Monday, November 05, 2012

A Vote for the Future

Older people often care passionately about the future, even if--and maybe especially if--it is not a future we are likely to share.  We care about the future of the children we love, and the young in general.  We care about legacy, about the world we will leave behind, and its future.

There are plenty of reasons why older Americans should vote in their own interests to reelect President Obama, and for Democratic candidates to the Senate and House.  Democrats created Social Security and Medicare, and especially these days, only they can be trusted to protect them.  As much as they try to obscure their positions now, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to end Medicare as we know it, and eventually privatize Social Security.  They also threaten Medicaid, which many older Americans will need for longterm care.  It is in our interests--and the interests of our families, we don't want to impoverish just to take care of us--to support these programs by voting for President Obama.

But we care about more than our own future.  Some look at the future of the country in financial terms.  Romney and Ryan say they worry about the burden of debt on future generations.  Yet their proposals only make that debt much larger.  They can't possibly admit the truth: that the federal deficit has been going down under President Obama, despite the Great Recession and the extraordinary programs needed to get America's economy re-started.

President Obama supports the kind of help for students of all ages to obtain the highest education they can, the kind of future-oriented industries particularly in energy, and other efforts to create a better future, with more opportunity.  For everyone, not just the wealthy and privileged.

He does not want to create social turmoil and individual pain by going back on America's promise of equal rights, of womens rights, of a sensible health care system. 

The future was much on the mind of the politically Independent Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, when he endorsed President Obama last week: 

When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there.

The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America. One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not.

That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision. One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.

  One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both found success while their parties were out of power in Congress -- and President Obama can, too. If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours. And that’s why I will be voting for him.

Monday, October 22, 2012

R.I. P. George McGovern

George McGovern died Sunday at the age of 90. I remain proud that my first vote for a presidential candidate was for him in 1972. I covered aspects of his campaign for the Boston Phoenix, and met him briefly. I've never seen as devastated an election night headquarters as I did in Boston that November, even though Massachusetts was the only state he won.

During that campaign I wrote about what reporters were digging up about Watergate, and about the Nixon administration which McGovern rightly called "the most corrupt in history." Not that anybody listened, until later when everyone was forced to listen. And so for years I proudly carried on my guitar case the bumper sticker, "Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts."

In his remembrance of George McGovern at Daily Kos, Meteor Blades (who is one of my touchstones for my generation) quoted this passage from McGovern's last book, which he published when nearing that age of 90:

"During my years in Congress and for the four decades since, I've been labeled a 'bleeding-heart liberal.' It was not meant as a compliment, but I gladly accept it. My heart does sometimes bleed for those who are hurting in my own country and abroad. A bleeding-heart liberal, by definition, is someone who shows enormous sympathy towards others, especially the least fortunate. Well, we ought to be stirred, even to tears, by society's ills. And sympathy is the first step toward action. Empathy is born out of the old biblical injunction "Love the neighbor as thyself." —George S. McGovern, What It Means to Be a Democrat (2011)

This was his faith, the faith of a liberal. It's always seemed more than ironic to me that the original bleeding-heart liberal was Christ. That's the source of the phrase--it's the bleeding heart of Christ. George McGovern, a World War II bomber pilot from South Dakota, ran for president in 1972 to end the war in Vietnam. Because of the extent of his electoral loss, he became something of a disgraced figure. Yet he served honorably in the Senate--a stalwart public servant--for decades more. He continued to represent a flinty goodness--a faith in the better aspects of our nature, which don't really need or depend on the religious imagery. "You'd do the same for me" is a human faith, regardless of any injunction to love thy neighbor as thyself, which is psychologically dubious anyway.

  The other side of that leads to a vital sternness of principle. There is nothing mamby-pamby about this 1970 McGovern statement in support of his Senate amendment to end the war, which MB also quotes:

"Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land—young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us."

Only Bobby Kennedy could have been so forthright and eloquent, and McGovern had been forced by his assassination to take up his banner. It was a terrible time. But his brave voice spoke for many in my generation, including me. And for that especially I remember him.  (Here's another summation of his career.)

Rest in peace, George McGovern.You led an honorable, thoughtful, courageous public life, and this country is better for your service.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Among the Forgotten

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It's not often that the decisions young men had to make in the 1960s about Vietnam and the draft come up, and almost never is the decision  to oppose both and refuse to participate in either given any respect. But Lawrence O'Donnell does it here, in the context of highlighting the amorality of Mitt Romney in actively supporting the war and the draft, and taking a deferement that apparently only Mormons got, so he was not drafted and did not risk participating in the war he advocated.

It is all still a very sore subject.  Soldiers returning from that war felt disrespected.  Perhaps for that reason alone, although probably for others as well, it has been harder for many Vietnam vets to make peace with protestors of that war than it has been for them to make peace with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers they fought against. 

It has been decades now since anyone has experienced anything like what we experienced, being subject to the draft at the height of the Vietnam war.  Once again there are the naive proponents of a new draft as a way to solve the very real problems of those who serve in the military today.  They don't know what they're talking about. 

How America treats its military veterans is criminal.  But First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President, have persistently highlighted their plight, and advocated for them.  O'Donnell is right to point the finger at Mitt Romney, who sees the military, and the horrors of war, only in terms of money.  All he can say is that he wants to increase military spending.   It is money that largely fuels war--money that people like Romney make in huge quantities, while poor young men and women suffer and die so those "builders" can become richer.  That's the brutal truth of it.

In the meantime, there remains another set of young men who made moral decisions in the 1960s who have been disrespected ever since.  O'Donnell's words are rare, and welcome.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Magical Again

Martin Amis is a writer I've admired mostly from afar. I've enjoyed the novels I've read and the non-fiction collection about the 80s, The Moronic Inferno, a title that describes the 80s and a lot of the ever since. But I haven't read a lot of his work, for often his most urgent concerns are not mine--at least not of the same moment. Maybe it's just that his life has been so different from mine.

  But he was quoted making an observation that I've not only never read anybody else make, I've never heard anyone else say. He was describing something that happens to him, that I thought that for all intents and purposes, only happens to me. He said that he is often caught offguard by a memory of something that attacks him with regret and chagrin, seemingly out of the blue, just walking down the street or in any daily situation. A small regret would emerge unbidden but with such power that they stop him in his tracks, literally, as he walks down the street, and he involuntarily winces and mutters to himself because of some small memory that had the peculiar force of shame and the pitiless, bottomless thump of regret.

Now he's done it again, in a recent interview (published at Smithsonian online and flagged by Andrew Sullivan's site.) He has identified something I am dimly aware is happening to me--that in recent days I've become more conscious of.

Here's what he said: "Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin [Amis is 62], but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating.”

Yes, there is that "huge new territory inside" which is "the past." But especially, "in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again." It does. It's a bit easier to appreciate the moment. I'm very aware that this is a golden time--I'm reasonably healthy, I am without physical pain, temporarily secure--well, the sense that it is certainly all temporary. But it is, right now. And the day is easier to appreciate. People, relationships that are good--and the blessings I have here, of this lovely air, especially in the sunny autumn of the North Coast. It is fascinating and it is poignant, and it's sharpened by the awareness not only that it will all soon end, but you don't know when it will start ending, or how.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Long Goodbye

I saw an interview with Harry Belefonte on Charlie Rose recently.  Especially since he's promoting his autobiography, Belefonte talked about his fascinating life, in music and film but mostly in politics.  He has a long history of activism, that extends back to Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King.  When the subject of President Obama came up, Belefonte expressed disappointment.  In the Bush years he was especially critical of the homeland security measures that stifled civil liberties and threatened to enact a kind of military state.  So he was especially upset about what he viewed as the lack of progress in reigning in those programs.

I can understand his disappointments, though not their extent--the idea that he can't locate President Obama's "moral center" seems specious to me.  But I did recognize the intense feeling behind another complaint: he said that President Obama has never talked with him.  He has never sought out his counsel or even asked about his experiences in those intense and important decades.  All his hard-won lessons remain unexpressed, and unheard by someone who could greatly benefit from hearing them.

I understand that.  On a different scale and perhaps with less reason, it is a feeling common to people who have decades of experience, and retain the judgment and ability to express those judgments.  But no one wants to hear this.  Moreover it is a paradox of this age that while people on average are living longer, they are marginalized earlier.  In an increasing number of occupations, you're finished when you're fifty.  If you aren't the CEO or filthy rich, no one will listen to you at all once you've passed 60.

When people stop listening to you, when they stop expressing any interest or admiration in what you present in whatever form they used to pay attention to, it does not go unnoticed, often consciously, but always deep within.  Once a sense of usefulness ebbs, so does much else.  It supports a general drift towards a state of marking time, essentially waiting to die. 

Certainly there is a change.  With age comes more interest in depth.  Less interest in new songs, more interest in listening to the old ones more deeply (and hearing the lyrics as new, now.)  Memories come unbidden even when new names escape.  All this can mean a mastery of a greater extent of time, of their patterns, and developing a more informed perspective.  That in itself should be valuable, for one thing that becomes evident is the penchant to repeat mistakes.  Yet no one seems interested.  Perhaps the answer to that lies in trying harder to make the form of such expressions more seductive.  Still, as a more general reaction, it is discouraging. 

I remember the old men I saw as a child.  Some were loud and unhinged, and they were definitely scary.  But most were silent, and that was a little scary, too. These were often the older men in families I was somehow related to, that we would visit from time to time. They stayed on the edge of things, letting the women take care of family relations.  They even drank quietly, alone or with other old men.  Their lives among others were over. 

I'm beginning to understand those old men.