Word and Image of Vermont

Incarceration Fever
February 29, 2008

We have known for a long time that the land of the free throws more people in jail than any other country in the world. This is truth for both total numbers and percentage of the population. Now a new study by the Pew Center on the States reminds us of just how bad conditions are. One out of every hundred adults in the United States is locked up.

The most interesting thing about this report, however, is not what it reveals but that it's actually getting attention in the media. In the past, horrendous figures about the rate of imprisonment in America would barely be mentioned on TV or in the major newspapers. What has changed?

I think two things account for the increased attention. Republican power is waning and as it does, the mindset Republicans have sought to impress on the country weakens also. Since Republicans generally like the idea of tossing people into prison, particularly those whose skin in darker than a Scandinavian hue, the GOP has worked to create the impression that there's nothing untoward about imprisoning as many people as we do. They have also wanted to stifle knowledge about the conditions in prisons, but that's another matter, though related. But now it's beginning to dawn on quite a few Americans that issues the Republicans have painted as not discussible really do need our scrutiny.

The second thing is that prison-happy lame brains in the state legislatures are learning that prisons cost a lot of money. For example, over the past two decades the increase in money spent on prisons by the states has been six times the increase devoted to higher education. The total has surged from $11 billion to $49 billion.  For states that can't keep their roads safe or their bridges in working order, this begins to be a problem.

Money gets more attention in America than the scorn of sensible people all around the world. So maybe our inability to pay for some things will turn out to be a blessing. Imprisonment has been one of our biggest growth industries. If it starts having to watch its pennies we'll all benefit and maybe some people will actually be set free.

Knowledge Needed to Vote Intelligently
February 27, 2008

I'm not troubled to admit I need to know more about the mechanisms and policies of international trade. Trade -- like many other topics -- is too complicated for me to master it completely.

On the other hand, I'm not willing to say there is no way for a person with incomplete knowledge to take sensible positions on issues of trade. One of the purposes of this page is to argue that ordinary citizens can make reasonable decisions about public policy issues without devoting their entire lives to the study of political questions.

With respect to trade, I do know this: most of the major international agreements negotiated over the past two decades have been heavily influenced by the theories of neo-liberalism. And this ideology, often shading off into neo-conservatism, is not good for most of the population. It serves the interests of the rich at the expense of moderate to low income people.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, which was a neo-liberal endeavor,  is now so fiercely under attack that both the Democratic candidates are beginning to back away from it. They say they don't reject NAFTA but that it needs to be modified. That's the least we ought to expect from them. What would be healthier is a demand that the theories on which NAFTA is based be thoroughly discussed during the campaign and pledges be made that neo-liberal economic schemes are not the policy of the government of the United States.

Governments do have a role to play in protecting the economic well-being of their citizens. Markets alone are not sufficient to insure that economic justice will prevail. The notion that freedom is, primarily, the ability of wealthy people to use their money in whatever way will enrich them further, is one of the most vicious ideas ever to be perpetrated on the general public. It has been pushed to insane lengths by the Bush administration and it is the source of most of the economic distress we are now experiencing in America.

What we need to know about future trade negotiations is that competent, unbiased people have carefully examined the complete effects of proposed treaties, taking into account how they would bear on the entire population and not just whether rich Americans can get richer from them. And we need politicians who will explain these treaties in language most people can understand.

There is no trade law from which all people benefit equally. Some get more, some get less, and some get hurt. NAFTA has probably hurt more people than it has helped and therefore it needs not only to be modified but to be seen as a lesson in how selfish policies have been allowed to influence, and often to dominate, our political system.

An Explanation
February 27, 2008

Fairly often now I encounter people who profess not to be able to understand why the Bush administration has treated the nation as it has. "How could they have done this?" the question goes.

There's no call for confusion. The answer is simple.

In every nation since nations got underway, there have been people who are resentful, aggressive, greedy and xenophobic. Naturally, they form themselves into political alliances. Most of the time, they claim to be more patriotic, more realistic and more hard-nosed than other people are. Those are euphemisms for their actual characteristics -- resentment, aggression, greed and dislike of anyone different from themselves.

In America over the past half century that alliance has been the Republican Party.

Individual Republicans may have other characteristics which are positive. They may be loyal family members, steady workers, reliable as to showing up on time, avid sports fans. They may well be the sort of people you could enjoy working around. But these habits don't create political groupings. Resentment, aggression, greed and hatred of foreigners do.

I doubt we can blame Republicans for being who they are. They probably can't help it. But we should do all we can to keep them out of political power because the results are what we've seen. Let them manage hotels, and supermarkets, and Wal Mart stores. But don't let them manage the nation's government. When they do, Wall Street runs amok and military power is brandished, and often used, when there's no call for it.

Republicans would doubtless say that Democrats are also certain sorts of people -- naive, romantically idealistic, willing to have the government interfere too much in private life, understanding of enemies' points of view, picky over things that don't really matter, like preserving little fish that nobody cares about.

I'd like to make a deal with them. I'll accept their tags if they'll take mine. It would be a real bargain for them because, after all, my tags are accurate.

What We're In Store For
February 26, 2008

I see that Time Magazine's Mark Halperin has listed a series of tactics John McCain can use to beat Barack Obama, tactics that Hillary Clinton is barred from using. I don't know if this constitutes serving as an unpaid advisor to McCain, but it comes pretty close.

One of the reasons that Senator Clinton can't use these maneuvers is that several of them are filthy. They include allowing supporters to make racist appeals, incessantly repeating Obama's middle name in order to imply that there's something un-American about him, and attacking his wife for being unpatriotic.

The notion that Obama would not activate the Republican attack machine as vigorously as Senator Clinton would is in the process of being revealed as a naive myth, and Halperin's nastiness is just one of the early examples of how the Republican campaign will work.

McCain will pretend to be above all such vile attacks while his campaign will do everything in its power to keep them in the news. This has been the Republican stock-in-trade for quite a while now. It has served them pretty well up till now so there's no reason to think they will abandon it in 2008.

An indication of how well it's working will be the number of times McCain professes to respect his Democratic opponent. The more often he makes that statement the more you can be assured that the Republican slime machine is in good working order.

Financial Crisis
February 23, 2008

I assume the average voter is bewildered by the troubles in the U.S. financial centers. Most people have little knowledge of how banks make money, what a hedge fund is, or how selling short and futures work.

I don't know that there's any need for the electorate to become versed in the intricacies of big money deals. But the people do need to recognize that the way to get rich in the United States lately has far more to do with shuffling paper than it does with creating goods and services that actually benefit the general population.  When that's the case, avidity and greed among the super wealthy has greater potential to hurt ordinary people than if there were no market devoted to making bundles of financial paper seem as though they're worth far more than they would be if investors understood their actual composition.

When everybody is trying to get rich without creating anything, the dangers are higher than they are among a society of producers. When Republican bigwigs pontificate about freedom, they're mostly talking about the freedom to cheat and pull the wool over people's eyes. That's a freedom of sorts, but it not the kind most people have in mind when they hear the word.

When you get something for nothing, you have to be getting it from people who are getting nothing for something. If that weren't the case, we would have learned to defy the laws of physics. And, guess what? We haven't.

The people of the United States need to learn one thing more than any other. Government regulation of financial markets is essential if the most ruthless elements of our society are not to oppress everyone else. An unregulated financial market is, essentially, a license to steal and that's pretty much what the markets in bundles of paper have been over the past seven years. If you don't want that license to be extended, it's very clear what you should do next November.

Identity Politics
February 22, 2008

Driving up Interstate 95 through North Carolina yesterday, I listened to an interview program on PBS, with guests Stanley Fish and Clarence Paige, about whether we have passed beyond voting for people based simply on their race or ethnic background. The panelists seemed to be saying we have moved into a new era when identity doesn't matter any more, when people vote based on whether they think a candidate will support their interests. Yet when the conversation turned to Barack Obama's campaign, the panels mostly praised him for refusing to clarify his positions on issues. After saying just a few minutes earlier that the people are focused on issues, they began to say that issues don't matter much when it comes to Obama.

It was a weird conversation. The speakers were contradicting themselves over the course of just a few minutes. And they seemed to be completely unaware of what they were doing.

It wouldn't have surprised me if I had been listening to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. But Stanley Fish is supposed to be a fairly bright guy. And most of the time he is.

Fish did say one intelligent thing though. He noted that when either a candidate or a voter proclaims that he's working for the "good of the nation" he's talking blarney and should be dismissed forthright. It was good to hear a truth of that character, which usually never makes it into any national political discussion.

Which Story?
February 22, 2008

I'm confused about the big John McCain flap of the last several days. From the article in the New York Times, I got the impression that the issue was whether McCain had allowed a personal relationship to influence his votes in the Senate. But from most of the commentary I've heard about the piece the whole question seems to be whether he had sex with a woman.

I have to say, in passing, that the way the Times  is described on talk radio and local TV stations has almost nothing to do with the reality of the paper. A good many of the people who profess to hate the Times have never held a single copy of it in their hands. After being limited to the Lakeland Ledger for a couple weeks, I felt a great relief in being able to read the Times again. It is so superior to what most of Americans accept as a newspaper it scarcely falls into the same category of publication.

But to return to McCain: it's none of my business whether he had a girlfriend. It is my business if a personal relationship with a lobbyist influenced his vote. You would think we could get that distinction straight. Yet it seems to be beyond most of the pundits who have played up the story, whether they approve of McCain or despise him. I suppose they claim they're playing to the real interests of the people. And if they are, we're in a sad state.

February 21, 2008

The Pentagon has just spent $60 million to shoot down a space satellite in a decaying orbit. They did it, they tell us, to enhance our safety and protect us from the possibility of poisonous gases being released in our back yards from the fuel tank.

Anybody who believes that, please get in touch. I have a special deal for you.

I just saw a Navy official discuss the explosion with a Fox News analyst, who pretended to be exploring the reasons for the effort. As the interview came to a close, the Fox News guy expostulated enthusiastically, “God bless America!”

That should tell you something about what actually took place.

Roadway Safety
February 21, 2008

Only once, yesterday, driving up from Florida, did a large truck come close to killing me by cutting into my lane when it was still right beside me and I had no place to go. I should be grateful for this sterling performance from the nation’s truckers. The thing is, though, I saw at least a half-dozen other incidents when big trucks came close to killing other people. I don’t guess I should care about the latter. That’s vaguely socialistic and certainly shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with patriotic commerce. Still -- I guess for sentimental reasons -- it troubles me when I see a mechanistic behemoth going ninety miles an hour forcing tiny, puny little cars off the road, even if the car drivers are violating the national ethos by not driving Hummers, or pickup trucks twenty feet long.

For those of you who are automotive weaklings like myself, I advise you be on the lookout for Federal Express truck 805562, Indiana license plate P102584 (or something pretty close). He’s the one who almost got me yesterday.

Perils in Obama Land
February 19, 2008

The danger for Barack Obama now is that in American campaigns just last too long. Since he has been designated the Hope Pope in the pages of the New York Times it won’t be long till the late night talk shows take up the term. And there’s no telling what they might do with it.

The life of inspiration in the United States grows ever shorter. That’s a good thing generally, but it’s not good for one whose chief product is inspiration. David Brooks, in a satirical piece, says that many are now suffering from OCS, that is, Obama Comedown Syndrome. Some are so far into it they’re even asking whether the words that lifted them to ecstasy have any meaning. That’s a scary sign.

It may be that the chief skill needed by Obama to waft him into the White House will be not eloquence but self-denigrative humor. When you think about it, that’s not a bad test. A man who can convincingly make fun of himself might be just the medicine needed for a nation that has almost no ability to make fun of itself. Maybe he can teach us something -- that is, if he has the sense to see the need of it.

Social Devolution
February 17, 2008

The number of churches in a little town like Bowling Green, Florida seems astounding until you reflect that there is nothing else to absorb the people’s social energies. In Montpelier everyday the newspaper offers a calendar of events listing dozens of activities taking place over the next week. There are reading groups, political gatherings, rallies at the state house, special documentary films, exhibitions of art and on and on. Bowling Green has nothing of that sort.

The politicization of religion in America has puzzled many observers. But it’s no mystery when you consider the decay of town life throughout the nation. The trio of communities within eight miles of here -- Bowling Green itself, Fort Meade to the north, and Wauchula to the south -- are little but shells of their former condition. Once, they were bustling small towns, with the sidewalks so crowded on weekends and market days people often had to overflow onto the streets. There were movie houses, feed stores, drug stores, restaurants, hardware stores, and there were Boy Scout troops, and charity suppers, and sewing circles. Where there was once concentrated energy there is now a dreary wasteland of shabby commercial establishments stretched up and down Route 17, their parking lots displaying mostly gigantic pickup trucks, driven by people who seldom have anything to haul in them other than a few bags of groceries. If you glance into the beds of these behemoths, you don’t often see a scratch on the gleaming platforms. They work far more as status symbols than they do as tools for life.

It doesn’t take much imagination to discern the nexus between powerful machines which function as food for the ego and churches which have descended into right-wing propaganda machines. Both are products of social despondency. Go into the Super Wal Mart two miles north of Wauchula, observe the faces of most of the customers and employees, and ask yourself, what do they have to hope for? The answers are paradise in an existence outside this one and, maybe, a bigger pickup truck a couple years hence.

What’s there to wonder at in rancid religion rising from resentment? Why would you expect anything else? But don’t worry. Development is on the way. Within a couple decades most of the run-down establishments up and down U.S. 17 will be replaced by elaborate entrances to acres of retirement villas, where the elderly who accumulated their money elsewhere can loll in the sun and never be troubled by a breeze of brisk weather. The local people, then -- if there are any left - and their churches, will be mainly out of sight, and, consequently, nothing to be worried about.

February 16, 2008

The pundits all seem now to want to divine what’s wrong with the United States. About the only thing they agree on is that something is, indeed, seriously wrong. David Brooks has decided that what we need is a fresh start for conservatism. And what that means is investing more in education so that the American work force can be competitive with workers in other nations. Forget about the populists of the left and right, he says, “the ones who imagine the problem is globalization and unfair trade when in fact the real problem is that the talents of American workers are not keeping up with technological change.”

Education in Brooks’s way of thinking is what sensible people call training, that is marrying the human brain to the computer brain so that people can churn out more stuff and do it faster than ever before. What the result of all this churning might be Brooks hasn’t got around to conceiving. Conservatism in his definition appears to be the belief that since people want stuff the winners in life are those who can make more stuff than anybody else. And the real winners, the aristocracy, the beings who provide meaning to existence, are those who control and command the makers of stuff. Without them, serving as exemplars of human justification, the world might as well go poof. It’s sort of like Donald Trump as the Overman.

That’s one way of thinking about life, but surprising as it may seem, there are other ways.

I would like to be a prophet but I tried my hand at prophecy and discovered I can’t do it very well. All I can do is say what I would like, and why, and see if other people might like it also. At the moment, as far as the nation is concerned, I would like us to become a people who discuss the various ways of living as vigorously as possible, freed from ideological blinders. And the reason I would like that is I think it would make for more interesting company than I’m able to find now. Being around lively-minded people gives me a boost.

Perhaps people who think wouldn’t produce enough stuff to make me happy. That appears to be what Mr. Brooks implies. In truth, that has become the conservative mantra -- thought equals insufficiency of stuff. Still, I’d like some conservative to explain to me how he knows rather than simply delivering it to me as divination.

Down and Downer
February 16, 2008

David Broder of the Washington Post says the way Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to give away 150 billion dollars can serve as a model for bipartisanship, and may well signal a fresh start in the Congress of the United States. He seems to be lifted up by the whole business.

His column comes at about the same time that Susan Jacoby’s new book, The Age of American Unreason, is receiving prominent reviews. Am I being a grouch to find a social symbiosis in the two events?

For the life of me, I can’t see the giveaway as anything other than a bribe designed to take the people’s minds off the truth that they have placed a pack of dolts and trimmers in charge of their affairs.  The notion that this money will stimulate the economy in a way that will solve our financial problems is such an instance of unreason as to be lunatic. I don’t think anybody believes it, and yet, the people are presumed to be so unreasonable as to gobble it down.

Now we have the oft-proclaimed dean of American columnists praising it as an example of good government. How can you find more dismal evidence of unreason than that?

Slow Learners
February 15, 2008

It’s confounding how long it is taking the people of the United States to come to grips with the actions of what everywhere else in the world is known as the U.S.-Wall Street-IMF phalanx. This American led confederacy has been working for decades to increase the class power and privilege of the extremely wealthy at the expense of all other people. The goal is a plutocratic society -- and a plutocratic world -- ruled by perhaps one tenth of one percent of the population in which the great majority of people live economically insecure lives with almost no knowledge of what is actually taking place in the seats of power. This has been the plan of the Republican Party since the so-called Reagan revolution.

The evidence that it’s being implemented is blatant -- more and more gated communities, obscene CEO compensation, increasing numbers slipping below the poverty line, a medical system that turns many people into beggars, an educational order based on multiple choice questions and deadening of thought. Just recently the University of California scholar Harley Shaiken noted, “During a period of robust economic growth, record profits and the fastest sustained productivity increases since the 1950s, only a thin slice of the top of the economic heap is enjoying higher living standards.”

Analysis of the situation is commonplace in the writings of historians and economists yet it’s seldom discussed openly among politicians. That it’s not is an indication of how dull we have become as a political people. We claim to be a great democracy, but we are a democracy in name only. When people stop making informed choices genuine democracy is not in place.

Why is it that conditions scholars write about regularly almost never make it into the newspapers or onto TV? The exclusion of serious thought from the popular media is not an accident.

Recently, the public seems, occasionally, to raise one eyelid. But we remain a long way from being awake. I fear the kind of shaking that will be required to have people start asking, “Oh, my gosh! How did this happen?” We ought to be able to get to that question without the benefit of disaster. But whether we can or not is doubtful.

Mistaken Strategy
February 15, 2008

I suspect that John McCain’s vote against the anti-torture bill in the Senate this week will hurt him more than he has calculated. He reputedly based his vote on results from dial groups of Republicans who showed the greatest displeasure when he spoke of banning torture. Though it’s true that Republicans generally favor torture, it’s doubtful that the votes McCain picks up from them for switching his position will offset those he loses among people who find torture repugnant.

Furthermore, there’s the problem of the shift. If he had been for torture all along his vote would not have mattered much. But he has built a reputation as being one of torture’s foremost opponents. It’s hard to see how his recent action won’t strike many Americans as pusillanimous.

Politicians today live in an atmosphere of over-calculation. They try to read public opinion so closely they tend to surrender any genuine convictions they might once have held. And the public is fickle. Sometimes they reward betrayal of earlier beliefs, but at other times they are offended by such changes. It’s extremely hard to know when they will do one and when the other. All in all, it’s probably best for a politician to stick with what he really favors -- that is, if there is any such thing.

In any case I’m looking forward to watching McCain defend this vote when he gets into a debate with the Democratic candidate.

February 14, 2008

Ezra Klein of the American Prospect has roused quite a bit of interest on the web with his column saying he wishes Barack Obama would be more bold in his proposals. The candidate’s abstract language has been invigorating but his announcements about the policies he intends to pursue have been fairly pallid.

Obama’s supporters respond that this is simply a campaign tactic. He doesn’t want to open himself to attacks from either Hillary Clinton or John McCain. We can hope they’re right. Still nagging doubts persist. What if Obama really means what he says about reaching out to Republicans? What if he believes that unifying the country politically is better than achieving a government which pursues justice and equity for all the people?  What if his goal is to have an electorate which is charmed rather than one which engages in serious debate about the good of the nation?

A happy, satisfied America is scarcely what we need.

I suppose politics is always a gamble. We have built our system such that no successful candidate can be honest. If there is one pure element of political faith in America, it is that honesty is death. Consequently, when we elect someone we can’t be sure of what we’re getting. We have to read hints and try to intuit the meaning of opaque phrases.

There may be only one truth we can be fairly confident of: what we’re going to get will be superior to what we’ve had. If that’s not the case then we will have been duped to a degree never before seen in history.

February 14, 2008

I wish someone would explain to me why the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should be taking testimony from Roger Clemens about whether or not he used Human Growth Hormone. The government isn’t doing a good job of supervising affairs that clearly are within its responsibility. Why must Congress decide to regulate baseball, when it can’t keep on top of its own business?

It’s now supposed to be a sad thing that Roger Clemens allowed maniacal competition to lead him to performance enhancing drugs. But why? Isn’t maniacal competition the American way? Isn’t it what we’re all about? Why dump on poor Roger Clemens for following the national ethos?

Presumably he is now in danger of being prosecuted, and maybe even being thrown into jail, for testifying falsely to a Congressional Committee, which shouldn’t have been listening to him anyway. If you want to see competition run completely berserk, then examine the ranks of U.S. Attorneys, many of whom are probably drooling over the thought of being able to bring down a name as big as Roger Clemens. Forget about Martha Stewart and small fry of that ilk if you really want to rise to the top of the prosecutorial competition.

The biggest competition of all, of course, involves members of Congress who want to get more headlines than sports heroes or movie stars. That’s where the American lust to bring down big game really reaches its peak.

February 13, 2008

I worry too much about the future of the human race. It’s a kind of disease. After all, I won’t be around for much of the future and after I’ve shuffled off, humans can go about their business without concerning me.

Still, I can’t help myself. Maybe it’s because I’m now together with my two grandsons. One of them was born just this year, and the chances are he’ll live into the 22nd Century. And he’ll probably have children, and grandchildren, and be caring about them just as I’m caring about him now. And so it goes.

The only way I can see our species having a happy outcome is if we discover how to allow most people to be aware of the actual forces that are shaping the world so that collectively they can make rational decisions about them. We are a long way from that condition now and I admit I don’t know how we’re going to reach it. Most people now have no idea why the price of bread and milk goes up in their supermarket, or whether the fluctuations come about for reasons that are inevitable or manipulated for the benefit of some to the harm of others. Most people don’t understand why armies are sent to kill people far from their shores. Most people don’t know why the roads are adequately paved in some countries and falling apart in others. If you made a list of all the conditions which affect people’s lives and yet are completely misunderstood by a majority of the population, you would have a substantial volume.

If the people at large don’t make the major decisions about quality of life, who is going to make them? It’s the ancient question of politics and government, and I think it’s more acute now than ever before. Yet we aren’t working seriously to answer it. It worries me when reflect about my grandsons, and if someone would come along and answer it for me, he would be a great benefactor. But I don’t see him coming.

February 9, 2008

If you were to ask the average man on the street where common sense comes from, I wonder what he would say. He would probably look at you suspiciously and mumble something about its just being there, as though it comes from the same place as ears, noses and thumbs do.

He would be mistaken, of course. Common sense is a cultural production, and though it’s not always consciously created, it is engineered into place more often than you might imagine.

David Harvey, in his wonderful little book, A Short History of Neoliberalism, has a succinct explanation of how current common sense about economic matters came to dominate standard attitudes in the United States. It was built by a specific set of thinkers whose motivation was to restore class power, the class in this case being the relatively small number of people who have managed to accumulate vast wealth. Starting right after the Second World War a group of theorists, with Friedrich von Hayek at its center, began to push the argument that government is inherently less efficient than private enterprise, and that the only freedom worth having is based on the ability of wealthy people to move capital wherever and however they want regardless of the social consequences. It is more important, they said, that capital be free to move than that people be free to eat.

If you want to consider how successful they have been, reflect on the truth that the ratio of  the compensation of CEOs to the median salary of employees moved from 30:1 in 1970 to 500:1 in 2000. Changes of that scope don’t happen by accident, and they don’t happen without consequences. We have a far different country now than we would have had if that ratio had remained steady over the past three decades. This is the sort of thing that happens when former crackpot ideas become common sense.

So the next time you hear someone popping off about the enduring truths of economics, step back a moment and ask yourself who gets helped by those truths and who gets hurt. If you do, the sense of them can become a little less common, which would be a good thing for all of us.

Automotive Psychology
February 7, 2008

Driving from Vermont to Florida, I decided to pay close attention to see if observation would confirm a suspicion I’ve had for some time now. I watched as carefully as I could and I am now convinced that, north and south, on interstates and back roads, the drivers of pickup trucks are more reckless, aggressive, obnoxious and stupid than the drivers of other vehicles. Obviously, there are exceptions. Not every pickup truck driver is a jerk. But taken as a group, pickup truck drivers are a threat to public safety.

So, the question arises: why should this be the case?

We have in this country the myth of the down-home, heartland, middle American as the bulwark of national morality. It may be the biggest lie ever perpetrated upon a people. What’s moral about behaving murderously every day when you go out on the road?

On Interstate 95 yesterday, on the stretch of highway approaching the turnoff to Interstate 4, I saw numerous pickup trucks going more than ninety miles an hour, weaving in and out of lanes, cutting off other vehicles, and causing some to have to swerve to avoid being hit. As far as I could tell from the faces of the pickup truck drivers under their baseball caps, they were immensely pleased with themselves.

I wonder if any of those guys ever stopped to reflect that the Dukes of Hazard was a TV show and not real life. Come to think of it, even Bo and Luke didn’t drive a pickup truck. Also, they drove round on roads that didn’t have anyone else on them except dumb cops.

It’s probably the case that the pickup truck mentality is just one more aspect of the problem Americans have with maturity. But it’s also one that’s more lethal than most.

February 5, 2008

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne says that with Obama many Democrats are seeking salvation. There's a serious integration of religion and politics for you. I understand the desire but I'm too old to believe in it. Salvation is not going to come from the state or from worship of a politician. For many it won't come at all but they at least can hope for a more secure social network, diminished control by the American plutocracy, and fewer armies sent round the world to blow up people.  These are political goals, not soulful ones.

I suspect Obama knows this as well as any one. And you certainly can't blame him for using the arrows in his quiver. But it's the horrible thought that he has been taken in by his own rhetoric that's causing sensible liberals like Paul Krugman to oppose him. What we need is a Machiavellian Obama, not a sincere one.

The irony, of course, is that Obama's strategy is the old Republican patriotic bombast stood on its head. I read a very liberal columnist a couple days ago say he wanted a candidate that would make him feel like Reagan made the Republicans feel. This, you might say, is genuine liberalism and the main reason I've never been able to sign on to that doctrine.

Perhaps simple good government is too prosaic for the American temperament. Maybe the average person can't imagine it. If that's the case, I hope Obama has sufficient guile to delude us into it.

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