategist from the mid-20th century become the prophet of capital-S Socialism? A disturbingly large percentage, if not most, of my fellow citizens do not critically appreciate the distinction between socialism and communism, particularly the limited-yet-powerful role government can play in addressing certain specific social issues vs. Soviet-style oligarchism. I didn’t even receive a clear education in these matters, despite my public education, college education, and faithful media consumption for most of my life. Hell, growing up in Hampton Roads in the 80’s, I realized before I was ten years old that if Russia attacked the US with nuclear weapons, we were at least as likely a target, if not moreso, than New York or Washington—we knew what communism was about, alright, and socialism was just a step behind as far as most of us knew. Perhaps if I’d taken more history or economics classes in college, I would’ve had my eyes opened sooner, but suffice it to say that college-educated adults are still the minority in the US, and even amongst that population the distinction in policies are not as clear.

Get Elected; Stay Elected

One of the few American history classes I did take in college, with Dr. Morris, did leave one theme firmly branded on my conscious awareness. He was explaining the post-Civil War election in which General Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union (Northern) army, was elected President of the United States. While an effective general, Grant had neither the political ambition nor the polished manner normally expected of politicians, but it didn’t matter to the Republican Party2 that nominated him, because he was “electable”. American politics, Dr. Morris explained, has only two rules: Get elected; and stay elected.

There’s no mention in this ruleset of the common good, public welfare, honesty, integrity, blah blah woof woof. Get elected, and stay elected. Fortunately, we have had a good number of great presidents that have, despite this cynical observation, risen above mere ambition for the office and delivered critical leadership that has advanced the nation—and, arguably, in may ways, world progress and affluence. (Must…not…ramble…) But especially as the media age has advanced to the point where it takes a conscious act of will to unplug from ubiquitous advertising, and to see through the vague, oversimplified platitudes and invectives of what passes for political discourse, it seems that those who would secure their wealth and power and advantage in the world are eager as ever to embrace this cynicism for their own benefit, at the expense of their fellow citizens, and at the cost of their own honor.

Clearly those who align themselves with the modern mainstream of the Republican Party do not believe that advocating any policy that hints of socialism will help one either get elected or stay elected. Not only that, but demonstrating that an opponent is in any way associated with a socialist-ish policy is tantamount to proving said opponent as unfit for public office in the US. Carthago delenda est! 3

Talking Points

One of the tactics I and my Testing Grouplet colleagues employed while promoting the practice of automated developer testing at Google was to repeat ourselves—constantly. Not just repeat ourselves, but say the same thing in as many ways as we could, until we found all the angles that worked sufficently to convince the Google engineering population of the value of automated testing. The thing about ubiquitous repetition is that, as social creatures, we’re generally wired to go along with the herd, or tribe—safety in numbers, and all that—and if everybody’s talking about something, using common language and idioms to describe it, and nodding in agreement, etc., people will give weight to the concept being so discussed. People will believe it has value, if everybody’s talking about it so much.

In the case of the Testing Grouplet, we were sometimes accused of being quasi-religious, or cultish. This perception was often compounded by those of us who were a little overzealous in our advocation, or who were morally outraged by the neglect and/or contempt of our non-testing colleagues. (I was certainly guilty of this at times.) At the core of the movement, however, we had folks who were focused on the well-being of Google as a whole, and who embraced and encouraged healthy, rational debate of the issues at play, and used the insights so produced to provide information and tools that did, ultimately, change the culture for the better. But, we relied on the same tactic of repetition to break down a lot of social and psychological barriers—a war of attrition waged against indifference and attitudes hostile to our agenda.

In the current race for President of the United States, both the Democratic and Republican Parties have their “talking points” that are driven deep and hard into American skulls via every possible media implant. I am not a registered member of either party, or any party, and have no plans to become such, but I have to say that as of late, I’ve begun to adopt the perspective that reality has a well-known liberal bias. The Democratic points generally have facts—to say nothing of arithmetic—on their side. The Republican points do not—but that doesn’t seem to stop them from being perpetuated. Carthago delenda est!

Economics

As far as I can tell, Objectivism is the capitalist version of the social, political, and economic extreme that closely resembles the Soviet system it was a reaction against. How it has become a large part of the intellectual core of the Tea Party movement—which has in turn become the tail-wagging-the-dog of the Republican Party—and is openly championed by high-profile advocates such as Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, is baffling when one considers how popular the Republican Party is amongst middle- and lower-income families which are not concentrated in urban areas—hardly specimens of outrageously successful businessfolk practicing rational self-interest. Plus, Objectivism actively discourages the practice of religion, a core Republican value, which raises an inconsistency that many who ostensibly agree with its free-market economic tenets fail to notice or consider. (Though, credit to those who can at least reason enough to find value in parts of a system without allowing themselves to be trapped into advocating the whole thing.)

In more concrete terms, trickle-down economics is a failed experiment, and “job creators” is a thinly-veiled code phrase for a rare breed that achieve fortune and fame by shutting down American operations, outsourcing via cheap labor in other countries, and pocketing the resulting profits for themselves via offshore tax havens rather than putting that money back to work to create jobs and ease unemployment—say, by helping educate and train Americans for more highly-skilled jobs than those which they managed to export, actually creating a win-win economic situation for the US and the markets receiving the labor contracts. A lack of reasonable regulations and business transparency greatly enabled the greedy, risky behavior of those playing games with funny money that was secured by the labor and dreams of millions less educated, less advantaged, unsuspecting middle-class families. The US economy was still in free-fall at the start of the Obama administration, and not only did this adminstration stop the fall, but has managed—perhaps slowly, but still surely—to strictly increase the number of jobs created in the years since the crash bottomed out.

Still, unemployment over 8% lingers, and the Republican Party uses this as proof that Obama is a disappointing imposter for the office of President. Nevermind the fact that the only speaker at the Republican National Convention that mentioned George W. Bush, the Republican President that initiated two devastating wars4 and presided over the greatest economic crash since the Great Depression, was his brother Jeb. In other words, nevermind that it was Republican policies and implementation that led to the economic fiasco that Obama was charged with repairing, that dug the deficit hole in which we’re currently trapped by pursuing wars and encouraging risky economic activity that benefited a wealthy few and burdened the US government and the country at large with the cleanup, ending and ruining thousands of American lives and millions of American livelihoods. And, nevermind that the Republican-controlled Congress, strongarmed by a large Tea Party contingency, has taken a hard line against bipartisan debate and compromise that has deadlocked many of the President’s efforts to repair the damage. Carthago delenda est!

Health Care

No country spends as much on health care as the United States. It is an enormous drain on the national economy that largely benefits insurance and drug companies—and their lawyers—not those who actually require care or would do well to seek it as a preventative measure. Government-regulated health care, no matter how imperfect, will help put an end to exorbitant insurance premiums and drug costs that threaten to ruin those who are unfortunate enough to become injured or fall ill, and will help people seek regular medical examinations to avoid falling ill in the first place, or avoid permanent disability after an injury. If you prevent lives from being ruined, you prevent entire families from being drained—if not potentially ruined—which helps communities, cities, states, and the entire country. You maintain a high-level of productivity and quality of living across the board.

Yes, a single-payer system would likely be superior to the enormous and complex Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But that would smell a little too much like socialized medicine, and no US politician that understands “Get elected; stay elected” would touch that with a ten-foot pole. Still, Obama and the members of Congress that voted for the bill took a huge political risk by pushing for sweeping health-care reform now—and many of those Congress members paid for that risk by losing their seats to produce a Republican majority in 2010. This was not a power play to get elected and stay elected, to enable the non-tax-payers to live on government handouts. This was one of the rare examples of visionary leadership taking a great calculated risk to move society forward and ensure economic well-being in the long-term, by providing for the physical health and phynancial security (as it pertains to avoiding bankruptcy due to medical costs) of every citizen of the nation. This is one of the Big Problems that a government can solve, and should solve, that justifies, to a large extent, the existence of a government to begin with—along with national defense, law enforcement, communications and transportation infrastructure, commerce and trade policies, etc.

Opponents say that the individual mandate component of the PP&ACA is tantamount to government regulation of a person’s entire existence. Doesn’t that happen already? Are we not bound by laws to maintain social stability, justice, fair business practices, etc.? This isn’t about the government telling you what you can and can’t do in your life; it’s about the government providing the social protection so that you can continue to do whatever you want to do with your life, even if you’re unfortunate enough to fall ill or become otherwise disabled. Right now, if you can’t pay your medical bills, you’re screwed. Where’s the freedom in that?

There’s a lot of talk from the Republican Party about their intent to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Replace it with what? Craft an equivalent reform that helps secure the nation’s health and productivity and quality of life in the long-term—which will most likely approach a socialized solution—and let’s have an open debate on that plan. Produce the replacement first, and then effectively repeal the PP&ACA when the replacement is ratified. That would seem a more rational, responsible course, but such points don’t seem to come up. Carthago delenda est!

Security and the Middle East

The Obama administration has taken out more threats to American security than the Republican administration immediately prior—including the top target himself—and many of these actions have been unilateral, decidedly not a result of “leading from behind”. Regarding Syria, not getting involved in a sectarian civil war in another country, especially when alliances are not clear, American interests are not immediately at stake, anti-American sentiment has traditionally run high due to past interventionist policies, and other powerful nations are threatening to use an armed conflict on the ground in a third-party nation as a proxy battle for their own national interests is a good thing, despite how ugly and heartbreaking the humanitarian implications.

Regarding the most recent anti-American uprisings throughout Muslim nations and communities in other nations, applying diplomatic pressure to the responsible governments—especially very new governments born of the Arab Spring—to lead their societies towards tolerance of free speech, though far less expedient than pursuing an adolescent power fantasy of invading every country that has a problem with us, is the right long-term approach. As others have observed, most of the people in these countries have only experienced dictatorships where the actions of the people are highly regulated by, and thus representative of the state. Religion has often been used as an instrument of such repression, and religious outrage is often used as a proxy for other more legitimate grievances. These people have no concept of the First Amendment right to free speech, and are a long ways from realizing that in American society, most Americans find outright denigration of any religious faith to be distasteful and unnecessary—at the same time we uphold the right of those to make their views public, for the sake of transparency and open debate. Such subtleties are not transmitted, such problems are not solved, by excessive saber-rattling or further military invasions. Violent religious intolerance is not overcome with equal and opposite violent religious intolerance. Modern media and perpetual news cycles have spoiled us into thinking that the issues are simple and the solutions are swift, but the reality is that nation-building and cross-cultural tolerance takes a long, long, long time.

As best I can tell, a lot of the rage we’re seeing is not because we’ve pulled out of Iraq, and are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan; it’s from decades of foreign policy that has pitted American interests at odds with the interests of other nations, a holdover from cynical Cold War maneuvering that never quite stopped after the fall of the Soviet Union. In Libya, there were actually demonstrations after the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and other US Embassy staff demonstrating support for the US, in gratitude for the role it played in the overthrow of Gaddafi—a role it assumed with the support of many other nations, and in which its hands were not tied by China and Russia via the UN Security Council. Still, the Republican charge is that the Obama adminstration’s policies have demonstrated a lack of leadership and resulted in less security for the American people, that the world still needs a good ol’ American boot up the ass. Carthago delenda est!

Religion

The separation of church and state is a good thing that the Founders emphasized in the Constitution for a reason. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion are both necessary for a free and civil society. Still, the Republican perception persists that the Democratic party in general, and President Obama in particular, are waging a war against religious “freedom” because Catholic institutions are amongst the employers required to grant health coverage for women’s contraception under the PP&ACA. There’s nothing that says that women employed by such institutions have to take advantage of such coverage; it’s just that the coverage must be there if they choose it, or need it, because a woman shouldn’t be forced to change jobs or do without contraception just because her employer, for whom she provides services in a secular fashion, is founded on a religious ideology.

While I’m an atheist that leans towards the administration’s position on this issue, I realize that it’s a sticky subject that is yet to be resolved, and I’m not so sure that an exception shouldn’t be granted—no matter how I feel about such anti-contraception principles being rooted in arbitrary superstition, perhaps the government should keep its hands off of this one, and maybe even offer a service to provide such contraception coverage to female employees of Catholic-based institutions directly. (Though that sounds slightly like a single-payer system that sounds slightly…socialist, no?) While this is a delicate, controversial issue, it is not clear and ample evidence that the Obama administration has an agenda to impose the government’s will to suppress religious freedom. But, as the saying goes… Carthago delenda est!

Taxes

I am not an economist, but it is patently clear to me that Mitt Romney’s so-called “plan” is less of a plan and more of a wish list. There are no specifics on which tax “loopholes” he’d close to justify cutting taxes, particularly in a way that would lower taxes on the middle class. He and his advisors claim that they are reluctant to provide specifics because then it would give the Obama administration something to attack. What’s more, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the Ryan plan has "no specifications of particular revenue proposals" to generate the revenue that it projects.

Since when are obscurity and cowardice qualities the American public desires in a candidate for President of the United States? The whole point of having specifics on the table is so that open debate can take place, that in the marketplace of ideas the best points will gain support through persuasive data and reasoning, and society as a whole can benefit from the process. Obstructing this process seems, to me, an act of gross negligence, and its perpetrators should not be rewarded with serious consideration.

Though it’s kind of a lowball tactic, the Obama administration’s focus on Romney’s hidden tax returns is one way of forcing some degree of public debate on the disparity of wealth and the advantages enjoyed and maintained by the business elites, by way of harping on a concrete artifact. Even Republican strategists were calling for Romney to release the returns and be done with it—yet clearly he has determined the political risk of releasing them to be greater than that of keeping them under wraps.

Obama’s position seems relatively clear: Let the Bush tax cuts expire, and allow those in higher income brackets pay a rate comparable to the rest of the American public—the so-called Buffet Rule. Middle-class and lower-class tax rates are relatively unaffected. The Romney and Ryan positions, in comparison, seem to rely on the American public not appreciating, as they say, arithmetic. But, according to the Republican platform, the secretive and hand-wavey Republican “plan” is what’s best for the American middle-class, by supposedly driving down unemployment and reducing the deficit by closing loopholes and freeing “job creators” to hire more American workers, yet the concrete Obama plan for generating revenue by placing more of a proportionate tax burden on the high-income bracket to help fill in the hole that the previous administration dug for him is “class warfare”. Carthago delenda est!

Leadership and Exceptionalism

Contrary to the assertions of hawkish Republican candidates and their supporters, the rest of the world is fed up with, laughing at, and revolting against conservative hardliners who use repetition of blatant falsehoods to brainwash the masses who exist within sparse, nearly homogenous municipalities, so that such hardliner elites can acquire and maintain power and profit for themselves by playing on the people’s ignorance, fear, and inexperience of the world. An extemporaneous, impassioned diatribe by Irish President Michael D. Higgins in 2010 is a perfect, priceless illustration of this.

Strong leadership is marked by reason and resolve, not unthinking, xenophobic, simplistic, arrogant, defiant, shameless warmongering that has already put way too many young, promising American lives at risk and, in far too many cases, ended them prematurely. “American Exceptionalism” is another one of those Republican code words for everything in the preceding list except reason and resolve, suggesting that imposing our will on the world, no matter who loses, is as American as Mom and apple pie. If that’s American Exceptionalism, consider me Unexceptional in the extreme. That’s not a policy and a society and a legacy I’m comfortable with as an American, and one of the big reasons I’m so riled up and inspired to make such a detailed post on the subject of this election is precisely because of that discomfort.

That the Republican candidate for President of the United States has demonstrated for months on end that he is not presidential, by covering up his phynancial history, embarrassing himself constantly during his overseas visit by habitually denigrating other nations, being deliberately vague about his promised economic and tax policies, neglecting to acknowledge American service members abroad during his party’s nomination acceptance speech, and politicizing the recent Middle East uprisings in which American diplomatic staff members were murdered before he had all the facts—and deliberately asserted his moral justification in doing so when finally presented with the facts—is a disgraceful representation of the United States political system.

And that is to say nothing of the recently-surfaced video in which he openly disdains nearly half of the country as a bunch of irresponsible parasites that it’s not his job to worry about as President. Remember my earlier paraphrase of Saul Alinsky, that if people don’t have the power to solve a problem, they won’t even think of trying? Even if Romney’s 47% of tax-dodging hangers-on actually exist, does it sound like he’s at all interested in giving them, or the millions of middle- and lower-class Americans struggling with economic stagnation and unemployment that do exist, the power to solve their problems—which, ultimately are America’s problems?

Yet, it’s President Obama and the Democratic party that the Republicans charge with being weak on foreign policy, ruining the economy, and waging “class warfare”. Carthago delenda est!

Democratic Legacy from the Bush Years

Oddly enough, I blame the Democratic party to a large extent for the political mess we’re currently in. During the George W. Bush administration, there was an endless stream of derisive criticism not just of the President, but also of his supporters, of the segment of the population that actually voted for him. Many made intellectual appeals laced with open disdain for those less informed, writing them off as idiots rather than addressing them as fellow citizens that could benefit from objective facts and reasoning. If you voted for Bush, you were stupid, ugly, and generally a Very Bad Person. Ironically, the secret Romney video provides remarkably accurate insight into the resulting phenomenon that I believe produced the rampant, irrational anti-Obama hatred that currently fuels the Republican fervor:

We speak with voters across the country about their perceptions. Those people I told you—the 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring onto our side—they all voted for Barack Obama four years ago. So, and by the way, when you say to them, “Do you think Barack Obama is a failure?” they overwhelmingly say no. They like him. But when you say, “Are you disappointed that his policies haven’t worked?” they say yes. And because they voted for him, they don’t want to be told that they were wrong, that he’s a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he’s corrupt. Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn’t up to the task. They love the phrase that he’s “over his head.” But if we’re—but we, but you see, you and I, we spend our day with Republicans. We spend our days with people who agree with us. And these people are people who voted for him and don’t agree with us. And so the things that animate us are not the things that animate them.

Now, substitute “George W. Bush” for “Barack Obama” and “Democrats” for “Republicans”, and Romney actually hits the nail square on the head: During the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, Democrats and their supporters made the Republicans and their supporters feel completely stupid. Democrats to a large extent spent their time agreeing with other Democrats, decrying the stupidity of the Republican voters, and neglected to account for the fact that even Republican voters are part of the same country, and are worth listening to, worth including in the debate without talking down to them, despite differences in terms of policy or spirituality or culture or level of education. They bought into the game of denegrating and defeating one’s political opponents, rather than working to promote a vision of society that integrates everyone’s interests according to a fair balance.

So what was the reaction? The Republican party elites very effectively focused the “stupid people’s” frustration as hatred towards the figure that most embodies their humiliating defeat in the last presidential election. In the absence of rational, inclusive dialogue initiated by Democrats—or in the presence of Democratic condescension and ridicule, if you will—the Republican elites convinced a large portion of the non-city-dwelling population that “job creators” like themselves were aligned with the same interests as the millions of unemployed or otherwise struggling Americans that suffered the consequences of the economic collapse that happened during the previous Republican administration. They convinced these people that responsible government regulation of phynancial markets and even tax rates across the population were “anti-business” and “anti-success”, right after these people’s economic security had vanished due to a lack of phynancial regulation and oversight, and the disproportionate amount that middle-class tax payers contributed to the government bailout to prevent the entire economy from collapsing completely. They convinced people that a President who carefully weighs his words, who tries to speak to the American people like reasonable adults, and has tried to move away from an overly-militarized, interventionist foreign policy is a weak figure that poses a national security threat in and of himself. And they convinced people that a federal health care policy restricts their individual freedom, at the same time that the elites enjoy their own private health care plans while many, if not most Americans face the very great risk of phynancial ruin should they suffer the misfortune of ever needing medical care.

President Obama won the last election, in my view, because the impact of the Bush administration was so severely negative, and he calmly and rationally advocated a vision of reconciliation, despite over-the-top Democratic outrage, winning over the more moderate voters, even among Republicans. When he won my home state of Virginia, which hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 19645, I was as shocked as I was elated. (I was in New York at the time.) But, that sense of Democratic outrage and arrogance was still there, and now we’re reaping what has been sown. What has me really scared is that Romney seems to have taken this lesson to heart:

And the best success I have at speaking with those people is saying, you know, the president has been a disappointment. He told you he’d keep unemployment below 8 percent. Hasn’t been below eight percent since. Fifty percent of kids coming out of school can’t get a job. Fifty percent. Fifty percent of the kids in high school in our 50 largest cities won’t graduate from high school. What’re they gonna do? These are the kinds of things that I can say to that audience that they nod their head and say, “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

Of course, he’s talking about the thin slice of swing, aka “independent” voters, not the “47%” that he’s already written off. But it is a point very well-taken, that I think the Democrats would do well to keep in the forefront of their minds. This election cycle, I think they have to a large extent, but they’re often getting drowned out by the sheer bold assertiveness with which Republican misinformation is currently promulgated, and the hyper-patriotic delight of those that are waiting to receive it.

Hope

It worries me so that the opinion polls between President Obama and Romney remain as close as they are, though perhaps the secret video will finally provide the last straw that gets the clear and overwhelming majority of the American voting public to see Mitt Romney and his elite cronies as the dangerous charlatans that they are. Still, I would’ve thought that any number of missteps up to this point would’ve also convinced the public that this man and his associates are not fit for the office of President of the United States.

I am not an Obama apologist, a blind fanboy who thinks he can do no wrong. I, too, am disappointed that things are not better than they are, and I think perhaps the President would have done well to work the system a little differently—though how he could’ve managed that given the influence of Tea Party extremists, I don’t know. However, I believe he is working hard to do what’s best for the country, long-term, refusing to get sucked into politically expedient short-term policy hacks and Team America-esque jingoism for the sake of sucking up enough votes to hold onto power. I’m proud to have him as my President of the United States, and I believe he’s earned the opportunity to carry out a second term, to follow through on the efforts he’s initiated to deal with the inherited damage to the economy and foreign policy—damage that still carried enormous momentum well into his first year or so of office, and which has shown slow-but-sure signs of abating.

Remembering Jimi

On this day in 1970, James Marshall Hendrix passed away. He’s obviously a hero to many, and me personally, for his exquisite, unequalled accomplishments as an electric guitarist, songwriter, and performer. To close this diatribe, and to honor Jimi’s memory in the same stroke, I thought it fitting to share Jimi’s legendary performance of the US national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, at the Woodstock festival in August, 1969. His performance, where patriotic musical motifs were violently juxtaposed with the sounds of bombs and sirens, captured the spirit of the volatile American culture of the time, as the political and social establishments were being strongly challenged by the “counterculture” in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which ended racial segregation and discrimination of many forms, providing equal rights to many minorities—and the Vietnam War—a war intended to contain communist influence, where tens of thousands of young Americans were drafted to fight and die in a foreign land, where the war and its horrors were transmitted into American homes every day in near-real-time for the first time in history.

There are many interpretations of Jimi’s performance, and he was none too specific in providing his own. But what I get out of it, over 43 years later, in the midst of an equally charged and tumultuous social and political atmosphere, is the inspiration that despite our challenges as a nation, despite our flaws and mistakes and the divides that persist in our society, despite the horrors of ongoing wars and an uncertain economic future, there are core ideals that bind us together, there is hope that we can right our wrongs and move forward as one—eventually.

Footnotes

1Yes, some of us do read it for the articles. Not just for the articles, but also for the articles.

2I’m not conversant enough to say how closely the Republican party of the mid-19th century compares to the one that exists today, so don’t read too much into this explicit association other than as a statement of historical fact.

3From the Wikipedia article: "Carthago delenda est"…(English: “Carthage must be destroyed”)…is a Latin oratorical phrase which was in popular use in the Roman Republic in the 2nd Century BC during the latter years of the Punic Wars against Carthage, by the party urging a foreign policy which sought to eliminate any further threat to the Roman Republic from its ancient rival Carthage, which had been defeated twice before and had a tendency after each defeat rapidly to rebuild its strength and engage in further warfare. It represented a policy of the extirpation of the enemies of Rome who engaged in aggression, and the rejection of the peace treaty as a means of ending conflict. The phrase was most famously uttered frequently and persistently almost to the point of absurdity by the Roman senator Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), as a part of his speeches.

4Afghanistan was justified, but diverting from that mission for the sake of invading Iraq was absolutely not. Afghanistan could’ve been over by now, and despite how one may personally feel about Saddam Hussein, his downfall was not worth the cost in thousands of American lives, either taken or ruined, and increased anti-American sentiment.

5Maybe I should’ve temporarily moved back to Virginia and waited until late November to move to Boston, as an effort to help keep Virginia blue.