Sunday, December 18, 2011

Clooney, Obama, and political disappointment

Recently on Facebook I reposted this (click to enlarge it):

My friend Rob responded by posting the video that follows. His opinion: "None of that outweighs this."

Which started a lengthy discussion. My opening salvo:
I think the thing for me is that I'm not activist-y enough. I was friends with someone for a while who believed in the radical transformation of society, government, etc. because things were/are too broken to salvage, so we need a whole new plan. She also believed that the breakdown of capitalism and social chaos were nigh. Capitalism has looked especially awful in the last few years, but I wonder if it's really going to fall apart in the U.S. and yield to some new age of more enlightened social and economic structure. Inertia is a bitch.

All of which is to say, every president does terrible things. The comedian Bill Hicks once said that when someone is elected president, these shadowy figures take him (or eventually her) into a dark room and show him/her a version of JFK's assassination that no one's ever seen before -- the implication being that it was an inside job. The point being: Stray too far from a certain prescribed path, and you're toast.

I take this to mean that there's a limit to how much good a president can accomplish. Obama has made many compromises, as he kind of indicated he would by positioning himself as a moderate/centrist who would try to change the highly polarized nature of politics in D.C. Well, the GOP has never been more knee-jerk in its opposition to a Democratic president, as far as I know.

I'm not assigning all the blame for Obama's missteps to Republicans. I'm just saying that every president makes major "mistakes" that can either be seen as lapses in judgment or conscious betrayals of previously stated ideals. Maybe my attitude, that expecting a lot of consistent action powered by solid integrity, is expecting too much from a president reflects jadedness or laziness on my part. But maybe the position of president has enough inherent limits that there will always be great disappointments. (Clinton signed the DOMA, right? And he's supposedly one of the best presidents in recent memory.)

I think it's good to know what Obama's doing that we liberals consider bad. Clooney, however, seems to be saying that he's also accomplished good things, and if we think he'd be better than Romney for the next four years, we'd better emphasize those. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater might not be the best approach to presidential politics, you know? They're all gonna disappoint. But they're not all George W. Bush. The lesser-of-two-evils concept doesn't preclude actually going ahead, holding one's nose, and CHOOSING the lesser of two evils.
Rob came back with:
If what Senator Carl Levin says is true, Obama didn't compromise by moving to the right more than he wanted to, HE pressured congress to move to the right. Language excluding American citizens from indefinite detention was in the version of the bill that left committee, until Obama insisted that it be re-inserted.
Rob, do you think the next step is writing letters to Obama, or voting for a third-party candidate in 2012? Or some other action? The commentator says that if Bush had put forward a similar bill, "the left would have been in a rage." But what would that rage have resulted in? Our "rage" over Bush got Obama elected. Now it's fueling Occupy. I guess I hear guys like this get worked up and wonder what we should or can actually do. He's so angry. I dunno. I don't feel as much as he does. Al Franken voted for this bill, too, huh? Is everyone awful?
When conservatives during Clinton were frustrated that the Republican party didn't reflect their values, they didn't write letters to the Dole campaign, nor did they vote for Pat Buchanan. Instead, they got involved with the Republican party at the local level, got their values into the party platform, got their candidates on the ballots, and eventually took over the party and the country. They got G.W. Bush into office and turned the Democratic party so far to the right, they are nearly indistinguishable. (Compared to ending due process for all Americans, ending DADT is "throwing us a bone".)

We need to do the same.

My local Democratic party (36th Legislative District) holds its next meeting on January 18th at 7 pm. The meeting is open to the public. It's too late to do anything for this election cycle, but I intend to have a true progressive as the Democratic nominee in 2016.
And so on. I know reposting Facebook writing constitutes lazy blogging, but sometimes the informality of Facebook is more conducive to this type of "thinking out loud" writing. In other words, I wouldn't have written a blog post to this effect on my own, but the Clooney quote and Rob's reply inspired me to produce a lot of words, quite unexpectedly. In that way, Facebook beats blogging. I think one of the reasons I blog less these days is that I never developed a big enough readership to produce a regular flow of comments. And without dialogue, blogging can start to feel like talking to yourself in a deserted building. Whereas Facebook is like a crowded subway car. My last comment in this thread:
Some people think big picture, long term. I guess I don't have grand visions for a nearish future that's radically different from the present. There are exceptions, but social and political shifts tend to be gradual. Obama's election shifted things a bit in terms of our country's respectability in the eyes of the world. Healthcare reform, as meager as it turned out to be compared to what it could have been, put America's deeply troubled healthcare system in the spotlight, and Occupy is ensuring that it remains part of the national conversation.

Repealing DADT may be "throwing us a bone" in a sense, but I think a lot of gays and lesbians who are or have been in the military appreciate that it's more than a symbolic gesture -- it's a change in how the military does business. My upbringing led me to believe that not every positive change has to be really big to matter.

I think about this when I think of how movies, TV, etc. depict LGBT people. "Philadelphia," the '90s movie with Tom Hanks as a gay lawyer with AIDS, gets flak today for how chastely it depicted Hanks' relationship with Antonio Banderas, and for invoking the Gay Protagonist As Tragic AIDS Victim, a tired trope. But a movie that showed a same-sex relationship as healthy, happy, and strong, with major movie stars (Denzel Washington was also in it), from a big-name director (Jonathan Demme, who had won as Oscar for "Silence of the Lambs") and with significant studio money behind it? Holy cow, back then that was significant.

Similarly, "Transamerica" wasn't the radically transformative film that every trans activist was dreaming of, but it wouldn't have been made (with Felicity Huffman, anyway) in the early to mid-'90s. Progress happens gradually. By the time a "Brokeback Mountain" is released, the social, cultural, and political forces for good have advanced considerably on the ground.

I get that Obama's being the first African-American president is cold comfort when (some of) his policies seem terrible. But I still remember looking at the paper the morning after Election Night in 2008, seeing the Obamas on the front page, and thinking: "Wow. It wasn't just a dream. This really happened!" Eventually, hopefully, electing a president who isn't male, white, straight, wealthy, and/or Christian won't be such a big deal. But I think that future is a ways off.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lana Del Rey has something important to tell you

I first heard this on NPR's All Songs Considered. Now it's come back to really haunt me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An education

Fall quarter officially ends tomorrow, but I've finished all the papers and tests. Now I have time to watch Hulu and reflect on the last few months. I moved to Spokane on Sept. 1, and I've settled in well, all things considered. Sure, the construction next door has literally shaken my apartment building, but all in all this is the quietest place I've ever lived. That's a true blessing for someone who greatly values quiet, as I do.

I've gotten to know Spokane a bit since moving here, and I've found that the horror stories you hear from Seattleites who have never been here aren't accurate. In fact, they're about as true as the outdated, stereotypical impressions of Seattle that you sometimes hear from Midwesterners or East Coast residents. Seattle isn't a forest of grunge and plaid, and Spokane isn't a smoking hole in the ground that smells like meth. Crime isn't rampant here. I feel as safe in Browne's Addition as I did in Ravenna, and the neighborhood is probably safer than Seattle's Capitol Hill. I live across the street from a gastropub and a Tully's, and a few blocks from a lovely park, a grocery, and a yoga studio. This place is just as comfortable for me as Seattle was, and the people here are friendlier.

Wherever I move after this, I want it to be a place where strangers acknowledge each other. Seattle is full of smart, literate people, but it's not friendly enough for me. Too many iPads and iPhones, too much personal space. Spokane's combination of urban pleasures (art cinema, farmers market, co-op grocery, gorgeously landscaped parks) and small-town charm is pretty winning. Bellingham would have been great, but Spokane has everything I need at a lower cost of living.

Grad school is a little different from how I pictured it, because I was picturing a highly academic program, like film studies or Spanish literature. EWU's applied psych program is just that: It emphasizes the application of skills, not tremendous intellectual rigor. Self-reflection matters as much as, if not more than, research papers, although next year there's a hefty one to write. The program's goal is to make us examine ourselves while learning the techniques and attitudes we need to help others. It's a program that gives back what you put into it.

This seems like an apt introduction to the counseling profession, since being active in the field -- going to conferences, networking, finding ways to learn on an ongoing basis -- is clearly the key to a successful, fulfilling career. I like structure, especially the kind that's imposed from outside. I'll need to get better at structuring my daily life, not just my academic work, in order to realize my goal of having a private practice. I'll also need to keep improving my financial skills. I currently create a budget for each month, and I tend to follow those plans pretty well. But responsible planning and investment go beyond that basic step, and I know it.

The support I receive is humbling. Many of my classmates have to work much harder, and manage much more, than I do. They have spouses or families, and some work multiple jobs. I'm learning to respect people whose political and spiritual views are different from mine. If I'd attended Western, I would likely have been among a more liberal, less devoutly Christian crowd. That would have been a comfort zone, which I'm not sure is what best serves a master's-level counseling student. Spokane is more working class, religious, and Republican than anywhere I've lived. Better to experience this part of American reality than to remain in a liberal bubble. I can always visit Seattle, and I can move to a big city after graduation. For now, being in a place where the political spectrum is wider, and the things I'm used to taking for granted aren't necessarily true, may be just the education I need.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You know what's good?

Hot cocoa with a peppermint teabag in it. I thought I invented it, but then I realized there's a Facebook page devoted to it. Oh well. Back to the test-kitchen drawing board...

Look, ma, I'm on the teevee!