Saturday, September 8, 2012

Renzetti: elites 'poverty bingo' at both R and D conventions

Both conventions began to resemble the Monty Python sketch in which a group of old Yorkshiremen try to crank up the horrors of their childhoods, until one wins by claiming he had to drink a cup of sulphuric acid every night before being murdered by his father. It was hard to know whether to feel sorrier for Elizabeth Warren (Harvard law professor, Democratic Senate candidate), whose mom had to work the phones at Sears after her daddy had a heart attack, or Paul Ryan (Wisconsin congressman, Republican vice-presidential nominee), whose mom had to take the bus 40 miles to work every morning after his dad died. It was a bit like poverty bingo. Tonight, everyone’s a loser!

(From Elizabeth Renzetti's piece, The elite battle over misery and everyone's a loser, Globe and Mail, September 7, 2012, excerpted below)
The Renzetti piece does make one smile at the ambitious efforts by politicians to "identify" with the individual, and collective pain that some twenty-plus million Americans are going through without work and/or income. Yet, does that make everyone a loser?
First, from a political perspective, NOT to drag out available stories of distress, when the whole country is deep in both economic and emotional depression, would be nothing short of cold-hearted.
Nevertheless, there is a significant difference between the "elite" struggling somewhere in their grandparents' history, and the real agony of current defeat especially when much of the cause can be located in both the motives and the actions of the elite of Wall Street, and the complicitous political class in Washington.
Second, while humourous and noticeably ironic, digging into our individual and collective histories as an exploratory, mining exercise, under the tutelage of Carl Jung who reminds us of the "gold" in those painful memories, some of them too painful even to look at when they occurred, could and likely will turn out to be an exercise in both humility and ironic "discovery."
It is not so much the loser, as the black sheep, that is at the core of these discoveries. Reconnecting with those parts of ourselves that have been 'lost' to the light of conversation and acceptance and even admission, is one way for the country to acknowledge and unite in both story and even some fear, and it is only when we share our vulnerabilities that we grow our relationships.
Is it too 'hollywood' to do this under the glare of kleig lights and television cameras beaming into every home and office around the world? Perhaps.
Is it too 'wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve' dangerous because the political actors are never to demonstrate weakness? Perhaps.
Is it too maudlin and wimpy and "unmasculine" and "unheroic" to talk about poverty, physical handicap and being dealt the bad hands of history? Perhaps.
Yet, only if and when we acknowledge our impurities, our dark recesses of both memory and experience, whether those memories were "overcome" with complete success or not, will we bring some depth, humanity and collective purpose and will to our political, public consciousness.
Having generated the "brass" or "gold" or even "platinum" ring in economic, fiscal and social status terms as the goal of human lives, the American "capitalist" system has plummeted over the cliff.
And it was only in the Democratic convention that we heard hints that "it was not a matter of how much money was made, but rather what kind of difference one made in the lives of others" that was the ideal for human aspiration.
And therein lies the essential difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, in this election.
The economic 'success' of every individual, as defined by the size of the Swiss/Cayman Island/offshore bank accounts, and the number of BMW's in the driveway, and private jets on the runway is the stated goal of the Republican party and its candidate serves as the role model for aspirants. (Dedicating some time for supporting individuals when tragedy strikes, as another 'rule' of the church one belongs to, is just another sign of the "paint-by-number" lives that concentrate on profit-and-loss statements, income statements and cost-benefit analyses.)
It is the provision of access, of choice, and of multiple models of human success through creative application of both energy and will, so that human development is not, and cannot, be reduced to a monolithic model for which the Democrats work so hard, in so many different ways.
"Poverty bingo" in which everyone becomes a "loser" is too cynical a portrayal of the American culture, although there is clear evidence that the whole world is hanging by its fingernails on the cliff overlooking a chasm of economic collapse, perhaps because we have put too many eggs in the economic basket, and ignored, at our peril, our compassion, empathy and creativity for sharing the planet's earth, air, water and human energy, in our attempt to help restore some balance to our greed, our narcissism and our ambitious pursuit of that Swiss bank account.

The elite battle over misery and everyone's a loserBy Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe and Mail, September 7, 2012
It was amusing to watch the Republicans in Tampa and the Democrats in Charlotte try to out-hardscrabble each other. Here you had members of the political elite, headlining their respective parties’ powerpaloozas, frantically trying to distance themselves from any associations with elites. I pictured them scrambling through family Bibles and battered trunks, searching for a dirty fingernail here, a bankruptcy notice there, and finally screaming: “He sold rags! Hallelujah!”
Both conventions began to resemble the Monty Python sketch in which a group of old Yorkshiremen try to crank up the horrors of their childhoods, until one wins by claiming he had to drink a cup of sulphuric acid every night before being murdered by his father. It was hard to know whether to feel sorrier for Elizabeth Warren (Harvard law professor, Democratic Senate candidate), whose mom had to work the phones at Sears after her daddy had a heart attack, or Paul Ryan (Wisconsin congressman, Republican vice-presidential nominee), whose mom had to take the bus 40 miles to work every morning after his dad died. It was a bit like poverty bingo. Tonight, everyone’s a loser!
You had to look to the grandparents for true suffering. South Dakota Senator John Thune’s granddad arrived from Norway knowing no English except “apple pie” and “coffee” – which seems a bit convenient, but maybe he was sharing a tramp steamer with the grandpa of the guy who founded Starbucks. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer’s grandparents “homesteaded the prairies with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and their faith in God.” They were marshmallows compared with Rick Santorum’s granddad, who was still mining coal at 72. (Did anyone consider he might have been trying to get away from his family?) Ann Romney’s grandpa was a coal miner, too, from a Welsh village called Nantyffyllon, which was so poor it couldn’t afford vowels.
And then we had the ultimate misery match, between the newlywed Romneys and the newlywed Obamas. It was like watching two couples compete for the lead roles in a college production of Barefoot in the Park. The young-and-in-love Romneys survived on pasta and tuna, served on an ironing-board dinner table. (If my dad were the governor of Michigan and I was eating off an ironing board, there’d be some angry words at Thanksgiving, let me tell you.) The young-and-in-love Obamas had more college debt than income, and Michelle had to tolerate Barack’s dumpster-dived coffee table. If O. Henry were alive, he’d be putting it all in a Christmas story.
The only people who avoided the hardship narrative were the ones who knew they couldn’t, in good conscience, go there. Caroline Kennedy and Jeb Bush didn’t even try to make us feel their deprivation. What was Jeb Bush going to say? “There was this one CIA Christmas party, and Dad came home with a Castro doll, but the remote-control exploding cigar was missing, and I wrote to Santa, but then my brother said Santa wouldn’t answer because he was a communist, too, and Christmas was ruined.”
The triumph-over-adversity shtick has been around forever, right? Bill Clinton quoted the legendary Democratic operator Bob Strauss as saying, “Every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself,” a reference to Lincoln, the log-cabin president who dragged himself up by his bootstraps. Interestingly, a former Clinton speechwriter, Ted Widmer, wrote in The New York Times about how reluctant Lincoln was to trade on that humble past.
In 1861, Lincoln travelled to Illinois, unannounced and unaccompanied, to visit his stepmother. He talked to some schoolchildren there about the hardships of his past, something he rarely did. As Mr. Widmer writes, “Unlike today’s politicians, for whom every childhood challenge is an opportunity for publicity, Lincoln was reticent to a fault about the traumas of his youth. He had conquered all that – why go back there?”
Why go back there, indeed? Because these are shinier times, and politicians know there’s something valuable buried in all that dirt: votes

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