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January 2012 Archives

Divisible by Four

If you've been waiting patiently for me to say something, well, thanks.

And if you've been waiting for me to say something about the fact that we're in a year that's divisible by four, meaning that we're having a presidential election in November, your patience is even more appreciated.

It's not that I have nothing to say on the subject, mind you. It's just that there doesn't seem much point. As frustrated as I've been by some of the thing President Obama has done, I've been quite pleased by some of the others, and I'm certainly not going to vote for anyone else given the alternatives provided by the shambling corpse of the Party of Lincoln. As Katharine Weber put it, Obama hasn't cured cancer, but that's not a good reason to vote for cancer.

And just how malignant are the four Republican alternatives to Obama? Well, "malignant," since it literally means "acting maliciously," is a strong word to use for Mitt Romney, who doesn't seem to have any malice in his soul. This is likely because he has no soul. For him to be malicious, he would have to have some kind of intention to inflict suffering, and Mitt Romney has no intention to do anything whatsoever; he only wants to BE something. There is absolutely nothing he could do that he wouldn't immediately undo if he saw any political advantage in the undoing. Sure, he might sell you into slavery, bite off your finger, or rape his dog if he thought it would help him become president, but it's not like he would mean it. He would also buy you back out of slavery, pay for your finger reattachment, or try to pretend dog rape was a sign of statesmanship if he thought it would help him become president. I think he would be a far worse president than Obama, controlled as he is by his unerring sense of which way the wind is blowing and lacking as he is in any ability to empathize with any American who isn't him, but at least you could take comfort in knowing that he could be bought, assuming you had enough money. And given the amount of money in Romney's Swiss bank and Cayman Islands bank accounts, you're going to need a lot of it.

On the other hand, "malignant" strikes me as an excellent description of Newt Gingrich, whose all-consuming self-aggrandizement has already proven more powerful than any vow of matrimony, oath of office, or sense of shame. A serial adulterer who specializes in bailing on women facing medical challenges, a Washington insider who claims he was serving as a historian for the very Freddie Mac group he excoriates, and an ethically challenged horndog who was given the boot by his own party following his disastrous attempt to bring down a president who was breaking the same vows he was, Gingrich has somehow persuaded a significant number of Republicans that it is better to hurl abuse at Obama and his supporters than to defeat them in November. And millions of Democrats agree with him.

What's astonishing about Rick Santorum is that compared to Gingrich, he doesn't actually look that bad, but on his own terms, ye gods. Aside from being the first sitting U.S. Senator to publicly compare homosexuality to man-on-dog sex, Santorum can also lay claim to being so unpopular in his home state of Pennsylvania that they bounced him from the Senate, allowing him to move to Iowa for what was apparently part primary campaign and part occupation. What he has over Gingrich and Romney is sincerity, but unfortunately, what he sincerely believes in is limited government--in his case, government that is limited to controlling anything two people might choose to do in bed, which would include outlawing contraceptives, homosexuality, abortion, and quite possibly sex outside the missionary position for purposes of procreation. The astonishing thing is that he himself has been in that most horrifying of situations, where a problem pregnancy threatened the life of his wife (and mother of their six children). The choice of inducing labor for the non-viable fetus or allowing the pregnancy to continue and potentially kill his wife was presented to Santorum, who called it "a pretty easy call." (As it happens, his wife began labor anyway, so he never had to exercise that choice.) I do not for a second fault him for making that choice, but I resent the fact that he wants to prevent every OTHER American from making it for themselves. He has even said that in case of rape, "I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created -- in the sense of rape -- but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you." I'll grant you, it's at least a consistent anti-abortion stance, but it's also a complete denial of the woman's agency, not to mention an insult to any woman who doesn't happen to worship the same deity Santorum does.

And then there's Ron Paul, who has the advantage of supporting some ideas I fully endorse. I too feel our ongoing War On Drugs has been a failure, and I agree that decriminalizing marijuana would be a sensible step in negotiating a settlement. I also believe we are as a nation too quick to throw our weight around overseas and would welcome more restraint in spending American dollars and lives. In general, I'm glad there's somebody out there espousing some libertarian principles, as there are certainly ways in which I would like to see the federal government's authority limited. Unfortunately, Paul's idea of limited government, like Santorum's, would still be powerful enough to outlaw abortion, which gives you an idea of just how strongly he feels about the whole "limited" principle. He's also a guy who made a great deal of money back in the 1990s by publishing newsletters with content so racist that it seems more like something you'd have read when lynch law was still in place in his home state of Texas, and his attempts to deny his involvement in those newsletters have been weak indeed; I don't have any reason to believe that he's a racist, but a guy who finds it politically advantageous to appeal to racists isn't a whole lot more admirable than the real thing. Besides, he's also been known to claim that Lincoln started the Civil War in order to free the slaves, which betrays an ignorance of American history so profound that it should disqualify him from serving in Congress, let alone in the Oval Office.

I voted for Obama in 2008 and would likely do so again after he followed through on his promises to end Don't Ask/Don't Tell, pull our troops out of Iraq, and get at least some kind of health care reform passed (not to mention ridding the world of Osama bin Laden and getting the U.S. auto industry back on its feet.) But if the only alternatives the GOP is going to present me are the yahoos above--guys who make Obama look worthy of Mount Rushmore--then all the incumbent has to do over the next ten months to get my vote is not sell our nuclear weapons on eBay.

8:28 PM

I am not a journalist. I have occasionally written things that have appeared in newspapers or magazines, but when that happens, I view it as a happy accident, a felicitous case of a periodical needing my own particular skills and/or perspective. Lord knows it's not a case of needing my journalistic skills, because I don't really see myself as having any. I have never worked on a newspaper (despite the fact that my boss pressed me into service as our school newspaper's co-advisor several years back), nor have I taken so much as a single journalism class.

But you don't have to be a journalist to know what journalism is, just as you don't have to be an educator to know what education is. I would certainly turn to an educator if I were attempting to figure out how to create a curriculum or design a course, but even people whose only experience with school is attending one have a pretty good idea of what a school's purpose is.

You can imagine, then, the gobsmacked look that passed across my face--and since I didn't see it myself, I have to imagine it as well--when I came across this astonishing piece by the Public Editor of the New York Times:

"Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?"

I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge "facts" that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

Aside from the question of whether the act of trying to find out the truth is definable as vigilantism, given that the press's right to seek the truth is enshrined in American law, I can answer this question in only one way, and that way is with a resounding "DUH."

That a newspaper should even pose this question is astonishing and almost contradictory, as it would be for me to begin the first day of class by assigning my students an essay on "Should I Teach You Stuff?" After all, if the answer is "No," then there is no purpose to my coming to work the next morning. If the Times is not engaged in pursuing the truth, why even bother firing up the printing press for tomorrow's edition; we can all just sit back and read press releases from Rick Santorum's campaign manager.

It's one thing to say that a reporter should try to remain objective, but passing along falsehoods without examination or question is not objectivity; it's collusion.

Uncovering the truth, regardless of what partisans may claim it to be, is the fundamental purpose of a free press--what Nathan Arizona would call its "goddam raison d'etre." The press is free not because our founders considered newspapers a good way for journalists to make a living, but because they considered newspapers a necessity for democracy. Voters need to know the truth in order to cast their ballots effectively; if the press doesn't help them find out what's really happening, they cannot direct the government to protect their rights effectively. I'm sure that some sources will be upset by reporters who challenge their claims or seek corroboration or dig up evidence to show that their claims are false, but that is journalism.

A press that prizes the appearance of objectivity over the actual pursuit of the truth is a press that has voluntarily given up its freedom--and given up on our democracy in the process.

Or as a character on The Wire once put it, "A lie ain't a side of a story. It's just a lie."

4:06 PM


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