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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘american political culture’

The Chicagoization of America

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The first urban political machine was named after a fictional Indian saint unrecognized by any church and whose name, when pronounced with a Y at the end, began to strike many as Irish which only further confused the issue.

The godfather of that machine was another fictional saint who became Thomas Jefferson’s vice president after successfully rigging an election using a phony water company that eventually became Chase Bank, was tried for murder after killing the first Secretary of the Treasury, was tried for treason after a conspiracy to make himself King of Mexico and plotted to convince New England to secede from the Union.

The urban political machine was born in New York but died in Chicago. It’s no longer a separate entity. One of the inconveniences of urban life along with smog, muggings and excessive regulation. The urban political machine has gone national. It’s here. It’s there. It’s everywhere.

You may disapprove of New York’s soda ban or Chicago’s love affair with gun control or Los Angeles’ pandering to illegal aliens; but what happens in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the rest of the country’s blighted metropolises no longer stays there. You can live surrounded by ten thousand acres of wilderness on one side and the deep blue sea on the other and it will still find you because the urban political machine has gone national.

The last election was the triumph of the urban political machine. In 2008, Obama ran as a national candidate. In 2012, he ran as the figurehead for the urban political machines and let their voter turnout and voter fraud efforts carry the day. In 2008, he tried inspiring people. In 2012, he ran the same tired campaign run by a hundred corrupt mayors in a hundred cities who know that they can’t lose because the game is rigged and the voters have no choice.

The machine doesn’t care about individuals. It only counts bloc votes. It doesn’t care about making life better for people. Its genius is for finding ways to make life worse because it knows that it has more leverage over people looking for the next meal than over people looking to buy a house in the suburbs. The political machine doesn’t budget; it loots. It breaks the bank, raises taxes, drives out industries and rules over a feudal war zone sharply divided between the rich and the poor.

Reborn in fragmented cities that were multicultural before it was even a word, let alone a buzzword, the machine feeds off misery and conflict. During the 1860s, the machine sent German and Irish immigrants to riot and kill African-Americans to protest the Civil War. During the 1960s, it sent African-American mobs to riot to protest the Vietnam War. The machine does not care about black or white. It only cares about power.

Power, the machine understands, is division. The machine is Machiavellian. It plots out segregated neighborhoods the way that generals deploy battalions. It promotes violence and suspicion and then meets with both sides to offer them a truce. It got big again as the frontier got small and a thousand peoples crowded into overcrowded cities speaking a babble of different languages and knowing nothing except the transplanted micro-communities that they had brought with them.

The machine built on that. It took as their leaders anyone who could deliver a bloc vote. And it traded entitlements for votes. The community leaders became barons, the machine operators became kings and everyone else living in narrow streets, meeting in bursts of gang violence at the boundaries and voting in blocs to keep the other side from getting better access to the goodies offered by the machine, got to be the peasants.

In 2012, tribal politics became national politics. The country was divided and conquered. A campaign run on convincing a dozen separate groups to be afraid of each other and of the majority made all the difference, not in some urban slum, but from sea to shining sea. The country had at last become the city. And considering the state of the city… the state of the union does not look good.

Amnesty for illegal aliens is the natural next step for the machine. The urban machines always wanted their cities to be big. They never cared if the people could feed themselves or if they could feed them. More people meant more votes. More votes meant more money.

Better or Worse: Politics and Conceptions of Change

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future.

The fundamental political question is, “Do you believe things are getting better or worse?” Ruling parties tend to answer, “Better”, opposition parties tend to answer, “Worse”. The deeper answer to that question though lies in our perceptions of the past and the future.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization’s accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool’s errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It’s an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off. Examining the question points us to the sources of the problem. The places where the tree has grown wrong, the branches that have to be pruned so that it may live.

The power of this question is that it challenges the narrative of change. It asks us to examine that most basic premise that change is good. But beyond the narrative tangles of those in power and those out of power, is the larger echo of that question which asks whether the world overall is becoming a better or worse place.

This question has deeper resonances. Is history a wheel or a rocket shooting up to the stars? Are we on an inevitable evolutionary trajectory rising up or are we doomed to repeat dark ages, progress and then dark ages again? Beneath all the speculations and theorizing is the grim question, what becomes of us? Not us individually, but our societies, our nations, our civilizations, our accomplishments and our way of life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/better-or-worse-politics-and-conceptions-of-change/2013/04/09/

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