Family and Culture

It’s a common worry among conservatives these days — and I suppose all days, all times — that what is going on in popular culture is more of a corrupting influence on our children than it is a positive influence. I’ve written about it several times, and I’ve acted on it several times as well. Certain cartoons have been prohibited from the Girl’s viewing due to the behavior modeled, and I’ve more than once worried about what kinds of interactions go on at school on the playground and at the lunch table.

But these are small worries, I see now.

I’m currently reading The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia by Orlando Figes — the topic fairly succinctly described in that subtitle. The opening chapters deal with what life was like immediately after the 1917 October Revolution and the years immediately afterward. What strikes me is the double life everyone soon had to live. Because everyone at that time had grown up in the pre-revolutionary period, they still had a non-Bolshevik mindset. What if you didn’t particularly agree with the Bolshevik principles? Could you have a mini-revolution in your family, raising your children to act one way and think another? Could you go against culture?

The simple answer is no. It was an enormous risk. What if your child accidentally blurts out in school something critical you said at the dinner table? Or worse, with the schools becoming the primary indoctrination mechanism for the children, what if your child drinks the Kool Aid and begins to see you as an anti-Soviet thought criminal? The book details accounts of both incidents occurring, so neither is wild speculation.

I think back to the uproar a few years ago about Obama’s address to students. An acquaintance said, “I’m not letting Obama indoctrinate my child!” as if it could happen in one speech, some kind of magical brain washing that effectively changes a child in a few-minute address. I think of the email we received this week at school detailing the district’s plan to let parents opt out of watching the inauguration: presumably some parents might have had the same fear about Trump. In both cases, such a naive view of what indoctrination means.

Trump and Obama

So it’s support Trump at all costs? Support him no matter what? One can’t be a conservative and criticize him?

The simple truth of the matter is that Trump has done so many things about which conservatives would have been absolutely livid had Obama done them that it leaves moderates like me scratching our heads, wondering where the moral steadfastness that Republicans so pride themselves on could have gone.

What if Obama had refused to release his tax returns? What if there were serious questions about Obama’s relationship with Russia? What if Obama, long before being president, had exhibited sexist, predatory behavior that had been recorded? What if Obama suggested that Fox News was fake news, the enemy of the American people? What if Obama had issued an executive order that the judiciary later restrained, and he’d begun attacking the credentials of the judge? What if Obama had made disparaging comments about the family of a slain soldier? What if Obama had lied again and again about the extent of his electoral victory? What if Obama had said that if one of his daughters wasn’t his daughter, he’d be dating her? What if Obama had refused to divest himself completely of business ventures that could create conflicts of interest when he’s president?

I mean, his lies about Putin are on video.

Any single one of these things, which range from trivial to cricitial, would have made Republicans livid had Obama done it. But to have done them all? “Impeachment” would have been on the lips of every Republican in the land. And yet these same conservatives are strangely okay with it when their side does it. What’s more, when conservatives do raise questions about it, they’re instantly labeled “traitor” and “rino.” There’s a word for that. And it troubles many of us to see it so brazenly on display.

Party Allegiance

There’s been a lot of talk in conservative circles about Republican party allegiance, with three incidents in particularly coming into play: the three Republican senators who scuttled Trumpcare, Lindsey Graham’s comments about who should support him and who shouldn’t, and Bob Corker and Tim Scott’s criticism of Trump’s handling of the attack in Charlottesville.

Most widely known, nationally anyway until Charlottesville, was Susan Collins’s, Lisa Murkowski’s and John McCain’s voting against the so-called skinny repeal bill that would roll back portions of Obamacare. They were ridiculed for their actions, called “Rinos” (Republican In Name Only), traitors, and worse. And yet why? Because they voted their conscience?

That’s exactly the action I want from my senators. I don’t want them to be mindlessly following some party platform and voting this way because it’s the establishment Republican way to vote. The same applies to Democrats.

I don’t vote Republican because I expect the office-holders always to vote Republican. I vote Republican because, by and large, many of the Republican positions resonate with my own positions. I’m more liberal on many social matters, though, and most of my views regarding education would still be considered left-leaning. But I vote Republican because that’s the way my conscience leans, and I would hope that Republican office-holders are the same.

However, the Republican party is not perfect, and I don’t expect it to be. And I expect office-holders to feel the same way. I don’t expect them to vote Republican for everything because everything Republican is far from perfect.

The alternative is simple: blind party allegiance. It means putting your thinking aside, putting your conscience aside, and going with whatever the party says. It is willfully surrendering your freedom to think for yourself. Blind party allegiance is unhealthy and dangerous: Blind party allegiance is the mentality of members of the Supreme Soviet and the Nazi party — our party is right no matter what! — and not of a well-functioning republic. I would add “like ours” to that last statement, but I don’t think it’s a particularly well-functioning republic right now.

Susan Collins, Republican PartyMany of those who call the three Republicans who voted against the skinny repeal RINOs and such likely don’t even know why they voted that way. Collins explained it thus:

In a statement after the final vote early Friday, Collins said that while she supported components of the final plan and that many Americans are suffering under Obamacare, she said Republican leaders punted on many difficult questions.

“We need to reconsider our approach,” she said. “The ACA is flawed and in portions of the country is near collapse. Rather than engaging in partisan exercises, Republicans and Democrats should work together to address these very serious problems.” (Source)

In other words, she was trying to make the process more republican (notice the lower-case “r”). She was, in my view, behaving like an adult who understands that we don’t always get everything we want, and that compromise and cooperation is always necessary. The other option is not democracy, but it does indeed begin with the same letter.

Lindsey Graham, Republican PartyThe second, less-well-known case is here in South Carolina, where Senator Lindsey Graham clarified his position on deporting DREAMers:

“I’m excited about giving you a chance to live the rest of your life” in America, Graham said of DREAMers.

“I embrace you, and I want you to succeed,” he said, speaking at a press conference with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

“To the people who object to this, I don’t want you to vote for me. Because, I cannot serve you well,” he said. (Source)

According to Fox News, this was “Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) [telling] voters who support deporting children covered under the DREAM Act that he didn’t want their vote.” It has the connotation, when framed like that, that Graham was saying, “Take your vote and shove it.” That’s the connotation I take from it. Yet look at how he himself framed it: “I don’t want you to vote for me, because I cannot serve you well.” He seems to be framing it in terms of talking frankly to voters: “If this is what you want, I’m not your best choice.” That seems to me highly ethical, surprisingly ethical for the stereotype of politicians misleading people to get votes. He could have said nothing and voted that way despite his earlier implications, by membership in the Republican party, that he would vote for laws that result in DREAMers getting deported and then vote differently. I admire the man for his frankness.

Some Republicans have suggested that this makes him a RINO, too, because he differs from the party line in this particular area. Some have even called him a traitor. For such Republicans, it’s the party line or nothing. Such politicians don’t have the right to call themselves Republican because these other Republicans disagree with their stance on one particular question.

Tim Scott, Republican PartyThe final and most recent example comes with Republican criticism of Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville attack and his suggestion that the counter-protesters were as much to blame as the white nationalist protesters. Bob Corker and Tim Scott both criticized Trump for his response, with the former suggesting that it illustrated that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and the latter saying that Trump’s “comments on Tuesday started erasing the comments that were strong. What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority” (Source).

Bob Corker, Republican Party

These two Republican senators criticized, in specific and pointed terms, the behavior of a sitting Republican president, an act which for some is unthinkable. Out came the claims of being a Republican in name only, of being traitorous.

One wonders for such Republicans who are so keen on labeling others in their party just what Trump would have to do to earn their criticism. Trump, during the primary season, suggested that he could go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any followers. Perhaps for some, he’s right.

Increasing Partisanship

In 2015, Real Clear Politics published an article about such partisanship called “Political Partisanship: In Three Stunning Charts.” The first is most telling.

It shows that in 1949, Republicans and Democrats couldn’t really expect their party-elected officials to vote solidly according to party lines. They leaned left and leaned right, it seems, but didn’t always vote the party line.

There are a lot of potential explanations for this. In 1949, the world was still recovering from the Second World War, which was a time of relative political unity in the States. We were united in fighting the Nazis and Imperial Japan: war always heightens the “us” side of the us/them divide. But look more closely: even in a period of division, like the 1960s, there was more cross-party voting than today.

The Effect of Technology

When did it really start to split? Look at 1979 — that’s when two separate peaks are clearly visible with an ever-widening gulf between them. It grew in the 1980s, then exploded in the 1990s. It corresponds fairly well with the rise of cable and the growth of the internet. The net allows people to tune into information sources that confirm their pre-existing biases.

Pew Research did a survey about the “scale of ideological consistency” of viewers and their preferred information outlet:

Those who lean left can comfortably ignore opposing viewpoints if they wish; those who lean right can easily find a comparable echo chamber. Sites like left-leaning Daily Kos and right-leaning Breitbart promote hyper-partisanship: Commenters and writers alike regularly suggest that the other side is the other side because of stupidity and selfishness. People derogatorily call the other side “wingnuts” and “Demoncrats,” dehumanizing them and making it easier to discount the opposing view. These name-calling echo chambers we’ve created on the internet foster an us/them mentality that might be useful for defeating the Axis powers but are not particularly conducive to continuing an effective republic.

When you only hang around people with a right-leaning or left-leaning view that corresponds to your own, your idea of where “center” or “moderate” lie on the political spectrum gets skewed. The result is almost comical if the fate of our nation didn’t ultimately lie in the balance: Ask someone on the far left what a conservative newspaper is, and he might name the New York Times. Ask someone on the far right what a liberal newspaper is, and he’s likely to give the same response.

What’s even more troubling is the recent tendency, particularly in the right-wing camp, of assigning the dismissive label “fake news” to anything that disrupts their right-leaning bias. It allows the wholesale creation of “alternative facts,” as Kellyanne Conway labeled them, which might not be facts at all. In other words, this hyper-partisanship has descended to the level that people don’t even agree on what a fact is anymore.

Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expressions of individuality. And in this precipitous decline of values and literacy, among those who cannot read and those who have given up reading, fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is being seeded

Empire of Illusion

--Chris Hedges


The key is to keep things in the proper perspective, as it is with most things in life. We just came out of a mini-drought, with very little rain at all for weeks, and the rain of the last week has replenished our water supply.

As the forecast worsened, I was confident. I’d just redone our basement work space that had flooded twice before, putting heavy-duty waterproof paint on the floor and up to the ground line and sealing the previously-unsealed holes in the concrete that were evidence of some previous owner’s battle with termites. We were ready with a pump in case it did flood. I’d redone the draining system, the failure of which had caused the first two floods. We were ready.

Sunday morning, though, we found water in the basement. Not much, but a bit. By the time I had gone back upstairs to change into more appropriate attire and had returned, there was noticeably more water. Significantly more water. I scanned for the source, but it didn’t seem to be coming from corner that was the usual source. I soon discovered the breach: one of the termite-poison-injection points had been compromised: water was literally bubbling out of the small hole as if it were a spring. I plugged it with a wine cork and set up the pump, only to discover that the two or so inches of water was not enough to trigger the pump. No fear: we had plenty more water in the crawl space and a shop vac. In the end, I pumped probably seven or eighth hundred or so gallons out of the crawl space at about two hundred gallons out of the work room.


The nicely-painted floor, though, was a wreck. But the overall damage was minimal, and the situation could have been much worse:

  • We had power.
  • We had a working pump to empty the crawl space.
  • We had a working shop vac to suck up the water that’s too shallow for the pump to draw up, which was basically all the water in the basement — but still.
  • Even if it totally flooded the basement, nothing down there was critical to daily living or irreplaceable.
  • The living area living of our house was highly unlikely ever to flood at all.

By the time we got the basement situation under control, the only real concern was the forest in the backyard. With such saturated ground and such relatively strong winds, everyone was saying that the compromised root systems of trees wouldn’t hold indefinitely. But they all held, and we escaped with no damage to speak of.


Throughout the day, the routine was the same:

  • Grade some papers.
  • Check the water level in the basement.
  • Hang out with the kids a while.
  • Repeat.

We all knew that the situation was worse the closer one got to the shore. When the pictures of the damage started appearing on the Internet, though, it was far beyond anything we’d expected.

So today, we went about or normal routines, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thankful for the ability to go to work this Monday morning.

Standing in Line

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we recall all the millions of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis, some of whom stood in line for the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Treblinka, at Chełmno, Belzec, and Sobibor. It is something unthinkable for me: why stand peacefully in line? Why not fight? Of course it would be in vain, but why not resist? Of course in the early days, they might not have realized what was happening, for the Nazis went to great measures to hid the fact that they were about to die. Still, rumors spread as the Holocaust continued, as people escaped from camps and told their stories, and many knew what was about to happen. Still, they stood in line for showers that many of them knew were not actual showers. Perhaps they did not want to panic their children. Perhaps they wanted their last moments to be as peaceful as possible. Whatever the reason, many of them waited in line.

Women and children waiting in a small wooded area near Crematorium IV at Auschwitz.

Tonight, I was waiting in line at Barnes and Nobles when I saw the cover of this month’s Atlantic. The cover story is an article by Jeffrey Goldberg entitled, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” It is an article that details the stunning rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. Goldberg writes that “France’s 475,000 Jews represent less than 1 percent of the country’s population. Yet last year, according to the French Interior Ministry, 51 percent of all racist attacks targeted Jews.”

While the article dealt with, for example, the highly nationalistic, ultra-right Nation Front of France and Greece’s openly anti-Semitic Golden Dawn, Goldberg also spends a great deal of time discussing the rise of Islamic anti-Semitism.

Finkielkraut[, a French Jew,] sees himself as an alienated man of the left. He says he loathes both radical Islamism and its most ferocious French critic, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s extreme right-wing–and once openly anti-Semitic–National Front party. But he has lately come to find radical Islamism to be a more immediate, even existential, threat to France than the National Front. “I don’t trust Le Pen. I think there is real violence in her,” he told me. “But she is so successful because there actually is a problem of Islam in France, and until now she has been the only one to dare say it.”

Goldberg goes on to give numbers: “Violence against Jews in Western Europe today, according to those who track it, appears to come mainly from Muslims, who in France, the epicenter of Europe’s Jewish crisis, outnumber Jews 10 to 1.”

Yet for secular, left-leaning Western Europe, there is a problem: Muslims are seen as victims just as much as Jews. Scratch that: more so: “’People don’t defend the Jews as we expected to be defended,’ [Finkielkraut] said. ‘It would be easier for the left to defend the Jews if the attackers were white and rightists.'” Even Goldberg seems to see the problem with Islamic anti-Semitism as a question of social injustice rather than a theological component of Islam itself when he explains that the “failure of Europe to integrate Muslim immigrants has contributed to their exploitation by anti-Semitic propagandists and by recruiters for such radical projects as the Islamic State, or ISIS.” One only has to look at imams’ comments coming out of the Middle East to see the prevailing contemporary view of Jews in the Islamic world.

As I stood in line, though, not having read the article, I was initially taken aback: I thought for a moment it might be an extreme leftist anti-Zionist diatribe, and not just one that skates close to anti-Semitism but that openly embraces it. I decided I must read it when I got home, though. I looked down at the book I was purchasing, ironically about Auschwitz, then glanced around the shop. A covered Muslim woman was approaching with her uncovered husband and son. I glanced at the book in my hand, glanced at the Muslim family, glanced at the magazine cover, and wondered at the irony of the moment.

Seeing You in Them and Them in You

Dear Terrance,

You did some work today. It’s a rare occurrence, to be honest, and most of the time you seem more interested in drawing attention to yourself by any negative means necessary. But today, for some reason, you worked.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it many times again, but the only substantive difference between you and the folks in the class you call “the smart class” is that they work as consistently as you disrupt. But if you could start to see them in yourself, perhaps we could start making some real progress.

However, I worry. I see you in another group all too easily. Perhaps you heard about the lynching that occurred in a Brooklyn McDonalds, where seven or so girls ganged up on a single girl and beat her unconscious while onlookers cheered, laughed, and filmed it on their cell phones. Sadly, it’s not too hard for me to imagine you among them, cheering the girls on, holding your cell phone while eagerly thinking about what you’ll tag this with on Twitter. Not a single patron stepped in to help the girl, who ironically is now bragging on social media about the fame she has. Twisted world, Terrance, and sadly, as I said, I can somehow see you in that crowd. It’s not hard to imagine.

But after seeing you work today, it’s not hard imagining you being in an entirely different group.

The choice is yours, I suppose, but I wonder if it hasn’t already been made through fourteen years of habituated behavior. I hope not, because the future of people who stand around and cheer while someone is getting assaulted is not a bright one. You deserve better, so choose better.

With a glimmer of hope,
Your Teacher

Boston Balloon

In footage likely to become as iconic as the shots of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, we can see all we really need to understand, at some gut level, what happened in Boston today. Shortly after the first explosion, shortly after the smoke and dust begin to rise, we see them.

1-Fullscreen capture 4152013 82405 PM

Three balloons suddenly drift up from smoke and dust, lost balloons that drift away from the carnage almost effortlessly. I didn’t notice it the first time, but, as on 9/11, the networks showed the same footage again and again and again. Finally, I noticed them. And shortly after that, I shuddered at the implication. In all likelihood, someone was holding those balloons, and the jolt and jerk of the explosion caused whoever was holding the balloon to let go.

And then I thought of who usually holds balloons.

2-Fullscreen capture 4152013 82440 PM

We’re all like that hypothetical kid holding the balloon, the kid who might very well be this boy. Or the three-year-old who sustained significant, possibly life-threatening injuries. We hold on tightly to the little bits of comfort we’ve found in life until something like this jars us, makes us wonder whether it’s all about to float away like ether.


Nightjohn tells the story of a young slave girl, Sarny, who surreptitiously begins learning how to read — an act that is utterly forbidden for a slave. She and John, her teacher, face potential whipping and worse in scratching out letters in the dust of the slave quarters. It’s a vivid example of the power of education and literacy, and the two classes of mine that are reading it have become utterly engrossed. So when I was munching on peanuts during my planning period, taking the ten minute news break I allow myself, and I read the story of Malala Yousafzai, I knew I had to incorporate her story into our unit.

Malala Yousafzai in her hospital bed

Yesterday I had students read an article from the Washington Post, practicing some literacy strategies we’ve worked on this year to make sense of the difficult passages, then had students write a brief compare/contrast paragraph about Malala’s situation and the dangers Sarny faces in the book. The parallels are striking: both girls are risking death for an education; both girls are being denied an education because of xenophobia; both girls defiantly stand up to the xenophobia; both girls suffer because of their courage — the list could be virtually endless.

Today, the students came into class talking about the story.

“I watched it on the news. The article we read said she was shot in the neck, but on the news, they said she was shot in the head,” one girl explained.

“Yeah,” another added, “but I heard she’s been moved to another hospital and should be okay.”

They continued this way for some time and were excited when they discovered the bell ringer included passages from Yousafzai’s diary.

At the end of the day, when my first period comes back for the final thirty minutes of “flex time” (which doesn’t seem to be as flexible as the name would indicate), a girl who often seems disengaged and occasionally even refuses simply to do anything in class came in excited to tell me that the Yousafzai story was featured on the daily kids news show students watch in social students.

“Mr. Scott, she wasn’t shot in the neck,” she explained. “She was shot in the neck and the head!” She, who sometimes would sleep through class if I allowed it, was excited, engaged, and eager to discuss it — one of those moments that make me realize what a blessing it is to be a teacher.


“I’ll just head out now, while the rice is cooking,” I called out to K, keys in hand, heading out for a quick run to the grocery store. I pulled out of the drive way, and as I came to the intersection, I saw something odd: a police car blocking the road at the next intersection — my destination. I continued, thinking there must have been an accident and planning on taking a back route. I glanced down the blocked street and saw a sight one doesn’t see often except on the news: dozens of men running around in hazardous materials suits.


What to do? Go back for the camera and tripod.


I was the only one with a camera — other than the local Fox affiliate crew — but there was a small crowd gathering. The officer blocking the road replied, “Hey, I’ve got no idea myself,” to all queries, but we all knew.


With that much haz-mat protection, it could only be one of two things. Neither is something you want in your neighborhood.


“The coroner hasn’t arrived yet,” laughed one of the spectators, “so we know it’s not a pile of dead bodies in the basement.”


“And we know they weren’t growing a little grass in the basement,” another added. The group consensus: meth lab.


And sure enough, it was. Odd and rather creepy to think that I passed a house every day for several years where such nefarious, lethal behavior occurred. Most chilling: I’ve seen children playing in that yard.

Coincidentally enough, there was another drug bust in our little town on Friday.

Post-Post-Democracy America

Twenty-four hours and I’m changed. Not radically, and not necessarily in a more optimistic direction, but thoughts have settled and I’ve reached some conclusions, as well as realized additional concerns.

If the issue was purely freedom of expression, the court had no choice but to make the decision it did. The First Amendment is just that — the first. Prima. It’s the basis of all the other amendments and freedoms we enjoy. If one is going to shut down a corporation’s right to free speech, what about newspapers, which are also corporations? There’s no sensible way to draw the line.

All of this leads me to a deeper concern. The idea has crossed my mind before, but Citizens United is making it seem all the more relevant: our eighteenth-century constitution is not always ideally suited to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

One of the most famous, if not most eloquent, pleas for freedom of speech is Milton’s “Areopagitica,” yet that excellent example of persuasive writing is deeply flawed. I’m not simply referring to the narrow freedom of speech for which Milton argues: “Papists” are denied the right as if it were as natural as denying free speech to boulders. Instead, I’m referring to Milton’s contention that there was no censorship in classical times. He’s right, but what was there to censor? There was absolutely no means of mass communication in Socrates’ Athens: he was many centuries removed from a printing press. Thus, it is disingenuous of Milton to make a comparison between the age of Socrates and seventeenth-century England. Regarding communication and potential censorship, there are almost no similarities between the two ages. Specifically, there was virtually nothing to censor in classical Greece compared to Miltonian England.

Similarly, there are very few similarities between twenty-first century America and colonial America. Communication with the entire citizenry now is instantaneous; in the Framers’ day, it took days. There was nothing like the “too big to fail” corporations that exist today, and with the possible exception of some trading companies, multi-national corporations were nonexistent.

Had such things been the eighteenth-century reality, would the Framers have created the same constitution? Most probably not. And it might be a good thing that the internet and General Electric were not the reality: the Constitution is remarkable for its brevity, and I highly doubt modern politicians could match it, or even come close.

Still, that brevity is due in large measure to the relative simplicity of the times. Occasionally, I think it comes back to haunt us.

We have an option: the Framers were wise enough to see the need for an evolving document. We can pass new amendments but those are few and very far between. Peter Shane at the left-leaning Huffington Post has already created a first draft for just such an amendment:

Sec. 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, Congress may prohibit or otherwise regulate political contributions and expenditures by commercial, for-profit corporations for any federal office.

Sec. 2. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, States may prohibit or otherwise regulate political contributions and expenditures by commercial, for-profit corporations for any state or local office, or for any state or local referendum or initiative, within their jurisdiction, and may delegate such regulatory. (Huffington Post)

Amending the First doesn’t seem wise or even feasible. But what about a 14th-Amendment style definition of personhood? The Fourteenth Amendment was designed, in part, to overrule the Dred Scott decision of 1857. It sets forth the very broad conditions of citizenship:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Couldn’t we do something similar? After all, every contract in America begins by defining all the terms in the contract. Shouldn’t the Constitution have something similar?

Post-Democracy America

It might be a little too early to begin carving the tombstone, but SCOTUS made a valiant, naive effort to destroy American democracy and prove everything George Carlin said about corporate America absolutely valid.

Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission might very well go down in history as the most significant change to American democracy since the ratification of the Constitution.

Elections will soon become a shower of cash and attack ads. Candidates will be unable to keep up with corporate spending, and in an act of self-defense (the name of a populist political party in Poland, ironically enough), campaign spending limits will disappear and an election, even more so than now, will be a question of capital.

How many Americans know about this decision? “Who won last night?” “What happened on Idol last night?” “Have you seen that new iPhone app?” These are the concerns of the average American; SCOTUS rulings generally go unnoticed by everyone but law school professors, academics, and attorneys. We pay attention to the tube, and while we might notice an increase in political ads, who is going to notice who is paying for those ads? Who is going to think critically about what the advertisement’s financial backer gains by our buying into that interpretation of this or that politician’s stance or legislative plan? Swift Boat showed how effective an ad campaign can be. We’re sure to see more of it — exponentially more.

The SCOTUS has sold us out, in short. Our voice is no longer heard because our fiscal contributions — and let’s face it: that’s what gets you heard today — are insignificant compared to Big Tobacco, Big Insurance, Big Unions, Big Everything.

Big Capitalism; Little Us.

It’s not just the outcome that’s disturbing: equally troubling is how this case played out.

The court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity, and it scheduled arguments during its vacation. (NYT Editorial)

There is hope for remediation: the legislature could require share holders to approve of a corporation’s political activities, for example. Whether that would that survive an inevitable challenge is a question I’m in no position to answer.

I do know that I haven’t felt this pessimistic about this country’s future in a very long time. Crony-capitalism and democracy went head to head: our democracy has one knee on the mat, and corporate America is sitting in a dark corner of the arena with a smug grin.

Opportunity Lost

Not many people have a chance, a clear-cut chance, to be magnanimous. Obama had one today, and he blew it. By his own admission he doesn’t deserve the Nobel prize, yet he accepted it, leading to countless howls from the right and some raised eyebrows on the left.

He should have declined to accept it. There’s precedent: Lê Ðức Thọ was awarded the Peace Prize (along with Kissinger) in 1973, but he did not accept it, explaining that there was still no peace in his country. He’s the only person to decline it, and it shows a certain honesty that is rare.

Obama should have said, “I am humbled by the honor bestowed upon me. However, I feel I do not deserve it; therefore, I respectfully decline to accept the award.”

What could anyone, on the right or the left, have said about that? Amid the inevitable cries of “political posturing,” a reasonable person could only, however begrudgingly, admit that it was a magnanimous decision.


BalanceI try hard in my class to keep my political and religious opinions hidden. When students asked me, “Who’d you vote for,” I simply replied, “That’s not a topic I feel is appropriate for the classroom.” Some students asked why; most seemed satisfied.

In today’s political climate, though, I’m not so much worried about students determining my political beliefs as much as I am concerned at the prospect of them thinking they have sorted out my political views — and then discussing that with their parents

We were working on Greek and Latin roots and affixes today in class, and we came to the word “magnanimous.” We went over the meaning, and as an example of magnanimity, the name “Obama” floated into the room.

To say I equivocated (another of today’s vocab words) would be an understatement. I was, for at least three to four seconds, speechless. Running through my head were concerns with how to avoid even an appearance of bias and a bit of paranoia about what might happen if I couldn’t succeed in the attempt.

“Sure,” I said haltingly. “Especially when he speaks. Most presidents seem magnanimous when they’re addressing large groups.”

Why couldn’t it have simply been “Sure?” Even if there weren’t all the political frothing at the mouth about Obama’s recent address to students, I would have been uncomfortable leaving it politically unbalanced. But I wouldn’t have briefly panicked about it.

Later in the day, in going over a new selection, we were discussing when it was morally permissible to defy a law, and the general conclusion hovered around the idea of unjust laws. We made a list of people in history and literature who’d done this: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Thoreau. Someone mentioned Robin Hood, and I replied, “True — robbing the rich to give to the poor.”

From the back row comes a distinct, unsolicited comment: “Just like Obama.”

I let it slide, choosing not even to acknowledge it, which I think was the right decision. Still, that panic returned. “If I let it stand, will I look like I agree and that my class has a political bias? If I mention it’s inappropriateness, even if I say that the real problem was not the content but the method of delivery, will I look like an Obama defender?”

And then I thought, “I’m worried about appearing to defend the President of the United States?”

It’s not that I’m concerned about some McCarthy-ian consequences. I couldn’t lose my job about something so trivial. But in this time of heightened sensitivity toward anything connected to Obama, particularly here in South Carolina, where many folks view Representative Wilson as a hero, I find myself thinking, “You can never be too careful.”

Constantly thinking about the political implications of student and teacher remarks makes for particularly effect pedagogy.