Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pinning My Hopes...

[Here comes another weekend non-medical rant. This one is purely political.]

Might it really happen that Barack Obama wins the nomination and then loses the election for the lack of a lapel pin? Or a hand not over his heart? If the right wing bloggers and their oily machine (and even the "mainstream") have anything to say about it, he will. Throughout some parts of the political world, people are screaming about his pinless lapel. The horror!

Patriotism is no more about a lapel pin than love is about a charm bracelet. Or than support of our troops is about slapping a magnet on your car. In fact, when I think about the destruction to America's future and its ideals and laws that has been wreaked by the lapel-pin-wearing occupants of the West Wing of late, I'd propose the opposite relationship may well be true. There seems a smugness, a sense that as long as one wears the pin, any behavior is exempt from criticism: look at me, I'm a patriot. So sit the hell down and shut the hell up.

In choosing not to wear a lapel flag, I think Senator Obama is saying, "I'm not about short cuts and symbolism, which are so easy and so deceptive. I'm about saying what I mean and doing what I say, and letting that speak for me." Anyone can wear a pin and hope to hide behind it. Lapel pins are inexpensive, and not just in dollars. In the current climate, I find them a lot tainted and a little suspicious. And, mind you, I've gone to veterans' political rallies wearing my Purple Heart pin. Proudly.

Sometimes I've wished that he'd just poked one through that little hole and moved on. Why give the screamers a screed? But then I think how principled and brave it is to eschew a symbol that has been perverted and diluted and which, in its ubiquity among the slimiest of politicians, has become meaningless at best, and a perversion of patriotism at worst. Who'd want to accessorize like Tom Delay and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove? Or this guy. I think how utterly cynical, given the challenges that face the US, is the outrage of those who spread the smear, and how credulous in those who buy it. But on it rages. For a lot of voters -- maybe most -- it's easier to latch onto a spurious and simple-minded meme than to sink one's teeth into the meat of our problems. Rove knew that, and played it like a harp from hell.

What, in fact, is patriotism? Surely it's not as simple as what you wear. Is it love of country? I suppose it is; but what does that mean? What does it require, and how do you show it? Much as I admired JFK, when he said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," I had questions. For whom is the government established, itself or us? Is it enough to work hard, follow the rules, educate yourself before you vote (and vote!), pay taxes, give to charities if you can afford it? Does the average person owe more? Obedience, acquiescence? Conversely, can you be considered a patriot if you render prisoners to other countries to be tortured? Is it patriotic to put the country trillions of dollars in debt and walk away, leaving it for others to fix? Wearing a lapel pin, it seems, absolves one of many sins. "Patriotism" has become just a concept with which to bludgeon one's rivals. Lightly it is that we use the word; empty it is of meaning. Like Yoda am I writing.

Barack Obama has been criticized for having too hopeful a vision of what's possible. But when he argues for a new kind of politics that brings people together over old divisions, when he says that the changes we need to restore viability require support from the bottom up (as opposed to the current top down, we're-in-charge-and-you're-not approach), it simply cannot be seen as the words of someone who doesn't love and want something good for his country, head in the clouds or not. Lapel pin or not.

To me, this is what's most attractive about Barack Obama: when he talks about "change" he's referring to exactly this kind of bullshit. He's asking (and, I'd aver, not just for his own sake) that people resoundingly reject politics that is all about fear and smear. The kind that, rather than discussing and trying to resolve the challenges we face, resorts to lies and innuendo to destroy a candidate. There is, I'd like to hope (and sometimes actually allow myself to believe-- oops, well, there it went again -- that was fast!) a huge portion of the country that's sick and tired of it. But the only (slim, very slim) chance that it could disappear is if the electorate stands up and demands it. By electing someone who specifically decries and overtly eschews it, and by unelecting those who don't. On both sides of the aisle. A pox on 'em all.

What if patriotism is redefined? What if we had a president who implored people to stay involved by letting their elected representatives know what they think, clearly and often? What if he said to the nation, "Now we need to address healthcare (or the deficit, or energy policy, or....) This is where I think we start, but we need legislators to come together. Whether you agree with my ideas or not, let your congressperson and senators know, demand they get to work. Email them; keep the pressure on them. They will respond to numbers, or risk losing their jobs." It's pretty simple, tapping out an email. But in that context, what could be more patriotic? What if people actually did it? Isn't that what Barack Obama is asking of us?

And as to the hand-over-heart thing: next time you're at a baseball game, look around during the Anthem. You'll see guys with hats on, beer in hand (bet they have "United We Stand" bumper stickers.) You'll also see people standing attentively, singing along with hats in hand and arms at their sides (that'd be me, doing the bass harmony). Bet those folks are all glad to be there and not in another country. Bet their devotion to country is a lot less than one running for President, risking it all.


scalpel said...

My Solution to Iraq Is to Never Have Gone There: An Editorial by Senator Barack Obama

scalpel said...

At the risk of being accused of Rethuglican smear tactics, I submit that Obama appears to have similar weaknesses as Tom DeLay.

He's not the Messiah he would like you to think he is. Hey, it's not from the Free Republic, it's the Gray Lady.

Sid Schwab said...

I can't make the link work. But I'm sure it's a devastating and profound deconstruction of everything he's ever done. And completely debunks the idea that being exactly right on the invasion has any relevance to his candidacy.

Sid Schwab said...

I was referring to the first link: when I wrote my response your second comment wasn't there. The Rezko thing is of concern. The Gray Lady, right-winger rants to the contrary, tries more than most to call it down the middle. On the other hand, it would take several hundred Rezkos (the significance of which remains somewhat unclear) to even get into the anteroom of Tom Delay's house of horrors.

scalpel said...

He's just an up-and-coming DeLay then. A DeLay in progress, if you will.

Sid Schwab said...

Other than the fact that his approach (let's try to work together) is the exact opposite of DeLay (let's destroy the other side and then piss on their graves), you're probably right.

scalpel said...

He hasn't exactly been very compromising in his Senate votes. He follows the party line every single time, except when he votes "present."

Talk is cheap.

Patrick Bageant said...

Scalpel at the NY Times!

Kinda' calls your patiotism into question, if you ask me . . .

Seriously, comparing Obama to DeLay is so ridiculously out of touch and silly that I'm just going to assume you meant it tongue in cheek. But there is something to your Obama-as-Messiah observation (though I don't think that is Dr. Schwab's position). There is something a little cultish about some Obama supporters. But, every candidate has a weirdo or two in their camp, and it is a mistake to make inferences about the candidate based a few of his or her supporters. (It would be like coming to conclusions about you based on, say, the less-than-mainstream readers of your blog.)

Personally, I have really come around to Obama in the last three months. Six months ago I found the flag pin thing sleazy. Now I find it a relief. Frankly, I don't know precisely what he means when he talks about "change" but I do know that I feel tired by the sameness of American Presidential politics, and his candidacy seem to fall outside that same old pattern.

scalpel said...

I really couldn't care less about his flag pin (or lack thereof), his middle name, his race, his church, or his wife...although all of those issues will cost him a few votes.

But his vague and empty promises are not inspiring, his promise to raise taxes is a losing platform, and if the Rezko issue is as bad as it looks, then he's just another corrupt jerk who needs to be flushed from politics altogether.

If liberals were serious about wanting change, then they wouldn't tolerate such things from their own Harry Reids, Hillary Clintons, or Barack Obamas any more than they do from the Tom DeLays of the other party.

Again, talk is cheap.

Patrick Bageant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sid Schwab said...

His plan to raise taxes (on you, but not on those making less than 250K) is an honest statement of what it will take to deal with the Bush deficits and the falling dollar. His "vague" promises are, in fact, stated in detail on his website and in many speeches. At some point, even Republicans will have to see that you can't keep lowering taxes and have an economy left; some might even grow the balls to say so.

By the time a bill comes to vote, there's no compromise. The work is in the writing of the bill. And the "present" votes were in Illinois, and have been explained to anyone who wants to understand.

One sleazy supporter. Out of how many? Shall we revisit McCain and Keating? Or rather, should we talk about the issues?

scalpel said...

He promised to raise taxes on everyone making over 75K during the Austin debate, which corresponds to those individuals/families who are already paying 75% of all taxes that are collected in this country. Hillary is the one who mentioned the 250K number (but she's lying, of course).

Cutting spending isn't mentioned by either one of them.

Sid Schwab said...

McCain talks about eliminating earmarks. Where's the real money? Defense, SS, and Medicare/medicaid. None talks about any of those in terms of cuts. Cutting spending is just hot air until they get to those issues. If Obama really said 75K (I watched the debate and didn't hear that), then it might be an example of saying what people "need to hear," rather than what they want to hear, as he's said. McCain is even worse: he said the Bush tax cuts were outrageous during war, and too skewed toward the rich. Now.... There simply is no way to bring the budget into balance without a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Neither alone will ever pass. Clearly you (scalpel) are happy with the Bush foreign policy and economy, and there's no changing that. The good news is that in McCain you'll have exactly that for another four years. So you're in good shape. As you know, I think he's been the worst president we've ever had, and for many more reasons than the above. I happen to think that Obama, were he elected with enough of a margin, might actually make good on his concept of working together on the issues that have, under Bush, become possibly insoluable and terminally devisive. I'm realistic to know it's not likely. But it's impossible if we continue to govern from the extremes, constantly using division to get votes. He says he won't. For now, I'll believe it. If he can't, or won't, then I have no doubt we're on the path to self-destruction. We've lived in 900 square foot homes, and we can do it again. But I don't like heat all that much.

scalpel said...

The Bush Tax Cuts resulted in increased overall tax collections, while still increasing the relative burden of taxes paid by the "rich."

"Consequently, from 2000 to 2004, the share of all individual income taxes paid by the bottom 40 per­cent dropped from zero percent to –4 percent, mean­ing that the average family in those quintiles received a subsidy from the IRS. (See Chart 6.) By contrast, the share paid by the top quintile of households (by income) increased from 81 percent to 85 percent."

You should read this, and not be misled by the "conventional wisdom" or the dreams of your favorite orator. Eliminating the Bush tax cuts won't help fix the deficit, and it won't just raise taxes on people like you and me. If you actually pay taxes, Obama or Hillary will raise them, guaranteed.

If you think we all should pay more taxes, then go ahead and vote Democrat. Democrats love raising taxes. But if you think that it's just going to be "the rich" who are paying more taxes, then you are mistaken.

Ros said...

Has it occurred to you that Obama's lack of a lapel pin may, in fact, be a concious and intelligent choice designed to give his more moronic opponents a rather absurd object to over-focus on? I don't believe in politics at all, success in politics requires corruption IMHO, but any time a public figure could have a clever, manipulative motive instead of a well considered philosophical position which just happens to benefit their goal... I'd wager on the former.

Obama is well advised and not an unintelligent man himself. If he were given the choice of having his louder attackers picking on his actual history or his lack of a trumped up symbol of patriotism which would he select?

Any time you hear a politician speak before you identify yourself with their comments, or even assess whether you agree or not, ask yourself why they spoke as they did. That poise, that polish they all pride themselves on when they speak, it's the same shown by a carnival barker. The goal comes first, and the expression of whatever flimsy grip they still have on truth or their own real beliefs is a distant third.

Good grief, do I sound like a cynic or a paranoid?

Sid Schwab said...

scalpel: on the other hand.....

rlbates said...

Dr. Sid, I'm enjoying (and learning from) the exchange between you and Scalpel.

SeaSpray said... too...most interesting.

scalpel said...

Reasonable people can, and do, disagree about the impact of the tax cuts, but it's clear that the overwhelming majority of income taxes are paid by the highest quartile of income earners. So any cuts in taxes are going to seem disproportionately beneficial to the "wealthy," but remember that higher income does not equal wealth.

If someone is paying $60,000 per year in federal income taxes and their taxes are cut by 10%, then they will save $6,000. Another individual who only pays $6,000 per year in federal taxes would maybe only save $600 (actually more, according to this Bush Tax Cut calculator). On the surface this seems unfair, but the impact of the extra $600 on the lower earner is likely to be similar, or perhaps even more than that of the extra $6000 to the higher earner.

And the higher earner is still paying over $48,000 more in taxes than the lower earner. He has around 3 times the after-tax income, but he pays 10 times as much taxes. Does he receive 10 times the value of government services?

But let's not quibble about the progressive tax system. Let's just understand that if the Democrats are successful in eliminating the Bush tax cuts, all taxpayers are going to pay more in taxes. And we haven't even mentioned Obama's promise to raise the ceiling on the Social Security tax.

Bottom line: if the middle class guy's taxes go up $600, then he might have trouble paying his credit card bill. If the higher earner's taxes go up $6,000, he might fire his nanny or skip that vacation in Aspen.

Richard said...

Bottom line: if the middle class guy's taxes go up $600, then he might have trouble paying his credit card bill. If the higher earner's taxes go up $6,000, he might fire his nanny or skip that vacation in Aspen.

That statement in itself is true, but I fail to understand how that advances your argument. Should we then just raise taxes only on the wealthy and on corporations?

Because those are the groups that had the largest decreases in tax rates under GW Bush.

Not Important said...

I'm imagining a melodramatic scene where Obama, bruised and disheveled after a crowd of Limbaughts and Coulterons (heh) beats him up for a lack of a lapel pin, stares up at the sky, rips off his tie and tears open his shirt to reveal a lapel pin attached to his undershirt right over his heart. (The real one in the center, not the <3 one on the left.)

Lala!! said...

Hi, perhaps when you have read my blog and commented too I will start a book about the insight of life as a patient!

What an idea!!!

Intersting blog btw!

from a patient with a lot to say to the medical world and everybody else too!

oh and don't leave without a comment or ten will you?!!!

Sid Schwab said...

scalpel: there are a lot of "if"s in your comment. I don't agree that taxes will go up on the middle class; the opposite is what is proposed. Warren Buffet has said he thinks it outrageous that he pays a lower RATE than his secretary. And I, for one, don't criticize Obama for suggesting increasing the ceiling on SS: something like that HAS to be done. The magical thinking of the Bush and Reagan eras at some times has to meet up with reality. Funny thing is, there seem to be a lot of people willing to accept the truth.

If you're cool with deficit spending and happy to let your kids deal with it, then there's nothing I can really say beyond what I've already done.

Justine Johnston Hemmestad said...

I can't write like you or confused I will get!

Anonymous said...

Here's an article that speaks on the critisism regarding Obama's loyalty to America:
One of the comments reads: "...this isn't the kitchen sink. This is the toilet."

Anonymous said...

Oops, I don't think the address I gave works, but the article is on, and the link is: Clinton responds to Muslim question, and the article itself is called "Taking Obama at His Word." Sorry about all of that.

scalpel said...

Richard: "Should we then just raise taxes only on the wealthy and on corporations?"

Sure! Why not tax the wealthy and the corporations so much that everyone's income is exactly equal? That would be fair, wouldn't it? No.

Increasing taxes on those who produce things stifle the economy. Think of the poor nannies without jobs (who then REALLY can't pay their credit card bills), and the hotels that have to close down for lack of business, and all the employees there that would lose their jobs if nobody takes vacations. And then remember Cuba and the former Soviet Union.

Sid: "I, for one, don't criticize Obama for suggesting increasing the ceiling on SS: something like that HAS to be done."

Perhaps. But he's absolutely against raising the benefit age, which is ridiculous. Social security was meant to be a safety net, not a safety hammock. People are living longer healthier lives now than they used to.

mark's tails said...

Well written as usual and am enjoying the discussion in the comments. I love the fact that Obama has inspired people to become interested in politics again and I certainly agree with many of his policies and plans. Although they are very similar to Clinton's. My biggest concern however is his Iraq policy.

Don't get me wrong, I hated the fact that America went into Iraq unprovoked and like it was our 'divine' duty to do so. But now that we are there, just withdrawing troops does not seem like the right thing to do. With the chaos that is still Iraq it just seems as though the country would destabilize even more.

The problem was and still is "there is no viable exit strategy". If Iraq is left to manage it's own civil war then the extremists have the upper hand in a country that has been run by one for the last several decades. The new Iraq becomes the old Afghanistan.

Sid Schwab said...

mark's: I share your concerns. But it also seems unsustainable to keep on as were are forever. The huge issue for me is not that it'll become Afganistan, because it's mostly Shia, and they hate Sunnis, of which al Queda is composed. My concern is that there'll be a more violent civil war which will end up wiping out Sunnis, since they are such a minority. I don't see the Shia majority allowing al Queda to set up camp there. It's inevitable, as the recent visit of Ahmedinijad shows, that Iran will become the dominant power there, unless we, in effect, want to become Saddam: keeping the factions apart using force. That's, in fact, what we are: surrogate Saddam, in that sense. Actually, Afganistan has become Afganistan.

It's a horrible thing: because of Bush's disastrous mistake, we truly have no good option; but as it is, we are playing exactly into al Queda's hands, by staying there and ruining our military and economy and providing the greatest recruiting tool ever. At some point, as horrifying as it may be, we seem to face the prospect of leaving because we can't afford not to, and watching the true effects of Bush's error play out. It seems the only hope of avoiding conflagration is, in fact, to announce our intention to leave and work to get the regional powers to step in.

scalpel said...

In case anyone is interested in how things are going in Iraq, this is a very detailed collection of data (big pdf file, but worth it). It's pretty amazing how well the surge worked in decreasing attacks, deaths, and injuries. And the increased prevalence of telephones, internet access, media, and automobiles since we removed Saddam is remarkable as well.

Other measures are still works in progress, such as electricity and oil production/distribution, but those are starting to show some improvement. The polls still show that the Iraqis are dissatisfied, but the hard data are encouraging.

I wonder if they'd have been more satisfied if we'd just bombed them into the stone age and then left. That would have saved us a bunch of money and lives.

SeaSpray said...

Wow! I bookmarked that Scalpel.


Moving this post to the head of the list, I present a recently expanded sampling of what this blog has been about. Occasional rant aside, i...