November 21, 2012

To All the Mewling, Itty-Bitty Pissants

Except for a few rare individuals who recall, if only vaguely, the meaning of a phrase such as "the honor of being human," the behavior of liberals and progressives even before Obama begins his second term is something to behold -- something to behold, that is, in the lower reaches of a museum that exhibits hideous deformities of the human mind and spirit. It would be an error to describe such people as monsters, for that would grant them a stature they are incapable of attaining. Their sole motive and purpose is to forbid themselves from taking on even one of the qualities we associate with human beings, to the extent we regard the human animal as evincing a minimal degree of conscience and awareness. If we regard thinking as the distinguishing characteristic of human existence, their only commandment is to prevent, under any and all circumstances, the merest possibility of even a faint glimmer of an actual thought from coming into existence.

Obama and his fellow criminals in Washington doubtless will enjoy a festive holiday season, secure in the knowledge that whatever future brutalization and depredation of the lives of "ordinary" Americans they plan -- the large-scale destruction of Social Security, Medicare, and every other remnant of a safety net that still exists, the vast expansion of the surveillance and police state, the enlargement of the Murder Program abroad -- the liberals and progressives will offer no resistance beyond brief, muted murmurs of mild displeasure. "Oh, dear," they will say and write, "is this really the best we can do?" Then Obama and other leading Democrats will tell them once more that they must remember to be "practical," that times are tough and difficult choices must be made. Besides, remember how awful those obstructionist Republicans are! Reassured that none of it can be helped -- it's not as if anyone they care about, anyone on their side, can actually be blamed or held responsible -- the liberals and progressives will go along with the dismantling and eventual destruction of everything that makes a decent mode of living possible.

All this is nauseatingly familiar by now. It could be described in the following way -- in fact, this is exactly how I described it more than five years ago:
I almost admire the Democrats' defenders in a certain way. The Democrats stab them deep in the gut and, while the knife is disemboweling them, the Democrats continue to lie in their agony-ridden faces -- and the victims still tell these bastards they will continue to support them. This collection of subhumans give sado-masochists a bad name. The commitment to cruelty, self-abasement and self-humiliation is all but perfect. It's no wonder they can regard one genocide after another with equanimity. It appears none of these people has a conscience any longer to be troubled in the smallest degree.
If you have an appetite for more along the same lines, you'll find it here.

Thus we come to the immense tragedy of Gaza. In the last week, I've written about it here, here and here. I will state as an absolute, without qualification, that any individual who writes about politics regularly, and who is writing at this particular moment, and who is at all decent has to write about it. How can you contemplate the horrifying spectacle of innocent people being slaughtered, entire families being murdered, lives laid waste, each day turned into a hellish nightmare, and not write something? Even if all you can think to say is, "Stop!" -- which is, in fact, damned good advice -- can't you at least write that? No, many people could not be troubled even to write that. Chris Floyd, who always writes about such tragedies with remarkable compassion and understanding, addressed some of those who choose to remain silent. One of the people he addressed responded. Because this person who otherwise remained silent about this vast calamity is an individual of superior character, of rare and sensitive refinement, it was out of the question for him to acknowledge that he was responding to Floyd, who is merely a human being who gives a damn. No, he responded to the world at large, and he responded only because he had been criticized. For liberals and progressives in the Age of Obama, to be criticized -- for someone to dare to point to them and accuse them of failure -- is the ultimate horror. Never mind the children whose guts have been ripped out, the lives that have been destroyed forever, the survivors who may never again know what it is to be happy. None of that matters in the least. But to accuse a progressive of failing to speak out on an issue of immense significance, when speaking out on every other issue is what they do all the time, every day ... that is intolerable.

And Floyd responded to the response. The progressive who responded to Floyd, this man of such exquisite sensitivity, offered three "reasons" for his silence. Reading similar explanations reveals that these "reasons" are those of many others who have so remarkably been deprived of speech, but only at this particular moment. Floyd summarized those three reasons, with full accuracy, as follows: "We are scared." "We are childish." "We are helpless."

Now that is truly remarkable. I emphasize again that these reasons are the ones this superbly refined progressive actually offered. If you are an adult, and here I mean if you are over the age of approximately 14, if you regularly engage in political discussion, and if you respect yourself to any extent at all, would you proclaim to the entire world that you act as you do because you are scared, childish and helpless? But then, I described such people as "hideous deformities of the human mind and spirit." I wasn't kidding, and I wasn't exaggerating. This is a human being determined to eradicate every vestige of his own humanity. In that endeavor, he is successful to an altogether astonishing degree.

To take just the first of the reasons offered for silence on this subject, consider what these progressives are so afraid of. They're afraid that some people might say mean things about them. It is almost impossible for a healthy human being to make real to himself the inner state of someone for whom this is a determinative matter. Most of us realize by the time we're five that life is hard. Bad things happen. People say mean things about us, and about many others, all the time. It's part of living. I say to David Atkins (for that is the blob's name) and all others of the same kind: You should be eternally ashamed for allowing yourselves to become such mewling, itty-bitty pissants. They probably think that's mean. It is also true.

Let us take a needed respite from this consideration of such miserable examples of arrested, self-eradicated humanity. In place of this minor exhibit of what would be unimaginable deformities in a saner, healthier world, I offer you an example of a human being who realized his own capacity for greatness, for resistance, and for honor in a manner that is deeply inspirational. We need to remember such people in the battles we face today, and those we will face tomorrow.

As you read the following, keep in mind the nature of the battle he fought, and the kind of opposition he provoked. People who claim to be "politically engaged" today worry about the possibility that others might say mean things about them; they worry so much that they say nothing at all, thus doing their part to ensure the triumph of death and destruction, and the triumph of evil. This man was vilified throughout the United States; he was denounced as a traitor. For a while, it appeared that he might be expelled from the Senate.

It happened at the moment the United States stood ready to take the momentous, tragic step that would change the course of the twentieth century. It was a step that was entirely unnecessary: the entrance of the United States into World War I. The entrance of the U.S. into that conflict set off a calamitous series of events, the effects of which stretch into our lives today. It prolonged the war, it helped lead to the Russian Revolution and the formation of Soviet Russia, and the peace that followed led to the rise of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. If the United States had chosen to stay out of The Great War, our history would have been different in countless ways. Tens of millions of deaths might have been avoided altogether. (See "The Folly of Intervention" for more on this.)

Robert La Follette saw what many of the consequences would be. He knew that to remain silent was impossible, at least impossible for him. He knew he had to oppose Wilson's drive to war with every ounce of strength he possessed. And that is precisely what he did:
By the time he was elevated to the U.S. Senate in 1906, La Follette was already a national figure. He soon emerged as a leader of the Senate's burgeoning progressive camp and by 1912 was a serious contender for the Republican Party's Presidential nomination. The fight for the nomination exposed divisions within the progressive camp, however, as La Follette's more radical followers battled supporters of a more centrist reformer who also claimed the progressive mantle: former President Teddy Roosevelt.

The Roosevelt/La Follette split grew more pronounced five years later, as the nation prepared to enter World War I. While Roosevelt urged U.S. participation in the war--the position supported by the nation's political establishment--La Follette emerged as the leading foe of a war he described as a scheme to line the pockets of the corporations he had fought so bitterly as a governor and Senator.

La Follette personally held up the declaration of war for twenty-four hours by refusing unanimous consent to Senate resolutions. From the Senate floor, La Follette argued: "We should not seek [to] inflame the mind of our people by half truths into the frenzy of war." He painted the impending conflict as a war that would benefit the wealthy of the world but not the workers, who would have to fight it. And he warned: "The poor . . . who are always the ones called upon to rot in the trenches have no organized power. . . . But oh, Mr. President, at some time they will be heard. . . . There will come an awakening. They will have their day, and they will be heard."

Those words sounded treasonous to some, and La Follette's constant efforts to expose war profiteers only heightened the attacks upon him. He was targeted for censure by the Senate, portrayed in Life magazine as a stooge of the German Kaiser, and denounced by virtually the entire media establishment of the nation--including the Boston Evening Transcript, which announced, "Henceforth he is the Man without a Country."

As mounting domestic oppression sent more and more anti-war activists to jail, La Follette emerged as their defender, berating his colleagues with the charge that "Never in all my many years' experience in the House and in the Senate have I heard so much democracy preached and so little practiced as during the last few months."

His critics declared that La Follette would never again be a viable contender for public office.
The Espionage Act, signed by the President on June 15, made it a crime to say anything that would discourage enlistment in the armed forces and also set penalties for those who disclosed information on ship movements or other actions affecting mobilization. Senator La Follette of Wisconsin, one of the six Senators who voted against the war resolution, also opposed the draft and argued that wealthy individuals and corporations should pay the costs of a war that he contended was mainly for their benefit. Pro-war newspapers and groups supported resolutions introduced in the Senate to expel him for treason, but La Follette eloquently defended the right to dissent in a famous speech delivered on the Senate floor in October.
La Follette lost the battle, as he certainly knew he would, but he fought gloriously. We can only marvel at the profound courage and dedication he displayed, as he fought for what he knew to be right. And history tragically proved that he was right, in every respect.

Many claimed that La Follette's actions meant that he would never again be reelected. He had many reasons to conclude that he was choosing to end his career in politics. He fought the battle anyway.

And those who attacked La Follette without mercy, who vilified him as a traitor, who sought to destroy him utterly and completely, were as wrong as they could be:
ON March 25, 1921, at the age of sixty-five, Robert M. La Follette Sr. took the greatest risk of his long political career. Four years after he chose to lead the Congressional opposition to World War I, La Follette was still condemned in Washington and in his native state of Wisconsin as a traitor or--at best--an old man whose political instincts had finally failed him. But La Follette was not ready to surrender the U.S. Senate seat he had held since leaving Wisconsin's governorship in 1906. He wanted to return to Washington to do battle once more against what he perceived to be the twin evils of the still young century: corporate monopoly at home and imperialism abroad.

The reelection campaign that loomed just a year off would be difficult, he was told, perhaps even impossible. Old alliances had been strained by La Follette's lonely refusal to join in the war cries of 1917 and 1918. To rebuild them, the Senator's aides warned, he would have to abandon his continued calls for investigations of war profiteers and his passionate defense of socialist Eugene Victor Debs and others who had been jailed in the postwar Red Scare.

The place to backpedal, La Follette was told, would be in a speech before the crowded Wisconsin Assembly chamber in Madison. Moments before the white-haired Senator climbed to the podium on that cold March day, he was warned one last time by his aides to deliver a moderate address, to apply balm to the still-open wounds of the previous years, and, above all, to avoid mention of the war and his opposition to it.

La Follette began his speech with the formalities of the day, acknowledging old supporters and recognizing that this was a pivotal moment for him politically. Then, suddenly, La Follette pounded the lectern. "I am going to be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate," he declared, as the room shook with the thunder of a mighty orator reaching full force. Stretching a clenched fist into the air, La Follette bellowed: "I do not want the vote of a single citizen under any misapprehension of where I stand: I would not change my record on the war for that of any man, living or dead."

The crowd sat in stunned silence for a moment before erupting into thunderous applause. Even his critics could not resist the courage of the man; indeed, one of his bitterest foes stood at the back of the hall, with tears running down his cheeks, and told a reporter: "I hate the son of a bitch. But, my God, what guts he's got."

This was the La Follette that his friend Emma Goldman referred to lovingly as "the finest, most inconsistent anarchist" of his time. This was the man so fierce in his convictions that he would risk consignment to political oblivion rather than abandon an unpopular position. The antithesis of the elected officials whose compromises characterize our contemporary condition, La Follette genuinely believed that the inheritors of America's revolutionary tradition would, if given the truth, opt not for moderation but for the most radical of solutions.
What happened in that election? This is what happened:
La Follette won reelection with more than 70 percent of the vote in Wisconsin. And two years later, he earned one out of every six votes cast for the Presidency of the United States.
Let it also be noted that in 2000, long after this particular battle had ended, La Follette was recognized as one of the seven greatest senators in American history by a U.S. Senate resolution.

As I said in a post from years ago about this great man: "La Follette died in 1925. Nonetheless, I'm certain the belated recognition was a great comfort to him, after having been so unjustly vilified while he lived."

You will take those lessons from this true story that you think appropriate. For me, Robert La Follette is the blazing embodiment of what is possible. He demonstrated throughout his public life the grandeur and courage that can be reached when we fight for what we know to be true, for what is right. This is "the honor of being human" in the highest and best sense.

Especially when we understand the supreme value of a single life, we must try to fight the way La Follette did. We will certainly fail sometimes, and we may fail completely. The forces arrayed against us may be too powerful for us to overcome. We still must try. And in that effort, a man like La Follette shows us what we can do, if only we have the courage.

Always remember: in ways we may never know, through the complex interactions of many factors and countless people we may affect only indirectly and through complicated and circuitous routes, we may help to save the life of even one brutalized woman, or one oppressed man, or a single terrified child. Isn't that possibility, however remote it may seem to us in this moment, worth the battle? I think it is. I think it must be.

Many people may call you a son of a bitch, and much worse. So I say: when you fight for that one life, be a son of a bitch. Be the most glorious son of a bitch you can.