By Judith Gayle | Political Waves
Examples abound of politics being personal in these challenging times. They are also local. Here in Southern Missouri, I belong to a Political Action Committee that holds a yearly contest for high school kids. In each of several counties, participating students are asked to write an essay on "Why We Should Vote." We had a sizeable turnout last year, given the presidential election; this year there were not so many. Still, reading through forty essays that all sound alike is a brain-numbing experience. The talking points obviously reflected their teachers' instruction, and a thread of militarism disguised as patriotic duty ran through every submission. The repeated, effusive honoring of those who "died for our freedom" exposes the deep taproot of American nationalism.
In the end, choosing a winner came down to selecting an entry with a bit of originality and a unique presentation. There weren't many contenders. We haven't raised taxes for schools in decades, and it shows.
Yes, politics are local. We read the news to get the larger national picture, but in this age of information deluge, we get a big dose of local politics with every link we open. West Virginia comes to mind. The recent disaster at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch mine snuffed out the lives of 29 miners, filling our screens with photos and film coverage of anxious, grieving families awaiting news of their loved ones. Sadly, those not killed by the explosion perished from toxic levels of methane gas. The inherent dangers of coal mining became national news, exposing the political machinery that begets such tragedy and the systemic lack of worker protections that threatens us all.
The Sago Mine disaster in 2006 killed 12 and sparked calls for more safety regulation and industrial safeguards. Bush gave lip service to reform without enforcing mine safety laws -- or any other laws distasteful to his corporate cronies. Aided by the Chamber of Commerce, coal companies have used loopholes to file appeals on 18,000 pending citations, leaving $210 million in contested penalties yet unpaid. While an appeal is pending, business goes on as usual and the resulting profits more than cover any eventual fines. As recently as March, Massey was twice cited for a build-up of lethal coal dust and a failure to conduct inspections. Massey appealed at least 37 of the 50 citations issued against the company for serious safety violations last year. Massey Energy Company is the current poster child for classist, corporate greed resulting in deadly mismanagement.
Politics is also regional. The collective voice once thought of as Coastal or Southern or Midwestern now defines our two-party system. Democrats come in all colors and cultural flavors, but not so the Republicans, who now represent a distillation of older white power. Although disgust at government is not localized, in the Bible Belt -- as the Red states are commonly known -- radical distrust of government has brought local politics close to sedition. In Oklahoma, the Baggers seek to enlist Republican legislators and candidates in assembling a state-wide volunteer militia to 'protect state sovereignty.' This is not overblown fearspeak; these folks reportedly have gained "rock solid" support from their legislators. Oklahoma Republicans apparently intend to defy the United States government, defending their actions by calling Obama a Muslim, proclaiming entitlements to be Socialism and needed public spending to be a financial abomination. Their rants may sound like gibberish to you and me, but seem to make perfect sense in The Sooner state and the other Red states that join her.
The more I study the local and regional politics of this nation, the more they resemble "The Jabberwocky
," by Lewis Carroll:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"
Written in 1872, and included in Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There
, "The Jabberwocky" is called nonsense poetry, an example of cacophony or discordant word placement. It's more than a bit of entertaining gibberish, though. It reflects the dark and fearsome paranoia that Alice must master in her surreal adventure and speaks to the deep level of fear in the human psyche. Modern examples of Jabberwocks include jihadists, Nazis and socialists. In prehistoric times, these roles were likely filled by lightning and plagues and saber-toothed tigers. Humankind can't seem to shake an ever-present fear of the unknown disaster lurking around the corner, a constant threat to common sense and realism.
Sarah Palin -- a Jubjub bird, for sure -- offered a perfect jabberwocky example in an astounding run-on sentence the other day, telling a crowd, "We should create a competitive climate for investment and for renewables and alternatives that are economical and doable and none of this snake oil science stuff that is based on this global warming, Gore-gate stuff that came down where there was revelation that the scientists, some of these scientists were playing political games."
Science is snake oil, sayeth the Jubjub.
Newt Gingrich then told the same crowd that Obama was 'the most radical president in American history.' As a 2012 presidential hopeful, he calls for defunding of all Obama legislation if his party takes the House or Senate this November, followed by repeal of anything passed by the Dems in the last two years. Gingrich hopes for a repeat of 1995, when, having swept Bill Clinton's congress, Newt and his party shut down the federal government to flex their ideological muscles. Republican leadership backs Newt's plan, and will employ its tactic of obstruction during the summer vetting of a Supreme Court nominee. Red states challenging Health Care Reform as unconstitutional have pledged to filibuster any Supreme Court nominee who would not rule in their favor. Newt wins my nomination for frumious Bandersnatch.
In contrast, national news seems more than sane. Obama's impressive gathering of 47 national leaders -- the largest hosted by an American president since 1945 -- all signed on to corral loose nukes and secure fissile materials. While still fragile, economic recovery is beginning to spread to most parts of the country. Showing a bit of backbone, Obama plays tough with the bankers, and the Democrats stand firm for proposed Wall Street reforms that should make the Baggers happy, should they decide to notice. At the moment, they're too busy 'taking their country back.' In Jabberwocky style, "All mimsy were the borogoves." I prefer this minority of my countrymen to keep their guns to themselves and stop claiming to speak for all Americans.
The militias, brainchild of the lock-and-load Baggers, want not just limited government, but minimal domestic leadership from Washington D.C. Their ideal would leave no one to stimulate job creation, fight for oversight or regulation or subsidize state coffers. Who, then, would pay their unemployment or authorize their food stamps, pave their roads or rebuild their bridges? But no matter, they're in the heat of the moment now. In overblown rhetoric and posture, they declare war on the Federal government. One militia organizer acknowledges that he draws inspiration from the white supremacist end-times thriller, The Turner Diaries,
the infamous book that inspired domestic terrorist, Timothy McVeigh.
As the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing looms on April 19th, Daily Kos reports that "the pro-gun group Second Amendment March (SAM) will lead a demonstration to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, 'to remind America that the Second Amendment is necessary to maintain our right to self defense.'" The ego of America is armed and on the march. Law enforcement holds its breath across the nation, and with good reason. Clearly, in defense against an unknown, imaginary Jabberwock, we too often turn into the very thing we fear.