ideas politics

The quiet force of progress

Obama personal responsibility

Pres­i­dent-elect Obama:

Our chal­lenges may be new. The instru­ments with which we meet them may be new. But those val­ues upon which our suc­cess depends — hard work and hon­esty, courage and fair play, tol­er­ance and curios­i­ty, loy­al­ty and patri­o­tism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the qui­et force of progress through­out our his­to­ry. What is demand­ed then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of respon­si­bil­i­ty — a recog­ni­tion, on the part of every Amer­i­can, that we have duties to our­selves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudg­ing­ly accept but rather seize glad­ly, firm in the knowl­edge that there is noth­ing so sat­is­fy­ing to the spir­it, so defin­ing of our char­ac­ter, than giv­ing our all to a dif­fi­cult task.This is the price and the promise of citizenship.…So let us mark this day with remem­brance, of who we are and how far we have trav­eled. In the year of America's birth, in the cold­est of months, a small band of patri­ots hud­dled by dying camp­fires on the shores of an icy riv­er. The cap­i­tal was aban­doned. The ene­my was advanc­ing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the out­come of our rev­o­lu­tion was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:"Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of win­ter, when noth­ing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the coun­try, alarmed at one com­mon dan­ger, came forth to meet [it]."America. In the face of our com­mon dan­gers, in this win­ter of our hard­ship, let us remem­ber these time­less words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy cur­rents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's chil­dren that when we were test­ed we refused to let this jour­ney end, that we did not turn back nor did we fal­ter; and with eyes fixed on the hori­zon and God's grace upon us, we car­ried forth that great gift of free­dom and deliv­ered it safe­ly to future generations. 

Read the whole dang thing. It's just as impres­sive in text as it was in voice.

lit politics

My heart wanted to stab things but didn't have arms

(The title is from a poet named Tao Lin in a col­lec­tion called this emo­tion was a lit­tle e‑book).The Inter­net is like a small town, espe­cial­ly when there's some­thing to dis­agree about. Recent­ly, some of my favorite Inter­net cit­i­zens got into it over Obama's deci­sion to have poet­ry at his inauguration.I've always liked George Pack­er, the New Yorker's man on the ground in the ear­ly days of Iraq. I devoured his book about the first year of the occu­pa­tion, The Assas­sins' Gate. It tells the sto­ries of a few Iraqis who put their necks on the line to sup­port us when we arrived in 2003, and it comes to mind when­ev­er a con­ver­sa­tion turns to the need to find a way out of Iraq. I also read his blog, Inter­est­ing Times. He's the kind of jour­nal­ist who always does his home­work, which made it all the more puz­zling when he some­what flip­pant­ly crit­i­cized Barack Obama's deci­sion to ask Eliz­a­beth Alexan­der to read a poem at his inauguration:

For many decades Amer­i­can poet­ry has been a pri­vate activ­i­ty, writ­ten by few peo­ple and read by few peo­ple, lack­ing the lan­guage, rhythm, emo­tion, and thought that could move large num­bers of peo­ple in large pub­lic set­tings … [Ed.: Ouch.] … Obama's Inau­gu­ra­tion needs no height­en­ing. It'll be its own his­to­ry, its own poetry.

Ouch. A blan­ket dis­missal? The activ­i­ty of "a few peo­ple?" I start­ed writ­ing a response to this, but Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic beat me to it. His blog rules. He called out Pack­er for being pre­ma­ture­ly judg­men­tal, and sug­gest­ed that per­haps hip-hop lyrics were suit­ably rhyth­mic and emo­tive for the occa­sion. Yes.Lo and behold, Pack­er just post­ed what amounts to an apol­o­gy, and he does so in the best way, com­par­ing the cur­rent poet­ry scene to the NBA in the 1970s: 

Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can poet­ry has too many man­sions to be summed up under a throw­away phrase like "pri­vate activity.†Its mul­ti­tude of schools and forms is like the N.B.A. in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, when there was no dom­i­nant team but a con­fused con­test of war­ring tribes. And I should have read more of Alexander's work than appears on her Web site, and more care­ful­ly, before express­ing skep­ti­cism that she'll be equal to the occa­sion on Jan­u­ary 20th.

So, the real ques­tion is: Who will be the David Stern of 21st cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poet­ry? Chris Fis­chbach, I'm look­ing at you.


Name-calling / Will the real socialists please stand up?

Like most Democ­rats in the Unit­ed States, I am actu­al­ly a social­ist. I vote for Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates in the hope that, after sweet-talk­ing their ways around the real issues, they'll get down to the real work of redis­trib­ut­ing wealth and nation­al­iz­ing busi­ness­es. So when John McCain announced that Barack Oba­ma is a social­ist, it came as no sur­prise to those of us who already know the secret handshake.The prob­lem is, an essen­tial plank in the secret social­ist plat­form is the promise that those who have nev­er worked a day in their lives will receive an equal share of society's spoils. Repub­li­cans quib­ble over seman­tics, say­ing that wage-earn­ers "work hard­er," or "have more skills." Fine. These peo­ple can suc­ceed any­where. But what about the peo­ple who would rather not work? How are they going to pay for dig­i­tal cable? They have a lot of time on their hands, and they need to be able to enter­tain them­selves and be com­fort­able. This is one prob­lem that I have with Sen­a­tor Obama's plan; he seems to think that those in need of the boost are in the mid­dle class, i.e. skill­ful peo­ple who are like­ly already work­ing hard. I am left to won­der how, in Obama's plan, those who have nev­er worked a day will be able to watch Bridezil­las and Rock of Love.Anoth­er prob­lem that I have with the so-called social­ism of Sen­a­tor Obama's agen­da is that his health-care plan falls well short of being a mono­lith­ic, gov­ern­ment-run, uni­ver­sal-care plan. The only thing any Demo­c­rat cares about, when it comes to health care: We want to be assured that every­one will wait in the same line for treat­ment. In fact, John McCain's approach actu­al­ly feels almost more social­ist; he plans to redis­trib­ute $5000 per per­son in the US, and then to tax this amount. Redis­trib­ute AND tax; that's dou­ble-hap­pi­ness for us Democrats.But the prob­lem with McCain is that he sim­ply will not guar­an­tee that he'll teach sex ed to kinder­gart­ners. If there's one issue that unites social­ists-in-Demo­c­rat-cloth­ing, it's the belief that, when chil­dren turn five, they need to be forced to lis­ten to near-strangers (i.e., their teach­ers) talk about sex. This seems so obvi­ous. I don't know why McCain doesn't sup­port it. In any case, it looks like all of us Democ­rats have a tough deci­sion in front of us. One tick­et fea­tures actu­al wealth redis­tri­b­u­tion in the form of a health-care stipend, and the chief exec­u­tive of a state that actu­al­ly redis­trib­utes wealth to its cit­i­zens every year. And the oth­er tick­et fea­tures the kind of peo­ple who usu­al­ly pro­pose this kind of stuff. I'm not sur­prised that so many peo­ple are still unde­cid­ed.