Friday, September 16, 2011

The Voice of Hillary Clinton in San Francisco

Even though I now say I wish I had voted for Hillary instead of Obama, I have to say that I'd like to see her step  in as president over the next four years. As it was, A large part of why I voted for Obama revolved around my fear that Bill Clinton would have been the Dick Cheney of Hillary Clinton. As it turned out, Obama has adopted Bill Clinton's ghost as his Dick Cheney.

But in rethinking Hillary, I think I might have been unfair. We all know Obama has not fought for Main Street. The tiny things for Main Street he has done have been so overblown in significance it has convinced me all the more of the error I made.  You go down fighting if you have integrity. People should not be  asked to wait while a leader asks his opponents if they'd be willing to give a few crumbs to Main Street, and if they are willing which ones. And what is behind giving crumbs anyway? Is it to prevent mass revolt? In fact, even Hillary's speech is a kind of plea to women to not revolt. Nevertheless, Hillary might have accomplished more for Main Street and certainly more for women if elected. She had more to prove and accounts to settle, especially around health care. Women just might have had the platform to fight more visibly. I think the Democrats could really rupture the turmoil of the next election by running Hillary in 2012 and giving her administration a shot at it. What would Hillary do? But please, let Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan rest in their political graves. Be innovative.

Here's an excerpt from a recent speech Hillary gave in San Francisco that I find encouraging:

There will be a temptation on the part of those observing or covering this summit, perhaps on the part of those of us attending it as well, to say that our purpose is chiefly to advance the rights of women -- to achieve justice and equality on their behalf. That is a noble cause, to be sure, and one close to my heart.

But at the risk of being somewhat provocative at the outset, I believe our goal is even bolder -- one that extends beyond women to all humankind. The big challenge we face in these early years of the 21st century is how to ... ensure shared prosperity for all nations and all people. We want to give every one of our citizens, men and women, young and old, greater opportunity to find work, save and spend money, pursue happiness -- and ultimately live up to their... potential. (Hillary Clinton's full article).

Now, I've excised words I find blind echoes of the status quo, damaging words, the same old same old. I removed words that act as ropes of the patriarchy (and its byproduct the class system). Ropes that entangle us into blind confusion and thereby blind order. Ropes that tie up our unpredictable imaginations and toss them overboard. Ropes that we are born hanging onto in order to survive on a day to day basis. I excised words I think Hillary might have excised if spoken from her potential. By the way, I could keep going with this rope list.  These ropes get into everything.

I will say it's pretty amazing how excising just a few words can shift the conversation to a discussion on how to bring out the best in Hillary's speech, that of creating a global environment in which each individual has the opportunity to reach his or her potential. As it stands, Hillary is right. No such environment exists right now. But if language  controls our era, and if all it takes is a few words to shift the conversation, then excising the words that lead to same old path is a good first step. What do we have to lose?

 Not only do we need a new approach to the global economic paradigm but to the religious paradigm as well. Not the one being shaped by the Global Austerity Works Program. Let's run from that one, that same old same old.  We need one free from the damaging trickle down, voodoo or shared sacrifice economic gospels. Since the current system is too inflexible to fix in order for Hillary's goal to be realized, we have no choice but to change it. It's time to let go--for good and for real. Once we find that new approach, one that focuses on egalitarian structures set up to help each person and all communities to reach their potential with or without money, we can take our leap into our new era. Until then we will most likely spin and spin and spin until we burn ourselves out. Until then, Hillary can never reach her own potential. And neither will the rest of us.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 Obsession Revisited

 Updated 9:13 PM, Sept. 11

I woke up as usual ten years ago on 9/11, got ready for work, and drove off. No media. When I walked into the classroom, my students yelled out, "did you bring a radio?" As I lay my books and paraphernalia on my desk, they filled me in: planes had driven into the Twin Towers in New York. "We're under attack!! they said. "What are you doing here then?" was my first response. Some jumped up, "we can leave?"" I listened more.

After I got the details, my first reaction was dismay. More acts of violence that didn't have to happen. A lot of innocent people dead because a bunch of other people are angry at still another bunch of other people.  I'm always looking at the symbols and metaphors, and since I teach critical thinking, my first impulse, which I followed, was to get to the board. I wrote down Twin Towers, Pentagon, White House. For me, the symbolism seemed simplistic. "Why these three targets at about the same time?" I asked. The students had no problem in naming what each building symbolized in positive and negative terms. Nor did they have trouble finding the reasons for pathological rage behind the attacks. Keeping everything on the symbolic and metaphoric levels, we spent the morning discussing the pathological violence, on both sides, that put innocent people in a political and an economic crossfire.

It was a 9:30 class, so I don't remember if the buildings had collapsed yet. I think they had. However, my dismay continued with the media blitz that followed. And followed. And followed. And followed.  My friend, Dolly Sloan, a native New Yorker called. We had dinner and went over to a Pen event, I think the next day, in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. About 20 of us, all writers, sat in a circle and talked about the situation. The topic: what would 9/11 mean for writers? Would writing be the same after 9/11? A lot of people grieved. My friend felt horrified. Most of the people in the room felt violated. 

While I felt dismayed and horrified at the lost lives, I grieved  for what was to come.  "America will never be the same," Dick Cheney promised. At the pen event, I brought up George Bush's instructions that the best thing American could do, while the government reshaped America's homeland security program, was to get out and shop. I don't remember if I said I found that pretty nuts. But I do know Dolly and I had many conversations, sometimes on near opposite sides, on whether the event had the right to reshape America.

 Throughout the media blitz, I felt deeply disturbed by Cheney and Bush's statements. Innocent people dead in a political and economic crossfire, and I'm to shop and to think terrorists attacks will now be a way of life unless----.  The whole situation felt pretty creepy and ominous. I mean the Cheney-Bush Orders. Were these rulers really telling Americans to reshape America in the image they had in mind, which included the act of Americans willingly tossing in their keys to civil liberties in exchange for---wait a minute, is this blackmail?  How pathological is that? What kind of megalomania drives the desires behind these orders? I understood right away the layers of repression and future violence built into Cheney and Bush's Orders. "America would never be the same," Cheney chanted over and over and over. I kept thinking, why shouldn't it be? As tragic as the situation was, I see no healthy reason to change the country's foundation of civil liberties over it. Talk about male hysteria!  You move on. You really move on. You examine what has happened, yes. You really examine it. You make adjustments. You examine your own role in bringing about the tragedy.  But you don't turn in the keys of your freedom. Yet, the media never let go of his chant. In the next century perhaps people will use it to study the art of shaping mass psychology. That chant was to be the closure of the conversation. I don't watch TV much, but the chant was everywhere. And it didn't take long before you could hear it in delis, in hallways, at beaches, and in bedrooms. Did people know what Cheney meant by those words? I wondered what he was up to.But what did my musing matter?  It was too late. Social fear spread quickly. The chants about change and shopping dominated over reason in every action the government took against civil liberties. That and the reminder that terrorists were lurking in every neighborhood. I watched the media mimic Cheney and shape not just ideas but emotions. It was frightening. I kept saying to Dolly, the media blitz is shaping not just which sound bites to speak but which emotions to feel about the event and its aftermath. If I recall, Susan Sontag was one of the few who spoke early on about the agenda to reshape emotions. On September 24, 2001, she writes, "Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management.  Politics, the politics of a democracy--which entails disagreement, which promotes candor--has been replaced by psychotherapy." We thus ended up with a unified emotional response that led us to turn in the keys of our civil liberties. Those not expressing it, were suspects, crazy, or outsiders.

One month after the tragic attacks, my students no longer saw the symbolism or the pathology inherent in power on both sides that led to innocent people killed in a crossfire. Instead, they repeated sound bites they had picked up on TV, in print, over the Internet, or on the radio. The conversation was over. Now it was just a matter of learning the right responses to the event. Now it was matter of hating Muslims. Now it came down to following orders, in unifying around giving up our civil liberties to prove to the terrorists that Americans won't be terrorized.

On September 10, 2011, President Obama said, "They wanted to terrorize us, but, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear. Yes we face a determined foe, and make no mistake — they will keep trying to hit us again. But as we are showing again this weekend, we remain vigilant. We're doing everything in our power to protect our people. And no matter what comes our way, as a resilient nation, we will carry on."

These are sentimental, hollow words, substituted sound bites for the political wisdom that America can't voice because the threads to political wisdom have been burned or buried.  Political wisdom is dangerous because it challenges the status quo. Not that Obama is alone in such responses. Here are a slew of responses from people in power. Obama is simply mimicking the sound bites he's learned.  His words echo Rumsfeld's, who insisted, "he did not close the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to send a message that terrorism could not shut down the seat of American defense" (qtd. in Foley). Or, he kept the Pentagon open to show terrorists that America was not afraid. The patriarchy on both sides of this monstrous battle shows muscle but no wisdom. I wonder if Hillary would have stood up against the patriarchy in America and in the Middle East? I wonder how different America would be today if Eleanor Roosevelt had followed into the presidency? It's a thought worth a conversation. It's healthy to speculate. 

So let me try to speculate. If Eleanor had become president, we would have seen the Equal Rights Amendment passed and stronger unions. By the time Hillary became First Lady, Hillary would have easily made history by getting a strong single-payer health care system in place. Because America would have had a more balanced view based on gender, it's more likely females around the globe would be in better positions by the time Hillary became president sometime after Bill. We've been stuck, spinning in the aftermath of the peak of patriarchy for a long time. If we make it to egalitarianism anytime soon, it'll be one of those accidents that get us there. 

I'm reminded of that morning in my classroom when students understood the whole picture. When will America take responsibility in its part in the tragedy? What happened to that clarity as a country? Surely, my students weren't an isolated group of thinkers. They spoke of global imbalances that lead to tragedy and need to be fixed.  

I don't have a conspiracy theory. Nor do I have knowledge of structural engineering. But I do have one question in response to this notion of America's anti-fear stance. Who exactly are these rulers referring to and under what conditions are they demanding this anti-fear stance and defining it? If we are refusing to live in fear, then why the elaborate and intricate system of homeland security created to spy on innocent Americas?  if we are refusing to live in fear, why are people who protest wars or dangerous pipelines, or demand change or equality "watched" or jailed?  If we are refusing to live in fear, then why did the government use the people's tax money to bail out the banks instead of use it to strengthen the country's infrastructures, to prevent the ruin or death of masses of people in floods or earthquakes or other disasters? Why didn't the government use the money to create high-paying jobs or a single-payer healthcare system, Why didn't it use it to prevent damage to the environment? Why didn't it use it to make all levels of education free to everyone?  If the wealthy do not live in fear then why are less women and minorities in powerful positions? If those holding onto the status quo do not live in fear, then why do artists who pose challenging questions get censored or banned?

I beg to disagree with Obama. America and its leaders appear obsessed with its fears, not just from possible terrorists attacks but from financial or market disasters. Not just from political or market challenges but from disagreements, especially challenges rooted in reason. Discussions springing from these fears seem to dominate every media. This fear paradigm in maintaining order is Cheney's World. We live in what we might call Cheney's Fear Paradigm--and we can call it this simply because he lit the match to get it started, and he still fans the fire. Well the current Fear Paradigm, anyway.

I think the people who lost loved ones have every right to grieve and mourn over the tragedy. How many of us pause on the 10th anniversary of the death of a loved one? My guess many of us at least pause. And that's the way it should be. We don't throw a spectacle, hold wakes and burials all over again, bathe our homes with black ribbons over and over, or send revised obituaries to our local newspapers. We don't take off from work or school to mourn all over again. We don't as a nation mourn all of the those who have died before us. We should try unifying around establishing life-giving events: a single-payer healthcare sytem, a share in the profits for all, advancements in medicine against illnesses and for longer lives, and so on.