Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Did I suggest, yesterday, that I was already ready to jump ship? Not quite so fast. I'm still holding on to the railing as I put my hope--my last hope, really--in the November election. I watched the Obama speech on education at a Virginia high school this morning, and it renewed my faith that this is indeed a man of intellect, understanding, and commitment.

But first, I have been hearing a lot about the passion issue in the past few days. Is Obama running out of steam? Does he seem listless? Is he less forthright, less powerful in intention? Has he said "Enough!" enough? The Tom Friedman opinion piece on the op-ed page of today's New York Times suggested that he is losing/has lost that gut connection with the American voters--and that, no matter her lack of qualifications or preparedness, the Republican nominee for the vice-presidential spot has managed to seize it. I like to believe--I'm hoping--that he knows how to pace himself. A continuous high level of passion is not only hard to maintain, it gets to be irritating, even counter-productive. Palin's high pitch (I'm speaking of intensity, not her voice: would I presume to use the word "shrill"?) is already proving tiresome. I'm confident that Obama will know the right time to switch it on again.

He did say "Enough!" in his speech on education. Twice, in fact. He was referring, in his preamble, to the amount of ink that has been spilled and airspace filled with the absurd brouhaha over his use of that common political speech cliche about "putting lipstick on a pig." It was seized on, of course, in the context of Palin's use of the word "lipstick" in her acceptance speech when, to her audience's delight, she compared herself favorably to a pit bull. When Obama uses it, of course, it's taken as a slur on her feminine virtue. There are bigger issues in this election, he pointed out with quiet clarity, than the trivialities that the Republicans grab on to and the media feed into their twenty-four hour a day hoppers of scandal and irrelevance.

Education, then. Have I mentioned my conspiracy theory in these pages before? I may have done. I've been nursing it ever since Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy" remark which provoked such mirth in the world of politics. I thought then, and still think she was not far off target: for the past fifty years, the right wing has been responsible for the slow throttling and eventual near-demise of America's once-great education system--not merely by starving it, increasingly, of adequate funding for its survival and treating those who practice it with little more than condescension, but by poisoning it at the very roots with a contempt for science and rational thought in general. By "dumbing down" the populace and robbing them of the last vestiges of critical thought by starving them of real education, they have assured themselves virtual control over the direction of the country. The now vacant minds of the public wait eagerly to be filled with whatever lies it takes to sell the product--whether hair spray, giant SUVs, or politician. Uneducated, these minds have no means to resist what is fed into them. They have no language skills to distinguish truth from lies, no mathematical skills to measure their own impoverishment at the hands of those who grow rich. They drink in the toxins of Rush Limbuagh and his ilk in the belief that such people are speaking in their interests. We have reached the travesty of civilization that George Orwell predicted, though in much more subtle and noxious ways than he predicted it.

With such power over minds, it is not hard to persuade a certain part of the voting public that Obama is nothing but hot air and that McCain and his cohort are blessed with infinite wisdom. Obama's speech this morning, for those who took the trouble to listen to it with an open mind, cannot fail to have inspired confidence in his commitment to the improvement of education and opportunity for America's young and his thoughtful, practical and practicable plans to achieve those goals. It's simple, really: if America is to compete with countries like India and China in a globalized economy, education and knowledge are the indispensible tools. If we are to meet such pressing challenges as those presented by climate change, we must educate minds to think in innovative ways.

I have yet to hear substantive plans from the McCain camp on this issue. The politics of resentment and victimhood is not enough. It appals me to be told, by McCain's top campaign advisor, that "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." That's not even good English, but it's clear what it means. In this campaign, lipstick trumps education any day of the week.


Mark said...

I'm really looking forward to the debates now. I've had enough of them standing on their respective soap boxes. When they get on stage together and face the nation, I think it will become increasingly more obvious who is composed, who has a plan, and who is just spitting out what he's been told to say.

Even still, I think you're right. I have very little faith in the American public to make the right choice (condescending and tyrannical as that may sound). Don't get me wrong: I'm completely and absolutely okay with people intelligently disagreeing with me on issues they have thought about, researched, and fully understand. What I'm seeing in this race has nothing to do with educated opinions, however. I just posted about it on my blog last night in a fit of rage. People are simply being spoon-fed their opinions from the media and their churches, never really figuring out what they believe.

I'm working hard to do my part, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised come November if the McPalen monster wins. Angry, distraught, confused, hurt, slightly afraid, but not surprised.

thailandchani said...

It has been a really long time since anything was emphasized in this culture beyond glitz, money and materialism. I sometimes wonder what would happen if a campaign was run on loftier ideals, on things that really matter ~ but it always reverts back to the same old stuff.

As for education, it is better for corporations to have workers who don't think for themselves and don't think critically - so the school system has been charged with creating them. It's a slavish mentality.

None of this surprises me particularly. I wish it did. Overall, I agree with a lot of what you've said here.


John Torcello said...

Peter, you said in your piece today that you feel Obama is a man of intellect, understanding, and commitment. I think most people - on both sides of the aisle - would not disagree with this assessment.

The questions, so skillfully poised by the two campaigns, for voters, though, are...'intellect' in what sense?, 'understanding' to what degree? based on what values?, and, 'commitment' to what?

Motivating the electorate to engage, to look beyond their partisanship and self-interest has always proven to be a seemingly insurmountable task by any politician...The cynics label and dismiss these leaders, as Obama says, as "happy talk."

Accepting a candidate's ideas and seeing him or her as a servant leader from a perspective of mutual responsibility to one another is the harder road; and ironically, the road less traveled...

Has Obama said "Enough!" enough? I would argue he's just begun repeating this mantra...In his acceptance speech, Obama told the voters that his task, their task, our task together, will "require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength...individual responsibility and mutual responsibility -- that's the essence of America's promise."

Obama is by no means running out of steam. It is true, some voters ears have been piqued in the past ten days by the noise of the 'more of the same' politics of the right...

Hell, it works!...Not, I would argue, in anyone's ultimate best interest...But, it wins elections...Particularly, if you choose to deny the reality of, nor accept the unstoppable energy and movement, as Obama said, that "all across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you."

Regarding Obama's education speech; I, personally, don't disagree about, what you said, Peter, about America's education system being the victim of the "slow throttling and eventual near-demise of America's once-great education system"...nor do I disagree that neoconservatism has set as a goal "a contempt for science and rational thought in general."

But, I do think it is a disservice to those downtrodden by this circumstance, of our education system, to label people as 'dumbed down'...I think, the poor, the Obama says, "The American people are not stupid"...Given these circumstances, I would argue, they value, they recognize their 'loss' more...they want it back more...they find alternate ways to learn in spite of their situation...they strive, with more due diligence, to attain what they're told they can't have...Watch out for them! for these people!...Mix among'll see what I mean...

These people are the grateful recipient's of the work of leaders, like Barack, that serve as 'community organizers', who give back, offer hope...and, offer them a road out to the promise of a better life for themselves and their children...

Yes, McCain/Pailn may indeed scrape together enough votes in November to pull off yet another 'win'; for what, I think, is, at its roots, a platform of disservice to one another...that, to me, is the example, as you put it, of "the travesty of civilization that George Orwell predicted, though in much more subtle and noxious ways than he predicted it."

As you paraphrased Obama's speech today, "If America is to compete with countries like India and China in a globalized economy, education and knowledge are the indispensible tools. If we are to meet such pressing challenges as those presented by climate change, we must educate minds to think in innovative ways."

It doesn't have to be a McCain/Palin race; a race defined by what you called "a composite view of what people take away from these candidates"...It's still one man/woman, one vote!...

It's a battle to the end now, I think, that presents a clear choice!...Talk it up!...Bring up the election in situations you would normally not!...Encourage people to Vote!..for either candidate!...

They call him James Ure said...

Yep, Obama wants to talk about creating new jobs through creating an entire new industry--the green economy. As well as jobs rebuilding our infrastructure. And most Americans say that the economy is their top issue of concern.

Yet McCain is talking about lipstick??? This tells me that he doesn't have any ideas different than Bush. And by the way, if McCain is so different from Bush than why did he pick someone just like Bush as his V.P. (Palin) to be his successor and replacement should something happen?

Even IF something terrible DIDN'T happen to McCain (and I don't hope any tragedy upon him nor his family by any means) she still would be the nominee should McCain (dare I say it) serve 8 years. So basically he is underlining the point to his conservative base that he really isn't THAT maverick--don't worry.

They call him James Ure said...

Oops, I meant to say "then" instead of "than" in this part of my comment:

And by the way, if McCain is so different from Bush than why did he pick someone just like Bush as his V.P.

PeterAtLarge said...

Mark, welcome back. Glad to see you blogging again, and grateful for your comment from the Middle Lands! Thank you for working for the Obama campaign, despite the hostility!

Chani, yes, ignorance pays... for some. And more's the pity.

John, mercy!!! I value your comments, but they take longer to read than it does to write my entry! Could you please try for a little, er... brevity?

James, James... perish the thought! Thanks for checking in.

ErnestO said...

We the people know that the Republicans are out front and the corporate media is just fine with telling us this - as fact. What is not said in the media is that - yes they are out front - but on this circular track the Republicans are just about to be lapped.

Jean said...

I pretty much went over to your friend's view, Peter, some years ago, when a mainstream 'Left' ceased to exist in Britain after the election of the Blair government.

I got heavily involved in the co-housing movement after ceasing to be active in mainstream politics. And then very disillusioned about how British planning and financial laws make it almost impossible to build such communities (perhaps there is less room to allow a few people to do there own thing over here because we literally have less room, a drastic lack of available land compared with the US).

And now, I just don't know, really, where to put my energies and hopes if I have any left.

But in practice it is not an either-or, of course: whatever our overall perspective we have no choice but to continue to live and participate to a greater or lesser degree in the societies we are part of, and the small decisions preceding every conversation, every interaction we have, are just as significant as the big decisions like what we believe about the future.