Eggheads, Elections, Marriage Equality, Etc. (Exchange of Letters)

Dear Kevin,

I do think that there are lots of subliminal lines running underground, as it were, between humor and art, and spirituality, too, no doubt.  I suppose you’re also right that to a certain extent we’re both hopeless eggheads when it comes to what and how we write.   Case in point: I also just posted something on the blog this morning, mine being about the recent European elections in France and Greece, and how they are both similar to and dissimilar from US politics.  Could you get much more “eggheady?”

Anyway, as you say, I guess the blog will be what it will be, and we leopards appear to be more or less unable to change our spots.  Nor do I think it’s even desirable to try, do you?  Once you start attempting to be somebody other than who you are (for better or for worse), you come off sounding inauthentic and, well, just a little silly.  So, if people want to read us, I suppose they’ll have to read us as we are.  In fact, maybe we ought to change our blog name from TwoOldLiberals, to TwoOldEggheads, what do you think?

This all makes me think about poor old Adlai Stevenson, too, back in the fifties, when he was running for the presidency against Eisenhower, a Republican.  My parents — and everybody I knew at the time — were staunch Democrats, to say the very least, but even so they were very leery of Stevenson.  People called him an “egghead,” and I remember thinking at the time: “What in the world is an egghead?”  I guess Americans have always mistrusted anybody who comes off as an intellectual.  I don’t have to remind you, of course, that Stevenson lost, and when reporters talked to him afterwards and mentioned the whole egghead controversy, his comment — perfectly apropos — was: “Via ovicipitum dura est!”   I assume that some of the reporters listening didn’t understand what he was saying in Latin, which was: “The way of the egghead is a hard one.”  But it certainly was perfectly in keeping with who he was.

I noted this morning, too, that the good Christians of North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to shut gay people up when it comes to their annoying demand for equality and constitutional rights.  In fact, what they seemed to be saying was, let’s actually change the constitution in order to make absolutely sure that “these people” don’t get too uppity!  Of course, voters did the same thing here in California, so I shouldn’t be too surprised about the Carolinians, should I?  It is curious, though, that every poll you see indicates that a majority of Americans are now in favor of allowing gay people to marry, at least by a slim majority, and yet time after time initiatives to allow that are defeated in one state after another.  I do think that eventually this will change, once the demographics change and — I hate to say it — once some older conservatives die off.  But nobody seems to know how long that will take. – Paul

Dear Paul,

I absolutely LOVED your blog article about the European elections. I found it so informative and balanced. I think you ought to submit it to “The Economist” or some other publications that explore global economic trends. As you know, I am a Francophile as well, having lived and studied in Aix-en-Provence for six months as a very young man, and spending a month-long Christmas holiday in Paris, where I painted a mural on the kitchen wall of my hostesses in exchange for lodging and meals. I certainly wish Francois Hollande the best. And I agree with you that the economic answer lies in a combination of stimulus and belt-tightening, even though almost nobody seems to be in the mood to strike such balanced and inclusive compromises. We must do the same thing here. If we don’t, we will be in very big trouble rather quickly, I should think.
 
Regarding our eggheadedness, I think we can only wear it as a badge of honor. I remember Adlai Stevenson very clearly and with great affection, because he was a hero in our household, when I was a child in the 50s. My parents were very disappointed by his second loss to Eisenhower, who now looks like a raving liberal, by the way, when compared with today’s mainstream Republicans. Eisenhower wouldn’t have a prayer of surviving today’s Republican primaries. Dick Lugar proved that yesterday in Indiana. Anyway, I have to tell my very favorite story about Adlai Stevenson — one that demonstrates his wit and intellect: A reporter asked Stevenson to comment on the fact that Norman Vincent Peale was preaching his conservative right wing politics from the pulpit, in light of the fact that Saint Paul had also talked about politics in his sermons. Adlai Stevenson shot back, “In Paul, it’s appealing. In Peale it’s appalling!” Smart man, that Adlai Stevenson. He would have been a great president.

Where the NC vote to amend their state constitution to ban gay marriage is concerned, I don’t think anybody is surprised, even though it is certainly disappointing. Similar ballot initiatives will soon be considered in three more states – MD, MN, and WA. So far gay marriage has lost every contest even though the majority of Americans support it in polls. One commentator said yesterday that it appears that the subject of gay rights motivates the right wing to come out to vote in greater numbers than progressives. Also yesterday, President Obama surprised me and many others by making a strong statement in favor of gay marriage, just a few days after Vice President Biden had paved the way, whether by design or by default. In either case, the Obama campaign seems to have calculated that it was a worthwhile risk for the president to reveal his true colors on this matter, since the majority of Americans are with him. We’ll see come November. I personally think that President Obama may also simply be the kind of man who doesn’t want to win another term if he has to do it by falsifying his true positions and beliefs. Yes, I am suggesting that he is, in fact, a man of real integrity, unlike his adversary, Mr. Romney, an opportunist who will say and “believe” whatever he thinks will thrust him into power, regardless of whatever beliefs he may actually hold. For Romney the ends justify the means. So, he’s a flip-flopper. Such people are dangerous and not to be trusted in my opinion.

It looks to me like it is going to be a very close election on all fronts this season. The recall election of Gov Walker and many of his lieutenants in WI is coming up in a little over three weeks. Even though Walker is funded by out-of-state right wing sources at a level 20 times the campaign accounts of his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee is currently one point ahead of Walker in the polls. I suspect that the results in WI will be interpreted by many as a harbinger of things to come in November, no matter how it turns out. It is hard for me to imagine how the contest between Obama and Romney could possibly be close, but apparently it is going to be a squeaker. Robert and I were certainly planning to vote enthusiastically for a second term for President Obama, whether or not he had come out in favor of marriage equality. As it is, we will just pull that lever with a bit more vigor.

Our fervent wish is that he would wake up and get with the environmental program to reverse Global Climate Change and stop the Keystone Pipeline. I would trade those positions for his support of gay marriage any day, because if we don’t make the tough decisions required to reverse Global Climate Change very soon, we won’t have the luxury of resolving any other issues confronting humanity, including gay marriage. First things first. We have to save the planet as a habitat that will support life. Then we can argue about who may marry whom. Okay, okay… I guess it isn’t a matter of doing one or the other. We can probably do both things at the same time. But my point is that in the face of the potential extinction of all life on Planet Earth, every other issue looks miniscule and insignificant to me. Global Climate Change is by far the most fundamental challenge that humanity has ever had to face, because it is about the survival of our species, as well as all the other life forms on the planet. We have to go into warp speed in reverse on Global Climate Change, and I want President Obama to “evolve” all the way to full enlightenment on this issue as well as gay marriage, and the sooner the better. – Kevin

BONJOUR, MONSIEUR LE PRESIDENT

By Paul

France elected François Hollande president of the Republic this past weekend, replacing Nicolas Sarkozy, in a contest that pitted against each other two very different ways of addressing the financial crisis that has plagued Europe, and the rest of the world, for the past several years.  Sarkozy seemed to represent to the majority of French voters all that went wrong in the first place:  the indifference and arrogance of the powerful and the moneyed over the lives of everyday working people.  But Hollande, a Socialist in the classic French vein, has a Herculean task ahead of him.  He will have to come up with some kind of plan that calms everybody down a bit, including those who voted for him in the first place, those who voted for Sarkozy (still some 48% of the French electorate), the Germans, the rest of Europe, the Americans, the markets, and just about everybody else in the world, it would seem.  He’s going to be a busy man.

Greece, too, had something of a troubled weekend.  The results there were not quite as clear-cut as in France, but still things got pretty badly shaken up.  Given a parliamentary style of government, the winner of the majority of votes had three days to attempt to piece together a ruling coalition from among an enormously fractured and fractious bunch.  That didn’t work, and so now others are trying, although with very little hope of succeeding.  The Conservatives initially came up with the most votes, but even so that was a measly 20%.  Their archenemies, the Socialists did even worse, getting less than 14%, a paltry amount given the former popularity of both parties.  In the end, the basic message seems to have been the axiomatic: throw the bums out!  Unfortunately, some of the bums are probably still going to have to attempt to work together to solve very basic problems, along with a few other parties now thrown into the mix.  These others include the radical leftists (neo-communists?), who got over 16% of the vote, and those far-right anti-immigrant thugs, the so-called Golden Dawn Party, which came away with almost 7% of the vote.  Add to all this muddle one other very important, if rather stark, item, namely, that it could also be said that one of the big losers this past weekend in Greece was none other than the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her politics of European austerity.

But why should we even care very much what happens on the other side of the Atlantic?  Yes, of course, we all know that world markets are impossibly intermingled these days, and so from that point of view, if the thread breaks in Europe, the garment can quickly unravel in the United States, as well.  So, there is that to keep in mind.  And as a result, no one should be surprised that the markets have developed a serious case of the heebie-jeebbies.   But aside from these considerations of intertwined markets, the basic politics of the situation in Europe may not be all that different from what’s playing out right here in our own backyard.

It’s probably unfair and maybe even a little dangerous to make too many one-for-one comparisons between Europe and the U.S., but, well, I’ll go ahead and make a few all the same.   The first that occurs to me is the Sarkozy-Romney mix.  I don’t mean so much in terms of personality (Sarkozy appears to have something of an annoyed, and annoying, Napoleon complex, while Romney goes for a well-scrubbed and over-starched Mr. Clean look).  But each one champions the rich, and appears to be just fine with telling the rest of us to suck it up and act responsibly, the theory being that those tax breaks to the wealthy are somehow supposed to magically rescue the economy and create new jobs.  How has that approach worked so far, Monsieur Sarkozy? France is weakened and teetering economically, and the jobless rate is well over 10%. 

But still, let’s try to be fair about things.  The French debt is totally out of hand, and laws that govern how companies can hire – and fire – people are hopelessly out of whack.  Everybody is covered by a top-notch healthcare plan, toward which they pay very little at least in direct expenses, and come August, you will find très peu of the French still in Paris if you happen to visit, because they are all lounging  à la plage.  Their Greek counterparts were once able to boast similar amenities, but are now lucky to have a job of any kind, and even their once vaunted healthcare network is looking shakier and shakier.  On top of all that, both countries made a choice years ago to be part of a Euro zone, and so the threads that bind them together – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer –are today far stronger than those which bind them to the rest of the world.    

But the choices, if not the answers, for all of us appear in fact to be coming clearer.  What really does any country do that finds itself overextended on the one hand, and underfunded on the other?   The same case can be made right now to an extent here in the United States, as well.  The reasons why this is happening depend on how you see things, that is, on your politics.  On the overextension side of the equation, it has to do either with giving out too many handouts to a bunch of laggards, or possibly with having decided to wage endless wars for questionable reasons, while on the underfunding side, it would be because we’re giving too much to the little guy who doesn’t pay his own way or pull himself up high enough by his own bootstraps, or because of years of unwarranted and unwise cuts to the wealthiest of Americans in the dubious name of “stimulating the economy” (again, depending on your politics).  These are all very familiar questions that we in this country have been grappling with for a long time, but they are beginning to sound all too familiar to our European cousins now, too. 

Which ought we to choose, the approaches of Sarkozy-Romney, or of Hollande-Obama?  Which will turn out to be the better choices to get us out of the ditch and back on to the road to prosperity?  Do we cut, cut, cut, that is, taxes and services, or stimulate, stimulate, stimulate, in hopes of jump starting the economy?  The French, and to a certain extent the Greeks, appear to be opting for the latter right now.  Here in the U.S. we chose something along these lines four years ago, and – again depending on your politics – it either has, or it has not, worked.

Personally, I’m still putting my money (literally, I guess) on Mr. Obama.  Just as if I were French, I no doubt would’ve voted for M. Hollande.  If I were Greek, I don’t know what I’d do, maybe just head for the hills and hide out for the next couple of years.  But what I really don’t get is the “all austerity, all the time” approach to economic crises.  Sure, we have to save, and we have to act – and to spend – responsibly.  No question, and no argument there.  But countries get “better” economically through robust growth and expansion, as well as through austerity, and nobody, “no body,” ever got fatter by dieting. 

It seems to me that what it will come down to in the end is some kind of a fair balance between the two extremes of austerity and stimulus.  That’s what I think M. Holland will have to try to do in France.  And that’s what Mr. Obama has attempted for the past four years, but that is not what M. Sarkozy has done, nor is it what Mr. Romney would do, if he could.  So, I’m with the French on this one – je suis avec les Français!    And OK, I’ll admit up front to being something of a Francophile.  But you don’t have to sit down every morning to croissants and café au lait in order to know that both sides have got to compromise in order for us to get out of the mess we’re in. 

So, finally, what I say is: vive la France, vivent les Etats-Unis, vive Monsieur Hollande, et vive Monsieur Obama.  Oh, and yes, God help them all, vivent les pauvres Grecs, as well.