This week is an insanely busy one for me. I’m slated to keynote at a conference on the topic of “creating future leaders within your organization,” but that slating was sort of off the cuff. The folks at the conference had someone else lined up for the gig who fell through in the 11th hour, so they reached out to me. It’s nice to be asked to the dance and all (and having people give you money for doing what you love never sucks), but it has meant that I’ve had to come up with a brand new interactive keynote/workshop in short order. If you’ve been waiting for the last part of my Obamacare posts, know I’ll be getting it out early next week. For now, I thought I’d dust off the old Bloggy Puttanesca meme and get some things off my chest.
And so here we go:
Populism in a Nutshell
As I noted two weeks ago, one of the victims of the current government shutdown is the WIC program — a safety net created to assist low-income mothers, pregnant women, and children under the age of five. In the past two weeks, I have heard zero about WIC and those that need or benefit from it from the conservative media, GOP officials, or Tea Party leaders. On the other hand, those same folks have been bitching 24/7 about how national parks and memorials are closed. And not just that they are closed, but that they must be closed due to some kind of nefarious conspiracy.
For those keeping score, that’s:
Women & Children I Don’t Personally Know: Unimportant
This Symbolic Thing I Really Like But Almost Never Actually Go To See: The Most Important Thing In The Universe
Really, is there a better summing up of populism than that? Seriously, you couldn’t make up with a better real-life, working definition of populism in action if you tried.
The Value of Facebook for Grassroots Political Movements
This is perhaps my favorite story of the government shutdown so far.
Last week, the conservative and the mainstream media began reporting on the truckers who were going to shut down Washington in a protest being coined the Ride For the Constitution.
As it was generally reported, hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of truckers were on their way to Washington DC to protest… um… Obama? Or something? Anyway, it was a huge movement backed by a “Country music star” (almost never actually named, as it turned out she was not an actual Country music star), and they were going to use their massive barrage of vehicles to shutdown the beltway. Then they were going to go into town and make citizen arrests of whatever Congress Critters they could find that had betrayed the United States Constitution. (For those just recently born, this means anyone with a D in front of his or her name.) Pretty much everyone reported the story: Fox News, CNN, even the majors. Glenn Beck came out as an active supporter of the protest, promising his wheeled warriors would shut down DC, and suggesting that their awesome power could conceivably surpass that of Homeland Security. (No, really.)
The trucker protest did end up happening, if only technically. In the end, there were “about 30 tractor trailers and pickups.”
I loved writing that so much, I want to paraphrase it and write it again:
The supposed “millions of truckers” that were reported as descending upon DC ended up being just 30 people. And even then only if you kind of cheated and counted guys in pickup trucks as “truckers.” I think you have to go all the way back to Geraldo Rivera’s Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults to see an example of pseudo-journalism fail this spectacularly.
The first takeaway is that it is space awesome.
The second takeaway is that if it fits in with their anti-Obama narrative, the conservative media really will report any fool thing with a breathless insistence that it is the most important story of our time – and that if they do it enough, the mainstream media will cover it as “real news” as well, regardless of how patently insipid it is.
The third takeaway is that the reason so many argued the Ride For the Constitution was an actual thing was that it had almost a quarter million “likes” on Facebook. Which, I think, provides us with a pretty good formula for evaluating the social media giant and political movements:
Every 250,000 Facebook “Likes”of a Political Event = That Event’s Organizers, Their Immediate Families, and About 10 Other People Actually Willing to Do S**t
The Tea Party in a Nutshell
Last summer I noted that despite its proponents’ constant insistence that the Tea Party is merely a grassroots movement concerned with fiscal restraint, too often it is about things far uglier. This weekend’s Million Veteran March is another good example of this.
The MVM was a supposedly non-political protest that looked to speak out against the shutting down of war memorials during the government shutdown. They pushed over barricades set up in front of DC memorials, and then marched over the White House to Obama a piece of their mind.
Like the Ride For the Constitution, the MVM was a protest that failed to live up to its promised numbers. Best estimates suggest that there were perhaps 200 participants; two of those participants, however, happened to be named Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. The apolitical protest was anything but; indeed, it was about as partisan as you might expect. It is important to note, however, that as the protesters flew the Tea Party flags, the messages delivered weren’t really about fiscal restraint.
Palin used the rally to push for impeaching Barak Obama. Ted Cruz spoke out about how Washington insiders should never be allowed to use veterans to score political photo-op points, and did so with seemingly no sense of irony. Elsewhere, trying to horn in on the action, Michelle Bachmann used the protest to float the idea that the government shutdown was caused by Barack Obama’s Twitter account. Larry Klayman, head of the pro-Tea Party group Freedom Watch, spoke of how America was “ruled by a President who bows down to Allah,” adding that he was urging the President to “put the Quran down [and] get up off his knees.” The crowd cheered him on as he made the remarks. (Klayman, it should also be noted, has called for a coup against the government on November 19 unless the President agrees to answer for his “Muslim, socialist, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-white, pro-illegal immigrant, pro-radical gay and lesbian agenda.”)
I understand that the Tea Party started as a pro-fiscal responsibility movement way back when, but can we all stop pretending that it’s anything remotely related to that now?
On Redskins and Confederate Flags
What people in the majority are really fighting for in these kinds of fights isn’t permission to use words or symbols. No one, so far as I know, is starting a credible movement to make it illegal for the Washington Redskins to remain named as is. Likewise, no one is asking to jail people who say “faggot” or “nigger,” and no one is proposing we fine people who want to have confederate flag decals on their cars and pickups. “Permission” to use these words and symbols, even a corporation like the ‘Skins, is a red herring.
What people arguing for, really, is the ability to use them free of consequences.
Take the Confederate flag. For you, it might be a symbol of rebellion, or tradition, or history, or even – to take examples people have actually given me for why they flew it – a symbol of being a redneck or a “s**tkicker.” It may have nothing at all to do with blacks, and you may not have a racist bone in your body.
But if you decide to fly it, you are agreeing to accept certain negative judgments from others because of what the Confederate flag symbolizes to such a huge segment of our country. And not just liberals and African Americans. There’s a reason the flag is so often associated with white supremacist groups: those people claim it as theirs by embedding the same symbolism in it that so many African Americans do. So it’s important to keep in mind that if you want to proudly display the Stars & Bars that a lot of people are going to make judgments of you that you probably don’t want them to make. And if it’s worth those judgments for you to make your non-related statement, then hey – go for it.
If you don’t like that others have a negative opinion of the words and symbols you like to wear on your sleeve, tough noogies. You have the freedom to wear that sleeve; you don’t have the freedom to not have consequences for wearing it.
Which brings me to my final point, which is this: Forget everything else, the Washington Redskins’ owners and management are eventually going to change their mascot for business reasons.