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A digression

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Mar. 22nd, 2010 | 11:55

I ordinarily make it a point not to discuss politics in this journal, let alone American politics; but I have been reading Chesterton today, and I have found in certain words of his a particular and poignant applicability to present politics. (Like Chesterton, I alliterate too much; and for the same reason, which is that I will not knock off using the right word and seek a feeble substitute, merely because too many of the right words begin with the same letter of the alphabet.)

Here are the words in question:
It cannot be too often repeated that all real democracy is an attempt (like that of a jolly hostess) to bring the shy people out. For every practical purpose of a political state, for every practical purpose of a tea-party, he that abaseth himself must be exalted. At a tea-party it is equally obvious that he that exalteth himself must be abased, if possible without bodily violence. Now people talk of democracy as being coarse and turbulent: it is a self-evident error in mere history. Aristocracy is the thing that is always coarse and turbulent: for it means appealing to the self-confident people. Democracy means appealing to the diffident people. Democracy means getting those people to vote who would never have the cheek to govern: and (according to Christian ethics) the precise people who ought to govern are the people who have not the cheek to do it.

Democracy as a tea-party: now that is a valuable image; particularly at a time when large numbers of people, normally diffident, until now entirely wanting in the cheek to govern, have organized themselves into what they call a Tea Party. They are not thinking of the genteel affair put on by a British hostess in Chesterton’s time, but of a comparatively raucous and demotic event in Boston; but the coincidence of names is a happy one. For the principle is the same: he that abaseth himself must be exalted, and he that exalteth himself must be abased, if possible without bodily violence.

Not being an American, I have no part in the Tea Party movement, and I am not sure I should be quite in sympathy with it if I were American; but I do know this. When large numbers of people organize themselves for lawful political activity in a democratic state, we ought to encourage and applaud them, whether or not we agree with the aims they have in view; for it is the apathy of the people that makes tyranny possible, and no nation of apathetic people has long escaped its appointment with the tyrant. Therefore, even if you stand against everything else that the Tea Partiers believe in, if you stand for democracy, you ought to show them respect. In particular you ought not to call them by a degraded and repulsive nickname, derived quite consciously from one of the most disgusting minor obscenities to be gleaned from the lexicon of pornography.

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Comments {78}

(no subject)

from: dsgood
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 18:26 (UTC)
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Agreed!

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(no subject)

from: shelestel
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 18:57 (UTC)
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...Or will showing them nominal respect while being opposed to all they stand and fight for count as apathy? :-)

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Fabio Paolo Barbieri

(no subject)

from: fpb
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 19:09 (UTC)
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It is not about agreeing with anyone. It is about saying: I will oppose what you stand for, but you have a right to stand for it, and we shall contend like honourable gentlemen.

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(no subject)

from: shelestel
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 19:30 (UTC)
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Are only honourable gentlemen allowed, or wanted, in a democracy?

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Tom Simon

(no subject)

from: superversive
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 19:34 (UTC)
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Since one of the things they stand and fight for is democratic decision-making, am I to take it that you opposed to that as well?

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(no subject)

from: shelestel
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 19:46 (UTC)
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You overestimate both my knowledge of American politics and the implicative range of my questions. I wouldn't know what Tea Party protester stand for, and I wouldn't know why the Left would oppose them. My question is merely this: do you not display in your reasoning the very same elitism for the dismissal of which you praise Chesterton?

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houseboatonstyx

(no subject)

from: houseboatonstyx
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 18:59 (UTC)
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I'm leftwing and most of the Tea Party issues seem to be rightwing, but I do agree with what you just said!

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Fabio Paolo Barbieri

(no subject)

from: fpb
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 19:08 (UTC)
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I find myself astonished to be agreeing with every word of this. I should support the health reform in the USA, but I have a terrible feeling that it has been done all wrong, all wrong for the wrong reasons, and that there is going to be Hell to pay. I think this is another instance of the disastrous influence of abortion - the most evil institution since slavery, if not worse - and its defence, and it is leading to a break in the body politic that has not been seen in America sicne the dark days of Bleeding Kansas and the attempt to force slavery in new territories. The abortionists are acting like people who have just won a civil war. God send the country some wisdom before it is too late.

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Tom Simon

(no subject)

from: superversive
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 19:30 (UTC)
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I think you are reading more from my words than I meant to put into them; but no matter — for once I believe you and I are in accord. I believe it comes down to this: The Obama administration wants to impose a Canadian-style single-payer system, with no exemptions, no private practice, and no queue-jumping; that is, they want to imitate the most crippled and unsuccessful system of public health care in the developed world. But because they cannot glean sufficient support for such a bold move even from their Congressional lapdogs, they begin with a half-measure that tries to force private insurers and private medical providers to act as the administration wishes their ideal public system would act. What they want is a winged chariot pulled by Pegasus; what they have pushed through Congress is a rubbish cart pulled by a spavined donkey — but at winged-chariot prices.

The truly sad thing is, the Tenth Amendment is quite clear that health care, like all matters not specifically listed under the remit of the federal government, is reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. Massachusetts has had some success in implementing a system rather like a cleaner and more streamlined version of Obama’s bill — though at a much higher cost than anticipated (a thing that anybody with experience of government budgeting could have foreseen). Other states would have come up with their own systems in good time, for the urge to reform health care is almost as strong on the Right as it is on the Left; the only difference is about what kind of reform is helpful or desirable. The most admirable single feature of the American federal system is that any state can serve as a laboratory; any state can try out a new scheme of public administration, and five different states can try five different experiments; and then the nation, if it wishes, can adopt the most successful method. Instead, Washington, which has no business dealing with this matter, is forcing 300 million people all at once to adopt a new and untried system, sight unseen. The Speaker of the House has gone so far as to say that Congress must pass the bill to find out what is in it. A used-car salesman would not dare be so brazen.

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(no subject)

from: paulwoodlin
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 22:10 (UTC)
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I like a lot of American political trouble stems from only having a two party system; we need a four party system. Both parties have two groups inside themselves that are very uncomfortable with each other, and the Tea Party is the expression the foot soldiers of the GOP being unhappy with their own generals. It's been brewing for awhile, and the Obama election triggered it.

As for the masses' participation, I read of an interesting experiment. If you take 100 people and leave them alone with intellectual tasks, the majority of people will choose the right answer of any given question (not always the same majority, but a shifting majority for each question). But if you put 100 people in a room and have them work together, fewer of them will get right answers because a few people with more charisma than intellect will led them astray.

Replace "intellect" with "honesty" and you have what I think is wrong with American politics.

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Tom Simon

(no subject)

from: superversive
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 22:26 (UTC)
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There is much in what you say. However, a first-past-the-post electoral system really only works well with two parties; otherwise, it is too easy for a party with a minority of the votes to split the opposition and get a majority of the seats, after which it behaves as if it had a mandate for dictatorship. (I speak feelingly; this is exactly what happened in Canada for many years. We have a four-party system at present, and it does not function at all well.) And I shudder to think what would happen if the U.S. implemented some form of proportional representation — if the RNC and DNC (and the NCs of the two new parties) could appoint any old party hacks they liked to Congress, merely by putting them at the top of the party lists, so that they would be sure of getting enough votes to put them in. It’s a thorny problem.

In the past the primary system has done well enough at keeping each party in touch with the majority of its base; but it seems to be breaking down in that respect. It has become far too easy for the ideologues and fanatics to take control. So far they have not controlled both parties at once; Clinton had to govern as a moderate while Newt Gingrich went rather mad with his ‘Contract With America’, and Bush was routinely vilified by conservatives while the Democrats went gaga. To have an Obama in the White House facing a Gingrich in Congress would make for spectacular political theatre, but it would be a disastrous government to live under.

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Wendy S. Delmater

(no subject)

from: safewrite
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 23:22 (UTC)
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I recently graduated college (2005). In my textbook, American Government, they show pattern to two-party rule. History proves a cycle of approximately 40 years with a party ascendant, at which point the ruling party becomes so entrenched and corrupt that the American public votes them out.

The only exception is when a third party enters the fray, but when the dust settles we are right back to two parties and one of the old two...dies. (Example: Know any modern Whigs?)

We are overdue for such a shakeup. Stay tuned.

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ilion7

Really?

from: ilion7
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 23:23 (UTC)
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"... while Newt Gingrich went rather mad with his ‘Contract With America’ ..."

Really?

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ilion7

the lexicon of pornography

from: ilion7
date: Mar. 22nd, 2010 23:12 (UTC)
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"... In particular you ought not to call them by a degraded and repulsive nickname, derived quite consciously from one of the most disgusting minor obscenities to be gleaned from the lexicon of pornography."

I don't know much about the "lexicon of pornography," but I can easily think of things/acts far more vile and disgusting than that particular "minor obscenity" (which I'd never even heard of previously to its use against citizens such as I).

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Tom Simon

Re: the lexicon of pornography

from: superversive
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 0:01 (UTC)
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Still, it’s the fact that they use such a term for political purposes. It’s telling, isn’t it, that they think the best way of smearing their opponents is by taunting them that they practise a particular perversion found in an out-of-the-way corner of homosexual kink, and think that such a smear is enough to discredit their targets? And then they have the nerve to accuse conservatives of homophobia!

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ilion7

Re: the lexicon of pornography

from: ilion7
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 0:15 (UTC)
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"And then they have the nerve to accuse conservatives of homophobia!"

Exactly! "Liberals" quite despise persons suffering homosexuality.

But then, "liberals" quite despise everyone.

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bemused_leftist

Re: the lexicon of pornography

from: bemused_leftist
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 3:55 (UTC)
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There's nothing wrong with the sexual practice in question.

Otherwise I agree with you. It's very unfair to suggest that because the Tea Party people did NOT know that slang meaning, they are somehow accidentally PRACTICING that, er, practice.

The fact that they didn't know that meaning, is evidence that they're probably NOT practicing it.

The only way there would be any justice in the insult, even poetic, is if the Tea Party people were themselves crusading against gay rights etc. I haven't seen any evidence of that; it might fit into their package of (apparently rightwing) issues somewhere, but they haven't been doing it strongly enough to deserve this label.

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scbutler

(no subject)

from: scbutler
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 1:50 (UTC)
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Sorry. I will not treat a movement with respect that does not apologize for its members insulting the ill and African Americans as offensively as possible in the street. Respect must be earned.

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Tom Simon

(no subject)

from: superversive
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 1:54 (UTC)
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I beg your pardon? I’ve seen considerable numbers of black Tea Partiers, and I personally know people with chronic illnesses who identify themselves with the movement. You’ll have to do better than that. And it still does not excuse your using a crass homophobic slur to refer to your political opponents — unless you think demonization and dehumanization are valid tactics.

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scbutler

(no subject)

from: scbutler
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 2:39 (UTC)
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If you lived in the States you would be more aware of the numerous instances of African American legislators who were called the N-word during last weekend's protests. There is also a video that has been making the rounds in which various Tea Party protesters mock and attempt to humiliate a self-identified Parkinsons sufferer by tossing dollar bills at him while calling him a freeloader. The connection between the George Wallace Democrats of the '60s and '70s and the current Tea Partiers has been becoming more apparent. The Tea Partiers are certainly entitled to their opinions, but just because you engage in the process doesn't entitle you to respect, especially if you are disrespectful to your opponents. Yes, some individuals have used homophobic slurs in describing the tea party, and they should be censured. But how you can censure them and not censure the Tea Partyat the same time, when their members are encouraged to be disrespectful by their leaders, is beyond me.

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Joseph Ebbecke

Superversive, you make me feel very old...

from: joetexx
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 1:52 (UTC)
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...and more burned out than usual.

Since I crossed the isle myself back round 2000 I have paid almost no attention to my erstwhile comrades on the Left, so I'm a babe in the woods on this issue but is it really true that Lefties are disaparaging Tea Partiers with comparisons to er.... "tea room cruising"? That's pretty bad.

I have never heard this phrase used in actual conversation, even on the Left and even among my raunchiest friends. The only reason I know what it means is because I read Pat Califa and some issues of POZ magazine back in the day when I was caring directly for AIDS patients.

There are of course bright Lefties (one thinks of Alex Cockburn, Tom Frank, Joe Baigent, Caleb Rossiter, et al) who are always urging the comrades to take a serious look at the insurgent populist Right, at least try to understand them, & perhaps work with them on specific issues. Of course they can't do it, anymore than the scorpion can cuddle up to the frog. Their innate contempt always shows through.

Independent voters--white lower- and middle-income parents, in most cases--hold the key to progressive victories in these districts and to greater attention to the progressive agenda in easier ones. While they are the ones feeling most harshly the lack of healthcare, childcare and family-sustaining jobs for hourly workers, they tend either not to vote or to find suspicious the populist economic arguments that resonate with registered Democrats and union families. We have to court them by adopting some of their concerns and respecting their values. In my eighteen years in the arms-control community in Washington, I've never been to a meeting that started with the Pledge of Allegiance. In my six months of speaking to civic and labor groups in upstate New York, I never went to a meeting that didn't start with the pledge

It's been a decade since Rossister wrote those words and I see little evidence that progressives have profited from them.

Boy am I glad I left the Left.

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Tom Simon

Re: Superversive, you make me feel very old...

from: superversive
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 1:56 (UTC)
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Not ‘tea room cruising’. The obscenity in question is much more pointed and specific. Is it possible that you don’t recognize it when you hear it?

The rest of what you say matches up very well with my own experience.

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Joseph Ebbecke

Re: Superversive, you make me feel very old...

from: joetexx
date: Mar. 23rd, 2010 2:12 (UTC)
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'Is it possible that you don’t recognize it when you hear it?'


Quite possible - I'd have to hear it before I could tell.

I may be finding a sweet naievete to old age that I never suspected.

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handworn

Re: Superversive, you make me feel very old...

from: handworn
date: Feb. 16th, 2011 23:39 (UTC)
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I live near considerable numbers of Democrats (in Philadelphia) and believe me, they have absolutely no clue how badly they damaged their standing with me by countenancing that term.

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Marie's dad

(no subject)

from: thomas_a_kempis
date: Mar. 25th, 2010 5:00 (UTC)
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Well Done, Superversive.

Humbly from the darkening States,

+

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