Friday, March 4, 2011

Don't Feed the Troll

I'm sorry to do this, but I just can't hold it back.  American political discourse is such a sham, people on both sides of the alleged two-sided debate believe such nonsense that sometimes I can't help but laugh at the whole thing.  You know there's some kind of problem when the debates of the day concern who's crazier, Keith Olberman or Bill O'Reilly.  Newsflash, America.  They're both out of their minds.  Neither of them (or any of their compatriots, the Rush Limbaughs, the Chris Matthewses, the Sean Hannitys) has any interest in real discourse, in trying to do anything positive for the country or the world.  They just yell, call each other names, and pass it off as politics.  Because, hey, that's what the people will watch on the TV.

Come to think of it, maybe that's all politics is meant to be, but we can dream of a better approach, can't we?  Perhaps it's too simplistic to put it this way, but wouldn't we be better of if real people made up the meat of political discourse, and not media-magnates, corrupt politicians, or for-profit corporations?  Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that what the word "Democracy" means (from the Greek, 'Demos' meaning people, and 'Kratos' meaning rule)?

Anyway, the point here isn't to gripe about our mis-defined terms (we could spend a whole post talking about how words like "liberal," "communist," "socialist," "democracy," "conservative," and "constitution" have acquired meanings very different from their actual definitions).  No, the point is to go against my own advice.  I'm going to feed the troll.

The troll, in this case, is a man who wrote a letter that I received from one of my right-wing relatives via email.  He's one of those people who forwards five emails a day that all say "I rarely forward emails" at the top, and which contain font in at least three different sizes and at least four different colors in the body of the message.  So yeah, that's a sure sign not to take anything too seriously.  Except...  Except the people who believe these kinds of emails win elections.  Which isn't really a big deal, since at least you're putting principled crazy people (instead of the much more dangerous unprincipled sane ones) in office, but still.

This particular email is a gem, so much so that I laughed long and hard when I read it.  Now, you have to recall, I am not a Democrat, and I am not a Republican.  I'm an equal-opportunity critic of both parties, and, in fact, I'm probably all the more critical of the left than the right.  True, I am more "left wing" than "right wing," in that I believe in social freedoms like the right for gays to marry and the right to have an abortion, but economically and politically I am aligned with neither party, and don't believe that I fit along the 2-dimensional spectrum that most of us have been fooled into thinking encompasses all of political thought.

This particular email, though, comes from the right of American politics and is a harsh "criticism," if you can call it that, of Nancy Pelosi.  Now, Pelosi is about as corrupt as they come, but this fine piece takes her on in the most insane, unreasonable, and terrifyingly inaccurate ways possible.  In theory, it's by a man who is a former Assistant District Attorney named Dennis Guthrie, which makes it all the more classic for reasons which will become clear.  Without further ado, here's the email (in bold) with comments inserted.

Dear Ms. Pelosi:

I write to you out of utter disdain! You are as despicable and un-American as the traitor Jane Fonda.

Jane Fonda!  She's so despicable and un-American that she married Ted Turner!  Of course, Dennis is referring to her protest of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars and her self-described feminist ideals.  But Jane Fonda isn't really the point, here.  The point is that this is an absolutely ludicrous way to start a letter.  "Dear Ms. Person, I hate you!  You're just like this other person that I hate!"  Sounds a little like a little kid, no?

I am a soon to be 65 year-old who has voted in every state and local election since 1966. I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats alike. I have worked on campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats, white and black. I served the country that I love in Vietnam, as my son did in the Middle East . I was awarded two bronze stars. I have been involved in politics since age 6 when my father was campaign manager for a truly great American Congressman, Charles Raper Jonas, who worked for his constituents and his country, and was to be admired, unlike you.

Attempting to rebuild credibility here, because, you know, the whole Jane Fonda thing was a bit of a gamble that didn't really pay off.  So we find out that Dennis is not partisan, not in the slightest.  We also find out that he's not a racist - he's very careful to point out that he has worked on campaigns for both white and black people.

The real key to this credibility argument, of course, is that 6 year-old Dennis (soon to be seven?) was "involved" in politics because his father managed the campaign of Charles Raper Jonas (can we talk to his parents about that middle name?), who worked for his constituents and his country, and was to be admired, unlike [Nancy Pelosi].  Let's talk about how tortured this sentence is.  Wait, let's not.  Just read it again.  Non sequiturs abound!  The purpose of the sentence changes no less than twice, beginning with "I've been around politics for a long time," transitioning to "Charles Raper Jonas was a good congressman," and finishing with "You're a scumbag!" Bravo, good sir.

You obviously haven't read the Constitution recently, if ever, the Federalist Papers, or even David McCullough's book on John Adams.

Oh my.  Cue music...  One of these things is not like the other.  Let's see, key documents for a member of congress to read... 1) Constitution, check.  2) Federalist Papers, check. 3) David McCullough's book on John Adams, check?  Now don't get me wrong, I'm guessing that McCullough's book is very good.  He's a two-time Pulitzer winner, and John Adams is one of those winners.  But that still doesn't put it in the same camp as the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, which are, you know, political treatises about the founding of the country, and not historical biographies.

Also, isn't the order wrong here?  It's weird enough that he throws in the McCullough book, but it's the "even" that gets me.  It's like saying "he hasn't read any Shakespeare, even Titus Andronicus," as if that's the one Shakespeare play everyone should read.  I mean, I can imagine Pelosi not reading the Constitution, but David McCullough's John Adams, really now.

You ought to take the time while riding around in your government provided luxury executive jet to do just that. You represent Socialistic and even Marxist principals that our founding fathers tried to avoid when setting out the capitalistic republican form of government represented by our Constitution.

Boom.  This is the best part of the whole thing, right here.  For a man who is, in theory, a former Assistant AD who has read John Adams (by David McCullough) and even the Constitution (see what I did there?), this is a remarkable display of historical ignorance.  Let's not even get into how non-socialist Nancy Pelosi is, and instead let's talk about Karl Marx.

Marx was not a socialist, because socialism and communism are very different, but that's not what's amazing here.  No, simple chronology is the bugbear in this paragraph.  Marx was born in, wait for it, 1818, and he published the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  The Constitution was written, as I'm sure you know, in 1787, a full 31 years before Marx was even born.  The Marxist principles the founding fathers supposedly avoided while setting up our government did not even exist - at least not in name - when the Constitution was written.  Dennis, I suppose, might argue that Marxism existed in spirit, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of history knows that the late 18th century were hardly a time of powerful labor unions.  Hell, when the Constitution was penned the French Revolution hadn't even happened yet.  Indeed, the closest thing (and they weren't particularly close) in the entire world to communism in 1787 was - you guessed it - the American colonies.  Well done, Mr. Guthrie.

We're not done with this yet, either, because Dennis lets us know that, in addition to predicting the invention of communism in half-a-century, the founding fathers also predicted the invention of capitalism.  Now, you no doubt know that Adam Smith published the Wealth of Nations in 1776, but you may not realize that he doesn't call anything "capitalism," therein.  What's more, that which is capitalistic in Wealth of Nations is critiqued heavily, as Smith laments the way that trade corporations conspire to harm their customers.  Like Machiavelli's Prince, Wealth of Nations is historically misunderstood as advocating for a certain system, whereas the works themselves are more descriptive than proscriptive.

In this particular case, Wealth of Nations has little to no bearing on the Constitution (indeed, it's unlikely that many of the founding fathers had even read the book by the time the Constitution was ratified), and the word "capitalism" or the concepts associated therewith even less.  Capitalism, as a term, didn't really come around until after Marx's own descriptive work, Capital, popularized the concept.  The founding fathers, needless to say, weren't particularly concerned with the economic system of the United States, because there weren't really competing theories at the time, and because the Constitution was meant to be a political and governmental user's manual.

The moral of the story?  Before you spout off nonsense about the founding fathers and their motivations, try reading the Federalist Papers and the Constitution first (bazing!).  You'll find the words "capitalist," "Marxist," and "socialist" absent.

I find it interesting that you and your husband are multi-millionaires with much of your fortune being made as a result of your "public service". You have controlled legislation that has enhanced your husband's investments both on and off shore. At the same time you redistributed the wealth of others. Our system of a free market economy is being destroyed by the likes of you, Harry Reid, and now our President. You ride around in a Gulfstream airplane at the tax payer's expense while criticizing the presidents of companies who produced something for the economy. You add nothing to the economy of the United States , you only subtract therefrom.

Ok, the Gulfstream thing is one of those wonderfully false Internet rumors that floats around.  You know, like Barrack Obama being a Muslim born on Neptune who's secretly collaborating with the Cylons in preparation for their invasion.  As for the rest of it, well, I don't really know anything about Pelosi's husband, but I do know that, by the nature of the congress, Pelosi "controlled" nothing.  It's the classic "Great Man" or, in this case, "Great Woman" theory of politics rearing its ugly head again.  The idea that any one person is responsible for legislation of any kind is absurd, given the several hundred members of congress and the several thousand staffers, lobyists, corporate donors, special interest groups, and so on that make the country go.  To say that Pelosi "redistributed the wealth of others" is more than a bit of an exaggeration.

As for our free market economy being destroyed, well, I'd argue that Nancy Pelosi is only a small part of that picture as well.  Even if we agree that a pure free market works, I would argue that what we have now is a kind of reverse-socialism.  That is, common people are taxed so that our money can be given to huge corporations (which pay no tax at all) in the form of bailouts and subsidies.  Is Pelosi a part of that?  Yes, but only because all elected politicians - in order to be elected - almost have to be corrupt.  With the Supreme Court ruling last year that Corporations can give unlimited, anonymous funds to political campaigns, it is nearly impossible to find a congressperson or senator who has not been bought and sold already.

Blaming Pelosi (or any single congressperson) for that is a bit much.  Really, the blame rests with no one person, but the willful ignorance of the American people - who refuse to see that their country is not, in fact, run by their elected representatives - is a major part of the problem.  It's no wonder that we've begun to cycle wildly - the people elect Democrats, find them unresponsive, and then elect Republicans, only to find them equally unresponsive, and so on.

Anyway, bring us home, Dennis baby, with some personal attacks.

I would like to suggest that you return to the city of fruitcakes and nuts and eat your husband's canned tuna and pineapple produced by illegal immigrants and by workers who have been excluded from the protection that 90% of the legal workers in the United States have.
Another meandering sentence-with-many-meanings.  To wit:
1) San Francisco has gay people in it, and is thus morally reprehensible (unlike my state of North Carolina, where everyone is straight, white, male, and Christian; at least everyone worth mentioning).
2) Eat some canned tuna and pineapple, bitch!  Seriously, is this some kind of innuendo I don't know about?  "I'm taking my talents to South Beach, where I'll be eating my husband's canned tuna (wink wink)."
3) Damn Mexicans, how dare they try to make a better life for themselves!
4) Honestly, I'm not sure what Dennis is getting at here.  Is he saying that illegal immigrants deserve protection?  Or is he saying that illegal immigrants are robbing other Americans of legal protections?  Or what?  Whatever his point, he's sure worked up about it.

I await your defeat in the next election with glee.

I suppose this means, while he waits for Pelosi to lose in the next election he'll be watching a lot of Glee, starring Lea Michele, Jane Lynch, and Matthew Morrison.  I haven't seen the show, but I hear it's very popular.

Don't ever use the term "un-American" again for protesters who love this country and are exercising their rights upon which this country was founded. By the way, while I served in the Army, I was spit on by the same type of lunatics who support you and who you probably supported in the 60's and 70's. You are an embarrassment to all of us who served so that you would have the protected right of free speech to call us un-American. But at the same time, I have the right to write you, to notify you, that I consider you to be un-American, as do the majority of the people of this formerly great country. You are a true disgrace to most of the people who served this country by offering themselves for public service in the United States Congress.

Just when you thought we were done, Dennis pulls out the classic "and another thing" on us.  The best part here is that he criticizes Pelosi for calling town-hall protesters "un-American," and then proceeds to criticize anti-war protesters for the exact same thing.  Does the irony know no bounds?  I mean, let me make Dennis's argument in this paragraph clear:

1) You can't criticize people for protesting because that's the 1st amendment.  They have a right to do it.
2) How dare those protesters in the 60s and 70s rally against the Vietnam War!  That's un-American.  They shouldn't have a right to do that!
3) I, however, have a right to free speech, which is why I'm writing you this letter.  I'm a little confused about what I'm saying, but that's ok, because I can always wrap it up with:
4) You're a scumbag!

Also, let's talk about this "formerly great country" bit.  What does that mean?  Are we talking about the 80s?  I'm guessing not, because there was even more hand-wringing then than there is now.  No, I'm guessing Dennis means the 1950s, back when black people and white people couldn't eat in the same restaurants, back when women weren't allowed to have jobs in science, technology, or mathematics, back when gay men and women were liable to be beat up or killed if people found out about them, back when people lived in constant fear of nuclear war with the USSR...  Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say the past was awful - rather, it was like any other time, filled with good and bad, filled with justice and injustice, filled with love and hatred.  Humanity is complicated, history is complicated, and the sooner we acknowledge that the sooner we can start having real conversations instead of just yelling at each other.

I feel certain your aides will not share this letter with you, but I intend to share it with many.

Cue passive-aggressive one-liner... And we're done.

Dennis L. Guthrie 

In the end, you have to love the "Sincerely," don't you?

OK, I know what you're thinking:  "But Paul, isn't what you're doing here exactly what Dennis is guilty of?"  Yes, and no.  The purpose of doing this is, in part, the fun of it (I read too much Fire Joe Morgan back before it went silent).  But more importantly, the purpose is to show that there's a wrong way to have political discourse, and that this wrong way is all-too-prominent.  Dennis Guthrie, believe it or not, means well.  It's just, he doesn't know how to have a conversation, how to engage in a dialogue.  He's become a part of a political discourse that's all rage and anger and hatred - from Democrats and Republicans alike - and that will not get anyone anywhere.

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