Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Pulpit Initiative and Matthew 25 Network: what's the difference?

FotF's response (see post below) included this little zinger at the end:

"On a final note, organizational endorsements of political candidates wed groups to their candidate in a way that may not lend itself to an honest critique of that individual’s weaknesses. As you’re likely aware, the group behind the Matthew 25 Web site endorsed Senator Obama for president."

Ah, the partisan charge. I've used my brain to make my best judgment about needful action (and come out differently than you) and so clearly my prejudices have precluded the possibility of "honest critique." I suppose the FotF endorsement of McCain is different.

But the issue raised--despite the obvious though amazingly unacknowledged hypocrisy--actually bears scrutiny, if you're talking about the religion and politics question, and when/how/how much a religious organization can get involved in the political process. Can a religious organization endorse a candidate, or is that going too far? Can a church--congregation or denomination--endorse a candidate? Can a preacher endorse a candidate with a yard sign? Can a preacher endorse a candidate from the pulpit?

Specifically, what's the difference between "The Pulpit Initiative" and the Matthew 25 Network? (I mean, apart from the obvious ideological one.) Does it make a significant difference that one is an organized effort to mobilize through congregations, using the pulpit on Sunday morning to endorse a candidate for political office, while the other is organized as a PAC (political action group), with an explicit appeal to religious, even biblical, reasoning for its endorsement of a candidate?

There is too much on my plate today, the day before I fly out for Chicago to present my AAR paper, to follow through on this as I'd like to. Beyond trying desperately to identify some professional-ish clothing that I can stuff my oversized butt into (a problem), planning for my weekend absence to make things as easy as possible for Brent and Clare, there's looking over that paper I'm presenting that I haven't thought about for the last 3 weeks. So I'll just have to leave it at the questions. You tell me: what's the difference?

FotF response to responses

You can read the letter here. Below is the response. I find the tone to be quite measured, rational, and not overly-defensive--although faintly condescending as the basic premise seems to be that I need to read the letter again as I obviously didn't understand it properly the first time. It did not change my estimation of the 2012 letter in the least. But I was, honestly, surprised to receive acknowledgment at all, and I figure it's fair to publicize this as well. Make your own judgment about the accuracy and the goals of the 2012 letter, if you bother to read it (frankly my recommendation is that you don't bother, but my 'partisan' leanings are hanging all out there, aren't they?) and in making your judgment, include the information from the response below, as it's relevant.

All I will say in response is that the unexamined assumption that it's impossible to be a real Christian and "liberal" is at the heart of the divisive nature of this letter as well as FotF's larger cultural agenda. I am indeed a Christian. And as I concluded in my letter, I truly believe that the redemptive grace of God is enough to cover all of us. Let's preach that, shall we?

If you feel motivated to send FotF your own response, you can go through the Matthew 25 Network.

Re: Letter from 2012 from Jennifer Thweatt-Bates in Summit, NJ
Discussion Thread
Response (Jonathan Bartha)10/29/2008 02:48 PM
Thanks for your e-mail. It was good of you to offer your candid reaction to Focus on the Family Action’s "Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America."

We’ve heard from many people who found this resource helpful; some, like you, have disagreed with our approach. While critics of this document accuse us of engaging in "sensationalist fiction," it’s vital to underscore that we are not claiming to make definitive predictions on what a Barack Obama presidency would produce.

However, as the "Letter from 2012" makes evident, every scenario outlined in this piece is plausible based on recent documented events, court rulings, the Democratic Party’s stated agenda, and Senator Obama’s voting record and campaign promises. We invite you to re-read the introduction of the letter [] which clearly states that we are neither employing unfounded "fear tactics" nor speaking out with mean-spirited intent. On the contrary, we’ve posted a reasonable projection of what *could* occur with a Senator Obama presidency and a Democratic-controlled Congress. Of course, we hope and pray that none of the possible outcomes described in "Letter from 2012" come to pass.

It might be beneficial to provide some additional background on our mission to help you better understand our reasons for engaging in the public policy realm. We have no interest in partisan politics; rather, we care deeply about the sanctity of human life, the value of marriage, and the preservation of religious freedom. Dr. Dobson has espoused these crucial issues since he launched Focus on the Family in 1977 and has always encouraged people to consider them at the ballot box. Despite what the Matthew 25 Network and other pro-Obama action groups may say, we contend that Senator Obama’s record *significantly* differs from the pro-life and pro-family policies that many Christians hold dear. Some may label this "fearmongering" -- we call it a sobering, rational assessment based on actual events documented in the letter.

It might be helpful for you to read a concise summary of four key points that motivate us in our actions:

1) Senator Barack Obama’s record is well outside the mainstream. For example, he was rated the most liberal United States senator by the _National Journal_ in 2007 [].

2) A Democratic president, House and Senate has significant implications for pro-family policies. _The Wall Street Journal_ has stated that this election will usher in "one of the most profound political and ideological shifts in U.S. history" if the Democrats control the White House and possess congressional majorities, including a filibuster-proof Senate []. This type of unchecked power, not seen since 1965, demands that voters critically examine the policies advocated by the Democratic Party.

3) Senator Obama’s commitment to causes championed by extreme liberal groups such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), both of which have endorsed him, are a source of great concern. Earlier this year, Senator Obama pledged that if elected president, he would advocate for and sign the "Freedom of Choice Act," which would repeal virtually every federal and state law regulating or limiting abortion -- including parental involvement laws for teenagers, late-term abortion bans, and limits on public funding of abortion. He has also indicated that he will make it a priority to repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act," which allows states to restrict marriage to one man and one woman. In addition, he backs other HRC-supported initiatives including the passage of "hate crimes" legislation and the "Employment Non-Discrimination Act" []. Similar legislation has penalized Christians who hold a biblical view of sexuality.

4) Senator Obama’s stated appreciation of United States Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and David Souter -- along with his votes against the nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito -- indicate he would appoint judges with a judicial philosophy detrimental to pro-family causes.

On a final note, organizational endorsements of political candidates wed groups to their candidate in a way that may not lend itself to an honest critique of that individual’s weaknesses. As you’re likely aware, the group behind the Matthew 25 Web site endorsed Senator Obama for president.

Again, thanks for writing. We hope this response has helped clarify our perspective and explained why we feel the Matthew 25 Network’s version of "choosing hope" without a sober look at the troubling elements of Senator Obama’s candidacy is misguided. Grace and peace to you.

Jonathan Bartha
Focus on the Family Action

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Identities, Cyborgs, Children's Books and Politics

And just like that, my worlds collide. Dissertation, children's books, presidential campaigns. An implosion Donna Haraway could be proud of!

Clare and I sometimes read a book before bedtime titled, Only You. It's a little love poem from a parent to a child, with lovely illustrations of waking up, playing, bathtime, bedtime--the daily routines which are the stuff of life lived together. Some of the pictures are of mommies and babies. Some are of daddies and little kids. Some are white. Some are black. Clare will often point to the mommy and say "mama." She used to point to the baby and say "baby"--now she points and says, "Clare." And then you turn the page, and see the illustration of a black man holding his little boy's hand as they walk through autumn leaves. And Clare points and says, "that's Daddy." And "that's Clare."

What I love about this is that she either doesn't notice at all, or doesn't know that it matters, that these pictures don't look like her or her Daddy. What defines the correspondence is not the identity of the people--it's the relationship depicted between them.

Clare is already beyond identity politics. I wish to God the rest of us really were, and I pray to God that somehow, I can mother her in a way that protects her from being dragged into them.

You're probably tired of hearing about cyborgs and transgressed, permeable, blurred boundaries from me. But all that ontological talk, while sometimes useful, obscures the real motivation for introducing cyborg discourse. The cyborg is, always was, a political figure. The cyborg is meant to signal the hope of breakdown of identity politics. After all, when you have no stable, categorical identity with which to label yourself, you can't really engage in the Us vs. Them of identity politicking. When you know you are both Us and Them...who do you pick a fight with? How do you choose sides?

Haraway writes, “With the hard-won recognition of their social and historical construction, gender, class, and race cannot provide the basis for belief in ‘essential’ unity…Gender, race or class consciousness is an achievement forced on us by the terrible historical experience of the contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. And who counts as ‘us’ in my own rhetoric? Which identities are available to ground such a potent political myth called ‘us,’ and what could motivate enlistment in this collectivity?” ("Cyborg Manifesto," in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, 155). To decode: when you realize that there's nothing essential about the identity of Woman, Blacks, The Poor--a realization easy to come by when you fit into multiple categories at once, since essential identity is presumably a coherent unity, who you really are--then you also realize that there's nothing automatically binding you together with other women, blacks, poor people in some mystical, magical, transcendent understanding. If there's understanding, it's forged through the difficulties of navigating similar social/historical circumstance--the same thing that categorizes you in a lump to begin with. But that understanding must be actively constructed, not assumed. Assuming those essential identities as the political starting point not only accepts the -ism spawned systems which birthed them, it opens the door to what Haraway describes as "endless splitting and searches for a new essential identity" (155).

The cyborg sidesteps this dizzying circle of identity politics with its tautological reasoning and categorical essentialism, because the cyborg knows from the beginning that its identity doesn't fit in the available identity boxes. So: "From the perspective of cyborgs, freed of the need to ground politics in 'our' privileged position of the oppression that incorporates all other dominations, the innocence of the merely violated, the ground of those closer to nature, we can see powerful possibilities... To recognize 'oneself' as fully implicated in the world, frees us of the need to root politics in identification, vanguard parties" (176).

I don't need to be like you to work together with you. I don't need to have the same categorical identity as you to have the same goals. I don't need to feel like we are, in some deep way, the same.

Andrew Sullivan sees Barack Obama as having skipped the dialectics of racial identity politics in this campaign. I said it long ago: he's the cyborg candidate.

But Sullivan says something else, too, something that I've been noticing more and more as the campaigns drag on and on. Identity politics may not be a part of Obama's campaign. But they have become a part of the McCain/Palin campaign.

When I blogged about Joe the Plumber's mythological existence--he's right up there with dragons, ghosties, Tinkerbell, and Santa Claus--this is what I was trying to express. Somehow, Joe the Plumber became the representative of Real America. Imagine--I mean, wow, the unprecedented move of choosing a white man to represent all American citizens. But beyond my knee-jerk gag reflex...the more terrible truth is that Joe the Plumber wasn't really meant to represent all American citizens. Joe the Plumber represents Real America, not all America. The America inside America: the small town values, the pro-America areas of America, the hard-working America, the patriotic America. We will fight for you, Real America. We understand you. We are just like you. As for Barack Obama, we don't know who he is. He has a weird middle name and lived overseas and his black preacher seems pretty pissed about stuff we don't want to talk about and there's that Weather Underground dude back in his hood in Chicago, also. So we are pretty sure he's not like you. And that means he won't be fighting for you.

How effective is it? Well, it's what we're used to. It's what we know: Us vs. Them is a game we get, a language we speak fluently. Tina Graham gets it: "'I never really thought about whether or not that I was racist, or however you want to put it,' said Tina Graham. She fears Obama would focus on African-Americans at the expense of poor white people like herself. 'It's just the fact that I think that he will represent them, and what they want, and what they need. ... They're his people, they're his race.'" (You can listen to the NPR story here.)

Is it racism? Maybe not. Maybe having a black friend saves you from having to claim that shameful label. Maybe it's just, as Sullivan puts it, "the reductio ad absurdum of political appeals based purely on cultural or ethnic identity." It's absurd all right. But it's also powerful.

Don't get me wrong. This sort of divisive identity politicking happens everywhere. Bill Maher trades in it every time he says there are two Americas, one progressive, European country trapped inside this backwards conservative evangelical country (I've heard this statement twice, once on Charlie Rose and once to Jon Stewart, who, to his credit, didn't seem to buy it). The simplistic antagonistic atheism of Maher meets its religious mirror image in the FotF 2012 letter. Despite the ideological gulf, they are indeed mirror images of the Same, mimicking each other in an endless recursion of self- and other-defeating suspicion.

In a presidential campaign that contains both the defeat and the revivification of identity politics, we have a choice. Do we, as a nation, succumb to the tempting, security-blanket familiarity of voting our Identity? Or do we take the huge step of recognizing that we don't need to have the same categorical identity to have the same goal of building together a liveable world, for everyone who lives in it? Can we follow the lead of a politician whose own personal identity, bridging the categories we like to think within, provides a starting point that sidesteps the necessity of Identification for political cooperation, whose campaign has steadily resisted drawing the boundaries between our various American identities that we all wish weren't there?

cyborg, but not Robin Hood. honestly!

Once upon a time, in a land not really that far away, in a country not yet blessed with democracy (but destined to become the birthplace of that fantastic political experiment...uh, erm, or at least, destined to become the hoary forebear of that fantastic political experiment...) and still suffering from the hierarchical power structures in which white male privilege were visibly evident, that is, of course, feudalism...

There was a yeoman who protested the unjust practice of taxation without representation, who saw that the ruthless powers-that-were cared not for the people they were supposed to serve and protect, and with courage and daring, defied those powers in order to serve the robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

Ah, Robin Hood. The Champion of The Redistribution of Wealth. Stay dead, fiendish rogue! We used to enjoy you in our movies and applaud your heroic feats, your stand against injustice and your solidarity with the poor. You used to seem warm and fuzzy and friendly. Damn you, Disney, for making him such a cute little fox! Another example of the out-of-control liberal media attempting their insidious indoctrination... But now we know better. You're no hero in real life. You steal. You take the justifiably earned goods of those who have, to give them to people who did not work to attain them. You skunky villain. Disney should have painted you black with a white stripe down the middle.

Seriously. When did redistribution of wealth become scary? And to whom? And who are you in the narrative if it is?

But finally. Let's be up front about the fact that Obama's comment to Joe the Plumber was not a declaration of government Robin Hood-ism. The plan is not to repo your minivan and give it to the poor family across town. Stop with the uber-defensive reactionary crap--the "don't take my stuff" thing. The point is that there are, still, systemic and structural barriers to success depending on one's starting point. You've got a tougher road to basic economic security and a decent life if you get born poor and black and urban. This matters. The solution is not Robin Hood violent redistribution of wealth--that sort of thing simply props up the economic system that creates the inequity in the first place through its short term fix. And Obama knows that. The Robin Hood villain rhetoric--without the Robin Hood bit, because he is a kind of persistent hero figure in our cultural narrative after all--is a misrepresentation designed to generate fear and distrust. It's so obvious I can't believe I even have to write it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

reasons to hope?

Out of 15 calls made to PA women voters (though I actually spoke to a couple of spouses who seemed willing to engage in conversation):

hangups: 1
polite excuses to hang up: 2
wrong numbers: 2
messages left: 3
Obama supporters: 5 + 1 probable
McCain supporters: 1

The one McCain supporter actually was the most interesting conversation of the night: a Philly resident, he readily identified the NRA/guns as the number one issue that pushed him away from Obama (this was volunteered without prompting) as "Philadelphia isn't really safe and Obama doesn't understand this issue" and, with prompting for any more important issues in deciding his vote, pro-life. He listened very politely while I offered my own pro-life rationale for my Obama support though he didn't want to engage on it. But it was a nice experience for my one phone encounter with a McCain supporter. Interestingly, he identified himself as a Democrat voting for McCain b/c of those issues. Also very interestingly, though perhaps not really relevant, is that his wife initially hung up on me, and he called me back.

But 6 out of 7 actual people on the phone more or less immediately identified themselves as Obama supporters. That's pretty hopeful. Right?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

some undisciplined musings on feminism, abortion, and politics: or, why Obama is not a baby-killer

Before we talk about what it means to end a pregnancy, let's talk about what it is to be pregnant. I'm writing from the first person, as always, on this blog--well, as always, anywhere, really, since how else would a person write? But for a long time now I have been a part of that big academic collective hallucination that subjectivity can be somehow dampened if you just try hard enough, so a reminder is always good. But I bring it up now to signal that I am going to be deliberately and directly drawing on my experience of pregnancy with Clare.

Nowadays I like to own the f-word, feminist, in contrast to my early post-Harding days when I still found that word too divisive and scary to use. What I discovered, once I began actually reading some feminists, is that feminism isn't what I had been trained to think it was. But what I stumbled into, with my late entry into the game, is what I've since learned to label "third-wave feminism." To grossly oversimplify, think of first-wave feminists as proclaiming the message "hey dudes, we have brains too--that makes us real people with real rights, so give us the damn vote already and quit staring at our boobs." Second-wave feminists realized, after awhile, that making personhood all-head and no-body was defaulting to the male anthropological paradigm and said, "Look, we don't want your penes. Boobs and wombs are great. We can do and see and know things you poor slobs never will. We are earthy and natural and love it--you want to live in your head, fine; we're happy with our bodies. Long live the goddess!" Third-wave feminism comes along and says, "Um, girls? Look around a sec and notice that we're not identical--not all of us are privileged white chicks who have the luxury of making an epistemological privilege out of having wombs. Yeah, our bodies are different from males and that difference is awesome--but we're also all different from each other, and that's important too."

How does this relate to the topic at hand? I think that the assumptions built into the current, tired abortion discourse are first-wave assumptions: talk of the body as property, talk of the right to privacy to that 'property.' I think that's rubbish philosophically, no matter what kind of traction it gets legally. As I understand it, and actual lawyers who might happen to read this post can elaborate or correct if necessary, the basic legal underpinning to Roe v. Wade: an (at least) implicit right to privacy in the Constitution, applied to one's body parts. The problem for me is simply that I think it's wrongheaded to think of one's body as property--an anthropological assumption built into the legal argument. It's an inherited anthropology that assumes that Mind/Soul is the "I" and body is just the thing the "I" uses to get around in, everyone has one and everyone is entitled to do with it and treat it as he sees fit. In the R v. W. application, the important point is that as long as the fetus is attached to the mother's body, the fetal body is an extension of the maternal body and therefore the "property" of the mother in the same sense her own body originally is and always was. But if our bodies are ourselves (second wave talk, there), dualistic anthropology and body-as-property are rejected.

But what would it mean to be pregnant, if bodies are not property and fetal bodies are not the extension of maternal body-as-property? It's an interesting question and one that preoccupied me quite a bit during my own pregnancy. Not conceiving my own body as my ontological and legal property, I did not conceive Clare's developing body as my property. But was that developing body an extension of my own, or was that body always Clare? Or when and where does the transformation from part-of-me to being-her take place? Notice these are the same questions that always get asked--but asked from a slightly different perspective, the perspective of embodied but bound together creatures, whose ontological boundaries are permeable, blurred and confusing. Yes: are you hearing it? That's cyborg talk. Yes: I am claiming pregnant women are cyborgs.

But what's the point? Well, for one thing, if we could admit that pregnancy is an ontologically confusing category, and stop trying to draw undrawable boundaries about when/how a baby becomes its own person (=when a baby has enough of a brain to justify postulating its own consciousness/self-awareness/personhood???), we might be able to stop wasting time and energy and breath about something that we'll never figure out because we set the terms wrong to begin with. Everyone who wants to draw that line is ignoring the obvious fact that--whether you put it at conception on the basis of potential consciousness/self-awareness/personhood, or at some late stage of fetal development on the basis of postulated consciousness/self-awareness/personhood--that the bodies in question remain bound together and this is important. Not secondary. Not a question of correctly drawing property lines. A matter of survival.

Secondly, I think we could benefit from being forced to admit that if we care about the baby, we also care about the mother, because they are embodied together. Everyone knows that what the mom does, eats, drinks affects the developing body bound to her own in utero. In my experience, this embodied-togetherness lasted quite awhile after Clare's birth as well: we were synched bodily for a year, most obviously through breastfeeding though I suspect there were other manifestations as well.

So hear me on this: I don't think abortions are the kind of decision one makes when deciding how to dispose of personal property. You don't clean out your womb like you clean out your closet. That's not the moral prescription it sounds like in the second person--let me try again. No one cleans out her womb like she cleans out a closet. It's not the same. It's not even a good parallel. The fact that it's the paradigm enshrined in our legal precedent is, IMO, harmful to the discourse. It does not reflect reality. It is not cognizant of what it means to be a human being, of the embodied reality of being human. It is not cognizant of what it means to be a pregnant woman, a special case of bound-together human embodiments.

One way in which direct harm is done to our discourse in in the different paradigms of the woman who chooses abortion at work on each side of the debate. Pro-lifers tend to view the paradigmatic woman as one who chooses abortion for the sake of convenience: my closet is full, I don't like this dress, I'll get rid of it. The language of Roe v. Wade, with its view of human bodies as property, aids the contruction of this rhetorically effective, distorted paradigm. I have written before that I think this is utterly false.

If I am right--and I am at least being true to my own experience--and pregnancy is best considered a bound-together embodied cyborg existence, then the choice to abort is a choice that is best spelled out in double terms: choosing to terminate self and other, because in this strange cyborg existence they are not truly separable. To call this tragedy is to light-heartedly understate the case. I hope this gives some sense of how serious I am when I insist that I do not consider this moral decision-making a matter of abstract "choice" and "rights." It don't even think it's an issue of "equality." It's a matter of living and dying.

But more than being a false construct, a straw (wo)man, I think this paradigm of the convenient abortion is hurtful in that it gives people permission to consider woman as less than reliable moral agents in this situation. This is the basis, I think, of the impulse to legislate--take away this choice because these woman are going to choose wrong and "we" (=the capable moral agents) can't allow that. If we make abortion illegal (and presumably therefore unavailable), then we don't have to just trust and pray that these untrustworthy moral agents will somehow make the right decision. We can coerce the moral decision by making a law about it.

Again, hear me on this: I am not offering a version of right-to-choose based on right-to-privacy. But beyond the question of whether morality can be coerced, and beyond the pragmatic point, often made, that making abortion illegal will not magically make it unavailable but simply more dangerous and unregulated, what's wrong with this position is that it demeans women. It refuses to recognize the embodied fact of the bound-together state of pregnancy, and the undeniable consequence that the mother is the moral decision maker who matters in this strange bound-together cyborg existence of pregnancy. We can recognize this and honor it, or we can deny it, and with our denial, tell women that the cyborg existence of pregnancy makes them temporarily not fully human and therefore not capable moral agents like everyone else. (And ignore the fact that she has 9 months in which to continue, daily, making the moral decisions that are a part of the cyborg fact of pregnancy. Each one is its own affirmation or denial of the other within.)

This is what I hear Obama saying--though of course, without the cyborg rhetoric. Still, what I heard at the Saddleback Forum was a recognition that a pregnant woman is a human being in an extraordinary, singular, ontologically confusing state of human existence ("above his pay grade" to suss out when a baby becomes a distinct person). She is herself, she is another; another is within, another is part, another is her. Our laws can recognize that no one but the cyborg mother is in a position to make the decision about how to respond to this other, or our laws can deny it. But legally denying reality does not change this moral reality. Stephen Colbert can choose to reside in Fantasyland for ideological reasons; the rest of us don't have the luxury.

The articles which raise alarms about Obama as on record as extremist pro-choice miss this basic fact just as surely as Roe v. Wade does. We can legislate "no" till we're blue in the face; it doesn't change the fact that it is a woman who lives in the constant, strange cyborg existence of pregnancy, and who faces a million daily decisions about her cyborg body(ies) as a result. Supporting laws which recognize this de facto reality get him labeled extremist. I think a better label would be realist. A woman determined to terminate a pregnancy can do so with an abortion--or she can go through 9 months of legally coerced pregnant cyborg existence, undermining the developing other within, consciously or unconsciously, through the millions of daily decisions that can never be coerced no matter how many laws are passed, because truly nurturing this other requires pro-active, affirming behaviors that one can only assume a woman wanting an abortion is unwilling/unable to provide. And that's just during pregnancy; who knows--and who cares???--what happens to this vulnerable human other after the formal but incomplete separation of childbirth.

And here, despite all the critique he gets as some kind of 'naive idealist,' is where Obama's pragmatism comes into play. We need a law that recognizes the incontrovertible moral agency of women in this situation. And if we're truly interested in promoting an outcome of life for these cyborg humans known as pregnant woman/fetuses, then we need to make it possible, desirable, and beneficial for these cyborgs to choose it--to celebrate their cyborg existence. This is the argument you'll find on the Pro-Life, Pro-Obama site of the Matthew 25 Network.

My apologies for the unruly aspects of this post. I know my prose is unpolished and my argument a little unorganized and I truly wish that I could do more justice to a topic that I've put off for so long precisely because it is so important. But this is here and now, and this is the best I can do for today.

Please be kind.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Top 10 Things Palin Should've Said

to prompt line, "You are way hotter in person."

off the top of my head:

You're not.
I'm also way cooler.
Too bad it's not a beauty pageant I'm competing in.
I changed my hair.
(please feel free to contribute. As Kate Eicher tweeted, there are a million witty possibilities)

But I am of the opinion that the only effective rejoinder (politically, not humorously) would have been some variation of "I'm way smarter in person, too." It's what I would have said.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

mythical creatures: The American People, The Middle Class, and Joe the Plumber

My dissertation topic is the posthuman, which, rather unsurprisingly, has a certain kinship with other monstrous and mythical creatures: vampires, Frankenstein's monster, aliens, cyborgs and robots. So I spend a lot of time thinking about mythical creatures--concepts and images we carry around in our collective imagination, which we know don't really exist, but still serve in some sense to shape and define our view of ourselves and our world.

So, preoccupied with such, maybe it should have been unsurprising that I noticed a certain number of mythical creatures pop up in the debate last night.

The American People. The monolithic American People does not exist. Don't task me for my grammar; the verb is singular because the concept is singular. And that's what makes it false. I'm American. If you're reading this, you're probably American, because I don't have a huge int'l readership. But does this accident of our individual births somehow fuse us into one conceptual entity, one monolithic national identity, which can then be called upon reliably to display its uniform attitudes, desires, way of life, dreams? No. Should it? No. Has it ever? Probably not.

The Middle Class. IMO, just another version of the above. In the mythical land of The American People, The American People are Middle Class. At least, The American People that count are The Middle Class. Everytime I hear that phrase I want to clutch at my head and shout to the heavens, "what is so wrong with caring about the poor??? why is it off-limits for a politician to say, "poor people need some help"?" But beyond that, even, the point is that there is no The Middle Class in the sense we toss that phrase around anyhow. What is middle class? Does it mean growing up not worrying that you won't get enough to eat, but always with the background knowledge that there's not really enough money, to the point where in high school you were the kid who never asked your parents for $5 for the movies? Or is it growing up with enough security that money was never an issue, not even a background one? Obama's line of 250,000 sounds comfortably wealthy to me; but that just raises the I really middle class?

Joe the Plumber. Sure, I know he's a real guy. I heard him on the phone with Katie Couric and there's an NPR story about him and everything. But Joe the Plumber, symbolic representative of The Middle Class American People, DNE. He is a mythical creature. And he does not represent me, at least not in any way that takes into account differences that make a difference. I am very, very tired of being put into categories--social or philosophical--in which my humanity is represented by white maleness if it is to count. And I bet there are some others, as American as I am and as American as the real Joe the plumber, who feel the same.

Americans are not adequately represented by a white dude.

But The American People is a white dude.

Monday, October 13, 2008


  1. tight hug round the neck from a crying toddler because you're the mommy who is the source of all comfort, even when you're the mommy who said "no" and made her cry in the first place.
  2. arguing with Dad about theological stuff without the tightness in my tummy that usually comes with disagreeing with people I love and admire and want to think well of me. breakthrough! love you Dad! thanks for arguing!
  3. Brent making me margaritas while waiting patiently for me to 1) quit talking on the phone and 2) quit the computer.
bonus: breakthrough realization on the dissertation today! yay yay yay!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


If you had a choice about it, what amazingly marvelous handknitted Christmas gift would you most like to receive? Are you a Dumbledore who fervently wishes for warm socks? Or are you like my mei-mei, who wants legwarmers for her arms?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

disturbing thoughts.

Yesterday I heard about the most upfront racist statement I've ever heard on the radio. No, I wasn't listening to some kind of shock jock and the n-word wasn't used. But the sentiment was palpably racist.
"I never really thought about whether or not that I was racist, or however you want to put it," said Tina Graham. She fears Obama would focus on African-Americans at the expense of poor white people like herself. "It's just the fact that I think that he will represent them, and what they want, and what they need. ... They're his people, they're his race." (You can listen to the NPR story here.)
While looking up that hyperlink, I was confronted with this story on the NPR homepage: "Searching for a President 'Just Like Us.'" This story is less about implicit racism than the populist appeal at work in both campaigns, but the title arrested my attention; for this is exactly what is at work in the aversion to Obama expressed in the above quote. He's not like me, this VA voter is saying. He is Them. And They are something to be afraid of--what They want and need is different from what We want and need, and we better make sure We elect someone who's going to work for Us. Not Them.

But what's been disturbing me today is not so much the spectre of implicit and unacknowledged racism or all the talk about "the Bradley effect" and how that may undermine Obama come election day.

What's disturbing me today is the realization that, for my own part, I dislike McCain because I recognize that McCain is Not Like Me. (He's hawkish, I have a peace dove tattooed on my foot. Etc.) Now, I hasten to assure myself, "Self, I have good reasons for being Me. So it's okay, there's nothing wrong here. It's a matter of principle and thoughtful rationale, not knee-jerk not-like-me-ness." I'd like to believe myself. But then there's Sarah Palin. Who is also very, very much Not Like Me.

And Obama is, perhaps surprisingly, Like Me. ("professorial!" oh, that warms the cockles of my heart, people!)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pro-Life, Pro-Obama

Not to distract from the riveting Palin, but check out the new link under "politics and religion" on the sidebar. Matthew 25 Network has launched the site. Also, I've entered a quote from the home page on, which you'll find on the widget; if you want to vote on accuracy/relevance just click on the link below it to get to ameritocracy & sign up.

Veep debate lists and tallies

Like my liveblogging of the RNC speech, this post should not be considered serious commentary on the candidates or their respective policies. It will be sarcastic, disrespectful, probably snide. I'm not trying to be fair; I'm trying to express some incredulity and outrage on this, my personal blog, which functions as a useful outlet for, well, incredulity and outrage. My "partisan" Obama leanings will be evident because I ate the arugula a long time ago...and, since having turned into one by virtue of my East Coast over-education, I just kinda like pointy-headed elitists. So there's the disclaimer: read this as an attempt at comedy, the kind of "laugh so you don't weep" kind, and don't get your panties all in a wad, or your knickers all in a twist (if you happen to be from NZ). And finally, please consider these lists and tallies as works in progress, and feel free to contribute.


1 blown kiss
2 winks
no observable hip waggles (podium in the way)
4 come-hither eyes, then I stopped counting
1 sexy grin (at least)

nuke-you-ler: at least 6 times.

Folksy Talkin' List

can I call ya Joe [six pack not included]?
darn right
Joe Six Pack hearts Hockey Mom (I know that's not verbatim)
darn right
"the tax thing"
bless their hearts*
Main Streeter like me
drill baby drill
Man (come on people: can't we all just admit not all of humanity is male, or is that too much to ask, really? and for the record, Biden followed suit on that question, using the term "manmade". Argh, argh, argh. Though I would enjoy pinning the cause of global warming on solely the male half of humanity, I don't think that would really be scientifically accurate.)
say it ain't so Joe
doggone it

Notable Phrases and Unbelievable Comments

"No, it isn't [correct] but I'm still on the 'tax thing'..."
apparently she can use the word "raping" casually (Anna's observation)
John McCain knows how to win a war (an inside job on Vietnam?)
"the middle class where Todd and I have been all our lives"--um...yeah, I know tons of people who live in governor's mansions. (Actually, I do kind of know someone who used to, now that I think about it...)
can't allow other countries to pollute "more than America will stand for"--wow, well, the whole planet just got dropped in the trash bin, or doesn't she know that America is the world's #1 polluter?
"Talibannie" (the diminutive form of Taliban, apparently. perhaps technically only refers to the young'uns, or maybe just the hotties. Some women just have a thing for beards, after all...)
and my favorite: "where I would lead...with his agenda."

Most Often Heard Outburst from Middle Class Living Room TV Audience

how many get out of jail free cards does she get to play? can't there be a limit to how many times she can redirect a question on anything she doesn't like to energy policy? Gwen Ifill, I demand that you do something about this! Why aren't you doing something??? Oh...I get it...unlimited get-out-of-jail-free was a precondition of the debate, wasn't it...:(