Resuming Normal Time

It was back to normal. As November began, Daylight Savings Time, that marginally useful fiction, ended. Everyone set their clocks and wristwatches and little black boxes back one hour, even if the days are still the same length, even if you rename the hours. You may not agree with this – Daylight Saving Time Is America’s Greatest Shame – but you might, after trying to figure out how to reset all those gizmos, each with a different procedure. It doesn’t matter. The morning commute will be brighter, and the evening commute darker, but the world remains as it ever was. We just reapplied our artificial time-grid, moving it back to its original position. Humans like to reframe things, pretending that changes life itself, somehow – but life remains much as it was, and will be.

It’s the same in politics. Obamacare is in place, and it’s not working very well yet, but no one was saying anything new about it. There may be no point in discussing what never changes, or will change no time soon, not that consideration of that ever stopped every pundit in America from saying something or other about Obamacare on “fall back one hour” weekend. Still, if you were foolish enough to scan everything that was being said, you couldn’t help but sense that their hearts weren’t really in it. Much of it was whipping up outrage in those already outraged, or really, trying to maintain that outrage when most everyone had far better things to do with their time. This was maintenance work, on set attitudes, but Obamacare will work, or it won’t. We can wait.

Some realized this, and they used fallback-weekend to actually fall back, to try to reset things to their original position, politically. The political buzz was all about Double Down: Game Change 2012 – the new Mark Halperin and John Heilemann massively detailed account of just how Mitt Romney somehow won the Republican nomination and then lost the general election so badly to Obama. These two had also given us Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime – a bestseller that was turned into a rather fine HBO movie. Julianne Moore won a lot of awards for her surprisingly sympathetic turn as Sarah Palin in that, and HBO has already optioned the rights to Double Down, but the drama just isn’t there. Read the Peter Hamby review of the new book – for all the juicy details. Mitt Romney seems to be a really dull and dreary guy, who was also masterful in using the vast funds at his disposal to dispose of his Republican rivals. Halperin and Heilemann do cover that process, taking us through the clown-show on display in those twenty-odd primary debates once again, but what most of the buzz is about has to do with Chris Christie, as Hamby explains:

Christie had rankled Romney’s team throughout the campaign: He held back his endorsement as long as possible, flirted with big-shot GOP donors who begged him to jump into the race and used his prime-time address at the Republican National Convention to puff up his Garden State record – without mentioning Romney once.

For Romney’s aides, dealing with Christie’s overbearing team was about as pleasurable as a traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike. For Christie’s staff in Trenton, the feeling toward the Romney machine was pretty much mutual.

The guy made buddy-buddy with Obama when Sandy wiped out much of coastal New Jersey, forcing Romney into silence for a week and making Christie seem all bipartisan-cool, ruining everything, so now it’s time for a little payback:

Halperin and Heilemann make abundant use of a vice-presidential vetting file dropped into their hands by someone in Romney’s orbit to illuminate secrets about the governor. Delivering the documents to the authors was a stunning breach of political decorum that can only be read as a giant middle finger at Christie and his aides.

According to the authors, Romney and his team were shaken by what they discovered about Christie during “Project Goldfish,” as the hush-hush veep search process was known. His “disturbing” research file is littered with “garish controversies,” the authors write: a Justice Department investigation into his free-spending ways as U.S. attorney, his habit of steering government contracts to friends and political allies, a defamation lawsuit that emerged during a 1994 run for local office, a politically problematic lobbying career that included work on behalf of a financial firm that employed Bernie Madoff. And that’s not to mention the Romney team’s anxiety about the governor’s girth.

For Christie, who is coasting to reelection on Tuesday and already laying behind-the-scenes groundwork for a 2016 presidential bid, the book’s revelations are a Drudge-ready public relations nightmare that will send his advisers scrambling to explain awkward aspects of his record and his personal life just as he is stepping onto the national stage.

It was not only the weekend to set the clocks back one hour – to how things should have been in the first place – it was also high time to set Chris Christie back an hour or two, or a year or two. It was time to get back to normal, which is just what Chris Christie did this weekend:

Today at the Rutgers game, where press coverage says Governor Christie was crowded by cheering supporters, a teacher dared to ask him why he characterizes our public schools as failing.

His body language and pointing finger tell us all we really need to know about his response. According to the teacher, his words were harsh, irate and incredibly disrespectful.

I asked him: “Why do you portray our schools as failure factories?” His reply: “Because they are!”

He said: “I am tired of you people. What do you want?”

He’s not a nice man. The details of the exchange are here – cut money to schools because they’re useless, and all teachers are even more useless, so screw you all – and Heather Parton adds this:

Romney got a lot of things wrong, but figuring out that this psycho shouldn’t be near the presidency was one of the ones he got right. And New Jersey should vote for Barbara Buono on Tuesday before he hurts someone.

Parton also points out that Christie did this scorn-and-humiliation thing before to a New Jersey teacher – and she’s running for the state legislature now, because no one should get points for being a bully and jerk. It’s time to reset things to their original position.

Over at Salon, Bhaskar Sunkara has the same notion:

During the height of this fall’s government shutdown, Obama spoke to factory workers about Republican intransigence in Congress. He asked them: If they wanted a raise and more vacation time, would they just shut down the plant and walk off the job?

Telling the story to reporters, the president recalled, “I said, ‘How do you think that would go?’ They all thought they’d be fired. And I think most of us think that. You know, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a raise or asking for more time off. But you can’t burn down the plant or your office if you don’t get your way. Well, the same thing is true here. … The American people do not get to demand a ransom for doing their jobs.”

The thing is: They once did exactly that. Workers never got anything by asking nicely. They got it by striking, picketing, and yes, occasionally dynamiting their employers. But in an era of declining industrial action, when few are inculcated in the traditions of union solidarity and the strike, those memories have faded. Obama wants to see them completely forgotten.

Sunkara suggests it’s time for a reset to the original settings:

During the height of New Deal-era militancy, nearly all of General Motors’ 150,000 production workers were involved in a workplace shutdown or factory occupation. “Every time a dispute came up,” one UAW member remembered, “the fellows would have a tendency to sit down and just stop working.”

This wasn’t the same kind of inchoate indignation that fuels the Tea Party politicians whom Obama was rebuking – it was a response from the victims of wage cuts, unemployment, police batons and poverty. Both upsurges, however, are a testament to what force and organization can accomplish.

Yes, progressives should do what the Tea Party does:

Out of 435 representatives in the House, the Tea Party Caucus has just 46 members – out of 100 senators, only six. But the success of those politicians in making their anti-government platform heard and “holding the country ransom,” as the president put it, shows the opportunities that the peculiarities of Congress can offer to disciplined minorities. The ineffectual Congressional Progressive Caucus has almost twice the declared members of the Tea Party Caucus, but is less militant, less cohesive and lacks the sustained pressure from outside social movements. There is no reason why a different sort of formation couldn’t shake things up from the Left.

True, most Americans said they disapprove of the shutdown, and the Tea Party’s approval ratings have tanked. But that could be because Americans feel the Tea Party’s unpopular policy goals failed to justify their brazen tactics. A stubborn stance in defense of Social Security or against war may summon a different response.

The policy goals make all the difference:

A progressive insurgency may not necessarily want to shut down government in the same manner as the Tea Party, but it would benefit from the ability to do so – without neglecting the need to build pressure on the streets and electoral alternatives outside the Democratic Party.

Even Tea Party-like success – the ear of a large minority of American voters and a pull on the broader discourse – would be a tremendous advance for those looking not just to protect, but to expand the welfare state. Short-term defeats, like the one Republicans just suffered, could pave the way to long-term victories.

So it comes down to this:

Perhaps the best response to Obama’s whitewashing of passion and conflict from history comes from something that A. Philip Randolph was fond of reminding his audiences, “At the banquet table of nature there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything; and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”

That may be true, sadly enough, but America did learn not to mess with A. Philip Randolph:

He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union. In the early civil-rights movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, which convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II. After the war Randolph pressured President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9981 in 1948, ending segregation in the armed services.

In 1963, Randolph was the head of the March on Washington, which was organized by Bayard Rustin, at which Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Ah, those were the days! If you want to drop the current fiction and reset things to where they were in the first place – like calling one in the afternoon, noon, which it always was if you look at where the shadows fall – then you could reset this too. Don’t fart around. Demand justice.

That’s easy to say, but one man’s justice in another man’s foolishness, as the country doesn’t agree on much of anything, for all sorts of reasons. See this Chris Mooney item about that “personality map” that everyone’s been talking about, particularly the boomers on Facebook, and the local news shows short on actual news:

After administering a battery of personality tests to more than a million and a half Americans across the country, the study divides us up into three psychological regions: The “friendly and conventional” South and Great Plains; the “relaxed and creative” mountain states and West Coast; and the “temperamental and uninhibited” East Coast and New England states.

Your local newscast may see this as a human interest story, when there’s no cute puppy that day, but Mooney sees political implications:

Granted, not every state with a “friendly and conventional” personality voted Republican in the last election, and there are some oddballs and outliers in other regions, too. But the overall trend is clear. The residents of more liberal and more conservative states differ in personality: In how open their residents are to new experiences, and in how much they prize order and stability in their lives. …

In other words, there’s a huge ideological sort going on, probably much of it driven by Open People leaving to be closer to other Open People – so they can all hang out at coffeehouses and complain about the Tea Party – and more traditional people staying behind where they prize family and community. And this, in turn, likely explains a substantial part of the US’s growing political polarization. Or as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt just put it on our newly launched Inquiring Minds podcast, “For the first time in our history, the parties are not agglomerations of financial or material interest groups, they’re agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles. And this is really dangerous… If it’s now that ‘You people on the other side, you’re really different from me, you live in a different way, you pray in a different way, you eat different foods than I do,’ it’s much easier to hate those people. And that’s where we are.”

That’s another sort of reset, but Heather Parton sees it this way:

The country has been divided roughly along these lines for a very long time and when you compare that map of the civil war era with the new “personality” map I think you can safely conclude that this is not the first time those divisions have been pretty personal and pretty nasty. The idea that we’ve just now become polarized along lines that are “not agglomerations of financial or material interest groups” but are now about “agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles” is nuts. It’s always been about culture.

Perhaps we need to see where the shadows fall, at true noon, and not pretend it’s some other hour. In fact, Back in July, 2011, Parton spoke to this:

Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to, and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.

It’s my ongoing thesis that we’ve never stopped fighting that war, it just varies in intensity.

If so, we need to recognize things as they are, and not rename them:

I’m not going to take a stand against “heartland values” or “southern culture” whatever it’s defined as this week. It seems to me that it would be worthless, because this battle is obviously tribal, not specific to any particular issue. Slavery and Jim Crow are long gone. Now it’s religion and gays. The lines are drawn as they’ve always been and there will be no reconciliation through politics. Even a bloody civil war couldn’t do that.

History suggests that the southern culture has always been as defined by its resentment toward the rest of the country as much as anything else. The so-called bi-coastal liberal elites certainly don’t think of themselves as having a lot in common with each other, other than being Americans. People from Los Angeles and Vermont call themselves Californians and New Englanders, respectively. I don’t think they believe they share a “culture.” People in Seattle call themselves Pacific North Westerners. People in New York call themselves New Yorkers – Chicagoans Midwesterners. They identify themselves by their specific region and a broader identity as Americans, not by this alleged Bi-Coastal Cultural Alliance. This notion of two easily identifiable cultures is only held by the people who used to call themselves the Confederacy and now call themselves “the heartland.” That alone should be reason to stop and question what is really going on here.

So this has nothing to do with resentment and cultural contempt for Hollywood movie stars and limousine liberals from New York City and all that crap:

Indeed, this has been a problem since the dawn of the republic. And it isn’t a problem that will be solved by the Red States gaining and maintaining power. They have held power many times throughout our history and they were still filled with resentment toward “the North” (now “the liberal elites.”) And, it won’t be solved by adopting different stances on “moral issues,” or telling the current Democratic southern constituencies to suck it up. Maybe it’s time we looked a little bit deeper and realized that this tribal problem isn’t going to be solved by politics at all.

She argues that there’s no point in farting around now:

The “liberal elites” will no doubt be making more compromises in the direction of heartland values for pragmatic reasons. But, judging by history, it won’t change a thing. Neither will Republican political dominance. So, maybe it’s time for the heartland to take a good hard look at itself and ask when they are going to adopt the culture of responsibility they profess with such fervor. It sure looks to me as if they’ve been nursing a case of historical pique for more than 200 years and that resentment no longer has any more meaning than a somewhat self-destructive insistence on maintaining a cultural identity that’s defined by its anger toward the rest of the country.

They are talking themselves into a theocratic police state in order to “crack the whip over the heads of the northern men” and it’s not likely to work out for them any better this time than it did the first time. The real elites in the church, the government and the corporations will take them down right along with us when that comes to pass.

None of this is very cheery, but it only leads one place:

This Resentment Tribe doesn’t do compromise. You have to beat them. But then I suspect that President Obama understands this very well. It’s just that he’s torn between his centrist ideology, which is well served by this chaos (opportunity!) and his need to operate in a partisan system. In the end, he may achieve the other side’s policy goals and be punished politically anyway. It’s not policy or politics that drives these people, it is tribal resentment. And he will never be one of them.

Of course he’ll never be one of them – but it’s better to call things what they really are. Call noon, noon, not one in the afternoon. Call a spade a spade.

No, wait, that’s a bad way to put things in this case, unless you’re a Tea Party type, still upset about the Civil War, or as you probably call it, the War of Northern Aggression, but Paul Krugman does note what’s what:

In a much-cited recent memo, Democracy Corps, a Democratic-leaning public opinion research organization, reported on the results of focus groups held with members of various Republican factions. They found the Republican base “very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority” – and seeing the social safety net both as something that helps Those People, not people like them, and binds the rising nonwhite population to the Democratic Party. And, yes, the Medicaid expansion many states are rejecting would disproportionately have helped poor blacks.

There’s a lot coming to a head here, but in the spirit of cold early November, when we all go back to the real time, not something we made up so we’d all feel more peppy or something, we could call things what they are, even if the world grows darker every day. It’s probably better that way.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Resuming Normal Time

  1. Rick says:

    Oddly enough, you talk about Daylight Savings Time much the same way as people in Ohio did when it was first being proposed — as if it was government messing with “God’s Time”.

    In fact, though, we seem to forget today that before there were actual “Time Zones”, in which it was the same time throughout the zone, no matter what the sun was doing at the time, it could be noon in Washington DC, while simultaneously, it was a few minutes later in Baltimore. I think it was the railroads that, back in the end of the 19th century, pushed to standardize time zones, mostly so their train schedules would make more sense.

    No, I hadn’t heard of this “Personality Map” thing, but it seems to defy common sense; someone is claiming Conservative Republicans are more “friendly” than liberal Democrats?

    And the idea that it’s suddenly all about cultural differences is ridiculous, since conservatives have always scorned liberals for the kind of cars they supposedly drive (Volvos and Priuses) and the coffee they supposedly drink (I guess low-fat grande cappuccinos, or something). We, of course, talk about them driving big-wheeled pickup trucks with gun-racks, and eating fried pigs’ ears, or something.

    I’ll tell you, I’ve lived comfortably in both the Georgia and New York and, if anything, I suppose I’d have to say New Yorkers tend to be a tad friendlier. To this day, when I hear talk about so-called “Southern Hospitality”, I think of Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit”, a miserable song that visualizes black people hanging from trees. And yes, I realize, while the South was obviously not as hospitable to folks of color as it was to white folks like me, I always heard they weren’t traditionally that friendly to Yankees of any color and ethnicity, much less foreigners, so where this “Southern Hospitality” rumor got started has always been a mystery to me.

    Heather Parton neglects to mention the strangest thing about regional identity in America, and that is that people from the South are definitely aware that they are “Southerners”, while people from the North never really think of themselves as “Northerners”, except maybe when they find themselves down in the land of Dixie. In fact, the only people who even call them “Northerners” are Southerners.

    Think about it: The South even has its own flag, while the North does not.

    Rick

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