Posts from September 2004

Blah Blah Blah

[Minor update 2004-09-19: typos fixed.]

Let’s review, so I can see if I’ve got this straight.

In the early 1970s, the United States government was hellbent on pursuing an immoral and strategically disastrous war in Vietnam—a war that nobody should have fought in, let alone forced to fight in—which, before it was over, killed fifty thousand American soldiers and murdered about 4,000,000 North and South Vietnamese civilians. During the war, many of those who were fortunate enough to be able to flee and defy the draft, or to sidestep it through cushy “military” assignments far away from the fighting, did so—because they didn’t want to participate in a war they considered morally indefensible, or dangerous to their person, or both. One of those people was a young George W. Bush—who , admittedly, supported the war, but, understandably, didn’t much want to fight in it. So he used his fortunate position as the son of a wealthy aristocrat and powerful Texas politico to avoid being shipped off as a slave to fight and possibly die in Vietnam, through the technicality of joining the Texas Air National Guard. That might have made him a hypocrite then; and it certainly makes him contemptible for strutting around in his bomber jacket in Caesarian triumphs today; but it was certainly a perfectly understandable exercise of his natural human right not to be forced to fight against his will.

At some point, he requested a transfer and shipped off to the Alabama National Guard. While using a legal technicality to get out of being forced to go to war, he may—or may not—have declined to show up for some of the pro forma rituals of his pro forma position. In any case, he got away with anything that he did, and was eventually discharged without complaint from the military.

CBS thought there may have been some more direct evidence that Bush had failed to show up for some of the pro forma rituals of his pro forma position. A pro forma position he was using to get out of being forced to fight and die in a war that he didn’t want to fight and die in. Some people, though, allege that these documents may have been forged.

So what we’re arguing over is whether (A) Bush dodged the draft (as he had every moral right to do) through a cushy ANG position to fulfill red tape for avoiding military enslavement, or (B) Bush dodged the draft (as he had every moral right to do) through a cushy ANG position and then didn’t show up for some of the pointless rigamarole that his position was supposed to entail as part of the red tape for avoiding military enslavement.

And around the third anniversary of the September 11 massacre, as Pinochet prepares to face trial for his crimes, as even the CIA admits that Iraq is disintegrating and 13 civilians were murdered live on the air by American soldiers (who bombarded them with seven rockets), this is, apparently, the most important political issue in the world to argue about on your weblog (cf. Kevin Drum 2004-09-09, that other dude named Charles Johnson on 2004-09-11, No Treason! 2004-09-11 10:42am, No Treason! 2004-09-11 8:34pm, Matt Yglesias 2004-09-14 , This Modern World 2004-09-14, etc.—if you’re into that sort of thing).

Blah blah blah. Jesus. Where are all the good male political bloggers?

That Feminist Boy Thing

Trish Wilson has pointed out that this seems to be happening regularly about once every three months: some liberal boy blogger or another suddenly discovers sexism in the blogging world (call it Quasi-feminist Male Syndrome, or QMS) and feels compelled to put out some musings on the musical question:

Q: Where are all the female political bloggers?

A: On the Internet, dummy. Try reading some of them:

Where does QMS come from? Like the e-mail promising that Bill Gates will pay you $200 for everyone you forward it to, it keeps going around and around in cyberspace; for better or for worse, though, it is starting to raise some important discussions about Leftist boys and the nature of feminism. Wicked Muse, for example, took the fracas as an opportunity to put up a great post on Male Feminists and, among many other things, whether men who support the feminist movement should identify as feminists or pro-feminists (along with the corresponding question of what boys’ role in the movement should be):

Matt Stoller, over in the comments of the post listed above, says:

More to the point, feminism doesn’t belong to women, and until you realize that we’re in this together, the more marginalized you will continue to be.

Well, I disagree. I almost wrote, I’m sorry, I disagree, but the fact is I am NOT sorry for my viewpoint. (I have to stop that.) Feminism DOES belong to women, though it will take both women and men to get things to where they need to be. Part of me can’t help but get a little irritated at the whole thing and wonder why women can’t just have one thing that men aren’t sticking their noses into or trying to take over. I realize how immature that may sound, but the issues feminism deals with, as Mr. Ripley says in his comment, are sometimes life-and-death for women and men can avail themselves of priviledges that make it much less so for them. Many women are feminists because they HAVE to be, so the whole movement is nearer and dearer to our hearts.

I think men who truly support the movement by trying to do something beyond offering lip-service (perhaps in an attempt to ingratiate themselves and/or feel less guilty) are wonderful and I welcome them with open arms. Things are only going to get better by working together, which is one point I agree with Matt on. However, in a society where labels are all important, as much as we eschew them at times, I think the feminist label needs to be left for women to grasp, either to help keep them afloat or to hold high in defiance. If you’re a man and support the cause, I daresay we love you. Men like you are rare… much too rare. The support is appreciated, no doubt, but I, for one, would feel much more comfortable if at least the symbol of the movement was left to us rather than it being yet one more thing co-opted, which is just one step from having it taken away.

Well, I am a Leftist boy and I agree completely with Wicked Muse that feminism belongs to women (I was, quite honestly, astonished that Matt Stoller could get that sentence out of his mouth without the cognitive dissonance making his head explode). And while I think that men have a responsibility to get involved and to seriously work with feminist efforts to undermine male supremacy, we have to be aware of the fact that we are men in the women’s movement, that feminist women have been doing fine without us for the past 150 years, and that it is their movement to own, direct, and lead. Not ours.

Not mine. This is something I have to tell myself a lot. What I hope I can do is listen to women and take what they say seriously. Not get into ideological arguments and tell them what their organization needs or what I can do to save them. If I end up doing nothing at a meeting other than volunteering to put some flyers or baking some brownies, that’s quite alright. Shit work needs to be done by somebody, and why shouldn’t a boy be the one to do it every now and again?

I understand and I sympathize with the reasons that some feminists give for wanting men to refer to themselves as pro-feminist rather than feminist. No matter how important feminism is to my life, it can’t mean to me what it means to a woman who lives it; no matter how much I know about sexism, I can’t know as much as a woman knows who faces it everyday. That’s hard for me to swallow sometimes—feminism is the most important political commitment in my life, by a very long shot. To explain the reasons behind that would involve delving into a lot of personal details about my life, my family, and my dearest friends, which is more than a bit beyond the scope of this post. But that’s just it: it takes a lot of telling why it matters so damn much to me. Were I a woman, it would be easy to say why it does, because I’d have to put up with a bunch of shit every day that, as a man, I don’t have to. And, whether I like or not, that puts me in a very different situation when I go around talking about the feminist movement.

That said, I do want to mention a bit about why I do usually describe myself as a feminist and not as a pro-feminist man. I think that all the concerns Wicked Muse raises are legitimate, and important. If I’m in a space where women would rather I don’t refer to myself as a feminist, I don’t. As I said, I understand the reasons, and it’s not my place to get into a fight over it. But I do just say feminist in most circumstances. My reason for worrying is this: pro-feminist suggests a distance from the movement. Not surprising; that’s what the phrase was intended to do, to point out the importance of men being willing to step back, if they’re serious about it, let women have their say, and listen to them, and follow their lead. But for all too many men who identify as pro-feminist the distance has ended up being cashed out in a much worse way: a sort of wishy-washy non-politic, in which the distance from the movement is taken to mean distance from taking action. Calling out other men on sexism, or moping about your own sexism, rather than doing what you can to help end it. Forming groups of men to talk about women’s liberation (?!), which becomes talking about “sexism”, which becomes talking about men and how they feel in a sexist society, which becomes dithering around and trying to change how men touch and feel each other rather than making a serious political commitment to ending male supremacy and violence against women. Maybe it comes down to the likelihood that boys who genuinely want to do some good, but who feel guilty and don’t necessarily know just what to make of it, will do what a lot of boys do: think in terms of ourselves, and take the pro- in pro-feminism to mean a psychological attitude (say, warm fuzzy feelings towards feminism) instead of a political and moral commitment (say, taking feminism seriously and acting like mean it). I don’t think that’s what pro-feminism has to mean, but I do think that given a lot of the pitfalls that have shown up in boys trying to get involved in feminism, it’s unfortunately likely. I worry that this it’s what has happened to all too many—maybe almost all—large-scale efforts by sympathetic men to get involved in feminism. (Andrea Dworkin’s speech, I Want A Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape, has been really influential in how I think about these things.)

Now I don’t think that it’s a huge loss for feminism if men’s efforts end up being lame. Feminism doesn’t need boys to win. But it is too bad for the boys involved: we can do better, and we ought to do better. What I hope is that I am living my life, being accountable instead of defensive, listening to women and changing the way I act and think based on what I hear, in such a way that I can live up to a commitment to the feminist movement. So I call myself a feminist in many contexts. I understand the worries around it, and I can’t say I blame Astarte or Wicked Muse at all for finding the phrase a bit creepy and worrying about co-optation. But I do hope that some of the worries that I’ve raised here make sense, and maybe even that they might help continue the conversation. It’s a conversation that’s well worth having, and I’m glad that some of the posts floating around at the moment have brought it up.

What do y’all think?

Today in History

On a brighter note, today is September 4, and I would like to wish you all a very happy Fall of the Roman Empire Day. 1,528 years ago today, Romulus Augustulus, the last Emperor of the West, was deposed by the barbarian king Odoacer. Odoacer, unlike the petty tyrants who had spent the past century grabbing at the purple, declined to proclaim himself Emperor, and at last the long Roman nightmare in Western Europe slid into its well-deserved oblivion.

Your gift for this joyous occasion is a game to play with the neo-conservatives creepy spendthrift fascists. Next time some neo-conservative creepy spendthrift fascist starts waxing poetic about the glories of a future Pax Americana, ask him what the Jews, or the Dacians, or the Christians, thought of the Pax Romana.

Here’s to many happy returns—and the hope that we might add the fall of certain other empires to our holiday calendar soon!

Further reading

In Their Own Words

(Scharzenegger quote pointed out by Ghost in the Machine 2004-09-01.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, speech to the Republican National Convention, 2004-08-31:

My fellow immigrants, my fellow Americans, how do you know if you are a Republican? Well, I tell you how. If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican.

Zell Miller, speech to the Republican National Convention supporting George W. Bush, 2004-09-01 (emphasis added):

In the summer of 1940, I was an 8-year-old boy living in a remote little Appalachian valley. Our country was not yet at war, but even we children knew that there were some crazy man across the ocean who would kill us if they could.

President Roosevelt, in a speech that summer, told America, All private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger.

In 1940, Wendell Wilkie was the Republican nominee. And there is no better example of someone repealing their “private plans” than this good man.

He gave Roosevelt the critical support he needed for a peacetime draft, an unpopular idea at the time.

And he made it clear that he would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan campaign issue.

(This passage got loud applause and vocal cheers from the Republican audience.)

Hiding the Truth? President Bush’s Need-to-Know Democracy by Stephen Pizzo:

It’s been said that the first casualty of war is always truth. But with the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, it’s hard to know, because even before 9/11 the administration had begun hermetically sealing formerly public sources of government information.

It began when Vice President Dick Cheney refused to provide details of his energy task force meetings with energy companies, particularly top Enron officials. Then, came President George Bush’s November 2001 executive order allowing the administration or former presidents to order executive branch documents withheld from the public. At the time, the administration said the new restriction on presidential papers was to protect the privacy of former presidents and those they dealt with while in office.

But, the order also shields from public view documents from President Bush’s father’s term in office that could be awkward now. The suspicion was that the executive order was designed to protect several current White House officials who served in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations from embarrassment —specifically, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and former Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Jr.

Each official had brushes with controversial policies in earlier administrations — not the least of which was the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration. The elder Bush, then-Vice President, maintained he was out of the loop. Documents in the Reagan archives might contradict that version of history.

Both Cheney’s refusal to hand over his energy task force documents, and the presidential order shielding past administrations’ archived documents caused uproars among open-government advocates, historians and members of Congress.

Effectively, keeping secrets means never having to say you’re sorry. It also means never having to admit you made a terrible mistake, or even lied.

White House press flack Ari Fleischer:

They’re reminders to all Americans that they need to, to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that. It never is!

John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States of America, 2001:

To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberties, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists — for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.

Same Old, Same Old

I suppose that I’ll read some of the commentary on the speech tomorrow. But, as happens so often with this administration, it’s just the same damned stuff, and there’s little to do other than repeat what you’ve already said. Thus, here is my summary and commentary for the night:

Good evening. Lies, lies, lies. Self-serving hypocritical rhetoric. Simplistic misrepresentation of facts... ... Naked emotional appeals, and more damned lies. Thank you, good night. (comic courtesy of Tom Tomorrow)

Are you surprised by anything that’s been said by anyone at this convention? If so, why the hell are you surprised? Why even bother talking about it at length? When the Bush League give speeches, they just lie. There’s very little left to be surprised at; save your indignation for throwing the bastards out.