Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Annotated Linkfest

One Year Ago: Obama proposed the summit Clinton is offering today

Almost one year ago to the day, Barack Obama sent a letter (below) to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson urging them to convene a homeownership preservation summit. Today, Clinton is proposing essentially the same thing.

One key difference, however, is the diversity and representation that Obama called for – not just some of the same people who helped to create these problems or have a direct financial industry stake in the outcome: “I urge you immediately to convene a homeownership preservation summit with leading mortgage lenders, investors, loan servicing organizations, consumer advocates, federal regulators and housing-related agencies to assess options for private sector responses to the challenge.”

Fear, Loathing & Delegate Poaching in Texas

Well, it’s legal to lobby delegates to the county and senate district conventions (they’ll be held on Saturday to select delegates to a later statewide convention, from which 67 Democratic National Convention delegates will be chosen), even if they signed up for a different candidate.

The question, however, isn’t a legalistic one, but, rather, a political one: when similar tactics came up in Nevada and elsewhere, the Clinton campaign denied it was trying to “poach” delegates committed to Obama.

When Politico’s Roger Simon reported on the Clinton campaign’s efforts to poach Obama delegates last month, Clinton spokesbot Phil Singer emphatically denied they would do any such thing:

“We have not, are not and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama.”

I’m sure the robo-call machine was acting on its own, without any authorization from the campaign.

Generation Squeeb: Barack Obama’s Reverend Wright controversy, and America’s squid-heart

This Wright business is a perfect example of the American electorate at its squeeby worst — panicky, gutless, acting more on reflex than thought, incapable of retaining information for more than a few minutes at a time. It's also a great example of how the presidential election process has become more about enforcing the attitudes of a cultural orthodoxy than a system for choosing leaders.


But whether or not any of Wright's "controversial" statements have any validity at all is beside the point. The point is that a country that had any balls at all — that was secure enough in its patriotic self-image to stare vicious criticism right in the face and collectively decide for itself, in a state of sober reflection, what part of it was bullshit and what wasn't — such a country wouldn't do what it did in the case of the Wright flap, which is to panic instantly, collectively leap off the ground in terror like a bunch of silly bitches, and chase the criticism away in a torch-bearing mob with its eyes averted without even bothering to talk about what was actually said.


Now, no one is suggesting that there shouldn't be some reaction to genuinely toxic ideas, or that all criticism of racist or unpatriotic comments is unfounded. But what we're getting with all of these scandals isn't a sober exchange of ideas but more of an ongoing attempt to instill in the public a sort of permanent fear of uncomfortable ideas, and to reduce public discourse to a kind of primitive biological mechanism, like the nervous system of a squid or a shellfish, one that recoils reflexively from any stimuli.

This latter article mentioned something I really got a kick out of:

That's just the way we are, and maybe it's time to wonder why that is. In Russia they have a word, sovok, which described the craven, chickenshit mindset that over the course of decades became hard-wired into the increasingly silly brains of Soviet subjects. It's a hard word to define, but once you get it — and all Russians get it — it's like riding a bicycle, you've got it. Sovok is the word that described a society where for decades silence and a thoughtful demeanor might be construed as evidence of a dangerous dissidence lurking underneath; the sovok therefore protected himself from suspicion by babbling meaningless nonsense at all times, so that no one would accuse him of harboring smart ideas.


It's hard to explain, but over there, they know what the word means. More than anything, sovok described a society that spent seventy years in mortal terror of new ideas, and tended to drape itself in a paper-thin patriotism whenever it felt threatened, and worshipped mediocrities as a matter of course, elevating to positions of responsibility only those who showed an utter absence not only of objectionable qualities, but any qualities at all.

I say "got a kick out of" to express that sense of horror and disquiet so profound there's no response appropriate except to laugh. I can't well deny the claim of this last article. It's just that I didn't expect to read an article that stated it so bluntly. Oh, well. I guess this is why we have Rolling Stone.

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