Saturday, July 19, 2008
The Arthur Legend as Metaphor for Democratic Politics
I recently saw the 2004 movie King Arthur. I had wanted to see it when I first saw the trailer (I grew up reading the Howard Pyle books, with his illustrations that I spent my youth attempting to emulate) but after the reviews came out, decided not to. However, I had enough hope to add it to my netflix queue (primarily because it featured Clive Owen as King Arthur [sad to say, the later role of Sir Walter Raleigh allowed him to more fully realize a character than did that of a king--or anyway, this king]).

Unfortunately the presence of Owen is really the only reason to watch the whole movie. While I disagree with the New Yorker that the transposition to an earlier, more barbarous age was necessarily wrong, the movie is nonetheless a total mistake, choosing as it does to completely avoid depicting what makes the Arthur legend so compelling. It is also just a bad movie (aside from its subversion of the myth), with zero character development and a meaningless storyline.

Why has the Arthur legend persisted through the centuries? In some ways, I think Arthur is on a par with Jesus as far as personifying and catalyzing a profound cultural change. I suppose this seems somewhat backwards since Arthur was presumably a christian and, no doubt, helped make christianity palatable to the inhabitants of the British isles--if only by demonstrating that it held something of value, aside from the brutal subjection by the Romans. But, I think what Arthur (or the promulgators of the myth), did with christianity was to westernize it--to meld certain British concepts into those of christianity, and to, thereby, create the anglo-saxon ethos--the best of it, anyway (disclaimer--I am not a WASP, nor a christian, and am not promoting their dominion of the world).

How did Arthur do this? And how does the movie betray the myth? The thing that draws us into the legend is not just the battles, the bravery, the loyalty and the honor. It is the principles of egalitarianism, of selflessness, of duty, of sacrifice in service of a cause, of warriors reluctant to go into war, of free will, of romantic love, --and of the sacrifices one makes for a cause, for a nation, for the people, for a friend, for love. And (here's the tie-in) this legend, by informing our values, and by embodying these principles of a free society, becomes a metaphor (if not consciously), for me, and I think for many other Democrats, for the reason we're involved in politics--a metaphor for the principles of progressives, and the attributes we want in our leaders (not for nothing was the Kennedy White House called Camelot, you know).

Arthur embodied, as well, the imperfection of being human--the striving for, the never quite attaining---he is on a human scale. The Arthur legend shows us knights who align with an exalted yet still human leader, not for personal or tribal gain, but for the advancement of shared principles. In the elements of the Arthur legend--the search for a symbol of exaltation, the personal/idealogical conflicts subjugated to a common cause, the soul-searching, the willingness to accept worthy former enemies into the fold--are the elements of politics that makes so many idealistic progressives so passionate, and drives us to volunteer endless hours pounding the pavements, working the polls, raising funds, making GOTV calls.

The movie betrays these elements, these principles, first, by making it about winning--about a fearless leader who prevails over two enemy groups by making common cause with a third enemy with which he shares a common interest. In this, the movie becomes an allegory for the Republicans. Second, it downplays the role and characters of the knights (that is, us) by making them merely loyal buddies who are fierce warriors. In the Arthur legend, the knights are not just followers of Arthur, bound by a pact not of their making, but are individuals of free will who must share the ideology and principles of Arthur in order to make the sacrifices asked of them--and to exemplify the Arthurian values.

(And besides, though this doesn't enter into my neat metaphor, the movie completely denatures the Lancelot/Guinevere aspect of the story, by turning it into a harmless flirtation, rather than an epic drama of desire, love, friendship, sacrifice and self-denial).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Virginia Republicans try to have it both ways:

Virginia Republicans would make me laugh more if they didn't make me cry... but sometimes what they try to get away with is just so effin ridiculous!

So, the latest is this--after years of complaining that Democrats are elitist "limousine liberals," now they're claiming that Democrats are welfare queens and felons.

First we have Del. Todd Gilbert's ridiculous statement regarding the restoration of voting rights for felons: "I don' t know a lot of young Republicans who end up being felons. Clearly the groups that are soliciting these felons to get their rights restored are predisposed to be in support of Obama, and I am sure this registration effort is designed to help their candidate." Gilbert is conveniently ignoring two important facts here: one, that activists have been trying to modernize Virginia's draconian rules regarding voting right restoration for some time (Warner streamlined the process considerably before anyone ever even heard of Obama); and two, that there are plenty of Republicans who are felons! Hey Del. Gilbert, ever hear of Ollie North? (oh, of course, excuse me, his convictions were overturned). Well, how 'bout good ol' Scooter LIbby? Sushi-eatin' Jack Abramoff? Rep. Bob Ney? Rep. Duke Cunningham? VA repub party leader Ed Matricardi? Child-porn possessor/Republican presidential elector Parker J. Bena? Va Republican fundraiser (and Bob McDonnell campaign manager) Robin Vanderwall? (Now, there's a young republican for you, soliciting sex with minors over the internet!) And finally, Felon-in-Chief GW Bush (oh pardon me, he was never convicted of cocaine possession, though he's all but admitted it... but he was arrested at least twice, and once convicted of DUI).

Then again, even if we're not felons, we must be on the dole, according to one of our favorite right-wing wacks, Del. Dave Albo: "My bet is that it's those who are on food stamps and government services who tend to be more Democratic."

So what happened to all the "limousine-liberal," "elitist" rhetoric? It didn't work, so they're trying a new wack--er, tack, I reckon. But guess what--this one won't work either... so back to the drawing board, guys!

Sunday, July 06, 2008
What's Wrong with Democrats...
I'll tell ya, it's sometimes downright embarrassing to be a member of such a self-sabotaging group. I used to be gleeful when repugnicans ate their young (that is, attacked moderates by running right-wing idealogues against their own incumbents). At least we're not usually that dumb [except for Cindy Sheehan and her supporters--and don't get me wrong, Cindy's a hero, but run against the most powerful Dem in the House? Come on, put your energy and $ to good use and run against a republican, dammit!].

But, now the left is turning on Obama because of his "move to the right." Well, I'm sorry. The run for the nomination is over, and now it's time to run for the general election. If you can't figure out the difference between defining yourself against a fellow democrat when running for your party's nomination, and running against a republican, you shouldn't be commenting on politics. You can't bloody win a general election by being left-wing. And, Obama was never left-wing to begin with. (There's a reason why it's called a wing, you know). He's always made a point of being able to work across the aisle in the Senate. Were you paying attention before you started dissin' all us Hillary supporters? (And yes, I preferred Hillary, and I'm sorry that the left is still as vitriolically misogynistic as it was at the beginning of the second wave--how little far we've come!) Despite my preference for Hillary, I've always felt Barack was presidential material, and now that he has been chosen through the democratic process, I will support him all the way to the White House.

It's not that I"m not disappointed about Obama's statement about the SCOTUS decision about the Louisiana DP case--I am. It's not that I'm not disappointed in his vote on FISA--I am. But, NO one is ever going to be the perfect candidate. Instead of publicly tearing down our chosen candidate--we need to build him up and show the voters how and why it's best that he be our next President, not John McCain. Because believe me, the repugs are going to be tearing him down like anything--we don't need to be doin' their job for them.

Get it now?

Saturday, July 05, 2008
Eagleburger: Secretary of Disinformation?

When Bush II started the war in Iraq, former Secretary of State Laurence Eagleburger (under Bush I) came out against it. I was very impressed--that a Republican establishment member was speaking out against the Republican establishment. I thought that Sec. Eagleburger must be a person of integrity. Well, fast forward five years. Eagleburger apparently is back in line, with a letter to the editor of the Daily P. in which he compares Barack Obama to Joseph McCarthy.

Apart from the fact that the sitting president more closely resembles McCarthy than anyone else currently in or running for office, this is clearly a disingenuous, misleading attack on Obama (and no, he wasn't talking about FISA--that's another post...). The basis for the comparison? Remarks Sen. Obama made to supporters in a speech in Florida: "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced, and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?' "  Eagleburger says this is an accusation of racism against McCain. But Obama's remarks were not about McCain, but about republicans.  for a far more nuanced and accurate take on the remarks, try Eugene Robinson's column in the WashPost. 

Well, naturally, I couldn't let Eagleburger's disinformation stand, so I wrote a letter to the editor in response. It's not been printed yet, but they did call to verify authorship (good thing, after they published an e-chain letter recently...) and that's usually a precurser to publishing. But, time is passing, so maybe they decided against it.

Text of my letter as I sent it:
To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read former Secretary of State Laurence Eagleburger’s disingenuous letter to the editor regarding a statement Barack Obama made to supporters. Mr. Obama predicted that Republicans will try to sway voters by appealing to racial prejudices. But Mr. Obama was not referring to Mr. McCain. He said only that Republicans will use race in an attempt to defeat his candidacy. (Although it is true that after eight years of bungling by the Republican administration, there are not too many Republicans left, surely there are more than just Mr. McCain.) I don’t expect that Mr. McCain will make any racist remarks, but that doesn’t mean that some of his supporters won’t do so.

The GOP will certainly use any tactic they think will work to turn voters away from Mr. Obama. In fact, smear tactics referencing Mr. Obama’s race have already begun (he has not needed to “drag the issue in through the back door”). Fox News has referred to Michelle Obama as Mr. Obama’s “baby mama”; Right-wing activist Grover Norquist, a McCain supporter, referred to Obama as “John Kerry with a tan” (not a racist remark per se, but a reference to race nonetheless).

Sec. Eagleburger, a sophisticated man with much experience in the world of politics, also professes to believe that racism is a thing of the “old bad days,” seemingly unaware of recent news reports (in the Washington Post just last week) regarding the increase of white supremacist groups emboldened by Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

Sec. Eagleburger inappropriately equates Mr. Obama’s remarks to his supporters with a “vicious attack” made by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Leaving aside the damage that Mr. McCarthy wreaked on our country and our Constitution (damage perhaps only equaled by Mr. Bush), Mr. Obama has made no vicious attacks. In fact, his entire campaign has been notable for taking the high road. Reminding his supporters of the reality of racism in this country—and it is a reality—is hardly a vicious attack.

One day, when race is truly no longer an issue, a presidential contender need neither remind supporters that racist attacks are likely to be forthcoming, nor be subjected to such attacks. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, as Sec. Eagleburger knows full well.
Update, 7/13/08: The Regress did not print my letter, but printed another response to Eagleburger's letter. That letter was much shorter than mine and didn't take Eagleburger to task (didn't even mention him), and while it was a good letter, I feel it was important to call Eagleburger out on his disinformation. Oh well.

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