September 6th, 2004

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Personal--Democracy In America

Crap. My brother Joe, a 2000 Libertarian candidate for Congress, had told me that at 1pm ET Monday, today there would be a Presidential Debate on C-SPAN between Green Party Presidential Nominee David Cobb and Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Michael Badnarik. And now I've discovered that C-SPAN has been switched to my channel 99, where the Marquette Cable DVD player is currently playing a Johnny Depp movie over and over, as it has been all weekend, since the idiot kid who apparently has been given this responsibility didn't know how to set the 5-DVD play on "rotate" and hasn't bothered to check it.

Fortunately, I can try to get a wider view of U.S. politics without the friendly censoring of the media by watching the debate on C-SPAN's website....


Edit: Well, that was hard. [Rant: why the hell Microsoft hasn't been destroyed by mobs of computer users driven insane by Windows Media Player is beyond me. The sound on the video clipped out constantly, while the video kept flowing. Maddening.] There were some real issues discussed here. Naturally, with much articulation of the corruption of democracy involved in the limiting of coverage and "public debate" between what were here called the two "corporate parties" of the Republicans and Democrats. That lined up interesting with what Baroness Shirley Williams of the UK's House of Lords (a Catholic politician and political theorist who also occasionally teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) said to me in 2002: American democracy, she said, had been more-or-less destroyed in the last 20 years and no one in America apparently had noticed that we now really had a plutocracy, a government by the wealthy. The fact that corporations, which the Supreme Court had recognized as "persons"--news to me, which makes their failure to recognize the unborn as "persons" all the more ironic--are allowed to contribute their vast amounts to both parties at the same time as a matter of "free speech" does seem to end up meaning, as one candidate pointed out, that the wealthy then get to have the right to speech--speech that matters--far more than anyone else in the U.S.. No news there, I suppose.

Points were made and platforms outlined. My Catholic political philosophy makes me more sympathetic to Green interests more than Libertarian ones, but mostly it was interesting just to hear real political debate in a way that we won't get (I cynically assume) during the rehearsed barb-tossing we will see with Bush and Kerry. There were moments and aspects where both candidates seemed quite extreme to me, but that's pretty much the case with the Democrats and the Republicans, too, neither of whom line up particularly well with Catholic Social Justice teaching. I appreciated the hard questions that made the two have to articulate their platforms and made me pray for some anchor with the Dem-Rep debate who was willing to roll the dice on his career, toss aside the agreed-upon questions, and really ask challenging questions of Bush and Kerry.

And lastly, the whole thing ultimately seemed a reflection on the nature of democracy itself, in contrast to the entrenched two-party system. (Remember the frantic terror of the Republicans and Democrats in 2000 about the idea of Green candidate Nader actually getting in the debates, and the police presence barring him from entering even as an audience ticket-holder?) Looking at the list of presidential candidates on C-SPAN's site, some of whom were clearly gag candidates, and some of whom were (apparently) of sincere small parties, it does seem to be a real question of when you (whoever "you" are) do draw the line over who you include in broadcasts and press coverage. Democracy, it seems, remains an ideal only achievable by the full intent of the populace, and can falter at any given moment based upon our choices of how best to let democracy proceed.
Loyola Faculty Portrait

Personal--The Strangest Political Statement of the Week

While I'm blathering about things political, did anyone else notice the bizarre (if rather telling) sentence to leap from the lips of the Governor of California this week at the Republican Convention? I mean, of course, this line:

If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican.

I can think of few things more likely to inspire terrorist to think that their cause is just than a country that believes that whatever it does--rather than representatives of the world gathering together to discuss and vote on a course of action--best defines "democracy."

Now, you might say that that's an idealized view of the United Nations. And I'd say, yes, my point exactly.

When we helped form the UN, largely to oppose Communism, we knew that an international democratic body--by virtue of its being democratic--would help us resist and destabilize a system that could not function in a democratic milleu. But the down side of democracy is that sometimes you lose a vote. But that's still democracy. The horrific hypocracy of the nationalists who think that democracy is somehow an American product, and define democracy as "whatever America does," and not something that belongs to all people as the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence proclaimed, undermines the real long-term interests of America by making our country appear a real rogue among nations.

It is a stain on our democracy that both Republicans and Democrats (this nonsense was spoken by Clinton, too, who withheld the dues owed by the world's richest nation in protest of votes that hadn't gone the U.S.'s way--and then complained that the United Nations couldn't get anything done) have capitulated to those extremists who talk about the United Nations as some globe-conquering conspiracy. Would the U.S. lose a bit of sovereignty by being accountable to a given United Nations vote? Absolutely. And every time that we lost such a vote, it would be a victory for American democratic ideals. But to see that takes more vision than that of a child who has a tantrum every time he doesn't get what he wants.
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Personal--Phone Booth and Girl With A Pearl Earring Quick Reviews

Over dinner last night I watched Phone Booth. A decent, quick thriller, more-or-less in real time. I could actually see this one being a cool one-act play in a theatre. A brief morality play without a great deal of metaphysical depth, but enough to make you reflect on the role of manners in society.

Dinner tonight had Girl With A Pearl Earring. This one was far more subtle in its drama, and the cinematography followed the line of the story with a lush exploration of colour that's worth the movie alone. Historical follow-up seems to tell me that Johannes Vermeer and his wife really get their reputations screwed in the movie, however. I'm about ready to push for a law forbidding Hollywood to do historical movies--or at least requiring them to put a detailed, dreadful, point-by-point analysis of how they're butchering history and libeling the characters they're describing before such films: that would so bore people as to drive away their audience and make Hollywood be historically responsible just for greed's sake. So does anyone agree with that theory? Huh? Huh?