Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Presidents and Monuments

Order of business #1: Soldier and scholar Philip Pangrac, proprietor of the blog Lawful Good Wonk (whose updates you can track on the "Folks Bloggin'" section to the right), recently posted a few words about President Obama. His whole statement resonated with me so acutely that I feel I must share it with you in its trenchant entirety:

Barack Obama does not have my vote. I'm not happy with all he's accomplished so far since taking office, but more to the point I'm not happy with how he doesn't fight for anything liberal or progressive. And don't get me started on how he's handled civil liberties and the War on Terror. Is he as bad as McCain would have been? Probably not. But that doesn't mean he's any good.

And what annoys me is that even if he wins (which I expect will happen), it's still a victory for the Republicans, because even if the Democrats take back the House and gain in the Senate, no progressive agenda will come forth. Obama isn't going to come out on January 20th, 2013 and say "Now that I no longer have to worry about reelection, I can push forward on what really matters: an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, full marriage equality for gays and lesbians, a strengthening of the EPA, dissolution of the Department of Homeland Security, an end to wiretapping and extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention, criminal trials for those who used torture, and a higher tax rate on the wealthiest two percent and major corporations."

Barack Obama doesn't want any of those things. I'm not sure what he wants that I also want.There must be something, but will he fight for it? Will he stand up to the Republican party?

Fuck. No.

In 2009 Obama, with a Democratic Congress, could have come out swinging, fighting for and, dare I say, forcing the passage of groundbreaking legislation to undo the damage done by the Bush administration to America's economy, our liberties, and our standing in the world. He could have shamed the Republican party for their hard lurch further and further Right, and he could have shown the country the value of progressive ideals and the relative sanity of the Democratic party.

Did he? Did he take control of the conversation, did he set the parameters of the discussion, did he define who he was and who the Republicans were? No. Not at all. He let the other side paint him as un-American, anti-American, socialist, arrogant, elitist, naive, inexperienced, and whatever else you want to recall. He let the party that had just been trounced in two consecutive elections make demands, and whatever demands he didn't give into outright he entertained as valid.

He wouldn't and won't use the bully pulpit, he wouldn't and won't use his charisma and popularity to sway the public. He's less unlikeable than any Republican (or just about any), yet he can't get anything done because he won't use the tools at his disposal.

Either he is weak or he is uncommitted, and neither is a quality that should be found in a president.

Who will I vote for? I don't know. Maybe the Green candidate, maybe I'll write someone in. The only important thing is that I vote my conscious, [sic] which means I vote for the person I feel is best suited for the office of the Presidency.

And Barack Obama is not him.

The only point on which my conscience disagrees with Mr. Pangrac's is that I still feel obligated vote for Obama as a matter of moral pragmatism. A vote for Obama is essentially a vote against the Bachmann/Perry/Romney Schrödinger's candidate on the other side. A vote for a third party is a plus-zero for both candidates' "scores." In light of the crass nationalism, dogmatism, social irresponsibility, and aggressive ignorance that has lately metastasized throughout the G.O.P. like a belligerent lymph-borne cancer, the election of any Republican candidate to the top of the Executive Branch could reasonably be expected to carry disastrous consequences. It puts a bad taste in my mouth, but voting for a lousy and ineffective President is the most expedient means of preventing an outright dangerous President from entering the White House.

Order of business #2: About a week ago, my friend James (mentioned here so frequently because so few of my other friends have either the gall or gumption to intrude upon my solitude) emailed me a link to a transcript and recording of "Beyond Vietnam," his favorite Martin Luther King speech. He had already given me a printout of the transcript some years ago, but probably felt compelled to send it back my way after revisiting it himself. If I had to venture a further guess, I'd say all this media hubbub about the recently-completed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial inspired him to go back over some of his favorite Dr. King literature.

I had read the text of the speech before now, but never actually listened to it. After doing so, I now feel that erecting a monument to the man was a well-intentioned mistake.

Not that Dr. King's life and work are undeserving of high praise and recognition. Heavens, no.

I cannot find an exact figure, but gives a ballpark cost of $114,000,000 for the design and construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. That's $114,000,000 that could have gone to any number of social programs and worthy causes.

If you haven't yet taken the detour and read/listened to Dr. King's address (and you really should), here is a particularly meaty excerpt (emphases mine):

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken: the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Do you suppose the man who spoke these words would really want the nation to spend $114,000,000 building a statue of him when we could very easily find fifty-seven severely underfunded school districts that could each benefit from a $2,000,000 grant?

Dr. King's preference, were he still capable of choosing, should be blazingly obvious. This fact isn't lost on even executive architect Ed Jackson, who admitted as much during an NPR interview (emphases mine, once again):

Dr. King probably would not have wanted to have a monument to himself at all. But we're not building this for Dr. King. We're building this in honor of his legacy such that his legacy doesn't die with him. And so we're building this to inspire others to follow in his footsteps. And in doing so, you have to do it in such a compelling way that people are emotionally moved by what they experience on this memorial setting that we have created.

I disagree.

Washington, DC has enough god damn memorials already. And now there's another one. One more ten-minute stop on the already-crowded itinerary of next year's fourth grade field trip. Another statue to drag your bored and whining nephew along on the way to the Vietnam Memorial from the Lincoln Memorial.

This is supposed to be the Information Age, damn it. A statue has nothing to teach us.

If we were really serious about honoring and preserving Dr. King's Legacy -- and not simply paying him lip service -- we would have kept the statue unbuilt and invested the $120,000,000 in public education, ensuring that the next generations be sufficiently well-read and informed to understand Dr. King's accomplishments and ideals. In such a future, no statue would be necessary. The reasons for which the nation honors the man would be self-evident, and need no gaudy stone tourist attractions to stroke the public's attention.


  1. I don't really follow politics, but I have no idea what Obama and the Democrats have been doing for the past 3 years. I voted for him back in '08, though with the Electoral College system, I can safely say that my vote didn't really matter. There was no way that the McCain was going to lose the whopping 3 Electoral Votes from an incredibly red state as Alaska, doubly so with Palin on the ballot.

    So during the election, we had those big issues like the economic crisis, gay marriage, getting out of the Middle East, and health care. And with the exception of the US kinda-sorta pulling out of Iraq, I haven't seen progress on any of these fronts.

    To be honest, I never understood the specifics of the health care reform. The Democrats pushed it in 2009, and passed it in 2010. I don't know what it was supposed to do. Was it supposed to provide publicly-funded health care like in Canada? Or was it to make health insurance a mandatory thing like car insurance for motorists, and attempting to regulate it so that because everyone needed it, companies would be encouraged to provide competitive rates for premiums?

    In August 2009, when the health care debates were in full swing, I remember approaching the Alaska Democratic Party booth at the Alaska State Fair, and asked the man there what the hell the proposed bill was supposed to do. For 10 minutes he went on with anecdotes about why health care was important, never answering my question. It was also really hard to listen to his words, as he had a rather distracting lisp, but I try not to hold that against him.

    I've worked for my family's small business for all of my adult life, and haven't had health care since I became too old to be on my father's plan. I haven't been to the doctor in at least 7 years. I probably at least need a check-up. For all I know, I could have diabetes. But I don't want to go to the doctor to get checked, fearing that if I get diagnosed with something without insurance, I'll be paying for treatments out-of-pocket for the rest of my life.

    I've considered shopping around for personal health insurance, but have no idea what to look for, or what I should be expecting to pay for premiums and deductibles. I have no idea what questions to ask the agents when comparing policies. As I do with most of my problems, I've simply put off the issue and neglected to follow up on it.

    So... what's supposed to happen with the health care? When the Democrats passed the bill, they lauded it as a huge victory. But it's been a year-and-a-half, and I haven't heard any news. What was supposed to happen?

    What are you doing, Democrats? I haven't seen the results of ANY of your actions!

  2. The bulk of the provisions of the health care bill won't actually take effect until 2013 or 2014 (I forget which at the moment). As to what it does...well it's a nearly 2000 page document that few have actually read. It did not provide a public option. I do know that off the top of my head.

    Regarding the MLK monument, I feel we'd probably disagree on many things politically but in this we are exactly the same. I don't even think this memorial is much of an honor considering how few Americans truly care about our history now. What this memorial represents is our extreme narcissism and the "look at me!" mentality that is so pervasive in our culture now. "Yes, we built a lavishly expensive statue that looks like one of our greatest citizens. Aren't we great?"

    $114,000,000 is small change in the scope of the whole U.S. expenditures, but considering how frequently I hear people groaning about budget cutbacks these days there is no shortage of better things the money could have been used for. The American people had a spending problem for years. The government still has a huge one. My finger points directly at D.C. as I consider both parties guilty in their respective ways.

    Our country does not have money for frivolous crap right now. Our government probably never should have in the first place. I'd like some nice art to hang on my wall, but food and water and student loans all must come first. If I want something nice to look at I can go to a garage sale and buy a used poster cheap, or I can go to an art supply store and paint the damn thing myself.

  3. I'm gonna number my post cause I feel lazy

    1. Don't we get enough stuff like this from reddit? How is what you're saying any different?
    2. What about Ron Paul? Don't you have a civic duty to vote for him in the primaries and then Obama in the presidential election?
    3. You didn't really tell me what your novels were about last week. Is that under wraps?

  4. Spyda: The PPaACA hasn't been fully implemented yet. Certain provisions are phased in on a year-by year basis. You can read all about it here.

    Adam: Have you seen the National WWII Memorial? It's an overwrought, self-congratulatory eyesore with a $182,000,000 price tag.

    Compare to the District of Columbia War Memorial, completed in 1931. A key difference between the two: one was erected specifically to honor Washington, DC residents who fought in World War II and the other to commemorate a national victory. Consequently, the smaller and less florid (not to mention less often photographed) monument seems much more somber and dignified, while the other is a solid representation of a nation jacking off to an old yearbook photograph of itself.

    Zade: 1.) How impolite. Updating something like this on a regular basis -- between employment, having a social life, and working on other long-term projects -- often means having to just write about whatever happens to be on my mind during a given evening. If this is a problem, I could update less often.

    If there is a specific topic you would like me to address, my PayPal account is open to commissions.

    2.) No. While I admire his character, I couldn't in good conscience vote for Ron Paul. But that's a discussion for another time.

    3.) The novel is undergoing a metamorphosis. I had a fairly straightforward love story in mind when it began, but it kept yanking me in a different direction. I think it wants to be about the death instincts.