Friday, September 02, 2005

Taking a Break

The Internet brings the world closer, it knits people together. Like the Donner Party brought people together, and the raft of the "Medusa" brought people together.

All this togetherness allows poisonous panderers like the Guardian and Der Spiegel to instantly link up the stupidest, most vitriolic, most prejudiced voices on both sides of the Atlantic to have at it, like putting a bunch of spiders in a mason jar and shaking it up to watch them fight. I can't even read online voices from Europe anymore without wanting to puke. But when I go there, I like people, and they seem to not want to strangle me.

Fucking brilliant! I risk my job and my career for this? Every day? For what? For this? I spend half an hour typing in a passage from a German historian. And then I look at my keyword searches and find that people are coming to this site after typing in "child rape."

As a blogger I can either go online looking for a lead-pipe brawl and get one, or I can try to do something half useful and end up in a lead-pipe brawl anyhow. Usually fighting at a disadvantage in the second case because the other guy got the first shot in when I wasn't expecting it.

I think I'll stick with the dying business of print media, and hope it lasts just one day longer than my career in it. Chewing up trees and sucking in ink to publish a worthless two-bit fishwrap for the handful of senility cases who still read such things -- no, wrong verb: who flip through it looking for coupons and the crossword and a recognizable obituary. I'll keep up the charade that what we do in the big media matters, that people actually read these articles and think about them, that we inform people who have no other way to be informed, and we do it thoughtfully and intelligently.

I'll sit there among co-workers (not all, but most) who have the Common Dreams Web site up on terminals on both sides of me -- a cesspool of all the Bushitler bile that drains down from all the swamps of the left -- and pretend that they're fair and impartial in their news judgment.

Cicero, a blogger who deserves tremendous respect, has an excellent essay today that opens with a paragraph I could have written myself:

I was a single-issue voter in the last election. I voted for President Bush because I felt he was right about Iraq, and more fundamentally, about our security. I overlooked just about everything else that I disliked about his presidency on that single issue.

For a sample of the reactions to Cicero's essay, read down into the comments on this post.

You know, for the first decade or so I was in journalism, I didn't vote. I didn't think journalists ought to vote, because to do so commits you, in some small personal way, to a candidate or a party. And journalists have too much ability to game the political landscape. Oh, what I was really saying was I didn't think I ought to vote as a journalist. Maybe some people could do it and not lose their dispassionate eye on reality, even incrementally. But I knew I couldn't. "Dispassionate" is not a natural mode for me. And most people I worked with couldn't, either, frankly, but they didn't choose to remain apolitical and I didn't try to convert them.

I sought to take no thought of party politics when I wrote, and especially when I was an editorial writer. As my motto, when writing, I always tried to keep in mind my "Three Cs" -- the Constitution, compassion, and the third one stood for "Chester County," the name of the place in Pennsylvania where I lived and worked.

When I moved away from active writing and reporting and onto the copy desk, I thought it was fair to get a registration and begin voting. At the time, I joined the Republican Party. Not because I had an inherent sympathy for it -- exactly the opposite. The place I lived was so thoroughly Republican that Democrats never even came close to getting elected. Their candidates were a pack of unelectable stumblebums. But GOP spring primaries often erupted into wars between the secular or moderate Republicans and the firebrands of the right. That's where the political future took shape, and that's where I wanted to make a difference. When national and state elections rolled around in the fall, I usually voted for the Democrats.

I voted for Clinton in '92 and Dole in '96 (I knew he wouldn't win, but I thought he deserved some respect, so basically I padded his total by one). In 2000, I voted for Gore, with utter lack of enthusiasm. But I thought Bush would be a disaster. In fact, until the day of the election I was set to pull a lever for Nader, in pure anti-party middle-finger protest, but my then-girlfriend, a very wise woman, talked me out of it.

Four years later, with even more contempt for the parties, I went down to the local trade school and cast a vote for Bush, the man I despised in 2000 -- no, not for Bush, but for "Anyone But Anyone But Bush." A vote for "wiping that smug smile off Michael Moore."

How can you take seriously a party that thinks it's a good idea to constantly mock the intelligence of the one guy who's been outsmarting them for years on end? What's the point of calling him a chimp when all the while you're doing it, he's making a monkey of you?

The Democrats in 2004 -- again -- failed to put forth a candidate credible to me. Their "anyone but Bush" campaign had to assume a human form, temporarily, at some point, and the soul-less opportunist Kerry grabbed for the job, so he got it. But on the issue that mattered to me, Iraq, he did nothing but criticize everything done so far, and offer to do nothing realistically different in the future from what had been proposed by the sitting administration.

So, absent a truly different plan ("do the same thing, only better" is not a plan), the election became, as the Democrats and the rest of the left tirelessly told me, a referendum on the whole idea of the war itself. Very well, if that was how they promised to read it, that's how I voted it. Happy? Me neither.

Since then, I've been defending my vote, pulling for the Iraqis and the Americans working with them, trying to slap some sense into what's left of the sane Democracy, and trying to staunch idiotic anti-American rhetoric that floods the Internet. I've been doing all that so often and so long that it takes something like the clusterfuck in New Orleans to remind me that I suspected all along a Bush administration would be like that. Just like in Iraq: Even when it's doing the right thing, even when the people -- the citizens, the military folks -- want to make it work, the hollowness at the top and the boardroom mentality breathe a paralyzing spell of failure on the project.

Cicero is right:

So now begins a new political era. People will reasonably ask if our commitment to Iraq comes at the expense of security at home. They will ask if the Bush Administration's efforts at protecting the homeland are credible, using Katrina as a litmus test. These questions are fair, and reasonable. President Bush's entire political strategy is being tested. Effectively, we got nuked. And now we see the response.

I almost wish it were possible to tread alternative historical paths, as in science fiction or in computer games (but not in Frost poems). Start the tape of history from Feb. 1, 2000, and put Dennis Kucinich in the White House, or Howard Dean in 2004. Just let it roll for four years, and see where the world winds up. As long as you can rub it out and hit "reset" and do something else.

My instinct about myself in the '80s was quite right. Once having slipped into politics, I'm stuck with them. It's personal now. And every day I work side by side with the other side. And I hear them talk out loud as though everyone in a newsroom is a "Common Dreams" reader (really, the odds are on their side in that). Their casual and public conversations are full of their mental image of "the other." They set it up like a straw monster to slay over and over, and then slap themselves on the back for it.

[In what is supposed to be a "Deliverance"/Red State accent]: "Rebuild New Orleans? Hell, no! Why they got a thing called the French Quarter down there. Ought to be called the Freedom Quarter, huh-huh; or the 'Mercan Quarter. Huh-huh."

Who the fuck do they know who talks like that? Yeah, I know. Go to the Internet, surely you can find someone who does. And if you coccoon yourself in the world of "Common Dreams" or "the Guardian," hey, presto, everybody on the other side talks like that.

Too late to kill the Internet. What hath Gore wrought?