Chris Partridge's blog

Monday's Required Reading

If you, like me, spent your entire weekend in movie theaters (or taking the subway between movie theaters) you might have fallen a bit behind on your current affairs. No sweat, Living Liberally has your back.

Since the highly dubious re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Friday, Iran has erupted in social turmoil. Supporters of moderate candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi have gone so far as to label the election a “coup.” Pro-reform activists took to the streets this weekend, dodging tear-gas canisters and drive-by clubbings from police, to express outrage over these suspect results.

With so much developing in Iran, Nico Pitney’s liveblogging at Huffington Post over the past days has been an invaluable resource. He has covered several aspects of the post-election fallout from demonstrations to international response to journalistic suppression by Iranian officials. While each section is a bit brief, this is definitely a solid run-down to get you up to speed.

The Common Sense of an Elephant

Since the national Republican spotlight turned its beam on “Joe the Plumber” (now little more than a future Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture answer), the Right has touted itself the party of “common sense.” This is a move consistent with their insistent, yet disingenuous affiliation with “real America” and “Joe Sixpack.” The Right continues to claim ascendancy to the throne of plain-speaking, evidenced by the GOP re-launch pizza party last month at Pie-Tanza in Arlington, Virginia. And now, as if America hasn’t suffered enough, Glenn Beck’s Common Sense Comedy Tour (blasphemy if he actually means to compare his unstable rantings to Tom Paine) has taken to the road. The term “common sense” keeps coming up in relation to the Right, but is there any truth to it? And just what does harping on this supposed “virtue” reveal about the GOP?

The problem for the Right isn’t that issues are complicated and nuanced, but that we - the Left - lack common sense. In a speech to Connecticut Republicans on June 4th, Newt Gingrich (apparently visiting via time machine from the mid-90s) advised that the political and economic woes of late can be solved with mere common sense thinking. “If you can’t afford to buy a house…” he led “Don’t buy it!” the $200-a-plate crowd responded. Never mind the impossibly optimistic mortgage brokers, trusted as financial experts, who sold sub-prime loans as the highway to the American dream. Never mind the oversimplification of the housing crisis this jibe relies upon.

Political, social, and financial issues are bewildering and complex problems--even without their Washington convolutions--that demand more than our untutored guts. They demand critical reasoning, a background in the respective subject matter, and a thorough grasp of history. The point is not that civic engagement is beyond the common person. In fact, I would argue just the opposite. But when Republican leaders speak to crowds of privilege about the simplicity of solutions, they do discourse a disservice. They insist (falsely) that discourse itself is unnecessary, a lofty diversion perpetrated by the Liberal Media elites. In their minds, disagreement arises not from a genuine difference in values or perspective, but from the poison of “over-thinking”.

And this harping on common sense reveals quite a bit about the post-Bush Republican mindset. They can be so assured, so rigid and uniform because common sense, believed to be a universal objective truth, provides evident solutions. Liberals, on the other hand, with a big tent for the disenfranchised, must appreciate the richness in issues of choice, social and economic justice, and international cooperation. Republicans see governance as easy, so long as we don’t muck things up with shades of grey. Perhaps this explains the Right’s self-fulfilling evaluation of government as the problem--They predict the government is incompetent, rise to power, rule incompetently with faith-based “common sense,” and then sit back and say “See? What did we tell you about big government?”

After all, it is the GOP’s uncritical “common sense” that tells us torture must work, that today it is cold so global warming must be bullshit, and that my grandpa was no monkey. But this is the same common sense that tells us more wars make us safer, that white men are the most discriminated-against, and that there should be no sex in sex-ed. With a track record like the last eight years, can anyone take this party seriously anymore? The truth is that common sense is not nearly so common. It is informed largely by our upbringing and experiences, some unique and some shared. If the GOP would like us to believe America is over-encumbered by intellectual complexity, someone explain to me how the Bush years were so catastrophic.

The Right’s belief that shooting from the hip with reactionary politics is the panacea for America’s ailments is irresponsible and oversimplified. We liberals must proudly wear the scarlet letter (I for Intellectual) and continue to emphasize that passionate positions can be taken by those with nuanced and respectful views. It is not that we have a monopoly on truth, (that is indeed the folly of the Right) but that we understand and do not fear reasoned, meticulously-crafted arguments.

We have an economic crisis on our hands, over-populated prisons, a rash of mass shootings, an energy crisis perpetually back-burnered, and now Glenn Beck: comedian. This country is truly in a dark place. Our solutions are not coming easily, but ingenuity and resolve are in high reserve. A dismissive approach that devalues complex debate will drive us only further into the dark days.

Joseph Palermo had a fantastic article (see excerpt below) on Huffington Post today that expressed (much more eloquently) some of the same frustrations over the Right's irresponsible pseudo-populism that I tried to touch upon (I say "pseudo-populism" because you can't gut civil liberties, promote corporate well-being to the detriment of labor, and claim to be on the side of the common person).

Yesterday afternoon Glenn Beck and two of his guests argued that Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party were "leftwing"; that "political correctness" led the committed white supremacist, James Von Brunn, to shoot a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC; and that ultimately President Barack Obama is the one responsible for the violence because his "bailouts" and "Socialistic" policies are engendering widespread anger. Beck denounced those who claim he is "churning the pot" because, he says, "the pot is already boiling."

You can read the full article here.

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