Thursday, October 1, 2009

Post No. 136a: Article of Interest from the New York Times: Where Did "We" Go ?


Many thought that when President Obama was elected he would become the "Great Unifier." Instead, we have witnessed the full panoply of factions which are dissatisfied with some aspect of his governance and policies thus far. Furthermore, they are not afraid to express their dissatisfaction in very personal, and colorful forms.

Thomas Friedman has some concerns about what is taking place in our country, and expresses them in the following piece. He eloquently articulates something which we have felt for the past few months, but have had difficulty putting into words.


September 30, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

Where Did ‘We’ Go?

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

"I hate to write about this, but I have actually been to this play before and it is really disturbing.

"I was in Israel interviewing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated in 1995. We had a beer in his office. He needed one. I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.

"And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, 'God will be on your side' — and so he did.

"Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening."

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

21 comments:

  1. All of this vitriol, all of this hate, all of the allusions to (and outright calls for) assassination were present in the country during the previous administration. But, somehow, that wasn't a big concern.

    I give you a couple of examples:

    Death of a President - a "documentary" film [2006]
    The Assassination of George W. Bush by Krandall Kraus [2007]



    And this from 2003 which shows hate speech from the left in 1994 that sounds exactly like what is being condemned today.

    Hate Speech Of the Left


    Little notice given. Images of Bush hanged in effigy (along with Cheney, as I recall) at demonstrations. Demonstrations against Bush himself and not merely his policies often included pictures of him with fangs and blood dripping from them. "Bushitler" was a common epithet. And, as you point out, he was portrayed as an illegitimate president from the very beginning.

    Yet, it is only now that concern is raised about the ugly mood in America and where it might lead?

    Where was this great concern during the last administration?

    I see hypocrisy rearing its ugly head once more.

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  2. Douglas:

    First and foremost, we do not have any evidence to dispute the mere existence of the activities to which refer, nor the mood and tone.

    Second, we are reasonably sure that such activities and sentiments have existed throughout America's political history.

    Third, it is difficult, although not entirely impossible, to measure or quantify the EXTENT or AMOUNT of such activities and attitudes. (Although we can trace the number of threats, the number of angry voices, the number of anti-X groups formed, the number of websites which attack, the number of meetings of various groups, etc.)

    Fourth, very few historians would dispute that there was a difference in degree of the tone and sentiment which existed in the U.S. in 1840, versus 1850, versus 1860, although we might not have been able to wrap our arms around it in concrete terms at the time. (The same applies to 1774, 1775, and 1776.) Things obviously built up leading to the explosion that was the Civil War (and Revolutionary War).

    Fifth, human, subjective emotion is always difficult to measure. However, we sense something different in degree, and frequency. The "you did it" so "I can do it," or the "it's existed before" and "it exists now" construct would not ever allow a society to sense that a dangerous situation is developing.

    If one attends a soccer match in a stadium with 200,000 fans, one gets a sense of how human emotion can rise to a fever-pitch and ebb and flow, and go up and down. Scientists have studied mob mentality and what leads to soccer riots and such, and it’s hard to quantify the factors. However, if you have ever been in the middle of a riot, or an explosive human situation, you get a "feeling" or a "sense" that something troubling is about to occur.

    Those not feeling it, or who feel that it is hypocritical in nature, need not feel it. Others will.

    In short, it's not the mere existence of emotion and criticism. It's the level and whether it motivates people to act on their feelings in a dangerous way.

    With all of the talk about Free Speech and the First Amendment, few forget that the Supreme Court long ago recognized that some types of speech are potentially dangerous. Yelling, "There's a fire" when there isn't one, in a crowded movie theater, is a potentially dangerous act, and not protected speech. We realize that political speech has different protections, but the concept is the same.

    But Douglas, here’s the bottom line. This is a dramatically different economic situation than that which existed in the previous administration. Far more people are out of work, losing their homes, and struggling to make do. You have lots of people pushing and shoving, and fighting one another for the scraps. You get more angry people without the ability to provide for their families, and you’ll definitely see things heat up.

    We think that it is different.

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  3. The difference is that for every political assassination, or act of terrorism, one can cite committed by a person of the Left, one can cite numerous examples of killings perpetrated by right-wingers. The rightist mind-set is simply and demonstrably more prone to violence. Rhetoric and symbolism aside, Obama is in greater actual danger than George W. Bush ever was. The right-wing gun fetish really says it all. Leftist may occasionally resort to gun violence (e.g. Lee Harvey Oswald), but they don't take their guns to bed with them.

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  4. Rodak touched on the issue but not fully. Not only are right-wingers far more likely to tote guns, they are far more likely to use force as evidenced by their hawkish, war like attitude.

    They are also far more likely to believe that God has instructed them to do something on his behalf.

    The are far more likely to believe in the Anti-Christ, and the evil nature of man.

    They also see more dangers out there in the cruel, cruel, world.

    They are also the people who do not believe that you can negotiate with or engage your enemies. Their solution is to stomp out people they disagree with and whose values are different.

    The naive, humans are basically good, be open to anything, and everyone should have a chance left-wingers are far less likely to use violence as a means to an end.

    Peace, Brother.

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  5. It's been an interesting day in the blogosphere. We traveled through it and noted that there are virtually only two points of view: (1) those who were similarly concerned like Friedman, and (2) those who found the concerns ridiculous or hypocritical, and felt that it was "fear-mongering" at its worst.

    The "ostensible" face of the Republican Party, Chairman Richard Steele, called Friedman a "nut job" for having such concerns.

    At what point are the concerns of a citizen legitimate? Could the tone, level, and type of expression against a President ever rise to a level of concern on the part of most citizens?

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  6. My point, Inspector, was simple. It was not dismissive. It is that the concern over the level of animosity is heavily dependent upon who is the party in charge and how much media support that enjoys. As you noted, there has been many, many instances in history where the political vitriol has been great. But it is most likely to be reported and emphasized by the party (or its supporters) under attack.
    It would be wonderful (and incredibly dull) if we could all "just get along", wouldn't it?

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  7. We recognize that you are a cynic Douglas. But we disagree with you here about the importance of the nation paying attention to the intangible mood, and trying to quantify that mood so that we can address citizen concerns. We recognize that the ballot box often proves to be an inadequate way to deal with citizen frustration, and many citizens feel disaffected and disenfranchised for various reasons.

    If everyone thought that the level of acrimony was simply one of choice, manipulation, and perception, thus justifying turning a blind eye to or ignoring the nature of the expressions of discontent, we're not sure where that might lead us.

    Each of us has to filter out the spam and the spin and make our own decisions about what is real and present. And we feel that there's something different about the tone here.

    This strikes us as a very angry and conflicted nation right now in a time of economic stress, and emotions seems to be running higher than normal. We may be wrong, but that's what we sense.

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  8. I used to joke that the funniest thing about the North was their conviction that the War of Northern Aggression was over. It is no longer funny. If some idiot manages to shoot this guy, our Grand Experiment with The United States of America may well be over.

    "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

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  9. Later this evening at 10:00 pm EDST, the author of Empire of Illusion will discuss what he considers to be the economic, political, and moral collapse of the United States.

    For further information on the program, click here.

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  10. That certain elements in this country would question whether racism is possibly a factor in the criticism of the President is disingenuous, and simply ignores history.

    You need simply recall that slavery was permitted in this country from its formation until 1863, and that many states maintained legal discrimination up until the 1960s. To argue that all of those racist people simply disappeared, died, or had a change of heart over the past fifty years is unrealistic.

    This doesn't mean that all criticism of the President is racially based. But to claim that none of it is is equally ridiculous.

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  11. Inspector, I do not question that rancor is great at this particular time. In fact, it may even be greater than it was 10 years ago. And that it may be growing (and likely is). But it is a symptom. And a distraction. That it is a "problem" only during the administrations of Democrats bothers me because it says something about the media, the erstwhile "watchdogs" for the people, and about how people are manipulated. You have acknowledged that this rancor has ebbed and surged throughout the history of this nation. You provided a couple of examples, as a matter of fact, where the rancor led to war. Were either of those two examples unwarranted? Were either unnecessary? When a culture begins to divide along strong principles, conflict may be inevitable. I do not advocate it, I am merely making an observation. As I recall, regarding the second example, a number of compromises were tried in the hopes of avoiding a civil conflict. They did not work. The result was the Civil War. I do not personally think the divisions of our current culture are nearly so severe that we should see civil disorder as great as even that which we experienced during the Vietnam War in the near future.

    But, as well as being a cynic, I also believe that attempts to avoid a result only defer it and make the inevitable result have more of an impact. This probably comes from being raised to face a problem head on sooner rather than later. An ideal often expressed in any number of ways with my favorite being "A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one." [Shakespeare] I don't think my attitude is one which society in general embraces. I especially think it is not one which our alleged leaders embrace.

    I could easily be wrong about all this. I rather hope I am.

    By the way, I see evidence of the complete divide of this country in the choice of subject and in the comments by others. The hardest manipulation to resist is that with which you have come to agree.

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  12. Douglas, we need to periodically thank you for your thoughtful participation in our forum. You're a loyal follower.

    We're going to just "think out loud" for a few minutes, without really arriving at a particular conclusion.

    We agree with you that the partisan rancor is symptomatic of "something" in society. We're not quite sure whether it is truly a "distraction." The dictionary defines distraction as (1) the act or condition of having the original focus of attention or interest in something diverted away; (2) the act or condition of having emotions pulled in conflicting directions; or (3) extreme mental or emotional disturbance. Based on your comment, we are not sure what you contend we're being diverted from. If you are suggesting that "something" is holding our political leaders accountable for "governing in the best interests of the nation," it would seem to us that reasonable citizens can differ as to how good or effective a job a politician or political body is doing in that regard.

    If 10% / 20% /30% of Democrats complain during a Republic administration, and 10% / 20% / 30% of Republicans complain during a Democratic administration, that is one thing. However, if 50% / 60% / 70% of one party complains when the other party is in control, the rancor is arguably more than a mere distraction, and something of which we should take notice. Perhaps more troubling is when a majority of each party is complaining about the other party simultaneously.

    All of this, of course, is difficult to measure, either quantatively, or qualitatively.

    Rancor of a nasty, personal, and vituperative nature is never "just a problem" under one administration or the other. We noted some very troubling criticisms of the Bush administration during its tenure, and with a great deal of frequency. We're finding the same here during the Obama administration. We simply do not see this as an "all quiet" or "all noise" situation. However, our real concern is the manner in which such discourse undermines the respect for the various political offices and institutions, particularly in the eyes of young children. Additionally, we're concerned that many will be "turned off" and "tune out" to the inner workings of their government.

    Let's try a classic hypothetical Douglas to address this issue of "distraction" versus "real problem." Tall man walks down the street and approaches short man. Short man yells a nasty comment at tall man. Tall man spits in short man's face. Short man punches tall man in the stomach. Tall man punches short man in the eye. Short man picks up a wooden stick and strikes tall man in the leg. Tall man picks up a metal pipe, and hits short man in the head, drawing blood. Short man gets into his car and drives it toward tall man and breaks his leg. Tall man gets a handgun out of his car and shoots short man, but does not kill him. Short man gets a rifle out of his truck, and shoots tall, killing him.

    At what point did the back and forth change from "distraction" to "problem?" At what point should onlookers have become concerned? If they had become concerned at an early point in time, and intervened, is it possible that the death of the tall man might not have occurred?

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  13. The distraction I referred to is the one in which the emphasis is placed on the act of protest rather than on the substance of said protest. People are angry and the hue and cry is about the form of that anger rather than the substance. The anger is manifested incredibly peacefully when compared to other protests (historically and currently). Attempts are made (apparently successfully from what I read here and in the general media) to say this is being done by only one political ideology. You enhance that by implying the protests in question are by a majority of Republicans ("However, if 50% / 60% / 70% of one party complains when the other party is in control") which is patently false. I will apologize if you can cite any credible source for those figures.

    The tea parties and the town hall protests and even the woefully under-reported 9/12 March on Washington were an insignificant percentage of Republicans. If indeed a vast majority of them were Republican. One is hard pressed to know the facts of events that are dismissed by the normally accepted "mainstream" media.

    Show me the violence, the anger, in any of these protests that even approaches that which erupted at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. And that protest by the Left was mild compared to the ones which occurred around Nixon or in 1968 at the Democratic Convention in Chicago.

    Perhaps you have been successfully distracted. Perhaps you ought to consider some alternative to the media you currently rely on.

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  14. Douglas:

    Several things:

    When someone crosses a line, and the crossing constitutes inappropriate behavior, their conduct should be deemed inappropriate by all factions, not just those opposing the actor.

    It is one thing to tell someone that he made a mistake; it is another to call him an idiot.

    It is one thing to tell something that you disagree with him; it is another to call him misguided, and still another to suggest that he is on drugs or drinking the funny Kool-Aid; and still another to say that he is lying.

    Once someone calls out another person personally, and makes personal attacks, or attacks his integrity, it is highly unlikely that any effective communication will take place thereafter. The exchange might as well end right there.

    There is something theoretically troubling or disconcerting when the conservatives or Republicans support (or even maintain silence) a member of their party who commits an inappropriate act; there is something theoretically troubling or disconcerting when the liberals / progressives or Democrats support (or even maintain silence)a member of their party who commits the exact same act.

    Both parties are guilty of hauling the party line, and being partisan. It is no one side that is without fault.

    When we expressed our concerns about the tone of the criticisms out there, it was about the tone and the criticisms, not because of who is currently in the White House. Had there been anyone else in the office, no matter what their background, affiliation, position, color, religion, sex, or otherwise, it still would have been wrong.

    Wrong is wrong, no matter which party you support.

    To suggest that someone else did it, so why bitch when it is being done to you, is simply disingenuous.

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  15. Re-read my last comment objectively. No one is doing anything that has not been done before. No protests against the administration are showing a level of threat (of any kind) that approaches, much less exceeds, previous protests against previous administrations. if you have any concrete evidence to the contrary, offer it. Otherwise, we are merely expressing opinions here. This attempt to make something different out of the criticism of this administration than any other in the recent past (from LBJ on) is without merit and has no real foundation. It is being played up for a reason. It is to arouse the "base" and create bogeymen for the purpose of distraction from the actual issues at hand and the very real resistance to them by majorities (according to numerous reputable polls).

    You may feel differently. I ask only that you objectively examine why you feel differently.

    You know where I can be reached.

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  16. Douglas:

    There is no objectivity to feelings and senses. People feel what they feel.

    Just before a riot occurs, we don't have someone go around with a "riotmeter" and measure the level of violent sentiment or emotion. Just before a couple becomes attracted to one another, they don't visit a local hospital and have a "lovemeter" scan.

    However, it is comforting to know you've got it all figured out, and can measure the tone, level, and extent of sentiment in the hearts and minds of the American public, and can ENSURE THE REST OF US that there is no reason for concern on any of our parts.

    We're also glad to know that you have the unique capabilities to determine the reasons underlying people expressing certain feelings, and the ability to determine whether their feelings are politically or maliciously motivated. We're neither that smart nor that sophisticated.

    Perhaps you can provide your expert services to rest of us less perceptive souls, or perhaps the U.S. government.

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  17. At this moment as we type this, the author of "Empire of Illusion: is discussing on CSpan2 Book TV, what he considers to be the economic, political, and moral collapse of the United States.

    For further information on the program, click on the link we provided in our comment on Saturday.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I was saddened by Obama's nomination. Not because I much care who won the election (I'm far too cynical for that) but because I didn't expect him to survive the election. I don't think he'll survive all 4 years, much less the 8 he has been talking about.

    So far, all his talk about 'change' has been just that. Gitmo is still full, the bailouts proceeded on schedule. And so on.

    If he once dares to face down the bankers, military and industrial forces, he will find that 'some loony' was given the clear shot he needed.

    Loonies are a dime a dozen and the real powers in the US have money by the ton.

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  19. In a few minutes, at 6:00 pm Eastern, C-Span2 Book TV will air a discussion featuring the author of a book on the Culture of Mistrust in American Politics.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I was saddened by Obama's nomination. Not because I much care who won the election (I'm far too cynical for that) but because I didn't expect him to survive the election. I don't think he'll survive all 4 years, much less the 8 he has been talking about.

    So far, all his talk about 'change' has been just that. Gitmo is still full, the bailouts proceeded on schedule. And so on.

    If he once dares to face down the bankers, military and industrial forces, he will find that 'some loony' was given the clear shot he needed.

    Loonies are a dime a dozen and the real powers in the US have money by the ton.

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  21. The difference is that for every political assassination, or act of terrorism, one can cite committed by a person of the Left, one can cite numerous examples of killings perpetrated by right-wingers. The rightist mind-set is simply and demonstrably more prone to violence. Rhetoric and symbolism aside, Obama is in greater actual danger than George W. Bush ever was. The right-wing gun fetish really says it all. Leftist may occasionally resort to gun violence (e.g. Lee Harvey Oswald), but they don't take their guns to bed with them.

    ReplyDelete

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