Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leading With My Chin

I don't know, maybe it IS me. I've never been one to run with the pack. I know that Sgt. Peppers and Pretzel Logic are "better" albums, but, when I want to listen to the Beatles and Steely Dan, I throw on Abbey Road and Katy Lied. I much prefer the simplicity of Wish You Were Here to the overwrought Dark Side of the Moon. And, I might as well get this out of the way now, the White Album and Physical Graffiti are overrated.

I'll take Buddy Holly over Elvis, Little Richard over Chuck Berry, Skynyrd over the Allmans and the Who over Zeppelin any day; I think Tom Waits is the most underrated artist of the last 40 years and I'm still pissed that Warren Zevon isn't in the Hall of Fame. Don't get me started on the Stones. Suffice to say, if you don't think Exile on Main Street is the best fucking rock album of all time, there's something seriously wrong with you.

With the exception of the Beatles, no other band had more of an impact on rock than the Clash, who, along with the Replacements, virtually reinvented the genre. I really, really can't stand Yes. They're the worst thing to ever happen to music, period. Best singer-songwriters: Dylan, Neil Young and Springsteen, in that order. Most overrated: Clapton. Seriously, take away Layla and 461 Ocean Blvd. and what you're left with wouldn't even pass for the filler on a Cheap Trick album. Most under-appreciated musician: Ringo Starr; most over-hyped: Jeff Beck.

When it comes to country, save for Johnny and Rosanne Cash, some Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, the whole damn genre should be shit-canned. Alt-country artists like Lucinda Williams and John Prine are where it's at, anyway. I like Jazz, but confess I don't know enough about it to be authoritative. Miles Davis, James Carter and John Coltrane comprise about 50% of my collection. And I might be the only man alive who thinks Al Green had more to say about '70s R&B than Stevie Wonder. And, finally, I have a soft spot for bubble gum music. I was a kid in the late '60s and early '70s and I still listen to Edison Lighthouse, the Archies and the Partridge Family. In fact, I had a huge crush on Susan Dey - who didn't? - when I was 10.

If you think me overly opinionated when it comes to music, then you obviously have never read this blog. Let's just cut to the chase; I'm not shy about calling them as I sees them. Ask anyone who's ever been within earshot of me. The word ambivalent is NOT in my dictionary.

But, as Arlo Guthrie might say, I didn't come to talk about music. I came to talk about something far more near and dear to my heart. Permit me, if I may, to bend your ear a bit as I get a few things off my chest.

Look, I get the concept of back and forth and believe in keeping an open mind. I might've been the only teenager in America who got the joke when Dan Aykroyd called Jane Curtain an "ignorant slut." I used to love the Point-Counterpoint segments on 60 Minutes between Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick. In fact, I ate it up. Two divergent points of view going at each other. It was passionate and it was honest, the way debates are supposed to be. It would prove to be a harbinger of things to come for me.

Over the years that followed, I watched many programs like it: Agronsky & Co., Firing Line and the McLaughlin Group (still on the air after 30 years). I cut my political teeth on these shows and owe each of them a debt of gratitude. As a progressive, I made it a point of reading all points of view, even those as conservative as William F. Buckley.  David Frum, as some of you may know, has been my "Tip of the Hat" winner many times on this blog.

I have been critical of this president and progressives when I have felt it was appropriate and will continue to do so. This has earned me a number of "scoldings" on progressive forums from the "rank and file," who see me as a turncoat. My retort? Screw you. I may be a progressive, but I don't drink the Kool-Aid. Never have, never will. I steadfastly maintain that a vibrant and healthy democracy needs divergent points of view in order to function properly. We aren't supposed to sing Kumbaya. In fact the Founders meant for us to disagree.

But I seriously doubt the Founders would condone what is happening in America today. In fact, I'm fairly certain they would condemn it. The polarization and political paralysis that has gripped the nation isn't the by-product of open and honest debate. It is a deliberate attempt by some to capitalize on the fears and prejudices of certain demographic groups and seize power.

This cancerous movement has masqueraded itself as conservatism, but it bears little resemblance to the traditional conservatism of Eisenhower, Nixon or even Reagan. It is so far to the right, it has to look to the left just to see the right margin of the page. It has openly embraced elements of racism, homophobia and nationalism, along with a rather strange interpretation of the Constitution that would make the Founders squirm and cringe.

This movement didn't just spring up overnight. To a certain extent, it has always been there. You could say it's been one of the ugly truths about our history; the skeleton nobody wanted to remove from the closet. But it began to coalesce right around the time Barack Obama was sworn into office. This was not a coincidence. His mere presence has been the catalyst for some of the most vile and disgusting attacks ever perpetrated upon a sitting president.

The Republican Party, the benefactor of this movement, began a campaign of opposing everything he wanted to do, from healthcare reform to new banking regulations. Anybody who didn't toe the line was labeled a RINO (Republican in name only), primaried and defeated. The intent was clear: to purify the GOP and eliminate any and all opposition.

It was a brilliant strategy. Over the last five years, the Republican Party has been transformed from a center-right party to a far-right party. It is now virtually impossible to find any moderates in the GOP. Those few that do exist keep a very low profile for fear of retribution. The government shutdown last year came about because Tea Party elements in both the House and Senate would not allow Republican leadership to hold a vote to keep it open. Only when a debt-ceiling default was at hand did some sanity finally prevail, and only at the eleventh hour.

But my biggest concern, strangely, is not the Tea Party; rather it is the attitude of many "moderates." Over the last few years, as the far Right has ascended to power, there has been this temptation by many so-called "reasonable" people to argue that what is happening to the Republican Party is no different than what happened to the Democrats in the '70s and '80s, and that eventually, the GOP will realize this and clean house, so to speak. They insist that there is a Bill Clinton somewhere in the Republican Party's future. If not 2016, then certainly 2020.

There are two inherent flaws with such thinking and the first is obvious: while it is true that the Democratic Party was out of touch with mainstream America in the '70s and '80s, at no time was it ever a threat to the nation. Its progressive elements certainly dominated the national party but they never exerted the kind of reach that the Tea Party-led Republicans do at present. Nationally, the Democrats were about as menacing as a roach at a church picnic. They were also never crazy enough to risk the good faith and credit of the United States to prove a point.

The second flaw, however, is far more complex and problematic. If you've ever watched a Republican debate, it is all too clear that the more extreme your positions are, the more likely you are to prevail. If you want proof of this just take a look at what Mitt Romney had to do to win the nomination. He was forced so far to the right he was never able to pivot back to the center. Fact is the entire GOP primary process virtually precludes the possibility of a Clinton-like candidate emerging victorious.

Witness what happened to former Florida governor Charlie Crist. The moment Crist embraced Obama he was ostensibly finished as a Republican. The same thing happened to New Jersey governor Chris Christie when he welcomed Obama during the Sandy relief efforts. Forget the fact that Christie was only trying to get as much federal money as he could for his constituents, as far as the GOP was concerned, he was Benedict Arnold. It should be noted that before the whole bridge-gate scandal broke, Christie was seen by some pundits as having the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. That dream appears to be out the window.

This whole "both sides are equally to blame" mindset has bugged me from the start. It defies common sense. Yes, there are Democrats and progressives who are out to lunch, but they pale in comparison to their Republican counterparts not only in numbers but in intensity. Show me the Democratic equivalent of Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz or Mike Lee. You may agree or disagree with Rachel Maddow, but in no way, shape or form is she the left-wing Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. And MSNBC, on its best day, couldn't hold a candle to Fox News either in ratings or influence.

The right-wing charge that the main-stream media is liberally biased is comical. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes watching what passes for main-stream news in this country already knows that at best, it is lame; at worst, negligent. Fact is all of the major networks are owned by powerful and anything but liberal corporations, whose sole interest is making as much money as possible. It is primarily because of and not in spite of them that journalism in America has been dumbed down almost to the level of a five year old. The sad truth is if you want informed and thought-provoking news, you're better off watching PBS or the BBC than any of the major networks.

It is high time for the supposed "reasonable" people in the room to wake up and stop being "fair" and "balanced." This isn't like choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream, or Italian and Chinese food. There is a clear right and wrong choice here. One needn't be liberal to see the cause of the malignancy. The idea that both sides throw an equal amount of mud simply isn't supported by the facts.

Now I know that some of you resist this, not because you don't agree with me, but because you don't want to rock the boat. A rather interesting, if self-defeating position, given that the other side has no such qualms. Perhaps you sincerely believe that by playing neutral you might persuade a few of the more volatile to join you in the middle. To paraphrase Sarah Palin, how's that moderation workin' for ya?

A good friend of mine has recently been pummeled in some of his postings for poking his big toe in the deep water of the political cesspool. I have watched with both a curious detachment and profound sense of sympathy as he has gotten a rude awakening. I suspect that he is starting to realize what a good many people have already figured out: that some people simply can't be reasoned with. The debate, for them, ended a long time ago. Now all they have left is their bubble and Heaven help anyone who tries to burst it.

Look, as Gregg Allman once said, I'm no angel. I have certainly thrown my fair share of mud and been guilty on a few occasions of entering into a bubble of my own. The difference is I know I'm full of shit. I've never fallen in love with my mantra. In fact, I have no mantra. The fact that some of my fellow progressives can get under my skin proves I am no ideologue. In fact, the older I get, the more I admire Teddy Roosevelt than Franklin Roosevelt. I loved the fact that he took on the powerful monied interests of his day, while at the same time making it perfectly clear to the world that if they fucked with us, he'd have no problem smacking the shit out of them.

Despite what libertarians and some progressives might feel, America doesn't have the option of hoping everyone loves us. I have an aversion to seeing planes hitting skyscrapers and killing thousands of people. The recent disappearance of flight 370 should give pause to isolationists who would have the U.S. retreat from its global responsibilities. That doesn't mean we have to be the cop on the beat, but it does mean we should continue to monitor closely what is going on around us. One can walk and chew gum at the same time. Those on the right that squawk at the alleged NSA abuses by the Obama Administration should answer the following: where was your outrage when your guy was doing it?

Okay, that's enough outta me. I've bent your ear quite enough. Just think about what I've said and try to take it to heart, because it came from the bottom of mine. I'll leave you with this last morsel to chew on. Pacifism is never an effective tool to combat ignorance. People who know the truth, yet say nothing, aren't being nice; they're being complicit.

Till next time, as Spock would say, live long and prosper.

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