What Does Kate Brown Actually Believe In?

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I can’t claim to be an ardent follower of Oregon state politics. I have however been following the Oregon Governor’s race with an increasing level of interest, because it seems like there’s an increasingly real chance that Kate Brown could be unseated by her Republican opponent, a man whose skin is made up of approximately 40% earlobe tissue and whose eyes have been replaced by LITERAL BEADS -a man whose campaign platform is based almost exclusively on eviscerating the state’s public pension program and gutting regulations on corporations. His name is Knute Buehler, and he sucks.

So why would Oregon, a blue state whose US Senators are two of the most reliably liberal in the nation, elect a man like Buehler over an incumbent Democrat? What is it about Kate Brown’s plan for her second term that has made voters consider putting someone else in the Governor’s mansion? Wait… actually, what IS Kate Brown’s plan? She’ll have the mandate of a second-term governor, and there’s a real possibility of a blue wave that is could boost Democratic numbers in the state legislature too. Surely she must have an ambitious agenda that will drive people to the polls, right? Actually, here’s what her campaign website: says:

  • Going forward, Kate will continue helping small businesses across Oregon thrive by cutting red tape.
  • Kate will continue to stand with working families by supporting policies that help give opportunities to all Oregonians.
  • Our state is at the forefront of a supply chain for an emerging technology, and we can leverage this opportunity to grow our a robust and globally connected, statewide economy.
  • Just as families have to keep to a budget to make ends meet, so does state government.
  • She convened a Task Force to review and propose options for making up to $5 billion in payments toward PERS costs. Made up of a diverse group of stakeholders, this group is considering the most cost-effective methods to save money while still remaining committed to our Oregon values.
  • Kate will continue to protect the progress that we have made to make reproductive healthcare accessible in Oregon.
  • Kate will continue to fight for the resources necessary to make sure every student enters school ready to learn, and stays engaged and on track throughout their education.

Two things jump out at me while reading through these. First, it’s clear that she’s not planning on DOING anything during her second term – she’s committed to keeping the lights on and that’s about it. Second, there’s not a single promise that she’s made that couldn’t be just as easily made by a Republican. That’s not because she’s going to implement Republican policies, mind you – it’s because all of her promises are so vague that they could be made by anyone, for any reason. A Republican could just as easily promise you that they’ll “stand up for working families” by voting to end Oregon’s status as a sanctuary state, for instance.  Knute could promise to “fight for the resources necessary” for Oregon students by destroying the state’s public employee pension plan and “re-investing” the money in schools, as he has actually proposed. He could promise to “help small businesses” by cutting the minimum wage. These phrases are meaningless, designed deliberately in a way that avoids taking genuine policy positions or creating a vision for the future.

Listen, I know that Oregon is a uniquely tough state to govern. When Republicans had some level of power in the 80s, they ensured that any Democratic Legislature would have one hand tied behind their back for the foreseeable future by requiring a 2/3 vote in the legislature for any kind of tax increase. The funding model that existed at that point was messy, and remains so, because no one has had the numbers to change it. That makes it hard for ANY Governor to promise ambitious new initiatives that would cost any kind of real money. So the state Democratic party has taken the most extremely Democrat position possible: “We can’t do anything about this right now, so why even mention that we might want to in the future?” So we’re left with an incredibly boring, technocratic, anti-aspirational gubernatorial campaign that inspires nobody and could very well propel a man who will do an incredible amount of damage into the Governor’s mansion. It’s the exact kind of campaign that Hillary Clinton ran against Donald Trump, and those results speak for themselves.

If Kate Brown loses to Knute Buehler, it won’t be because he’s a good candidate. It’ll be because people are struggling across the board and she promised to deliver them nothing to alleviate their suffering. It’ll be because she thought she could coast to a second term without making any policy commitments. It’ll be because she failed to offer a positive vision of a real future where the government can actually help people. It’ll be because she Doesn’t. Actually. Believe. In. Anything. And there’s a real possibility that we’ll all be worse off because of it.

(In case anyone is wondering, I’m still going to fucking vote for her)

Fix Yourself

From the beginning of my time in the Real World™, I’ve been consistently shocked at the extent to which self help culture permeates every aspect of American life. From my days working in a grocery store to my days working in the classroom, from grade school to grad school, I’ve had it hammered into me that the world that exists a rung above me is fixed and unmoveable. I’ve been told that the decisions made above my station in life are what they are, and nothing that results from those decisions can be changed or fixed. I’ve learned, over and over again, that what I CAN fix is my attitude, my outlook.

Every time I think I’ve escaped the self-help bubble, I turn a corner to see it rearing its ugly head again. Over time, I’ve come to understand that this an integral part of how our society shifts responsibility for our collective problems to the individuals who are least responsible for them. Our energy for change is always directed inward and downward instead of outward and upward. It’s the grease that keeps this machine running.

I have to admit here that I have, in the past, directed a great deal of judgment at the people who gravitate towards self help culture. I’ve always found it odd that people can approach this kind of stuff – which is ultimately so repetitive and so limiting – and find some sort of revelatory value in it each time. There’s clearly a religious element in the whole venture, and at my worst moments you can always find me sneering at anything that even vaguely smells of religion.

But even moreso than the ritual of it all- the spiritual incantations, the meditative mindfulness, the practiced reactions to the world around us – there’s a fundamental faith in the rationality of the world around us. In this world, credit scores are an act of God and police are rational arbiters of all that is right and good in the world. In this world, anyone who works hard enough can become rich, and anyone who has sufficient belief in themselves can navigate the incomprehensible maze that our society has set up for them and somehow come out on the other end with their dignity intact. The fact that the mechanisms of this world punish people for failure to navigate its intricacies through depriving them of food, housing, and healthcare is an immutable fact of life. These mechanisms are a result of natural law in the same way that the rising and setting of the sun is. To maintain this faith, a person almost has to engage in religious rituals. A person has to assume that any problems they encounter are a result of their own personal defects.

Of course, the reality of our country’s economic structure isn’t exactly easy to stomach. The reality is that wealth and comfort are primarily reserved to those who are born into it, regardless of the effort they put in. The reality is that people who possess the worst character traits are are often ushered into positions of power through systems that are designed to limit opportunities for people of conscience. The reality is that with every day that passes, a person born into limited means is less likely to escape their social station than a person born the day before. And things have been heading inexorably in that direction – albeit at varying speeds – for the entirety of my life and that of millions of others. There simply aren’t many people who have the social and economic foundation built under them to function regularly in their daily lives with that knowledge and understanding.

So at the end of the day, people who are chasing self-help culture – the ones who go to the workshops, buy the books, and practice the rituals – are channeling their energy in the only way our society allows. And that pursuit is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. They are trying to tackle an impossible task – to change the very wiring of their brain and rid themselves of the nagging doubt about the world around them. Not only is that a tough mountain to climb, it’s the only one that they can see in front of them. And good for them for trying to conquer it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I agree with our society’s incessant need to shift responsibility from institutions to individuals. Self-help purveyors have their share of hucksters, ambulance-chasers, and those who profiteer off of human suffering – but what religion doesn’t? These purveyors are chasing what capitalism demands that all of us chase- a growth market. They’re selling, selling, selling to an audience that is only growing larger every day. And it makes sense that it’s a growth market. Right now, the expectations that we are placing on individuals to succeed are greater than ever in a world where there are objectively fewer opportunities to succeed than ever before. It makes sense, in this world, that people gravitate towards a philosophy that asks them to direct their energy inward instead of outward. It makes sense that people are yearning to maintain their faith in the world around them even as that world is proving itself to be woefully inadequate to the needs of its people. The alternative is scary as shit.

Goodnight Gorda

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Here’s some fun Gorda facts:

  • When I met her at the Humane Society, her name was “Bunny.” They found her in a barn and she was a mother to a single kitten, who they named “Bugs.” It was a very shitty name.
  • It took me almost two years to come up with a different name because I am both extremely uncreative and incredibly self-conscious about making decisions that are permanent.
  • The Humane Society almost prevented me from adopting her due to my living situation, but a nice lady who worked there changed her mind when they saw the way I snuggled with her and also maybe was swayed by the fact that I almost started crying when they told me I couldn’t have her.
  • The name Gorda was derived from watching “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which is a movie in Spanish about a young Che Guevara. At one point, Che calls his chubby friend “fatty.” I asked the person who I was watching the movie with to tell me what word he used, and it was “Gordo.” And so Gorda’s gender-appropriate and totally not fat-shaming name was born.
  • Back when I was in my early 20s and she was not geriatric, I was able to leave her alone in my apartment for several days at a time with a pile of dry food and a big bowl of water. I also left a window open so that she could wander in and out as she pleased. After I returned from one of those trips, a neighbor told me that he had been awakened in the middle of the night to something large and furry in his bed. As it turns out, Gorda had been so snuggle-deprived in my absence that she had crawled through one of his open windows, found his bedroom, and crawled into bed with him. She was not taking no for an answer.
  • As we all know, cat years progress much faster than human years, and I am actually able to pinpoint the exact moment that Gorda surpassed me in age. When I was living in that same apartment and still young and dumb, I came home late at night, coming down from a particularly intense mushroom trip. Immediately when I came downstairs, I could tell that Gorda was upset with me. She glowered down on me from her perch on top of the couch, judging me. It’s as if she was saying “I know what you’ve done, Stephen. How dare you take illicit drugs and then return to my home.” From that point forward, she became “Gorda the wise,” and she became my caretaker.
  • The Humane Society informed me in no uncertain terms that Gorda was not fond of other cats, and that was very true. But one day, my landlady (who lived above me) came home with a very sweet and tiny kitten, and we thought that maybe introducing her to Gorda would re-ignite some kind of motherly instinct inside of her soul. We placed them in front of each other, and Gorda sniffed the kitten twice before winding up with her right paw and smacking that adorable kitten as hard as she could three times. She fucked that kitten up.
  • Despite her hatred of cats of all sizes, Gorda had a particular affection for dogs. She never met one that she didn’t want to snuggle.
  • Over her last few years, her name became less apt as she lost more and more weight. My friend Sean came to visit from Billings a little while back and informed me that her new name should be “Emaciata.” He does not speak Spanish.
  • Whenever my nephews and niece came over, Gorda would go into hiding – either in a kitchen cupboard or in the basement. We were worried that she would do the same when we brought Simon home – but the opposite occured. Because we spent so much extra time sitting, lying down, in bed, or otherwise snuggling with Simon, she had a captive audience. And she never turned down an opportunity to join the snuggle pile, even as Simon started beating the shit out of her on a regular basis. If meeting a kitten didn’t reignite a motherly instinct, I think being around a human child did – she was always so gentle with him, even when he didn’t return the favor.
  • Gorda’s last week involved lots of ground raw chicken, extra snuggles, and plenty of tormenting from Simon, which she continued to tolerate.  Her last moments were spent in full snuggle mode, and she’s now taken up permanent residence in one of her favorite spots in the backyard under our big Dogwood tree.

I wasn’t going to write anything else – I was mostly just planning on posting pictures. But it’s worth saying that getting a cat was both one of the dumbest and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I didn’t think it through. I didn’t imagine it would be a 13 year commitment. I didn’t foresee how hard it would be to move around from place to place with a furry friend who viewed her litterbox as a more of a bullseye than a dartboard. Had I been able to see those things, I never would have taken her in. But it was so, absolutely, completely worth it that none of that stuff ended up mattering. 21 year-old me was an idiot, but that idiocy led me to one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And now, with Gorda gone, I’m that much farther away from being that kid who would make a decision like that. A decision that was 100% based on what’s in his heart with absolutely no practical considerations involved. Thinking about that kid, I’m shocked at how careless he was but amazed at how that carelessness didn’t always lead him in the wrong direction. I kind of miss him.

 

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Young Gorda

Gorda Hannah

Gorda ashamed

Gorda majestic

Gorda reaching

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I’m gonna miss my baby. Goodnight, sweet Gorda.

Homogenization Nation

There’s only one thing you’re sure of: You’re missing out. You’re doing something wrong and it’s time to adapt. You’ve decided to dress a little nicer and cut off some of the rough edges. You swear a little less and stop talking about politics. You’ve got to find some stability. You’ve got to make more money. You’re missing something.

You turn yourself into a brand. Your circle of friends becomes larger and ever-less intimate. That’s a good thing, because you’ve been told to view them as a source of potential income. You no longer hit them up because you want to hang out – you hit them up because you’ve got an exciting business opportunity for them. You’re gathering information on them, probing them for weak points. Your interactions are transformed into transactions. You’re always on point. You never let your guard down.

Your income has gone up over the last few years. That’s a good thing, because everywhere you turn there seem to be more and more people who are trying to separate you from that income. Your rent has gone up. Your most expensive purchases need to be replaced every year. The things you used to buy to save money now cost more because saving money is trending. New gatekeepers seem to be popping up everywhere to charge you a fee for the things you used to do for free.

In the world around you, your favorite establishments are closing and being replaced with boutiques and wine bars. The ones that stay open are getting glossy remodels and adding new locations on the other side of town. They now have a variety of merchandise for you to purchase. Miniature shopping malls have been placed between you and all of the activities you enjoy. All you have to do is walk through them (but you might as well buy something while you’re at it). Visible signs of poverty seem to be disappearing from your neighborhood. You don’t ask where those signs went – it’s probably just because people are doing better. Everything is being consolidated, homogenized. It’s relentlessly predictable and you wonder if you should find comfort in that.

Everyone tells you that confidence is key. If you want a bright future, you’ve just got to believe in yourself. Things are looking up, you tell yourself – there’s a windfall right around the corner. But before you turn that corner, there are all kinds of people who want to cash in on your windfall before it happens. You’ve already parted with all of your current income, so why not part with your future income too? They told you to bet on yourself – you’re good for it if you believe you are. You sign the promissory note. The only possible trajectory is up. All you have to do is believe.

In the virtual world, you’re now connected to your 750 closest friends on every conceivable social media platform – and you wouldn’t want to say or do anything to offend them. You’re becoming increasingly aware that your every click and keystroke is being monitored. You adjust your behavior accordingly.  Every search yields the same 10 results. Information is harder to come by, but at least shopping is really easy. The places in the virtual world that you used to go to relax now serve as constant reminders of all that you’re missing out on – the new shoes you could be wearing, the trips you could be taking. And it can all be yours in one click.

In your more pessimistic moments, you wonder why there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to hide anymore. You feel suffocated by all of this. Your life seems ever more devoid of genuine interactions with people, but maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe being authentic is a sign of weakness. Maybe passion is a sign of youth. You push all that aside. You’ve got to be on point. You don’t want to miss out.

The economy is doing well, you hear.  This is the part of the business cycle known as a “recovery.” And in your weaker moments, you wonder: If this is a recovery, why is it so fucking bleak out there?

Collusion

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The theory goes something like this: Donald Trump’s campaign met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and asked them for help in winning the election against Hillary Clinton. In return, the Trump campaign agreed to pursue better relations with Russia in the event that Russian help ended up putting them over the top. Russia proceeded to “hack the election” by sending phishing e-mails to Clinton campaign officials and spending money to promote ads and fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Russia also did some other things that we have yet to uncover evidence for, such as rigging voting machines and hacking voter registries. Trump went on to win the election, and will presumably do some favors for Russia at some point as a reward for their help in winning the election.

The above narrative is both simple and compelling. But as time goes on, we appear to be getting farther and farther away from this operating theory. Instead, what you’ll hear over and over is the word “collusion.”  It’s a catch-all term that encompasses a number of possible activities, not all of which have anything to do with rigging an election. And as we get farther away from the shocking results of that election, it seems that fewer and fewer people are mentioning any vote-rigging, preferring instead to stick with the word “collusion.”

Listen: It’s pretty clear that there were Russian interests who were trying to curry favor with the Trump campaign, through a variety of means both legal and not-so-legal. But foreign countries currying favor with elected officials and prospective elected officials isn’t only not unusual – it’s actually an integral feature of our politics. Why do you think that a bill which criminalizes a peaceful boycott movement against Israel makes it to the Senate floor? Why do you think that people inside Obama’s white house referred to foreign policy think tanks in Washington DC as “Arab-occupied territory?” Why do you think our foreign policy establishment so overwhelmingly favors the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia even as our actual material and strategic interests in the Middle East continue to decline?

Michael Tracey says it best on Twitter:

Insofar as the Russia “scandal” is a scandal, it’s a political corruption scandal masquerading as a global espionage scandal.  Paranoid liberals want to frame it as the latter because it makes the wrongdoing appear unique to Trump.  But the political corruption exposed – unregistered foreign lobbying, underhanded oligarchic influence, campaign hangers-on overstating their influence as a means of currying favor and attaining career advancement – reflects an indictment of the entire political system and is thoroughly bipartisan in nature.

Conspiracy theories are a constant tornado of information, innuendo, and – more than anything – certainty. Before we even heard that people in Trump’s orbit are being arrested last week, we all heard a chorus of people yelling “SEE?” simultaneously. Yet again, as the dust settled we learned that we are still waiting for that other shoe to drop – the one that proves that the conspiracy theorists were Right All Along. Throughout all this time, as the shoe continues to not drop, we are constantly being inundated with that certainty and innuendo. By the time all of this is over, the fact that the one big thing we were all waiting to learn never came to pass won’t even matter.

Here’s a corollary for you: Can anyone tell me what the Benghazi scandal was all about?  Can anyone tell me what the central thesis was that implicated Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in some kind of wrong-doing after those attacks? I can’t either! But that’s the thing with conspiracy theories – it’s all noise and no signal. You see where I’m going with this – “collusion” is nothing more then Benghazi for liberals.  There’s a smattering of wrong-doing underneath it all, a high degree of certainty that something larger lurks underneath, and a great number of people who will pointedly refuse to tell you what that something is.

The obvious response to this is, “who cares, as long as it hurts Trump.” I have a great deal of sympathy for that argument, and if I thought that this scandal would bring down the Trump administration without further reverberating throughout our cultural and political landscape, I’d say that a little exaggeration is OK. I’d call it politics. I’d say it’s for the greater good. But as I’ve explained before, that’s not how this is shaping up. This pseudo-scandal emboldens our horrible and murderous national security state, it moves the Democratic Party even further to the right (thus ensuring that they continue to lose), and it puts us at genuine risk of another Cold War with Russia. Worst of all, it’s not even going to bring down the Trump Administration. So what we’re left with is all of the negative impacts of this hysteria and none of the benefits.

You can count me out.

 

The Bullshit Factory

I’m going to complain about work a little bit here, so I should start by saying that I have what I can only describe as the best job that anyone could ask for.  But throughout my time in education, professional development and trainings have always rubbed me the wrong way.  I’ve always found them to be both devoid of useful content while also operating as a kind of circle-jerk where educators stroke each other’s egos.

Over the course of this school year, the staff at my school has participated in a series of trainings on something called “Trauma-Informed Care.”  Here’s the gist of it:  Many students experience severe trauma at a very young age:  chronic hunger, rape, abuse, neglect, etc.  A child’s brain has no idea how to process these things, so it goes into overdrive and produces all kinds of hormones.  Over time, these hormones have a drastic affect on the brain’s structure and chemistry.  Because of this, many of the behaviors that students exhibit later in life are a result of physical damage to their brains as much as emotional.  A teacher or social worker who is “trauma-informed” will be better able to recognize and respond to these behaviors than a teacher who isn’t, hence the training.

Unfortunately, even a topic like trauma-informed care – which treats the student as a victim of circumstance whose behavior is often times beyond their control – gets siphoned through the bullshit factory and ends up taking on a fundamentally conservative tone; one that manages to instead blame the students and their culture for their behavior.  By the time it reaches our ears, the content of these trainings are injected with pop psychology terms like “growth mindset,” which is a fancy way to say that students are in fact making a conscious decision to have a negative mindset towards school.  In this worldview, students’ behavior couldn’t possibly be the result of factors outside of their control such as crushing poverty or an educational system that’s actively trying to disenfranchise them.  So why is it that a science-based, progressive theory around how students learn been transformed into into the same old conservative lecture on the value of personal responsibility?

First and foremost, there’s clearly a disconnect between the types of people who conduct trainings like this and those of us who are in the classroom every day.  For obvious reasons, the kinds of people who leave the classroom to become administrators tend to be more conservative than those of us who stay in the classroom.  And the longer they stay away from a classroom, the more conservative they become.  As a particularly egregious example, the person charged with running our training session last week brought some of her own personal experience with trauma to the classroom.  She talked about her daughter, who recently got in trouble at her small private (!) school for wearing nail polish. Her daughter had been called into the principal’s office, and she had come home very upset.  That’s…. it.  The person who was training us on how to be better educators values public education so much that she doesn’t deign to expose her child to it, and her understanding of trauma itself is so vacuous that she thinks that having a bad day qualifies.  She’s not alone – a lot of administrators move out of the classroom because they resent the kids who attend public school, and couldn’t possibly take a moment out of their busy days to consider the baggage that students come into their classroom with.  These views are fundamentally opposed the the very idea of trauma-informed care, and yet somehow the people who are conducting the trainings are able to hold these contradictions within themselves without spontaneously combusting and bursting into flames.

The other reason these trainings lose all of their meaning is because of their audience.  When you’re presenting to a group of teachers, one of the easiest ways to kill time is to get us to talk about how difficult our jobs are.  So instead of discussing responses to trauma that our students experience, we end up talking about “vicarious trauma” and “organizational trauma,” which are things that teachers experience when we have tough students or when we have administrators who don’t back us up… or something.  We discussed these forms of supposed trauma far more than we discussed anything related to the students we work with.  In this way we transform a discussion that is supposed to be about our students into a conversation about ourselves and the struggles that we face trying to educate them.

Finally, it’s hard for me to avoid the conclusion that there is a religious element that pervades professional development as a whole.  This is true of all professions, including teachers.  Let’s say you’re a classroom teacher who views yourself as Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds.  Now let’s say that despite that belief, your day-to-day job involves a distinct lack of revelatory, life-changing moments for your students or for you.  How do you maintain your fundamental belief in your transformative power as an educator?  In much the same way that religious people go to church in order to maintain connection to a God they cannot see, educators go to conferences and trainings to ritualistically worship an idea of education that doesn’t exist in the real world.  It’s why these trainings, year after year, all seem to come back to the same mantra – “We do good work, the students are the problem.  We do good work, the students are the problem.  We do good work, the students are the problem.” If you say that often enough, you’re likely to believe it, despite everyday evidence to the contrary.

 

 

Self Interest Is Not a Virtue

Obama

In this week’s dose of depressing/demoralizing/disheartening news, we came to learn that Barack Obama is accepting $400,000 from a Wall Street firm to give a speech at a health care conference.  People have been rehearsing the arguments around this type of behavior for a while now thanks to Hillary Clinton’s failed run for the Presidency.  In fact, we spent so long debating this behavior it would be remarkably easy to assume it’s normal (it’s not).  During the election, I often found myself arguing that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I even went so far as to confidently assert that Barack Obama, for all his flaws, would never engage in the same kind of rent-seeking after he left office.  Unfortunately, I underestimated the extent to which pursuing one’s own self-interest in this country is not only regarded as inevitable, it’s actually considered to be the necessary and decent thing.

Obama inspires a lot of loyalty, and as a result a great many people have defended him against the criticism that has come his way after this news broke.   The general theme of this defense has been: Of COURSE he’s cashing in.  Wouldn’t you?  Others have engaged in impressive fits of fancy, whereby they imagine Obama going to this conference to speak truth to power and dress down the Wall Street Bankers for wrecking the economy.  In this telling, he’s taking the money, but only because he knows it’s the only way to access these guys to defend the American people.  Some have taken it yet further, arguing that the only reason people are upset is because they can’t handle the idea of a black man making a large amount of money.  So within a 24 hour time span, defending Obama morphed from the serious, furrowed-brow adult opinion into the morally upstanding position that all non-racists must have.  Even in this day and age, that’s a pretty quick turnaround.

All of this, of course, misses the point.  There is a deep level of distrust in our political system right now.  Republicans have had electoral success despite the fact that every single one of their non-racist policy proposals are deeply unpopular.  As a party, they’re transparently corrupt, and only interested in finding ways to funnel government largesse to their friends and political supporters while immiserating the poor.  Democrats, on the other hand, are the party of effective management, whose platform is basically “You don’t have it so bad, and we’ve got the charts and graphs to prove it.”  They don’t have a positive policy vision because they think things are pretty much fine the way they are.  The two parties really are different in some important ways.  But here’s the thing: for the average voter, these differences do not matter.  Your typical “uninformed” voter believes – not without evidence – that the parties largely exist to represent the interests of the ruling class.  So the question for Democrats is:  Do you have even the slightest interest in changing that perception?  It looks like we have our answer.

By and large, the people you’ll see defending Obama are from a similar set.  They’re generally younger, educated, middle class folks who tend to vote Democratic come election time. (I count myself as part of this group) And it’s not coincidental that many of us from this subset are going through a time in our lives where we are making choices that involve giving up on some of the more idealistic ambitions that we had in our 20s.  We are, for a variety of perfectly legitimate reasons, pursuing our own interests, trying to start families, yearning for a predictable, regular paycheck.  As we navigate the job market, we are bombarded relentlessly with a crystal clear message:  It’s time to give up your idealism.  You thought you were going to work in public service?  Too bad – the pay is shit and those stable public jobs we told you about are being systematically destroyed.  You thought you’d find a job in the private sector that is both invigorating and rewarding?  Too bad – you’re now an independent contractor with no benefits who can be fired at any moment for no reason.  You want to work at a non-profit?  I hope you like kissing up to rich people!  Every day, the market for our services presents us with small choices:  we can do the right thing, or we can do the thing that is expected of us. And every time we decide to do what is expected of us, we give up a little piece of ourselves in service of our own bottom line.  

Over the years, these choices compel a kind of conversion inside of us.  This isn’t just the cliched and inexorable march from idealistic liberalism to pragmatic conservatism, it’s the story we spin for ourselves about that conversion. You see, it’s just not possible for us to go through life convinced that the choices we’ve been forced to make have been the wrong ones.  We come to believe that those choices were a result of our superior agency.  We’ve decided that not only is sacrificing the right choice for the necessary choice the adult thing to do, it’s the right and virtuous thing too.  Over time, answering the question of whether or not something benefits us becomes the central consideration in determining whether or not we are making a moral choice.  

Its no wonder, then, that people from my subset of society find themselves jumping to Obama’s defense for cashing in.  We’ve been conditioned to treat the pursuit of one’s self interest as a virtuous quest.  It’s not as if we, who are also virtuous, have been broken by a system of perverse incentives that have led us to be cogs in a horrible machine of large scale death and immiseration.  No, that’s not it – we are wise and virtuous, we know things.  Above all, we know this: If we were in Obama’s shoes, we’d be doing the exact same thing.  Wouldn’t you?