Sunday, March 22, 2015

Step Back From That Ledge My Friend!

You may have noticed the other day that our good friend Kit was feeling a wee bit depressed. It's hard to blame him. We live in an appallingly cynical age. But you know what? There is hope.

Each of you knows the problem:
● Politics has become a game played by the fringes, but mastered by the Robber Barons. Conservatism seems long dead... as does liberalism, actually. The right killed Ronald Reagan’s conservatism and replaced it with Pat Buchanan’s paranoid xenophobia. The left has devolved into a collection of single-issue hate-groups. And the only business Washington achieves is what big business wants.

● Our businesses lie to our faces and then issue laughable non-apologies as they rob and abuse us. Our rich now feed off the life blood of the economy rather than build the economy, and they twist the laws to stifle competition.

● Our religions have become politicized and distorted. The Religious Right has turned Jesus into a hating machine. The left has made him immoral. At Mega Churches, he apparently wants you to drive an SUV. And Islam? WTF Islam! Good luck when any of you people die.

● Our intellectuals are hacks. They have abandoned thought and creativity and now mistake the semantic game of deconstruction for knowledge, insight and wisdom.

● Hollywood is turning out cynical, marketing-generated crap, which they dumb down to the lowest common denominator. The record industry keeps turning out the same song over and over and over, and they are selling white trash and ghetto culture. Hey baby, you’re not a ho just because you dance on a pole. Uh, yes you are.

● People seem angrier, stupider, and vastly more paranoid than ever before, and rage and personal destruction are the order of the day online.
This all sounds bad, but there is hope. In fact, I would even argue that the above is misleading. Consider this.

Our political system may be at a low right now, but it can change overnight. JFK renewed the spirit of the American people, who needed a spark after struggling with massive, unsettled race and ethnic issues. If not for LBJ, he might have transformed American much more successfully into a colorblind society with its eyes on the future. Ronald Reagan brought hope to a country that was stuck in malaise after two decades of the Great Society and the defeat in Vietnam. Overnight, the country renewed itself as the shining city on the hill and we re-took our natural place as the leader of the free world. This lasted until the GOP became obsessed with other people’s bedrooms and W. Bush redefined crony socialism and foreign policy incompetence as conservatism. Obama 2008 gave the country hope that we could end our racial problems and move beyond both the Second Gilded Age and the paranoid war footing 9/11 had put us on. That lasted until Obama 2009 proved to be Bush with a nasty, cynical attitude.

The point is this: the country renews itself all the time. And all it takes is the right person to inspire the country to leapfrog to a new approach. The right Republican can throw away the hate, the paranoia and the xenophobia and replace it with the conservatism of Ronald Reagan. The right Democrat could replace their tribalism with the kind of liberalism that attracted Reagan before the Democratic Party left him. Are such people waiting in the wings? It’s hard to tell, but look how quickly Obama rose from nobody to potential political messiah.

On the religious front, consider the new Pope. This is a man who seems determined to drive the politics and the money and the cynicism from the Catholic religion, but is doing so without taking an “anything goes” approach. Catholicism may not be the dominant religion in the US, but it is highly influential and I expect this to spread.

In terms of business, I’ve pointed out many things before to keep in mind. The technological progress being made in fields like electronics, safety and medicine are astounding... and they’re being done well outside the regulated industries, i.e. away from cronyism’s twisted reach. Most jobs are being created by small businesses, so big business is increasingly less important. Labor costs in places like China have risen so much that America is seeing a rebirth in its manufacturing sector. And forget this garbage about China having a bigger economy – that’s a claim made using a false formula that gives China credit for unrealistic things. In reality, China’s economy is 75% of ours and they will never catch us.

Movies are crap, yes. But television has entered a new golden age. In fact, television right now is better than anything movies or television ever created.

As for the paranoia, conspiracy theories and rage, think about this. Yes, talk radio is full of assholes who spew hate; not only political talk radio, but sports talk radio too. And the internet is full of the worst kinds of trolls who demonstrate just how sick and stupic human beings can be. But they cluster, which only makes them seem like they exist in larger numbers than they do. The reality is that their numbers are tiny compared to the rest of us. Rush, for example, has at times suggested he has 20 million listeners, but radio metrics show it is closer to 1.6 million... out of 310 million Americans.

Moreover, there has been a real change lately. Indeed, there have been several high profile instance lately where internet trolls have done their thing only to have an army of good people counter them. For example, there was a fat guy who got caught on film dancing and it went viral. All the trolls mocked him, only for a group of celebrities to invite him to a party to fight back against the trolls. Another guy took a half-court shot at a Duke basketball game and missed badly. Again, the trolls mocked him online. It turns out he has a rare disease that almost killed him and it wiped out his muscles. Thousands of people saw the mocking and sent him their support. There was a kid who had a birthday party, but no one came. This went viral and hundreds of people turned out. Every day, stories like this appear now which show that despite the sick f**ks who spend their time tearing everything down to make their pathetic lives feel better, there are huge numbers of people out there who don’t just let it pass anymore and they actively offer their support to the victims of these trolls. The point is, there are a vast number of great, caring people out there and they aren't silent anymore. And never forget the tens of thousands of people who participate in things like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Think too of the stories of the people who volunteer time and money to people they see who need help. Americans give around $350 BILLION to charity each year, with 75% of that coming from individuals, numbers which have risen year after year in real terms.

America may seem in decline, but it’s not. What is happening is that a tiny, tiny minority of people are presenting a distorted view of America. It’s like crime. Crime statistics show that we are in one of the lowest crime periods ever, yet people freak out because their nightly news is screaming about every crime they can find and people like Drudge are inventing nationwide crime epidemics like the “knock-downs.” It’s the same thing in other areas. When you look behind the numbers, you will see that Americans are a much different people than they are presented. We are kinder, more productive, more happy, and more neighborly. America is strong, and its flaws can be fixed.

Hang in there, folks!


ScottDS said...

Ted Cruz wants to be president... do you still stand by this article? :-)

Just a few notes...

You are correct in that the American people continue to show how generous they are. You mention the fat dancing guy and the kid's birthday party but, for me, the example that almost brings a tear to my eye is the autistic kid who loved vacuums so much that a vacuum cleaner salesman came to his birthday party (and naturally, the kid knew more about the product than the salesman did!).

If I were a rich man, the Make-a-Wish Foundation would be the one charity I donate to the most... and if I were famous (i.e.: someone people wanted to meet), I'd make sure they had me on speed dial. I believe wrestler John Cena holds the record for the most wishes granted—a wonderful record to have!

You talk about the GOP's obsession with other people's bedrooms but didn't the modern religious right as we know it grow under Reagan? Yes, I realize it was in response to the excesses of the 60s and 70s but isn't it safe to say he helped legitimize them? (And that they f---ing overdid it a bit!)

EPorvaznik said...

"In [our] darkest hour, you'd be well-advised not to plan [our] funeral 'fore the body dies ..."

Great stuff, AP!

tryanmax said...

ScottDS, I'd argue the religious right was well on its way to legitimization before Reagan, even if it was not yet christened as "right" (no pun intended).

Newsweek declared 1976 "The Year of the Evangelical," in no small part due to the surprise Democratic presidential primary win by self-described "born again" Christian Jimmy Carter and what many expected to be his decisive victory over Gerald Ford. Victory turned out to be narrow, but that would only feed into evangelical narratives of it being delivered by God. Interestingly (I'd say "ironically," except I know evangelicals), Reagan's landslide victories later would feed the same narrative.

Despite the assist four years prior, the Democrat party sought to distance themselves from the burgeoning political movement that would shape American politics for the next quarter century. A month before election day, Carter's own HHS Secretary would openly opine that she feared an American Ayatollah from the evangelical movement, an opinion that was not isolated within the party.

Ultimately, I would credit the legitimization of the "religious right" as much to the abandonment of evangelicals by Democrats as I would to their embrace by Republicans. Maybe even moreso. Nothing legitimizes a movement more than opposition. Democrats would have done far better for themselves, the political landscape, and the nation had they stuck to reminding voters that one party cannot speak for all persons of faith, even those claiming the same faith.

tryanmax said...

P.S. I would agree that it is safe to say Reagan "helped" legitimize the religious right, but only insofar as any president or presidential candidate helps a political movement by acknowledging and courting its influence.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Eric! I think it's important to remind people a lot these days that they aren't alone, that the world is still predominantly good people doing good things.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Of course I do. For one thing, Cruz has no chance. For another, in a major bit of irony. which just happens to prove what I've been saying, he's swerving toward the center to try to get elected.

Moreover, the fact there is someone on the rotten side of the ledger doesn't in any way change the thesis that they are a tiny minority. That's like arguing that the fact there is a murder means the statement that the vast majority of people don't murder anyone is invalidated. That's completely false logic.

As for Reagan and the Religious Right, that is a distortion of history which the Religious Right has been pushing for years. Basically, the Religious Right has tried to remake Reagan as their guy for the same reason other conservatives have tried -- because he is a near messianic figure to conservatives. By redefining him as endorsing them, they can claim that conservatism equals their issues.

But that was never Reagan. Reagan spoke to the Religious Right each year at their big conference and he famously said, "you can't endorse me, but I endorse you." But that was the extent of his embrace. He never ran on their issues and he never once pushed their issues as a matter of policy. He didn't submit abortion bills to Congress, he didn't fight the gays, and he didn't push for prayer in schools. In fact, he didn't even sign the "abortion gag order," which was done by Bush.

So this idea that he brought the Religious Right into the party and merged the GOP with them is just wrong. They didn't really gain any power until the Clinton witch hunt.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The Religious Right was originally on the left. But they abandoned the Democratic Party in the 1980s as the Democratic Party "urbanized," embraced atheism, and took on an "anything goes" morality. Basically, they were what changed in the South as the South went from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican.

Reagan, like other Republicans, welcomed them to the GOP, but never handed them the keys. That happened after when the GOP was run from the House and they decided to go after Clinton for having an affair. At the same time, they found their voice in Pat Buchanan's culture war.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I was, of course, joking with my opening sentence. :-)

And while I admit that I'm not nearly as knowledgeable in this area as you guys, if what you're saying is even half-true, then they're even more delusional than I've been led to believe.

Anyway, back to the positive stuff: this list from Buzzfeed (it's what they do) sums up your thesis pretty well. One or two might be more political in nature, and they're not all from this country. But it's nice to be reminded that it's not all crap. :-)

BevfromNYC said...

Jeez, ya'll! What's got everyone's hair on fire here lately? I am worried about you...maybe cut back on the caffeine :-)

As for Ted Cruz declaring - Remember in 2004 election cycle - Do you remember who was on the primary ticket for the Dems? John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Lieberman (and here is where it gets fun)...Al Sharpton, Wesley Clark, Carol Moseley-Braun, and Bob Graham. So I am not too worried that Ted Cruz will win much support BUT he does have some interesting points to make. Also the Dems will hammer him hard in the next few days about his citizenship status as he was technically born in Canada.

Just to clear up one minor point re: Clinton's impeachment - Actually, "they" went after Clinton because he lied under oath, not because he had an affair. The fact that he lied under oath in a sexual harassment lawsuit that was the was the lying under oath...not the affair/sexual harassment. If it was about having an affair, then they could have impeached him on his first day in office...and had grounds every day thereafter.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I kind of figured you were kidding, but I thought it was still worth responding.

I don't know if delusional is the right word, but yes, that is accurate. Let me also point out that the Religious Right wasn't as obsessive in the 1980s as they became in the 1990s. In the 1980s, there were still basically religious conservatives. By the 1990s, they were defining conservatism as religious fundamentalism.

Great link. You see more and more of this stuff everyday. Humanity remains fundamentally really good! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Yes, they technically went after him for lying under oath, but that wasn't what motivated them. They were motivated by the affair. The lie under oath was just the vehicle they tied it to.

In terms of worrying about us, don't! :D The point to this article is how good things really are and can be... that America still is a great place and it's only a distorted view that we get from the culture machine.

In terms of Cruz, I see him as a sideshow. He will eventually become the anybody-but-Bush rallying point and will go down once the bigger states start to vote.

As for the rest, I can't wait to hear them smear Canada! :D

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, Scott, Thanks for the link! There are some great things there.

Also, did you notice the voting at the bottom of the page? Only 17 people out of well over 1,200 voting something asinine or snarky. I think those numbers are about typical for the population at large too.

Kit said...


There was already a Christian resurgence in the 1970s in the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution and the Roe v. Wade decision.

Call it the 3rd Great Awakening with people like Billy Graham and the legions of copycats forming vast megachurches and, later in the decade, even getting television programs from where they could preach to millions.

And this one, like the 2nd Great Awakening of the 19th Century was very political, maybe even more so.

This was the birth of the Religious Right, but, unlike the 2nd Great Awakening, it quickly became tied to only one party —the Republicans.

The closeness between the GOP and the Religious Right increased over the 80s and the 90s eventually reaching its apotheosis in the 2000s when George W. Bush ran largely on an evangelical ticket and created close ties with various evangelical groups such as Ted Haggard.

I think this helped fuel the rise of those self-righteous pricks known as the New Atheists as a sort of backlash. (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc.)

Anthony said...

Speaking of the Religious Right, Bob Jones III has decided stoning gays isn't cool. Better really, really late than never.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Good for Bob. I guess he finally read the "love the sinner" part of that phrase.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That is true. Roe v. Wade basically created what would become the Religious Right. But they were definitely liberals at the time. They were Democrats who despised the immorality of the 1960s, but favored welfare and generally held (non-radical) liberal views on most things.

In the 1980s, they began to shift away from the Democrats and liberalism in the South. Obviously, there are many reasons for the shift, but it seems to have been in response to the Democrats (1) going secular/atheist, particularly working to strike down prayer in schools, (2) supporting immorality, like removing morality requirements from welfare, supporting single mothers, being pro-criminal, and supporting anyone who attacked America's foundational institutions, and (3) the Democrats becoming the party of urban blacks and intellectuals.

But in the 1980s, they weren't powerful yet, nor were they so obsessive politically. I think this is because they hadn't yet wrestled the party structure away from the country clubbers and because their leaders still pretended to be more interested in religion than politics. But with the mega churches becoming widespread, that changed as these guys saw themselves as power brokers. And with them flooding the local precincts, they became super powerful. I saw this shift actually take place in Virginia at the county level.

And in the 1990s you had the perfect storm: (1) they controlled the structure, (2) they had set up groups who controlled the intellectual apparatus of the party e.g. the platform committee, (3) talk radio spent vast amounts of time equating religious fundamentalism with conservatism, i.e. re-branding the party, (4) Clinton gave them a boogeyman they could use to re-define conservatism, and his flaws were the exact things the Religious Right opposed, (5) there was no leader (e.g. president) who could counter them, and (6) the primary system gives them control over two of the first three contests (Iowa and South Carolina), which gives them over-sized power compared to their true strength.

Then you add Bush, who ran twice as the Evangelical Party candidate.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, here's an interesting Reagan quote which speaks volumes: "The very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."

That position would draw extreme derision from any leader of the Religious Right, who view libertarians as the enemy because they see them as immoral.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW 2...

One of our readers, has sent me a quote from a new book by Charles Cooke. This has a quote that is very relevant to the issue discussed today. Check this out:

"During the Bush administration’s turbulent eight years, the Republican Party steadily ruined its reputation, damaging the public conception of conservatism in the process. Republicans spent too much, subsidized too much, spied too much, and controlled too much. The party abandoned its core principle of federalism, undermined free trade, favored the interests of big businesses over genuinely free markets, used government power to push social issues too aggressively, and, ultimately, was somewhat co-opted by the Christian Right, which moved from being one part of the coalition to being the dominant one. Most of all, the Republican Party lost its reputation for fiscal restraint, constitutional propriety, and mastery of foreign affairs."

In other words, the Religious Right didn't take over the party until W. Bush. It wasn't Reagan at all.

Kit said...


As the fellow who sent Andrew that quote I would like to name the book, the Conservatarian Manifesto.

Another passage:

When Obama’s moment is over, Republicans must make sure that they are ready to step into the gap. Simply waiting it out will not suffice. Instead, Republicans must reestablish themselves as the party of liberty, demonstrating to a skeptical but interested electorate that they are committed to laissez-faire; that they can address their political blind spots; that they are interested in— and tolerant of— how others wish to live their lives but that they have their own way of dealing with that; that their talk of local control is not merely a ruse; and, crucially, that they do not believe that they have all of the answers to the world’s problems.

One warning: He has William F. Buckley's old habit of using big words.

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