They wrote more, and they’re both more nuanced and thoughtful than the excerpts might make them seem, but it’s worth looking at these two quotations:

Joe Carter:

“If people want to vote for Obama, for whatever reason, that is their decision to make. But let’s not play along with the delusion that their reasons for doing so are because they are attempting to be consistent with their conservative principles.”

Daniel Larison:

“As I said yesterday, the most credible pro-Obama argument that can be made is that the GOP must be held accountable and Obama is not McCain, but I still don’t think that is a persuasive case for casting a vote for Obama, much less urging others to do likewise.”

I don’t really know where I fall on this spectrum, because even before 2006, I wanted Obama to run even if there was no chance he would win—the refresher would be worthwhile. And since it wasn’t until the middle of the primaries that I came to terms with my changing political self-labelling—and since I have some sort of weird republican (note the little-R) principle against Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton, it wasn’t that hard to keep preferring him to her—I was kind of an Obamacon by default.

I also have the ease of being registered in Kentucky, which isn’t going to be within ten points unless the polls are wrong or McCain announces that he preferred Hanoi to Washington, so my vote for Barr put no strain on my conscience. But I’m still technically an Obama supporter, because I’d prefer his victory to McCain’s. This is partly because I trust him more on foreign policy, partly because of other reasons Larison and Carter rattle off, but it does have quite a bit to do with what Andrew, Esquire, and Garry Wills all had to say lately.

I don’t totally trust either candidate on Executive power issues. Let’s be frank—neither candidate is going to shrink the federal government any. The power it claims is probably going to remain about the same in total, just centered in different areas. But I trust McCain less—ever since his vote against banning waterboarding, I’ve been increasingly skeptical of his willingness to take on those parts of the GOP that believe in the acceptability of a “Unitary Executive.”

It’s not that I think McCain favors the Bush-Cheney policy on this. I just don’t think he’s going to be willing to do battle with his own party in such a way to clear it out. Before this election, I thought he could and would; but his actions since have made me skeptical. As much as I may be wary of Obama’s plans for health care, those two words scare me more. And if you ask me, he’s the one more likely to clear it out.  He’s certainly the one more likely to appoint justices who don’t buy into the Yoo’s and Cheney’s and Addington’s reasoning.

(I’ll let it be known, though, that if I had it my way, Ron Paul would be on the GOP line and I’d be voting for him; and that if McCain had done things differently—if he’d voted against the Military Commissions Act, or hadn’t come out against amending the CIA Field Manual to ban torture—my thoughts would probably be much different than they are.)

This might all be on my mind because I’m neurotic and my favorite period of history is the collapse of the Roman Republic. Honestly, I hope so, but I just can’t bring myself to act like that’s the case.

So I was reading The New Yorker’s profile of Bob Barr, and I knew there was a reason to instinctively like him—and one that would be able to make my vote for him come across as more reasonable. And then I saw:

“For the most part, Barr seems to find the dim limelight of the political fringe uplifting. He is fifty-nine but has the stamina of a college freshman—he consumes up to fifteen shots of espresso a day, typically in five-shot installments.” [emphasis mine]

This is a man who puts even my coffee consumption to shame. Five at a time? My Bob Barr vote has become more than just a vote for the Libertarian. It’s a vote that says, “I prefer a caffeine addict to a smoker.” I mean, I’m basically one of the former, and I think we’re good people.

But if that doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know how you can read this next bit and not wonder how it didn’t get more coverage. I mean, shooting caribou is nice and all, I guess, but they don’t really fight back:

“On expeditions into the Amazon, Barr fished for piranhas, and hunted alligators at night. “You would take a .22 rifle and creep along the riverbank with a flashlight,” he told me. “The light would catch their eyes, and you would see these two glowing points of red, and you would shoot for that.”

Who’s the unblinkin’ one now, Sarah Palin?

Underlying point (other than I now feel like Barr and I have bonded over coffee): protest/third-party votes aren’t without their purpose. And since your vote counts but doesn’t really, think about it. (Or just go read the article and call it even.)

(Oh, and Upturned Earth readers: thanks for wandering over, take a look around (and hopefully enjoy what you read), and feel free to come back again.)

From a Lexington Herald-Leader writeup of a recent poll of Kentuckians:

“Sixty-one percent said Obama was a Christian. One percent answered Catholic, 12 percent said other and 12 percent were not sure.”

I’m not really going to complain about the numbers of Kentuckians who refuse to believe that he’s anything but an Islamist Manchurian Candidate, because at least we’re more reasonable than Texas.  No: they wind up implying that Catholics are not Christians.  Really?  I know this is almost certainly just an example of why you need a copy-editor who earns their salary, but really?  You do a story on how other people can’t get Obama’s religion right, and then you go and do this?

UPDATE: Whoops, meant to add this to begin with, but: In other Bluegrass news, they’ve arrested the two idiots responsible for the Obama effigy, who are about to experience a very long-term hangover from Tuesday night.

Where I’m Coming From

October 30, 2008

This isn’t meant to be any sort of political autobiography, but a commenter on this post at The Confabulum (part of a longer series between Freddie deBoer and—mostly—Conor Fridersdorf) set me to thinking, and it gives me the chance to salvage a formerly abandoned paragraph I wrote a few months ago. Anyway, on a minor digression, LarryM says:

“[I]ronically, the horror of the Bush administration is another [reason I no longer identify as a liberal] – not that I buy for a second the absurd idea that he governed as a “liberal,” but because his administration did so much to discredit big government generally, of whatever variety.”

It was much the same for me. I’ve gone from being one of a handful of liberals in my high school (not that the non-liberals were all “conservative”—there was a weird authoritarian streak there, I thought) to one of a handful of conservatives among my friends here. And I’d be wrong if I said it didn’t have a lot to do with waking up too many mornings to read Andrew Sullivan linking to and ranting about the Bush Administration’s abuses—torture especially.  (Pictures of dead torture victims coming onto the screen just as Dianne Reeves singing “Who’s Minding the Store?” [the Good Night and Good Luck soundtrack; it’s wonderful] can only set you up for a really cheerful day, you know.)

It was exceptionally shocking and disturbing to see just what abuses centralized power could cause, even in the United States. To be cliché, I guess a little bit of the shine came off; it took the better part of two decades to realize that there was no divine mandate or natural law saying that we were an inherently non-totalitarian state; that Franklin was really, truly right when he said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” My views have always been informed by a need to avoid and halt evil—I think that’s just natural for a modern Jew (though by no means exclusively, but the words “Never Again” have a certain constant insistence, and a level of constant and nervous sadness)—but now there is a distinct flavor of fear: of what, exactly, centralized power can lead to. Not that it will, of course—but for every Cincinnatus, there’s at least one Antony.

So when I’m skeptical of the federal government getting more involved in health care, or telling Northwestern they’re required to spend at least 5% of their endowment a year (though I wish they would spend more on student aid), or prefer decentralization and talk about how federalism is a wonderful experiment–yeah, this is informing it in part.

There’s a good deal more to it, of course. But what I really wanted to do was bring up this discarded sentence I wrote a while back:

“I don’t know whether to say ‘because of’ or ‘in spite of,’ and there isn’t enough room here to fully explain it, but the truth of the matter is that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney turned me into a conservative.”

(And in case you care, I’ll link to the finished column that came from, which has nothing really to do with conservatism anymore, once it’s online.)

I’m naturally a worrier, so when I see this, and then another one up in Indiana, then Obama supporters threatened by an angry mob (not to mention some of the comments on the two articles from the Courier), all in a single day, I start getting fidgety.  In February, my mother explained why she was hesitant about supporting Obama — he has two young daughters, she said.  I didn’t get it at first, but it has to do with the fact that she’s old enough to have memories of the spring of ’68.  I, of course, thought it was nonsense; that the nastiest racism would get would be votes against him.  Now, with his election looking more likely — I’m genuinely nervous.  (Not that I think it’s likely to happen, but I think it finally hit me that it could.)

So when I said earlier that certain extremes of partisanship — particularly those Freddie was talking about — scare me more than a little, I wasn’t talking about voting straight-ticket, watching Fox, reading DailyKos, or even taking everything either of those last two say as infallible truth.  That gatekeeper I mentioned who made me nervous — he’s one of those guys who thinks it’s OK to hang an Obama doll from a tree because you don’t like him, and not understanding why people think it’s offensive; or the dumb schmuck out in California with the Palin effigy. 

But let’s be honest: something seems to have snapped with some on “the right.”  It’s over there that we get people shouting, “He’s a nigger!”  “Kill him!”  “Terrorist!” and threatening to beat 63 year-olds for wearing an Obama shirt.  Maybe something like this is always there, on both sides, but I was blissfully unaware of it.  But I have a hard time believing we’ve seen anything of this intensity since well before I was born.

If [a part of]* “The Right” wants to build up a cocoon where this behavior is OK, where political opposition is conflated with terrorism and its leaders are Manchurian Candidates by default, then there’s really nothing I can do to stop it.  But in addition to making my life a hell of lot more difficult (since saying, “No, I’m not that type of ‘conservative,'” never gets old), it’s not going to win them any elections.  And I’ll say right here that in no way will it make them better people, or us a better nation.

*NOTE: Added bracketed words, which I thought I’d written in original post. — JLW

Strange Fruit

October 29, 2008

Obama effigy found hanging from tree at UK

Reading that this has happened, I feel so sick and so overwhelmingly sad.  And that it was at UK as opposed to any other school in the state — the one we cling to as our representative, whose colors the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians wear proudly; where my stepfather, grandfather, and cousins have gone and go — makes it only feel worse.

A couple nights ago, I was feeling nostalgic and listening to “Oh Cumberland” and Bill Monroe over and over again; hell, I wrote an essay for class that night about Kentucky.  I think my sense of shame is so deep because of how much I love the state — what the Drive-By Truckers might call the “duality of the Southern Thing.”

An earlier post (“We Are All Schizophrenics Now”) somehow led to an offer to expand it into an article on happiness, self, and multiplicity for Culture11’s symposium, “What’s the face of happiness now?”  It’s up (and has been all day).  So, erm, go read it, please?  (I’m still getting used to this whole shameless self-promotion thing, though it kind of comes with the territory.)  Excerpt:

But to accept this view of ourselves is to abandon happiness altogether. When each “self” possesses a different conception of what constitutes happiness, the best we can hope for is broken and compromised. We can never be truly satisfied with our lives. If I am controlled by the self who wants a piece of cake rather than the self concerned with dieting, the dieting self cannot be happy, and vice versa. Happiness has become a zero-sum game. Because of this, “you” will always lose.

In the wonderfully titled, “The Brisket King, or: The Perils of Dualism,” Andrew Gow channels briefly his inner Wendell Berry. (Well, only insofar as one of my professors channels his inner-Berry when he complains about Plato, but it makes for a good line.)  Maybe it would be better put as his inner anti-dualist.  It’s an interesting take on things, at the least: 

“The carnal is, or course, bad by comparison to ‘the spiritual’ on the conventional ladder on western values (and those of some oriental religions too). Paul’s subordination of flesh to ‘spirit’ requires separation, and produces alienation. Consider this: if there is no real distinction between ‘flesh’ and spirit’, but rather an indissoluble union, as much of the Jewish tradition posits (along with certain others), when we look merely for ‘spirituality’, we are trapped by a badly posed question.

. . .

“If we imagine body and soul as separable (except in death, which leads to we-know-not-what), we are caught in a trap not of our own devising: we are caught looking for something Judaism does not provide or cater to, at least not in isolation: ‘spirituality’. Rather, Judaism provides integrated whole-body exercise of the ‘spiritual’ *capacity*.”

Compare this to what Wendell Berry, in “Health is Membership,” says below, and it gives a pretty good example of why I think that, while Berry’s religious and spiritual views are decidedly Christian (and, in a more particular sense, decidedly Protestant, though I reserve the right to be terribly wrong in this aside), there is also an important universality to them—and I don’t think that it’s at all unintentional

“I strongly doubt the advantage, and even the possibility, of separating these two terms [‘spiritual’ and ‘bodily’].

“What I’m arguing against here is not complexity or mystery but dualism . . . which impl[ies] that the Creation is divided into ‘levels’ that can readily be peeled apart and judged by human beings. . . .

“Our bodies are involved in the world. Their needs and desires and pleasures are physical. Our bodies hunger and thirst, yearn toward other bodies, grow tired and seek rest, rise up rested, eager to exert themselves. All these desires may be satisfied with honor to the body and its maker, but only if much else besides the individual body is brought into consideration. . . . We must consider the body’s manifold connections to other bodies and to the world.”

It is ignorance of this fact—that if we are spiritual beings we are spiritual beings living in a physical world and so holiness must incorporate the physical, not escape it—that leads to things like the scandals at the Rubashkin Agriprocessors plant in Iowa: a kosher slaughterhouse not following kashrus, violating child labor laws, using undocumented workers to avoid paying proper wages and providing decent working conditions, dumping unsafe pollutants, and then impersonating others while attempting a cover-up. It’s no wonder they—formerly the largest kosher slaughterhouse—just lost their kosher certification.

What happened is that the Rubashkin family forgot that keeping kosher isn’t about following the letter of the law; that Judaism is about more than that. Kosher foods are supposedly better than non-kosher foods because the food—from the raising of animals on—has been treated with the reverence it deserves. Even without their extra, non-kosher wounds, I’d say that their extra-legal activities mean everything Agriprocessors produces falls short.

As it stands now, neither Wendell Berry’s ham sandwich nor Moshe Rubashkin’s brisket are kosher, but if I had to give my opinion on which is closest, I’d go with Mr. Berry’s sandwich.

We have parsley, basil, rosemary, and mint (or, as I like to put it, we’re just short of a Simon and Garfunkel song) between the window and the couch in my apartment. I used to think that the worst that could happen already had: the mint, paying no heed to the little tag that says it should peak at fifteen inches tall, is now over two feet in height, double what it was two months ago when we bought it. It’s starting to border on Little Shop of Horrors-esque.

Now, quite literally overnight, they have given birth to several dozen gnat/fruit-fly-like creatures. And the problem is, we need to find a way to get rid of the damn little buggers without killing the plants or making them inedible. As much as I may enjoy talking to them, I fully intend to eat them.

It’s also confusing me a little that they appeared on the first truly cold day this fall. Not to mention that I just had to bail out the dishwasher because we (read: I) put too much soap in it. (On the bright side, that, unlike uninvited flies living in your apartment, is A Good Character Building Experience.)

So Freddie deBoer is off on another one of his gauntlet-throwing sprees. And he’s got a point. The conservative “movement”—whatever that means; I think it has something to do with those who are voting for the GOP come hell or high water—is nasty. Divisive. And, yeah, disgusting in its virulence.

But there’s no way I can get around the fact that I’m a conservative. I came late to the party, too (though I do have what might be an unconscious fetish for losing sides: I’m a Cubs fan by no geographical obligation, and Kentucky hasn’t been to the Final Four since I came of an age to really live and die by them). So yeah, after more or less a year of slowly realizing my views were shifting, I accepted where I was. And then I looked out and saw the shit flying through the air.

As I’ve already put it, I got to the gates of Conservative-Land, took a good look at the doorman, and told him to hold on just a little bit; I’m going to go sit on that bench over there with a drink until after the election.

I have the joyous task of not merely defending being a conservative at this time, but explaining that I have become a conservative. (At the moment, I’m in a coffeeshop—my favorite, where they start my drink when I walk in the door—but keep glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one’s reading what I’m typing and giving me nasty looks.) It’s not really easy—especially when the school paper was unaware until Thursday that there were, in fact, conservatives on this campus.

I’m easing my friends (those who haven’t been reading me ramble on, at least) into this knowledge. My Bob Barr vote was about as good a middle-step as I could get, but the response, at least a half-dozen times last night, was: “You did WHAT?” (And my Wendell Berry write-in vote for Senate would have gotten a similar response, if anyone else I was around had heard of him.)

But I’m pretty sure that John Schwenkler and Scott Payne are on target. The wild-eyed partisans may freak me out, and I may not want their company most of the time, but there’s not much I can do about their existence. The task is to make conservatism something better than what it now is. (And I’ll admit: as a political movement in this country, it’s more or less out of ideas. I’d have trouble naming a “leader” who could answer the challenges that Freddie throws down here—but seriously: aren’t gauntlets in limited supply or something? See, now, for the sake of my own self-respect, I have to try to answer him.  Just not quite yet.)

The best way to counter accusations of being a part of the “stupid party” (or ideology, or philosophy, or worldview, or whatever you want to call it) is to be an intelligent, thoughtful conservative. Not a conservative from unthinking, traditional reflex, but from reflection and intellectual rigor. If those of us who are appalled by the words and deeds of those who earn the epithet for us abandon ship, then that’s all it will be. And we’ll be floating in a nether-void while the left—the combined forces of their reflective and unthinking members, because we’ve all got both—does battle with the Dittoheads.

And there is always the possibility that it will get worse before it gets better. As Andrew Sullivan cautions:

“This is what happened to the British Tories after the Blair landslide in 1997. The rump was even more toxic after the defeat than before it. A decade later, and they still aren’t back in power, but they have managed the very difficult task of getting back to the center. It isn’t easy.”

Precisely because of the difficulty, thinking, intelligent conservatives are needed. If the only people left aboard are those peddling the “Real America/Fake America” bullshit, the ship’s going to go down, and while Scott Payne may be indulging in a touch of hyperbole, he’s got a point about what will follow:

“To simply give up on conservatism is to give up on a vital and historical element of the American psyche and identity. Without well meaning advocates, that element of the American identity will continue to rot and, whether liberals and independents like it or not, eat away at the fabric of American life as a whole.”

Or maybe I’ve just got too much affinity for Hektor than is healthy. We’ll see, I guess.