Love and “Lost” in a Brokedown Palace

Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.

Grateful Dead, Brokedown Palace

The late author and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey told a story about a West Coast Grateful Dead gig when, after the tragic 1984 death of Kesey’s son, the whole band turned to him and sang “Brokedown Palace.”

Kesey recounted with tears in his eyes that it wasn’t until that moment that he really understood what art was. He said that “All my life I thought art was this [he stuck a fist in the air]. But at that moment I realized that art was really this [he made a hugging motion].”

Now, arguments about art and political engagement have been with us awhile. But isn’t it the case that Kesey’s gesture of revolution (the raised fist) and his gesture of love (the hug) are not contradictory at all? Aren’t love and friendship among a people what tyrants fear most? Love is raised like a defiant fist in the gloomy faces of history’s despots.

Recently, Glenn Beck attacked Simon Greer of the Jewish Fund for Justice for writing in the Washington Post that “to put God first is to put humankind first, and to put humankind first is to put the common good first.” Talk of the common good, Beck said, leads to death camps.

Beck said:

Once you get into the common good, it’s over. And this is the perversion that every minister, pastor, priest, bishop — every single person in America, every rabbi should be at the pulpit saying the same thing — get away from anyone who talks about the common good. Because the common good — if you put that first, and you reject individual — you are headed for the death camps.

Beck, of course, is criminally insane (death camps?!!), but here he’s speaking about something authoritarians of the ages have long believed: love and solidarity among the oppressed is a dangerous thing indeed. It is part of the dark genius of the American Right (and its darling, Ayn Rand) to disguise its authoritarianism in the deification of the individual and the demonizing of the community. Only the master can be loved.

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Zorg Republicans: The GOP’s Mad Chaos Strategy

In Luc Besson’s campy movie, The Fifth Element, the villainous Zorg wants to rule the world. Like many a villain before him, Zorg (Gary Oldman) makes chaos his philosophical and tactical ally. As Zorg puts it:

Life…comes from disorder, destruction and chaos…You see Father, by creating a little destruction, I am in fact encouraging life.

Uh-huh. But in the aftermath of the passage of health care reform, Republicans are learning a downside of melodrama. They are hoist with their own violent, anti-health care petard, much like Zorg is smithereened by his own bomb. Keith Olbermann warned them about this several years ago, employing that wonderful French pun of a word.

The Republican leadership aggressively encouraged violent, hateful rhetoric from their flying monkeys. Casting health care reform as the coming of the communist apocalypse, they are now struggling with the growing perception that the bill just makes it possible for our hardworking next-door neighbor to see a doctor.

The Right’s eliminationist actions are disturbing, of course. When they knife gas lines, spit on congressmen, or threaten supporters of reform, the radical rightists, like all bullies, betray their own deep feelings of inadequacy. The obsequious loser Greg Marmalard in Animal House comes to mind (Babs to Marmalard on Lover’s Lane: Greg, honey, is it supposed to be this soft?).

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“Mount Vernon Statement” Erases Equality, Rights

Conservative leaders’ pompous and self-congratulatory “Mount Vernon Statement” twice refers to the line “self-evident truths” from the Declaration of Independence. Conspicuously absent, however, are two of those self-evident truths: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed with unalienable rights.

I don’t think it was an oversight. The omission gets to the heart of the deeply authoritarian personality of the contemporary conservative movement, or movements, as the case may be. Oh, the Mount Vernon document mentions “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But universal rights and equality are anathema to conservatives. How would they justify oppression if everyone was equal and had equal rights?

In the authoritarian worldview, some people are just naturally better than others. Or, as George Orwell famously put it, some are more equal than others. For conservatives, government’s only proper role is in enforcing the inequality. And that begs the question: if it’s so natural, why does it have to be enforced at all?

It is striking, in a Tiger-Woods-on-chastity kind of way, to see a collection of gouty royalists like Ed Meese and Alfred Regnery masquerade as the true defenders of the American democratic tradition. These posers are idolatrous hierarchs who have spent all their lives building their rodent tunnels under Constitutional barriers to plutocracy.

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A Better Mouse Trap for the Age of Rats

American democracy is a better mousetrap. Unfortunately, it was born in the Age of the Rat.

It isn’t just any old rat, either. It is a magical rat that somehow convinces its victims that the fatter it gets, the better off they are. I refer, of course to the robber barons of Wall Street, the plump rats and plutocrats of the Industrial Revolution and its technology-empowered successors.

It doesn’t take a fine-grained historical account to see that our democratic mousetrap has proved inadequate to the task of catching rats, from yesterday’s railroad magnates to today’s Wall Street thieves. It took a civil war to stop the trafficking in human beings.

With some extraordinary exceptions – child labor laws, the New Deal, civil rights – we’ve done little more than occasionally wipe the coal dust from our faces.

What is the source of the rat-magic that has made many Americans believe their freedom depends upon the freedom of others to, well, destroy their freedom?

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“Take Back Our Country”: From Whom? Oh. The Voters.

DSC_0189There’s a persistent refrain among Sarah Palin fanatics — and New Confederacy governors like Rick Perry — that they want to “take back” America from the thieves who took it from them. You can read some of these quotes in Kate Zernike’s NYT’s story on Palin:

“It may not be this year, it may not be next year, but we’re going to take our country back,” said Sherry Haner, 54, who was standing in the cold on Wednesday outside a mall in Grand Rapids, Mich., hoping to make it into the overflow crowd after failing to get one of the 1,000 bracelets Barnes & Noble had handed out as tickets to the [Palin] signing.

Clinical denial and self-deceit are necessary to the “take back our country” meme. The deception is made obvious by a recent poll that 52 percent of Republican voters believe ACORN stole the election for President Barack Obama. Obama won the national popular vote, 53 percent to 46 percent. Before anyone says, well, Democrats said the same thing about Bush, I’d ask that they remember that Gore won the popular vote in 2000. Even so, I don’t like the “take back” theme, no matter who uses it. It’s not always the case that something was taken. We might have just lost it.

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