Thursday, September 08, 2005

Somehow, We Have Grown Too Small for Our Britches

Bloody Hell, Schwarzenegger vetoed the same sex marriage bill that recently passed in California. Now that's his right, of course, as Governator, but the reason he gave is ten pounds of snaky in a five pound bag: These things are better decided by the courts or direct referendum.

(And by the way, because of a previous Proposition, this would've kicked to the courts anyway. So this statement literally makes no sense)

Can anyone even tell me how representative government is supposed to work in this country anymore under this bizarre neo-belief system? Judges are too activist -- except when they actively toss out the laws we want them to, or we kick legislation to them politicos are too cowardly to handle. Our elected representatives aren't actually responsible ... for lawmaking ... why don't we just go to direct referendum on every issue? Why even have elected representatives anymore? Is there some sort of internally consistent set of rules for determing what laws get determined by the legislature and what gets kicked back to the people? Just the ones involving icky fluids?

How does one teach a sixth grade civics class in this country now with a straight face?

My condolences to the thousands of loving families who are trying to live their damn lives without interfering with anyone else's rights or responsibilities. My personal condolences to fellow screenwriter John August, who wrote about this quite movingly yesterday.

(NOTE: heavy does of Irish bar-talk to follow. You may wish to move on to more positive or constructive blogs. Fair warning)

It's interesting -- several friends have expressed a current crisis of faith in God because of recent world events. As my relationship with God is a bit more ... distaff, I find myself having a crisis of faith in the probability that this country ... is even the country we think it is. That it will even hold together. Many people love their country. But this love, like any longstanding romantic relationsip, is based on delicate substructure of very useful self-delusion (which, might I add, is not a bad thing in and of itself.)

America the idea was founded by people who fled England rather than be told how to worship -- what to believe in. America the idea was created by men who valued freedom of speech, action and thought so highly they codified these ideas in the Constitution that's served as a model for almost every emergent democracy since. America the idea's first leaders were men like Thomas Jefferson, who said one of the two quotes I live my life by: "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

But today, in America the country, we are told morality must be legislated. In America the country we have a government that treats the free press as a PR arm at best and a nuisance at worst. In America the country we are unable to guarantee our elections are fair, because somehow technology you use every day at your ATM is incompatible with voting. In America the country we have just seen hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens abandoned by a government run by men who somehow manage to both preach government is a wasteful evil and have still made their private fortunes working for companies that suck off that same government's teat. In America the country we are told that dissent is un-American and traitorous ... After flying to aid their fellow citizens, firefighters were distressed to find they'd be used as community-relations officers and some as props in Presidential photo-ops, when they could instead be saving lives:

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.

Federal officials are unapologetic.

"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.

See, insanely, I would think that a man who'd made his life's work running into burning buildings, and risking death every single damn day of his life in order to save the lives of other citizens of this country had already shown his commitment to fire-fighting by, oh, actually fighting fires. But now I know that's crazy talk. If you don't wear the right t-shirt, then your life's work is for naught. I do not use the word lightly, people and you know I preach moderation here at Kung Fu Monkey: but someone please feel free to explain how that is not fascism.

I've made my views known clearly, I think, before now. Regardless of the passports I carry, I am first a citizen of democracy, of equal rights, of the framework of personal privacy tempered with shared responsibility. My allegiance is to that idea, not necessarily the piece of earth where it took fortuitous root.

Is America the country still worthy to be called home to America the idea? We all have to answer that, in our own hearts. Many, including myself on my less-rattled days, say yes. But there is the pragmatic side of me, watching as the bright open future inspires too many to instead rally back into the shadows of their ideological caves, cringing and instead lashing out from fear and confusion ... I see a dark momentum. We have spent twenty years in a great and thunderous fall from what was once a common sense idea of what we should both provide to and expect from our shared society.

Some may read this as depressing, defeatism or just melancholy, veiled threats or even wishful thinking for a dire future. It's not, just more in the British vein of keeping one eye cocked on, as Warren Ellis recently referenced, the Grim Meathook Future that always lurks in the shadows. In the shadows of any nation, no matter how mighty. Sometimes my job as an essayist, I think, is to point and say "Look, look at what we can do, what passion and hard work can do, how high we can rise!" And sometimes it's to remind everyone that empires fall, there are no guarantees, we have been very lucky monkeys and -- you'll get this if you saw Rome this week -- "... snows always melt."

Never my favorite human being, but a helluva speaker, Bill Clinton famously said: "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

I hope that is true.

Unfortunately, the other quote I live my life by: "Hope is not a plan."

Man, I need to start drinking again.


Mark said...

We will fix this.

We will fix this!

Giving orders is not leadership. Hope is not a plan. But we will fix this.

Even the fools who voted these frat boys into power are mostly, by and large, good people. Given the opportunity they can be part of the solution. They just need the right leadership.

I know what you are feeling -- I get in that mood often these days but the system isn't so broke it can't be repaired. Really, we've been through much worse, particularly in the early years.

The American Century is over, but it was coming to a close anyway. The good news is most of the remaining world learned the lesson well. We are still needed, but not as much as we used to be. And there is still time, we still have enough power, to keep the world on the correct course.

I may be lying to myself, but I don't think so. We'll fix this.

Anonymous said...


I'm a pretty tough, masculine fellow, but your "America the idea" essay brought tears to my eyes. I don't have anything else to say about it.

Anonymous said...

When I think of America today, I think of this.

As I understand it, it's not just in Canada where "Let's not be like the U.S.A." is a solid vote winner. That's something...

Anonymous said...

I don't think America ever was anything other than brutal. We stole the country, and killed 11 million natives in the process. That's almost twice as many Jews as Hitler butchered in WW2. It's nice that you feel the urge to put things right, and more power to you for that, but I think you're deluding yourself if you think we were ever really any different.

Anonymous said...

In all fairness to the system of initiatives & referenda, California's is the worst. It's an unworkable fusion of representative democracy and pure democracy. Other states that have initiatives limit the subjects (no appropriations or constitutional amendments) or let legislators repeal them after a set period. There are, of course, political consequences for legislators who "go against the will of the people," but not legal ones.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Nice work.

I had a similar post recently, put up when I heard that the press is being kept out of New Orleans at gunpoint.

That day, I didn't have any hope that The Idea, as you so eloquently put it, is still possible.

My attitude is somewhat better today. Today I'm not sure.

nolo said...

Referendum systems are Bad. So are systems like the one here in the lovely state of Ohio, where the state constitution can be amended by a simple majority vote. That's how we ended up with the atrocity of a marriage amendment that now defaces our state constitution.

nolo said...

Oh, by the way, great rant. And thanks for the Jefferson quote.

david golbitz said...

Good one, John. This is making the e-mail soon as gmail starts working again.

Curt Purcell said...

Bloody Hell, Schwarzenegger vetoed the same sex marriage bill that recently passed in California. Now that's his right, of course, as Governator, but the reason he gave is ten pounds of snaky in a five pound bag: These things are better decided by the courts or direct referendum.

Like I said, "Damn those activist legislators, legislating from the legislature!!"

Karl said...

Of all people, you would think that Arnold would KNOW better about going with the "majority" of people who think that their way is better than others and should be allowed to treat that "minority" as though they are somehow lesser.

Anonymous said...

ALL judges are activist. It's just when you disagree with their rulings that you are able to apply that label in a negative connotation.

Pretty soon, people are going to arguing that the judge who ruled against them in traffic court is activist.

There's a somwhat snarky but very entertaining article by A.J. Jacobs in this month's ESQUIRE (which he's already sold the movie rights to, natch). He outsources his life. It proves that the scary thing is, what we're outsourcing to other countries, the menial work...well, not only do they rock at the so-called boring stuff, they could kick our collective asses in terms of the high-level "creative" thinking we now are freed up to do.

What we've lost in this country is that we no longer really "do" anything. Most manufacturing is gone, at least the nuts-and-bolts everyday items that our disposable parts of our lives. Hell, if you buy a foreign car, chances are better that more of it was made here than a car from the Big 3. And don't get me started about the oil industry infrastructure.

Parts of high tech are going, and they're not being replaced. When we don't make or create or discover anything and DO IT ALL HERE, our industrial economy lacks self-sufficience.

America is still the greatest country in the world, but for how much longer? I have a sad feeling that it's on the back nine and headed to the clubhouse.

Btw, English is the language of today, but Mandarin is the language of the future.

Anonymous said...

"America the idea" is a great idea. In my time on this planet (which started about 3 weeks before Kennedy was shot), is has not done much more than pay lipservice to that idea.

America has always appeared to value American business interests over all else, at least to those of us who live elsewhere.

I used to be anti-American, but when I discovered the blogosphere I realised that I have really only been anti-neocon and anti-republican.

It is good to know that there are still some Americans who would like to see the country live up to it's own ideals.

Keep on fighting the good fight, and for dogs sake try some fair and accountable elections for a change, the banana-republicans have turned your democracy into a joke. You (decent thinking progressive types) don't stand a chance without fair elections, and you don't appear to have had one of those in this century.


Naked Ape

Anonymous said...

Wonderful essay, John. Bravo.

I especially love these four words; they gave me chills: "I see a dark momentum."

My favorite Jefferson quote: "The earth belongs to the living."

Anonymous said...

20 years of change and "dark momentum" is called "progress" by roughly half the country.

It's not an easy thing to see the decline of your political fortunes, but it's going to get worse.

Of course, from where I am sitting, "worse" actually means "better," but I empathize with your plight nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Is the current situation worse than slavery and Jim Crow?

Worse than when women couldn't vote?

Worse than when children were forced to work in sweatshops and mills from an early age?

Worse than Japanese internment camps and segregated combat units in WWII?

Worse than McCarthyism, blacklists, and HUAC?

Worse than Vietnam and Watergate?

Worse than the hostage crisis, stagflation, and gas shortage triple-threat?

We've been through worse, and we'll get through this. What we need is an effective leader. And wholly apart from any objective measure of his performance as President, Bush may simply be hated by too many Americans to unify the country now.

Karl said...

The problem is, that since they have been all through that kind of crap before...

They should know better.

Problem is, maybe they do and still don't give a flying f!@#.

And, that's a lot worse than just being plain ignorant.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Morality is legislated. Always has been in the US. Widely accepted moral values are codified as laws. Theft is a crime. Assault, battery, rape and murder are all crimes.

As moral values change, the laws codifying them may also change. Prohibition of alcohol was enacted, then repealed.

I hapen to agree with Schwarzennegger's action, if not his exact rationale. I'm not against gay marriage. But a clear majority voted against it when the proposition passed. If Schwarzennegger had signed the legislation into law, then opponents of gay marriage would put up another proposition. If it passed, we're back to square one. I see this as a waste of energy. I'm getting tired of seeing the same damn single issue propositions on the ballot over and over and over. Every four years, some corporate sponspored group put a proposition on the ballot that would make access to the civil court system harder for plaintiffs and try to sell it as tort reform. The trial lawyers then have their countervailing proposition on the ballot. I've been voting since 1976 and scrutinizing all the voting literature and I've lost track of how many times these things keep reappearing. I'm exhausted.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose that when the framers wrote this:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,…”

They meant this:

“U.S. Can Confine Citizens Without Charges, Court Rules”

Wonder where the Freepers who went ape-sh*t over the compensated taking of a house are now?