Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Same Ol' Fucken Political Story

This will get political, eventually; I promise. But just bear with me while I think with my typing fingers for a while.

To start with, I’d like once again to discuss, this time briefly, the word fuck here. Aside from the pleasurable physical sensation (which I described in this previous post) of saying it, there’s something about fuck — the “outlaw” nature of it, maybe — that tickles me.

I'm going to give examples of (1) a person who was recently embarrassed (unjustifiably, I think) by fuck, and (2) a person who wasn't.

Example 1: Mojoey laments that he said fuck in the presence of a child, albeit one he didn’t know was nearby. I think his ruefulness is wrong. Apart from in elementary school classrooms and at Disneyland, fuck should be perfectly acceptable. It’s a signal from one adult to another that he or she is taboo-free and refuses to be a prisoner of prevailing social mores.

Example 2: I’ve always enjoyed listening to Cyndi Lauper. Any woman who can record an entire song about female masturbation rates pretty high in my book. On her latest album, Bring Ya to the Brink, there’s a number called “Same Ol’ Story.” The powers-that-be have chosen to let the public know that the cut is “explicit.” So, of course, I was curious. Well, it turns out that the title is not exactly a verbatim quote of what Lauper says over and over again in her lyric. Here’s what she does say:

It’s the same ol’ fucken story.
Don’t you get a much better sense of what the song is about when I include the term omitted from the title? Am I wrong to find the singer’s anti-conventional attitude appealing?

Enough about fuck. There’s also Jesus Christ as an expletive, which many atheists, including myself, use freely. Again, we’re talking about a societal proscription: It’s bad to take the alleged lord’s name in vain, particularly when you yell it after you’ve stubbed your toe. But shouting JC's name has no more to do with believing in him than saying “it’s the same ol’ fucken story” has to do with asserting that the previous speaker’s tale was about sex.

I’m troubled by self-censorship. My attitude is: If people don’t like the way I fucking write, then Jesus Christ, they can stay away from my blog. That goes especially for you, kids!

I also hate it when someone says fudge, or intones Jiminy Cricket or Jeepers Crow, instead of what he or she really means. We all know what you’re thinking, pal; just come out with it.

There’s something slightly dishonest about saying fudge or Jiminy Cricket. But, really, it’s only mildly annoying, not terrible. What would be terrible would be to hear someone say, without a tone of irony, hooray when he dropped his ice cream cone, or fantastic when she banged her shin. Children, bereft of the power of expletives, cry when these things happen. Adults “curse.” A person who speaks a positive phrase in the light of either of these happenings would immediately be branded as a lunatic, or, at best, a liar.

Which brings me to my political point. We used to be able to depend on Barack Obama to say fuck and Jesus Christ — maybe not in so many words, but we knew what he meant — if someone had accused him of:
  • being untrue to his commitment to public campaign financing;
  • accepting the passage of FISA without a built-in telecom-immunity provision;
  • wanting to propagate George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives;
  • tolerating handguns;
  • allowing anyone to take away a woman's right to obtain an abortion if her well-being, either physical or mental, is threatened;
  • expanding the circumstances under which the death penalty can be applied;
  • reneging on his vow that, if elected, he would set a timetable for the removal of all American troops from Iraq;
  • practicing exclusionary politics by, say, banning from his photo ops any women who showed up in Muslim regalia.
In the last few weeks, though, we’ve learned that he no longer says even fudge or Jeepers Crow about those things.

He says hooray.


John Evo said...

Jesus fuckin' christ - you stole my next post.

well, not exactly, obviously. I probably wouldn't have cleverly linked it to taboo language. But while I've been mulling it over, I've certainly said those words on a number of occasions.

I know what Obama is doing - he's trying desperately to get elected. I know it must FEEL like it's worth it to him. Maybe it is. I can't judge for Barack Obama. I can judge for John Evo. And it's not worth it to me.

I strongly suspected that I'd be one of those irrating voices of reason in the blog world, relentlessly criticising President Obama. But I really didn't think he'd make me do it before he got elected.

It's not that I believed him to be the guy he was presenting himself as. Certainly not 100%. But what I did believe (and see what happens when you go around believing things? Not that you have much of a choice in these matters. You either "believe" or you "don't believe" but in either case you don't have evidence)... where was I? I DID believe that he had figured out that you CAN win by being that refreshing politician that so many Americans long for. The guy who says, "look I know this isn't going to be popular with a lot of people - but I think it's the RIGHT course, and the current President has taken us on a VERY bad course and we have to try something different".

You stick to that, relentlessly, and you keep your base intact and you slowly convince a few from the other side to grudgingly admire your ethics and tenacity and to switch from their favored party. You get just enough of them that you win the Presidency.

I THOUGHT he would do the same thing in running against McCain that he did against Hillary. It was new, but it worked. Instead, he is very rapidly morphing into the same of fuckin' political story.

I just caught a whiff of something. It wasn't fresh air.

The Exterminator said...

The saddest part of Obama's "morphing" -- as you so kindly put it -- is that in the past, whether one agreed with him issue-for-issue or not, he appeared to be a rare politician who actually voiced opinions that were his own. Now, he's just one of the crowd that he, himself has been railing against: an office seeker whose every utterance is motivated by minimizing his "negatives." He has become yet another politician who puts getting elected ahead of principle. In other words, he's the quintessential non-change candidate.

John Morales said...

If I may chime in with a datum:

I live in Australia, and, best as I can make it, the general sentiment seems to be that Obama is the preferred option from our POV.

Politics seems to boil down to the least bad compromise.

The Exterminator said...

Since, if you buy into the two-party myth, Obama's sole opponent is unacceptable, Obama will probably remain the preferred option.

However, in recent weeks, he has gone back on, amended, or soft-pedaled his positions in the eight ways I mentioned. He's obviously no longer the trustworthy exemplar of "change" that he once presented himself to be. He's just another lying politician, married to self-interest and expediency rather than to honesty.

Which doesn't necessarily mean that he's not still preferable to McCain. If you buy into the two-party myth.

John Evo said...

I'm not sure what you mean by your italicized myth. I am guessing you must mean that it's a myth that this is the way it has to be. It certainly is not a myth that it is.

Other than that, I agree with every word. Will we, who have a fondness for rationality, tend to prefer Obama to McCain? Of course. Does that mean we need to treat him as a conquering hero of some "new politics"? Absolutely not. Unless we decide to renounce rationality.

He'll make an OK, president who will hopefully do some things to clean up the mess created by Bush. Beyond that, I have very little "hope" left.

The Exterminator said...

What I mean by the "two-party" myth is that the Democrats and the Republicans are really two sides of the same coin, which can be spent only on rule by the oligarchs, for the oligarchs, and of the oligarchs. Sure, one side of the coin may seem slightly less tarnished, depending upon the specific kind of glasses through which you look, but they're both dirty.

The political process in this country has been successfully monopolized. A candidate who tries to tell something other than the same ol' fucken political story hasn't got a chance. He or she will get little or no media coverage, and will be sneered at by the nation's voters, who are comfortable only with the usual lies. How many people have excused Obama's deceitful utterances with statements like: "Oh, well, that's the kind of stuff you have to say if you want to get elected."

Apparently no one thinks that speaking honestly is a good strategy. And so we get the corrupt political leaders that we deserve.

John Morales said...

Disclaimer: I know bugger-all about US politics, so I speak generically.

John already addressed the myth part. As an aside, the comment brings to mind Ross Perot, since I was working for EDS when he became a candidate in 1996.

Apparently no one thinks that speaking honestly is a good strategy. And so we get the corrupt political leaders that we deserve.

Yeah, but put it into perspective - look at Zimbabwe.

He's obviously no longer the trustworthy exemplar of "change" that he once presented himself to be.
He's just another lying politician, married to self-interest and expediency rather than to honesty.

Note your qualifiers and pardon my cynicism, but could it possibly be that how he previously presented himself was itself a matter of expediency, and you bought in?

He's obviously very intelligent and canny - and he's been politically aware for some time, not just recently.

The Exterminator said...

... the comment brings to mind Ross Perot ...
Perot never had a chance; he wasn't taken seriously by either the media or the electorate. He was merely a spoiler for Bush, senior -- just the way some foolish people (I'm not among them, by the way) believe that Nader was a spoiler for Gore in 2000.

Yeah, but put it into perspective - look at Zimbabwe.
So are you saying that since our system isn't the absolute worst, we're OK? Should we pat ourselves on the back, or will you do that from Australia?

... could it possibly be that how he previously presented himself was itself a matter of expediency, and you bought in?
I didn't buy in; most of my regular readers know that. I was turned off the minute the guy referred to himself as "a committed Christian." You're definitely correct, though about Obama's being very intelligent and canny and politically aware for a long time. Maybe he's telling the truth now, after having misrepresented himself in the past.

It doesn't matter, though, which were the big lies and which the lesser lies. His weasel-ing around on his positions is indicative of the general state of U.S. politics. That situation needs changing. Obama advertises himself as the candidate of change, but obviously, in that claim at least, he's full of shit.

That's my only point here.

John Morales said...

Exterminator, I think you're being a little uncharitable there.

I think salient factors are that, first, every promise and position a politician makes will be scrutinised if they become elected; the more likely that outcome, the more guarded they become; and second, they do not speak for themselves, but for the Party they represent.

These factors surely apply in spades to Presidential candidates, and Obama is not immune from their effect.

C. L. Hanson said...

Clever metaphor!

Politics aside, I think there can be cases when "Jiminy Cricket" expeltives can be appropriate. As a joke. ;^)

I agree with you about the two party myth, but in order to change things so that third-party candidates have a chance, I think some structural changes would be necessary such as campaign finance reform and reform of the election process in general. (Have you seen my confessions of a former Nader voter posts? They were obviously written back before W was quite so universally despised since I was actually apologizing for calling him the worst president in history...)

I was under the impression that Obama supports election reforms, but maybe that's just unfounded optimism.

Alejandro said...

Personally, I've always felt a little uncomfortable with Obama, or at least the Obama Phenomenon. Every time I hear some average citizen being interviewed and they gush about how inspiring he is or I hear Bill Schneider on CNN talk about how "When asked about which candidate has the most ability to 'bring about change' 65% of Americans said "Barack Obama" my blood curdles a bit. What makes those touchy feely phrases and incantations about change and inspiration have to do with the problems facing this country?

Obama marketed himself the way he did because he knows people are more persuaded by impressions than facts. He, like every other politician, knows that impression management is the only thing that matters, and, what made Obama "unique" and "refreshing," was nothing more than the "sincere" way he managed his impression so well. That's why no one believed he really thinks what Rev. Wright thinks, that he ever cozied up to the real estate creep, or that he shared any political ideals with William Ayers. It didn't fit, "what we 'know' about Obama."

Even assuming he says everything he means, you couldn't really believe he was that rare politician who speaks his mind, because the bottom line is that you can't get elected dog catcher in the local town elections by simply speaking your mind, let become alone a U.S. Senator without being ruthless, without cozying up to some unsavory characters at times, and other times you just have to say what's politically expedient to get to where you want to be-- elected.

Ultimately, any ambitious politician has to choose between their core beliefs and what will get them elected and they will almost always compromise in favor of getting elected, usually under the pretense that the other things they will accomplish when elected will balance it all out. In fact, I'm quite sure that's what Hillary, John Kerry, and most of the other turds who voted for the war did.

Obama is no different.

Anonymous said...

1. Never trust any politician. Ever.

2. Never believe in any politician. Ever.

3. Look at the people Obama has been surrounding himself with. For example, Madeleine Albright, who said that the deaths of half a million children in Iraq under U.S./U.N. sanctions was acceptable. He has allowed Clintonites into the game and they will play the losing politics of moving to the so-called center, which is actually the Right. Obama, in following their lead, has become corrupt.

The Exterminator said...

I suggest you read a little bit about the current U.S. election. My post is not about generic platitudes; it's about specifics.

You're right that Obama is not immune from realpolitick. But if you'd been following the campaign you'd know that he has presented himself as someone who is. That misrepresentation was largely responsible for his winning the Democratic nomination. There were a lot of excited voters out there who bought his crap and then licked their lips as they ate it.

The problem is: He is slowly but surely betraying the trust of those voters. If enough of them get justifiably pissed off, McCain will win the election. That would be a disaster, once again brought on by the Democrats' inability to sit comfortably with an ideology that's both liberal and civil libertarian.

If you're really interested in conversing intelligently about this, get busy Googling.

I'm not one of those waving the banner for campaign finance reform. (I think it's unconstitutional -- but that's another post.)

However, the U.S. has been trying it. Obama, in fact, was one of those leading the charge -- up until the moment when he decided it would be inconvenient for him.

The Obama Phenomenon is based on our citizens' simplistic desire to extend the "American Idol" mentality into politics. He sang better than Hillary Clinton, so he got into the finals. Now that he's changing his tune, I'm not sure he'll go on to win the contract for White House records.

The only thing I might disagree with in your comment is Obama ... has become corrupt. I suspect that he already was corrupt when he entered the race.

PhillyChief said...

They talk about the way districts are set up which deliberately disenfranchises certain groups. They talk about the Electoral College system disenfranchising large groups in certain states because the Electoral votes for a state are cast as a block and not split. What you don't hear enough about is how a two party system is disenfranchising because for many Americans there's no candidate available who represents many, or even just one of their opinions.

Obama can make this move to the right because we on the left have no one else to vote for. Either we vote for him or we don't vote. He could stink but the other guy is worse, so we HAVE to vote for him. This is disenfranchising. Our votes, our opinions never get registered because they can never be heard. Being denied the right to have a candidate who will represent your interests has the same effect as denying your right to vote, and the two party system, imo, denies all of us, left and right and in between, the right to a candidate who will represent our specific interests. Without this right, then of course every year, year after year, we'll always have the same ol' fucken political story.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you all need to bite the bullet on this one, for the good of the rest of us.

All politicians are basically shite. It goes with the job. They will always say what the electorate "wants" them to say, as dictated by the media. To get elected. You can't be so naive that you don't already know that.

Is there a magically good alternative political system on secret offer? No. So, believing in it means belief in a fairy tale world.

We only live in this world, whether we like it or not.

As the other non-Yank who posted here pointed out - politics comes down to the least bad option.

From the point of view of the rest of the world, Obama seems a much safer option. We don't care if he's not good on every issue.

The UK government seems hellbent on doing whatever the US tells it, but we don't have any representation in your voting system (a reverse of the pre-US revolutionary war situation). So all we can do is nag at you Yanks not to make another globe-threatening serious mistake.

Alejandro said...


I'm not even so sure he's changed his tune on Iraq. He always gave that line about "We need to be as responsible getting out as we were irresponsible getting in." He said it at several debates.

It's just, along the lines of what you said, people were too busy dreaming about "hope" and "change" to really read between the lines.

I'm with Grumpy...

You DO have a candidate. A whole ticket, in fact. EX AND CHAPPY. Well... except for that death penalty thing, but let's not got there again.

PhillyChief said...

Believing that there could be a better system is not a belief in a fairy tale world. More parties = increased variety and severely limits the kind of move like what Obama is doing. If there's a Mondo Lefty party and Obama goes waltzing right, then he can't take lefty votes for granted. Hell, the UK is small and pretty homogenous compared to the US and you have at least 3 viable parties. How can the US then have only two?

The Exterminator said...

I agree with everything you said here. Civil libertarians and liberals (not necessarily the same thing) have been edged slowly but surely out of the mainstream; no candidate feels he or she has to address our concerns. Occasionally, a candidate gives us a reluctant nod, and most of us get all twittery and schoolgirlish because we're fooled into thinking we have a champion. I'm not fooled. Neither are you.

Everything you say sounds as if it's faith-based.

Also, may I remind you that if the UK government seems hellbent on doing whatever the US tells it, you might want to take care of that at home.

Obama has changed his position on Iraq, although he has cleverly left himself maximum deniability. Through the Democratic primaries, he presented himself as someone who would be the Commander-in-Chief, who would make ALL the decisions. Now, he'll get advice first -- from the very people who are most likely to support the war. It's not a bad idea to seek advice, but not from them. That's not what he promised.

Anonymous said...

I think we are merely seeing the median voter theorem in action. The posturing is amazing and now that Obama has the nomination, his moves have become extremely predictable.

And fuck censorship.

Anonymous said...

I think most of you know that I've never been an Obamaniac. He's a better choice than McCain, by far, but he's still a politician - always has been, always will be.

And yeah, a supposedly two-party system sucks. On the other hand, it may give some insight into how the Holy Trinity works: supposedly three distinct beings, yet really one; supposedly two distinct parties, but really one.

John Evo said...

Heather - I'd point out that even those of us being hardest on Obama have said nothing about McCain being a better choice than him. Understanding how things works only makes it more important that critical voices are heard.

I'm just as concerned about our President's affects on the world as I am about what he does here. So be happy for our voices. Without them, who knows? Obama could end up being a President that you are unhappy with.

Even in choosing between lesser of evils, we are still required to make him better - whether he likes it or not.

You can't prove that something would or would not have happened. But I have a feeling that were it not for voices like ours, this country would already have troops Tehran. As bad as all of us see Bush/Cheney as being, I honestly believe (with good evidence to support it) that they would have been worse had about 30 million Americans been more compliant.

C. L. Hanson said...

I agree with PhillyChief that the two-party system is the problem. But in order to allow alternative parties to get a foothold, we need to change the electoral system (for example, change the presidential election to being decided by instant-runoff popular vote). This is the main reason why many other countries have an array of viable political parties and the U.S. doesn't.

Campaign finance reform would be a nice side-note to throw in to the proposed Constitutional amendment. You're right that the Constitution as it stands won't allow for any of this, which is why I recommend amending it. I gather you didn't read the two posts I linked above. ;^)

PhillyChief said...

You can't do a national popular vote because the states with lower populations will cry that their votes don't matter.

The Exterminator said...

I think we are merely seeing the median voter theorem in action.
The big problem with that theorem is: the median voter doesn't exist.

I don't know about a Trinity in American politics, but I do say holy shit a lot. Does that count?

I have a feeling that were it not for voices like ours, this country would already have troops Tehran.
I hate to minimize our voices, but I don't think they've had anything to do with our staying out of Iran. I think the military has spelled it out clearly: we don't enough spare troops to take a Persian playground.

I did read your posts, but I didn't want to get into the Constitutional Amendment issue here. Still don't. I happen to disagree with you, but that's for another place and time.

I will say, however, that the electoral college system is not what's keeping third parties from becoming viable. You could switch to a popular vote tomorrow, and you'd still have a contest essentially between Democrats and Republicans. Evidence: How many Representatives, Senators, and Governors are not either Republicans or Democrats?

C. L. Hanson said...

How many Representatives, Senators, and Governors are not either Republicans or Democrats?

The presidential election isn't the only problem, but it would be a good place to start. The system of having all representatives chosen by locality (both houses) is also a problem. Having the budget in the hands of the people who would like to sell their town's products to the government is a huge conflict of interest. But fixing that would be just that much harder, so first things first.

Some aspects of the government structure defined by the Constitution were fairly experimental when it was written, and it shouldn't be heresy to try to learn from experience how it has worked and reassess things a bit. Many other contries have learned from the U.S. model, and it might be worth asking ourselves which parts other countries have flattered (through imitation) and which parts they haven't.

On a tangentially related note, see steal this idea.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

It doesn't matter what Cyndi Lauper is doing with her hands. The pedant in me still wants to spell it fuckin'.

The Exterminator said...

The system of having all representatives chosen by locality (both houses) is also a problem.
Ummm ... that's kind of what democracy is all about. I'm not sure where you're going with your argument, but you might want to rethink it.

Well, see, if you were from New York City, you'd know that the adjective is fucken. It's a word of its own, independent from the participial form. The final vowel falls somewhere between a schwa and a short i; that's the way Cyndi pronounces it and the way I pronounce it. So I've chosen to make that aural distinction. Of course, if I were writing about actual fuckin', I'd spell it correctly.

Announcement: This pedantic comment was brought to you by Spanish Inquisitor.

John Evo said...

Ex said: I think the military has spelled it out clearly: we don't enough spare troops to take a Persian playground.

I don't think "troops" has been in the plans for a long time with Iran. It's all about dropping bombs, and it could still happen. Either by us or our proxy. And if our proxy gets retaliated against then, of course, we'd hit it big. I put nothing past Bushcheney. So do me a favor and keep that voice of yours yapping. Just for fun.

Lynet said...

Wow, well put!

Okay, I'm curious about your opinion on this one. If I'm playing a computer game, all tensed up at the keyboard and I press the wrong key and lose however many points, the automatic word that slips out is 'bother'. Is that as dishonest as 'fudge' or 'Jiminy Cricket'? After all, 'bother' is the word that naturally slips out, and it is precisely what I mean -- even if it does sound like something slightly more rude.

(Nothing you say is going to change my behaviour on that one, mind, but I'm curious about your opinion anyway.)

What do people think about the point Glenn Greenwald keeps making -- that these actually aren't things that will get people elected, because polls show it's not actually what the majority wants?

The Exterminator said...

By "our proxy," you're of course referring to Liechtenstein, right?

Since you're a Kiwi, you have my official permission to continue saying "bother." I think it's kind of cute. On the other hand, don't assume that you're going to get anyone to believe you're annoyed if you say it when you come to America. People will just think you're quoting from a British sitcom.

John Morales said...

If you're really interested in conversing intelligently about this, get busy Googling.

Nah. Though I might not be quite as ignorant as you think...

Still, maybe I can cheer you up.
Here's an Oz view of you mob.

PhillyChief said...

Well it's nice to hear that the Aussies are fond of the idea of America, of our big military, that our candidates talk shit but it's hopeful shit, and that we have a strong creative influence on the world.

Three things that struck me there though which got Americans all wrong:
1) That anyone except 2-5% know who the hell Richard Haass or Fareed Zakaria are
2) That Americans could ever be happy about "replenishing their nation's human capital"
3) That at least 95% aren't stupid or ignorant

But thanks for the feel good piece.