A Therapeutic Diversion
December 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
For the past few weeks I have acquired a fresh appreciation for the biblical wisdom of the Psalmist who wrote, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” .Psalm 90:10 KJV. I have not flown away but there are times when that option does not seem completely unthnkable. After smoking for more than forty years and drinking way too much booze for about thirty years, I find myself facing a problem I never expected: How to cope with being eighty years old.
I am further befuddled by the fact that my wife of sixty-two years, who never smoked and who would leave a half-full bottle of beer on the table because she was no longer thirsty (which I considered alcohol abuse), has a troublesome heart problem and is coping with Parkinson’s disease. Life truly is neither fair nor rational.
So, having ended my law practice, I have become a full-time caregiver, a calling to which I am absolutely committed, but for which I have limited talent. I am learning to cook, but if the directions are not on the box, I am helpless and hapless.
So, tonight I have decided to vent a little and enjoy, by writing about them, a few thoughts and random nuggets that have, at different times, comforted and interested me
I am thrilled about the resilience of the Occupy Wall Street movement. During my entire adult life I have reacted with some disappointment and impatience as successive social upheavals have occurred, first the civil rights movement and its focus on racial justice; then the feminist movement when we had our consciousness raised and became aware of the evils of patriarchy; then the peace movement and we watched as mothers and students ended the Viet Nam War. Finally, the gay community is ending millenniums of abuse and discrimination. I was heartened by each of these developments and even participated in some ways, but I always had a secret nagging voice in my head saying, “When will it be our turn?”, by which I meant “When will my neighbors wake up and realize that social justice will remain incomplete and ultimately unsatisfying until we do something about economic justice?” When will we recognize that every job is property and should not be subject to destruction at the whim of an employer? When will we demand that government impose rules requiring minimum levels of safety, health, housing and food for all and that funds for meeting that requirement are based on a taxation scheme that insures that everyone pays a fair share? When will we perceive grotesque wealth inequality as unacceptable?
Now, when I am unable to be a part of it, it seems that it is finally our turn. I can watch but I can’t play. I can hope that, as events unfold, this new movement will morph into a force that will push our country toward these goals. I do not despair that, in its present infancy, the Occupy movement has not yet identified its leaders or sharpened its focus on ways to wield power. So far, it has masterfully used modern media to call attention to its cause and that is a giant step, but only the first step.
There is a jackass named Jonah Goldberg who writes an occasional column in the Chronicle. His recent piece mocked the Occupy movement because one of those participating in it was a young man whose college major was “puppetry”. He extrapolated from that fact his claim that the movement represented only white, college educated “elitists”. He went on to cite a NY Times column by Thomas Edsall claiming that the Obama campaign has “explicitly” abandoned any effort to gain support from white working class non-college-educated voters.
This grandiose conclusion based on one objective fact reminds me of a joke my mother used to enjoy: A tramp comes to the back door and plaintively holds out a button and asks the lady of the house to sew a shirt on it. You can judge for yourself. Just suppress your gag reflex and read Goldberg’s column.
The column by Thomas Edsall is more serious. He based his claim that the Obama campaign has decided to write off the white non-college-educated working class on a memo written by James Carville and four other Democratic Party political analysts. Edsall bases his conclusion that the Democrats have abandoned the white working class on the fact that the memo “. . . makes no mention of the white working class.” That, to me, is a peculiar analytical method. The memo is an analysis of the American “middle class”. The fact that it does not do it in terms of “white working class’ versus “black working classs” or “brown working class” is hardly a basis for Edsall’s claim.
You can read the memo and draw your own conclusions. The Obama campaign issued a denial on the day Edsall’s column appeared in the Times and, not surprisingly, stated that no one over there had lost their minds and decided to formally consign all white workers to outer darkness.
There is no doubt that many white working class Americans will never get over their racist reaction to the Democratic Party’s embrace of the civil rights movement and the disruption of seniority rights and apprenticeship practices that resulted. My own observation is that this cohort of workers is mostly concentrated in the former AFL building trades. I don’t think the Steelworkers or the CWA or the SIEU or the maritime trades have abandoned their historical support of left-wing politics. Public employee support and union support of the Occupy Wall Street movement is well documented. Carville’s memo merely describes the gains made by Obama in some demographics that were once considered lost to the Republicans: upper middle class suburbanites, for example.
There is an old story about a man who regaled his dinner guests with a claim that, the night before, a ghost had supped at the same table where they were seated. When the guests expressed serious skepticism, he said, “I can prove it. Here is the very plate the ghost ate from.” Edsall’s evidence is similarly questionable.
To be fair to Mr. Edsall, he also cited a recent interview with Stanley Greenberg, a co-author of the Carville memo. Greenberg acknowledged that white middle-class voters were “alienated and dislodged [from support of the Democratic Party].” But the context of Greenberg’s statement makes clear that he was speaking of winning and losing margins, not all white middle-class voters. Edsall quoted from the interview as follows: “Republican winning margins among white working-class voters are highly volatile and . . . Democrats have to push hard to minimize losses, which will not be easy. ‘Right now,’ he cautioned, ‘I don’t see any signs they are moveable.'” (emphasis added) This is hardly a declaration from a Democratic campaign operative that the Obama campaign has decided to abandon white working-class voters.
Finally, I will end this therapy with a couple of recent and one old bits of prose that lift my spirits. I treasure these like sea shells washed up on the shore of my island. For me they are like that smarmy song that declares:
“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad”
[Sorry about that. Please put away those tissues and stop wiping your eyes.]
A day or two ago, the Chronicle had a story about the election in Egypt. After thousands of years of autocratic rule, Egyptians were finally participating in an election whose outcome would affect their lives. A reporter did a kind of “man on the street” interview with an Egyptian man. He asked for a reaction to the election. The man replied that he regarded it as evidence that he and his fellow citizens might, at last, experience some sense of freedom from oppression. He said, “In humiliation the food has no taste.” What an elegant statement.
There was another story in the paper that brought a smile. A Japanese manufacturer has produced a small car he describes as a “smart phone on wheels”. The picture showed a car that looks like a child’s toy. Mr. Toyoda, a representative of the manufacturer was interviewed. The reporter wrote, “‘A car must appeal to our emotions’ Toyoda said, using the Japanese term waku waku doki doki referring to a heart scourged with anticipation.” Waku waku doki doki. There are some words that are always funny, like cumquat, but waku waku doki doki is in a class by itself.
When I need some inspiration for making another effort, regardless how hopeless it may seem, I can think of Horatio, standing with two other warriors on a bridge across the Tiber at an entrance to Rome, holding off thousands of invading soldiers. Earlier, as the invaders drew close and the members of the council were engaged in anxious discussion about what could be done:
“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods”
Lays of Ancient Rome, Thomas Babbington Macaulay. (what a great name!)
Well, if you’ve read this far, thank you for participating in my therapy session. I’ll now get up from the couch, go to the kitchen and decide what to do about supper.