“I think this is precisely the plan laid out by Gov. Walker and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is run by right-wing extremist billionaires and other cheap labor conservatives, to divide public workers against private workers and to drive down the wages and benefits of all workers.” – AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Eliot Seide
In any democratic political system, but especially in one with divided powers, no compromise means no governance.
The attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, and the murder of six people at Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event on Saturday, has weighed heavily on me all weekend. This is partially a very personal response: the little girl who was murdered was only two weeks younger than my sons, and sounds very much like the boys’ classmates: smart, inquisitive, and full of life. And a “Congress on Your Corner” is exactly the sort of event I’d take my Cub Scouts to; anything that makes government close and personal is a good way to introduce kids to politics.
I’ve also been mulling over the shooting, and the responses to it, from a sociological perspective. There will be, in the coming weeks, much psychologizing of Jared Lee Loughner, the young man who likely committed this crime: a portrait of a troubled mind, possibly clinically so, will emerge, and the psychological answer–”He did it because he’s crazy”–will become the accepted wisdom. That’s a tautology, of course: he did something crazy because he’s crazy, and the craziness of his actions are proof of his craziness. It’s a pat, though comforting, explanation, in part because it gets the rest of us off the hook: we would never do something like that because we’re not crazy, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent crazy people from doing crazy things.
It’s also not a terribly useful explanation; there isn’t much we can do with it. So I’d like to offer, dredged up from decades-old memories of my last immersion in the sociological imagination, some other thoughts that might actually be helpful. Whether sociological explanations could prevent a tragedy like this from being repeated is certainly questionable; but the standard pop-psych explanations don’t have much of a track record, either.
The social integration theory
First, cribbing a bit from both Emile Durkheim and Albert Camus: the question isn’t, “Why do people do crazy things?” The question is, “Why don’t more people do crazy things?” And the answer, I suggest, is our level of social integration.
We behave ourselves most of the time according to the norms and mores of the groups to which we belong. If we are well-integrated into a social group, we care about what others think of our actions; and we’ll curb our urges to act crazily if we fear that the people in our group will disapprove. I’m not at all surprised that Jared Loughner hasn’t been found on the member lists of any Tea Party group; I’d be very surprised to learn that he was active in any groups at all: I would predict that his ties to school, family, neighbors, and other social groups were very weak indeed. Without the brakes applied by group membership, Loughner was able to follow his urges to their logical and tragic extreme.
There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here, of course, with Loughner’s potential mental illness: was he crazy because he was unaffiliated, or unaffiliated because he was crazy? I’d suggest that it’s a vicious cycle, with one condition feeding the other; had he been better connected to other people, maybe he would have received help for his condition, or maybe the symptoms wouldn’t have presented themselves so horribly.
The sociologist’s suggestion for using this insight? Reach out. Integrate the unaffiliated. Let people know that they’re connected. Even a smile from a stranger or a kind word from an acquaintance is enough to apply some gentle persuasion to stay within the norms.
The social permission theory
Much of the analysis after the fact has focused on the violent political rhetoric of the last several years: Sarah Palin’s target map, Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies”, Michele Bachmann’s “armed and dangerous” suggestion, scores of gun and revolution signs at Tea Party events. And the people who have been responsible for this rhetoric have predictably bristled: they weren’t giving orders, they say, they were simply using metaphors. While some have tested the line between “colorful” rhetoric and incitement to violence, none have actually crossed it.
While I don’t think Jared Loughner was taking direct orders from the Tea Party in committing his crime, I do think that he was acting within the context of the overheated vitriol of the last couple years. All of the talk of guns and nooses, the misprisions of Jefferson’s “Tree of Liberty” words, have created a space in which to think about doing violence to political leaders is permissible. Even before it happened, we could imagine Loughner’s acts: indeed, it almost wasn’t even a surprise after the summer of discontent leading up to the health care vote, and the acts of vandalism that followed that vote (including vandalism directed at Giffords). The rhetoric didn’t make a crime like Saturday’s inevitable, but it certainly made it thinkable.
The blame for the effects of this sort of violent rhetoric is pretty widely dispersed. First, of course, are the people who spew it: many of them (Palin, Bachmann) ought to know better, and need to be held to account for stoking the embers of fear and anger for political gain. Also to blame are the moderates in the GOP–Steele, Boehner–who should have been imploring the fringe to tone down the rhetoric, and should have been making a reasonable case for their party’s positions instead of allowing the fringe to set the tenor of debate; and if the fringe doesn’t tone down the violent rhetoric, then they need to be shunned. The adults in the room, too, are culpable for letting the immature language go on far too long: if the news stations weren’t broadcasting the Tea Party signs, if the Sunday show talking heads were reminding us that we are a nation ruled by ballots and not bullets, if the President were giving occasional civics lessons about how democracy works, perhaps we wouldn’t have such a fetid political culture.
There will always be moral monsters who justify political violence. It would be nice if we could simply ignore them. Unfortunately, though, we can’t; the anger, fear, and manipulative lies need to be addressed. Political violence needs to be made unthinkable again: the permission to solve political disagreements with a gun must be rescinded.
photo by Chris Coleman (iceman9294)
I both love and loathe democracy. Love it, because, as Churchill pointed out, its the worst possible system of government except for all of the others. And loathe it, because it’s hard work.
Choosing the top-of-the-ballot candidates isn’t hard: the airwaves and blogosphere are flooded with noise about the Minnesota governor’s race, and even the relatively safe DFL 5th district seat has generated some headlines because some Tea Party extremists don’t like Muslims. And the local state representatives are easy for me: I think of my state representative as the father of kids I know from after-school, park, and Cub Scouts activities, and I’ve seen my state senator enough times in the neighborhood that she’s familiar to me; I can’t say the same for either of their challengers.
But other elected positions–Water and Soil Conservation, School Board, and Three Rivers Parks–are hard ones to learn about. There’s not much information out there about the candidates, but these are potentially risky spots to overlook. Our beloved Michele Bachmann, for example, got her start in Stillwater school politics: these positions can be the springboard for scary candidates to bounce their way higher up the political ladder without the scrutiny that would stop them earlier in the process.
In trying to figure out who should get my vote tomorrow in some of these races, I’ve been relying on whatever endorsements I can find, on the assumption that an organization won’t endorse someone who might besmirch their name. And an endorsement from someone with whom I disagree can be as useful as an endorsement from a someone with whom I tend to be in consort.
In the latter category, a right-wing rant against Amber Collett, running for the Hennepin County Soil and Water board, clinched my vote: she has experience with Transit for Livable Communities and the TapMPLS water program, so she gets my nod.
For the other Soil and Water seat, I couldn’t find nearly as much information. Stephanie Zvan endorses David Rickert, though not resoundingly (she notes only that he has more experience than the others who are running). But she’s picked most of the top-of-the-ballot names I plan to vote for, so I’m reasonably sure that Rickert isn’t a nutcase, so I’ll probably vote for him. (Faint praise, no?)
The Three Rivers Park seat is a tougher one for me. The incumbent, Mark Haggerty, made some news last spring when he opposed the park district’s plan to stop selling bottled water:
I don’t like government and I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t think we should stop selling plastic bottled water until we have an alternative.
Putting aside for a moment the wisdom of the bottle ban (and I do think it’s wise: there are lots of reasons that bottled water is a bad idea): “I don’t like government”? WTF?
If you “don’t like government,” what are you doing in government? This attitude puts me in mind of Thomas Frank’s The Wrecking Crew, in which anti-government ideologues make their arguments against good government into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Add to that the fact that Mr. Haggerty’s campaign domain redirects to his law firm’s web site, and this has all the hallmarks of someone who’s against the whole idea of public parks running for a spot on the public park board.
And yet he has the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, many of the other board members, and DFL Rep. Sandra Peterson, playing havoc with my candidate-selection strategies. His opponent, Joan Peters, has no endorsements and no web presence; she’s a board member of the Conservation Corps, which is a point in her favor for me, but I haven’t found much else about her. What to do?
I think in this case I’m going with Joan Peters: there’s just barely enough information about her to convince me that she’s not a crackpot, and there are just enough indicators that Haggerty’s approach to the philosophy of the county parks isn’t entirely consistent with mine. I could, of course, be wrong on both counts and live to regret my choice; if so, I’ll just add it to the bitter lessons taught by the worst system of government except for all the rest.
The cost of our empire of illusion is not being paid by the corporate titans. It is being paid in the streets of our inner cities, in former manufacturing town, and in depressed rural enclaves. This cost transcends declining numbers and statistics and speaks the language of human misery and pain.
Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion
Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion is in part an angry screed, in part a Jeremiad lament, and (in small) part a vision of a better America. With a mixture of raw anger and sharp analysis, he covers a wide range of topics–professional wrestling, brutal pornography, the military-industrial-educational complex, the cozy relationship between journalism and power–and finds very little hope in the American landscape. All these topics are linked by the thesis that power in America is weilded less by elected government than by profit-seeking corporations, and that American culture has embraced a collection of illusions to mask this silent coup.
At its best, Empire of Illusion supports its thesis with devastating analysis: the circularity of media leaks that helped the Bush administration make the case for war in Iraq, the impact of globalization on workers in America and abroad that expose the myth of capitalism’s perpetual growth, the way pseudo-events distract the public from the truth. The topics are so wide ranging and tenuously connected, though, that it’s hard to follow the thread of Hedges’ argument through the entire book. What holds the book together more than logic is emotion, the righteous indignation at the blatant lies and distractions that the powerul use to maintain their power. Of course, righteous indignation was one of Aristotle’s virtues, and a little anger is more than called for in the cases Hedges brings to light; it runs the risk, though, of alienating rather than convincing readers who aren’t already in the choir.
The vision of the future that Hedges offers, following the economic and environmental implosions that even the most powerful illusions won’t be able to cover up, is especially grim:
A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to simpletons like Sarah Palin to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we naively dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. The elites … will retreat into their sheltered enclaves of privilege and comfort. We will be left bereft, abandoned outside the gates, and at the mercy of the security state.
It’s a vision that isn’t hard to imagine, given the anger and fear that has been churning in some quarters for the last decade. And without rational voices to counter the anger and fear, which have been painfully silent, it’s a frighteningly possible future.
Hedges does not, however, offer a concrete program to thwart such a future, and to reclaim democracy from corporate power. Empire of Illusion closes instead with a short hymn to love. “[N]o tyranny in history has crushed the human capacity for love. And this love–unorganized, irrational, often propelling us to carry out acts of compassion that jeopardize our existence–is deeply subversive to those in power.” And while I think that love is a fine answer to the world’s problems–my heroes tend to be Quakers, Buddhists, and pacifists–I find Hedges’ solution a bit thin after so much dystopia. If a counter thread of examples of the power of love had run through the book–not a maudlin Kumbaya, but the hard work of love in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Mother Jones–I would be more convinced. Instead, I came away from Empire of Illusion feeling a bit more uncertain in the future than I did going in.
A recent exchange with a couple of YouTube trolls, and a pithy (if slightly snarky) quotation surfaced on Eleanor Arnason’s blog, has me wondering why the grown ups have been so silent about the nuttier anti-government statements coming out of the Tea Party fringe these days.
First, the quote (attributed to John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey):
Two novels can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other involves orcs.
I discovered the orcs first, and I’m very glad of it.
The YouTube exchange came via a 1942 tourism film about Minnesota. (It’s a lovely film, by the way.) A troll by the name of “clvanhove” commented that “this is before many people relied on the government to take care of them. Sad state of this country…. wish I was living back then. People actually knew responsibility and took care of things? themselves.” Despite my policy of not feeding trolls, I answered with a little history lesson about Minnesota’s tradition of good government, which enabled many of the things the film presents (clean lakes, good infrastructure, state parks), and noted that “[i]n a democracy, we ARE the government.”
Another troll responded that “Minnesota is great? due to individual efforts of men eking out a tough fought existence in [sic] less hospitable land” and that “[t]he difference between you and I, is that my beliefs do not ask anything of anybody with the exception that they not deprive me of freedom. Yours demands it. There is nothing more selfish than people who seek? government force to rob their neighbors.”
Goodness! I won’t respond in the comments thread on the film; it’s way off topic, and I feel bad about feeding the first troll. But I do wish that some grown ups would weigh in a little more forcefully about the wave of silly warmed-over Ayn Randianism that has been bubbling up into the mainstream these days.
The fringe Right’s anti-government screeds are a radical departure from almost four centuries of Enlightenment thinking about government and society. By positing an “us” vs. “them” dichotomy, with “them” being The Government, they abandon the democratic experiment and the principles of government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” And while there are a few on the Right who, I think, use this sentiment in a wholly rhetorical and deeply cynical way, I worry that there are far too many people who actually take this philosophy seriously.
The mainstream of political philosophy since Hobbes and Locke has been largely about how to strike a balance between liberty and the common good. The responsible libertarian side of the argument makes the case that increased liberty can do more for the common good than direct government intervention; the responsible socialist side of the argument makes the case that liberty for some distorts the liberty for all, and that true liberty is best achieved through policies that tend toward equality; and the responsible middle, where the United States has tended since the Progressive Era, tinkers around with the equation with a focus on pragmatic outcomes.
But none of the responsible participants in the debate have ever denied that there’s such a thing as the common good. They quibble about the definitions of both “common” and “good,” but never deny that both the collective and the private have a significant role to play in establishing a just society.
People of good will can disagree about a lot of things, so long as they do agree on a few foundational positions. Though I’m pretty far to the Left in the American political spectrum, I can find points of agreement with many on the Right. Indeed, the Right used to generate some useful ideas about how to use market forces for the common good (the current health care reforms, for example, have their origins in the Nixon administration, not in Das Kapital; the earned-income tax credit is a Republican idea proposed by Milton Friendman, and cap-and-trade is about as libertarian an approach to environmental concerns as I can think of). And some Leftist ideas–the five-day work week, OSHA, the EPA, Medicare, Social Security–have been thoroughly integrated into America’s capitalist economy.
But declaring that “[t]here is nothing more selfish than people who seek? government force to rob their neighbors” simply shuts down any rational debate. I can see the attraction in Randianism–it’s a very clean, clockwork view of the world, with room for a lot of dramatic heroics–but it falls apart pretty quickly into selfishness and fear. It represents a wholesale retreat from society, a desire to create a hermetic bubble around the heroic individual who owes nothing to the community out of which they arose. It is, in the end, a prescription for “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” against which Hobbes posited the first inklings of liberalism.
I’m not interested in “robbing” anyone, nor, I suspect, are most proponents of government (however limited or expansive their notions of government may be). Instead, I’m interested in finding the balance between liberty and equality that makes our society as good as it can be. If that means extending liberty in some areas, so be it; if it means restricting it in others, then that’s a valid prescription as well. And because this is an experiment, and we hold the levers of power through the vote, there’s room for debate and compromise and principled disagreement.
And I’m not interested in “depriving” anyone of freedom. Can government be tyrannical and heavy-handed? It certainly can; history is filled with examples. The United States, thankfully, has never been one of those examples, and so long as we have the vote and share a vision of a common purpose, it never will be. But tyranny can arise not only from the government: unchecked mobs, rapacious classes, and extreme atomization are paths to tyranny as well.
I don’t feel “deprived of freedom” when I use municipal roads to get around town, or state parks to enjoy the resources that Minnesotans have agreed to protect; I feel that my freedom has actually been enhanced by these and many other collective efforts. And I don’t feel “robbed” when I pay my taxes (well, except maybe when I pay sales tax in Hennepin County for a baseball stadium I never got to vote on, but that’s another issue…); I feel that I’m paying my fair share to enjoy a society that’s a little more fair, equal, and just than it would be without government.
I suspect that Elrond, Bilbo, and Gandalf would agree.
I have to admit to a certain fondess for Peggy Noonan. What I Saw at the Revolution, her memoir of her time as a speech writer in the Reagan White House, is insightful and, especially in the chapter on the Challenger disaster, often poignant. And any conservative columnist who early on saw through the cult of Palin is a good egg in my book.
So I give her credit for the sentiment, at least, in her column calling for President Obama to follow the example of Kennedy’s speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis in addressing the public on his decisions for continued war in Afghanistan. Rather than offering fine rhetoric and an appeal to the emotions, the President should make a blunt, factual case for his decision:
Now of all times, and in this of all speeches, sheer, blunt logic is needed. He must appeal not to the nation’s heart but to its brain. America is not in a misty-eyed mood, and in any event when the logic of a case is made, when the listener’s head is appealed to, his heart will become engaged, because the heart is grateful.
Honest and factual talk about war is rare at any level, and especially so at the highest. When weighing the decision to enter or extend or end a war, moral calculus is far too often cast aside in favor of ringing appeals to patriotism and honor and fear. We are in two wars now, after all, precisely because the highest levels of government were criminally dishonest about the facts.
Interestingly, Noonan wrote almost exactly the same column, with the same “Dragnet” reference, in September 2002, addressing a different President and a different war:
This is the year when the president and his advisors will or will not make the case, as they say, on Iraq. The president thinks a key part of the war on terror will be moving against Saddam Hussein and liberating Iraq from his heavy hand. But if Mr. Bush is to make the case it will not be with emotional rhetoric, with singing phrases, with high oratory. It will not, in this coming cooler time, be made with references to evil ones. All of that was good, excellent and Bushian the past passionate year. But now Mr. Bush should think in terms of Sgt. Joe Friday. “Just the facts, ma’am.”
“Saddam is evil” is not enough. A number of people are evil, and some are even our friends. “Saddam has weapons of mass destruction” is not enough. A number of countries do. What the people need now is hard data that demonstrate conclusively that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction which he is readying to use on the people of the U.S. or the people of the West.
Of course, Mr. Bush did not make his case with “hard data that demonstrate conclusively that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction.” He made his case with flimsy evidence propped up by appeals to fear, with bald assertions so outrageous that many people were duped into believing them because of their outrageousness.
The hearings going on in Britain to understand the course that took that country into the war in Iraq are happening about seven years too late. But that they are happening at all is somewhat heartening; we should have similarly open, honest, and heated investigations here, where that war originated. It’s far too late for the thousands killed, maimed, and forever damaged by the war, but it may help make nations more reluctant in the future to plunge into war behind craven lies.
President Obama faces an impossible decision in Afghanistan; there really is no blameless course of action. Withdrawing immediately would lead to chaos and death as the Kabul government collapses; withdrawing gradually prolongs the agony, costing lives in dribs and drabs rather than in a bloody cataract; but staying the course, or building up forces to no clear strategic end, is also a morally repulsive approach. We cannot continue to do more of the same and expect a different result.
Kennedy is not the President whom Mr. Obama should be studying for guidance; Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, is the executive who faced a situation most like that in Afghanistan. Johnson’s bold domestic initiatives were scuttled on the shores of a post-colonial nation engaged in a civil war between a series of kleptocratic puppets and an insurgency fueled by a mixture of ideology and nationalism. There was no sustainable endpoint in Vietnam; the end toward which Johnson’s policy led would have been a constant low level of violence, frequent and violent coups, and an occupation with no clear conclusion. The end that came–a humiliating final withdrawal, years of torture and imprisonment for American allies, a dictatorship that is gradually liberalizing economically if not politically–may not have been much worse, horrible though it was.
Afghanistan is a poor candidate for a centralized government and liberal civil society. While Kabul has a history of cosmopolitanism, the mountainous tribal regions hew to a course of fierce independence and mistrust of outsiders. As in Vietnam, where we failed to learn the lessons of the Chinese, Japanese, and French, in Afghanistan we seem to think the experiences of the British and Russians don’t apply.
I worry that all the promise of the Obama administration will be squandered on trying to staunch the errors of his predecessor. That was certainly the case with Johnson, who ended his years in office as perhaps the bitterest President in history. There is a great risk that all of his capital will be spent on shoring up a doomed enterprise in Afghanistan, leaving precious little to fulfill the domestic hopes we placed in his term in office.
I hope that Obama finds some new approach, something different from simply throwing more lives into the bonfire. This is precisely the situation for which his preemptively-awarded Nobel Peace Prize could be most useful: building a coalition of interested parties, including Iran, Pakistan, and India, who can work together to defuse the sources of violence in Afghanistan and build the core infrastructure–schools, roads, agriculture–that a century of war and neglect have made impossible to construct. Such a project would be ambitious, difficult, prone to criticism and ridicule, and certainly at risk of the same sort of failure that has plagued most of the smaller aid projects in the region. But it would, at least, be a fresh approach to what is fast becoming a tired recapitulation of the not-distant-enough past.
One of the more humane and reasonable, and not in the least bit sinister, proposals of health care reform has apparently been struck down by a combination of ignorance, fear, and cupidity. People who ought to know better, and people who didn’t know better and never bothered to learn, stoked the flames with their paranoid fantasy; they were aided and abetted by people whose interest is not in preventing “death panels” from killing innocent people who are “unproductive,” but in protecting the profits of a private industry.
The source of the wild fantasies of a Logan’s Run or Children of Men future, with a board of bureaucrats weighing the social utility of caring for the aged and infirm, was the innocuous proposal that Medicare cover
an explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.
Only the most creatively paranoid (or shamelessly partisan) could read this to say that health care reform
would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.
Part of the problem is the euphemism and bureaucratese of “advance directives, … living wills and durable powers of attorney.” Death is the great taboo of the modern West, so we have trouble finding words that usefully describe what these tools provide: death with dignity, death with peace, allowing our loved ones and ourselves to die when the time comes. If the debate were phrased in more humane terms, perhaps there wouldn’t be so much rancor.
Our medical technology has allowed us to push the borders of life out in both directions; our ethics have not kept up. Just as we now know so much more about the unborn than we did just fifty years ago, and so are forced to confront the million horrible things that can go wrong in the womb, so also we can push the mechanical sustenance of life far beyond reason. After the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Andrew Sullivan collected many heartbreaking and nuanced stories about late term abortion. We need a similar collection of stories about what happens at the other end, when people hover on the precipice of death in a shadowland which they cannot leave.
When my mother died seven years ago, of complications from leukemia, she had an advance directive, a living will, and a do-not-resuscitate order. She was a nurse, and had spent her professional life in the medical system; she knew from painful experience how the Hippocratic Oath and our advancing medical technology have led to a nightmare of shadow lives for so many families. And I’m glad she had these documents, and had made these decisions when she was still able to do so rationally, reasonably, and with her heart and mind intact. Because I didn’t want her to die, and if it had been up to me to make that decision in her last days I might have decided badly. But we had a chance to talk about it, we discussed it as a family, and we were able to respect her choices.
An “explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning” is not a session with Doctor Death. It’s a chance to discuss all the decisions that need to be made around a person’s death, a conversation about how far the doctors should go to prolong life as it comes to its inevitable close. Some people, like my mother, will choose to go easily at the end; some will choose to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” In either case, it’s a choice, based on that person’s deepest beliefs and convictions.
A recent Radio Lab short, a reading from Mark Doty’s Heaven’s Coast, offers a beautiful, painful, sad, and hopeful vision of a loved one’s death, which stands in sharp contrast to Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night. Both visions of the end of life are legitimate; both are rooted deeply in the tragedy and mystery of mortality. Both should be options for us all. It’s perhaps the most private and personal of all our decisions, and so supremely sacred.
By eliminating the provision from the bill, though, we risk forcing that decision. Doctors are bound to sustain and extend life by whatever means are available, in the absence of a clear directive from the patient; when disagreements about the patient’s wishes arise because there’s no clear statement of their desires, the default position is to resuscitate and sustain. It’s from this sort of situation that the limbo life of Terri Schiavo emerges; it’s a recipe for tragedy.
People who already have good health insurance, or who are educated on the options they face at the end of their lives, can protect themselves and their families from this sort of tragedy. They can make their wishes known with binding documents, they can choose the level of care they desire, they can choose the quiet dignity of hospice or the long fight by any means necessary. The same opportunities should be extended to everyone, regardless of their means. And that’s all the “advance directive” provision was offering.
Sarah Palin, Betsy McCaughey, and Charles Grassley should be ashamed of themselves.
It would be nice if all of our intractable political and cultural problems could be resolved over a pint of beer. Indeed, I’ve been involved in bar stool discussions on more than a few occasions that have resulted in solutions for everything from global warming to world peace to the timing of street lights along the Hiawatha Light Rail line; if only the powers-that-be had been listening, instead of the bartender who kept a watchful eye on our inevitable cut-off point.
I’m certainly no expert on the problems at the root of the Gates-Crowley-Obama (plus Biden) beer summit. I’ve never had to experience the constant suspicion and frequent hassling that African-American men face, nor have I been on the thin blue line that protects and serves. That we are a long way from being a post-racial society is obvious; that a few brewskies are unlikely to advance much toward utopia is also obvious.
I am, though, an expert on beer. I’ve sampled widely in the range of malted beverages, from pale to black, sweet to bitter, and I’ve brewed a few batches of ale in my kitchen. And from that perspective, I’m sorely disappointed by the beverage choices at last night’s summit.
Obama’s choice of Bud Light can be justified, perhaps, on a few points: it’s the most popular beer in the United States (for the life of me, I can’t understand why…), and it’s unlikely to impair his judgment since, as the Canadians would say, it’s like making love in a canoe. But it comes off as a crass pandering to the lowest common denominator; in his convention speech he urged us to rise to our best, and that is most assuredly not Bud Light. If he’d wanted to make a patriotic statement, Anchor Steam would have been a better choice: a truly native style, with a crisp finish that’s ideal for a summer on the patio.
Gates’ Sam Adams Light was a bit of a pleasant surprise (much better than the Red Stripe that had been reported prior to the meeting, the beer of frat boys who’ve just discovered Bob Marley but can’t handle Dragon Stout). It’s named for a patriot and brewer, after all, and is thoroughly Bostonian, though the “Light” version is lacking in flavor. But it at least tastes like beer, which is more than we can say for Bud Light.
Crowley’s Blue Moon is also in my second- or third-tier choices. I find it a little sour, and not hoppy enough for a summer evening. It broadcasts that he’s not a thuggish cop (PBR would be the choice for the opposite message), that he appreciates subtlety, It has more than a faint aroma of foreignness, though: a Belgian-style beer brewed by a subsidiary of Molson in Canada; surely Obama wouldn’t have dared to drink it.
As a Minneapolitan, I’m disappointed that the beer summit didn’t include Summit Beer. The St. Paul brewer offers a wide range of styles, from a bitter IPA to a smoky porter, and some great seasonals perfect for summer.
Or perhaps something from Surly Brewing, another great Minnesota brewer? With names like Furious, Bitter Brewer, and Cynic Ale, they’d be the perfect complement to the sudsy photo-op. Plus, they come in extra big cans, providing more time to solve the problems of the world.
Stanley Crouch points out that all three of the key participants have Irish roots (no one’s as Irish as Barak Obama). The Irish have contributed much to the world of beer, and it would have been interesting to see the participants drinking Guinness (the blackest of beers), a half-and-half (Guinness and Harp), or a black-and-tan (an appeal to cross-island unity with Irish stout and British ale, named for the ruthless thugs the Brits sent to suppress revolt in Ireland). Those would have been too racially-charged, perhaps; another Minnesota beer, Finnegan’s, would have been a good nod to the Irish, though, and a small act of charity, since the brewer donates its profits.
The beer summit probably did nothing significant for racial justice, and certainly did nothing to advance Americans’ taste in beer. Which is a pity: the last Depression ended Prohibition, giving American brewers a start on the long path back to the wonderful beer diversity we enjoyed for our first two centuries; certainly America’s local brewers could use a little bit of stimulus.