The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fire with Fire

It looks as if Obama is doing the same thing to McCain now that he did to Clinton in the Primaries. The popular vote is tightening a bit...but look at the electoral map. He has steadily been creating a stable and ever-growing lead. Will it hold? At this point McCain has a steeper hill to climb (according to some pundits) than any candidate in modern history. I can't help but think that we're seeing is a genuine change in the American political landscape.

There have to be many, many solid reasons for a reasonable person to vote against Obama, or vote Republican. But there is a lot of fuzzy thinking going on as well--or, at least, thinking I consider fuzzy. Clustered over on the Conservative side are not only millions of solid, intelligent citizens, but also a substantial number of people who believe

1) Obama is a Muslim

2) Ally Oop rode dinosaurs.

3) Gay people are evil, sick, or sinful.

4) Think black people are less than white people

It is reasonable that those of us who don't believe any of these four things wonder what Barack's lead would be if you subtracted these groups. Jeeze, I'm sure that Conservatives look at some of the stuff believed on the Left and shake their heads...for their sake, I hope it looks just as whacky to them.

In terms of the issues at stake in this election, one of the huge ones is Universal Health Care. I've talked with dozens of people from around the world on this issue, and some are enthusiastic about their country's system, others talk about it as if it's the Post Office. But I literally, LITERALLY, know people contemplating suicide because, after a lifetime of work, they are now sick and broken, and fatigued unto death from trying to navigate the system. UHC just doesn't seem to be a disaster, and I strongly suspect that in a generation we'll consider it as much of the Commons as Universal Education. Now, there are certainly people who (rightly) criticise our education system, but odd how rarely it is spoken that almost every system pointed out as superior to ours, public education. It seems to me that the wrong lessons are being learned. It isn't necessarily that we need to change to charter schools (although if that helped create a competitive environment for teachers, I might be in favor of it) but that we aren't modeling success properly.

It urks me when I see people criticise Unions, when they speak as if management can be trusted by union organizers can't. This, to me, is just blindness. They're the same people, arguing on different sides of the table. And if you weaken one, the other will take all the chips. I've been in career situations where I've earned much more than the union demanded, and therefore didn't need them at all. And others where management would have screwed me right into the ground without those union rules. People are just people. A BIG percentage of 'em will take everything that isn't nailed down, and justify it rationally and sincerely as if they are entitled to it.

Those who believe (reasonably) that there are some with greater capacity than others almost always assume they are part of that group, and it seems to me also share an underlying belief that not only is their group smarter, but also "better" morally and ethically. I've seen this in every race, gender, sexual orientation, and political persuasion. Mike Malloy is just as vile and insulting as Micheal Savage--only in the other direction. Gays rag on straights, and women are just as convinced of their superiority as men are. Blacks criticise whites for racism, while making racist assumptions of their own.

I try very hard to keep out of those arguments, considering them games for the sleeping children. When you can hold your position, and love yourself, without automatically thinking less of those who hold differing have made a leap.


Regarding Obama's relatives. For a politician as astute as Obama to refuse to help a relative would be a staggering omission--assuming that he didn't give a shit about her, he should still maintain the APPEARANCE of generosity, right? That said, it might be an omission, and evidence of some lack or flaw on his part.

But on the other hand...there isn't a rich person in the world without poor relatives, and that is regardless of the level of that wealthy person's generosity. We simply don't know the factors here, but I can think of one, quite easily:

Ever tried to get an elderly relative to move from a bad neighborhood? If you haven't, and haven't heard the degree to which they cling to friends, and familiar routines, and wish to assert independence, and so forth...frustrating as hell. I remember a relative of mine who wrote a script entitled "The's Hell, but I won't leave it" (honest!) that speaks to this.

We don't know. And without information, the assumptions we make will, I suspect, do no more than express our pre-existing beliefs. I can think of both negative, neutral, and positive reasons for his aunt to be living where she does. If you can't, you may want to wonder why.


"I just saw someone say that he'd said that Obama needed to fight fire with fire, and now he realizes that the high road was better.

And I just posted this video, which has quite a bit about how to get a good open source group by protecting where the group's attention goes. This includes avoiding fights while not avoiding useful feedback.

So, I'm wondering what virtues are needed in addition to distaste for conflict. I note that "ignore them and they'll go away" is frequently just not good enough, as was shown by Kerry and the Swift Boat problem.

So, does it take courage? Intelligence? Specific knowledge about how to deal with people? Something else?"

The ability to kill. Frankly, the deadliest people I know are best at turning the other cheek. If you run from a fight because you can't win, that is quantitatively and quantitatively different from walking away because you are afraid. I read an interview with Obama's Tae Kwon Do instructor, who said that O's defensive footwork was "incredible." In order to have a good defence, you MUST be able to hurt your opponent. If he has no need to fear you, he will simply wade in and take you apart.

So...understand human weakness, and your potential attack lines. I've told the story about being mugged in Oakland, and talking the guy down. What made it work is that I was thinking about crushing his larynx the entire time. Clear visualization in my mind. If he'd made the wrong choice, I was going to try my very best to kill him. He chose peace.

If Obama wins, part of the reason is that he forced his opponents to play HIS game, fight HIS fight, dance to his rhythm. So long as you can do that, the old attacks just don't work as well. Functionally, McCain was playing checkers, and Obama was playing chess. Of course, if he loses, I'm gonna look pretty dumb saying that, but who cares?


Steve Perry said...

He rides thru the jungle tearin’ limbs offa trees (Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop)
Knockin’ great big monstahs dead on their knees (Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop)
The cats don’t bug him cuz they know bettah (Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop)
Cuz he’s a mean motah scootah and a bad go-gettah (Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop)
(Alley Oop) He’s the toughest man there is alive
(Alley Oop) Wearin’ clothes from a wildcat’s hide
(Alley Oop) He’s the king of the jungle jive
(Look at that cave man go!!) (SCREAM)

Hi-ho, dinosaur.

Ride Daddy, Ride ...

Marty S said...

Steve: Not to say that Obama hasn't run a very smart campaign, but he didn't open up a clear lead till the last few weeks and the reason he has to quote a sage politician "It's the economy stupid".

Reluctant Lawyer said...

Dinosaurs and people -
Gay marriage

What do they have in common? They're both things that I never heard a preacher even mention despite going to church almost every sunday from when I was old enough to go until I entered college.

I truly wonder if some of these folks are reading from the same book.

Anonymous said...

" was shown by Kerry and the Swift Boat problem"....

...which had more to do with Kerry running afoul personally and philosophically with T. Boone Pickens than anything else.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I don't think willingness to kill is necessary for virtue to win. The guys with the open source lecture didn't need willingness to kill. They needed to know that preserving the energy and focus of the group was more important than anyone's emotional habits including their own.

I don't think Obama has needed willingness to kill in his campaign. He did need willingness to pay attention to what he was doing-- from what I've read, part of why he defeated Clinton was that he and/or his team had a solid grasp of the primary rules for every state. And he put thought into where he could get money, and let the Silicon Valley folks who supported him put together a great web site.

As for potentially violent situations, I've talked my way out of a few. I'm low on willingness and ability to kill, and I realize I've been lucky to be in slow-moving confrontations where I had a chance to talk. I think that what happens is I go into an emotionally repressed but attentive state where I don't allow any fear or anger on my part to amplify potential violence from the other person. I'm not trying to make them feel bad, I'm just trying to get out.

At this point, I'm wondering if making virtue work is partly a group effect. If there hadn't been a popular revulsion against negative campaigning, I don't know if Obama would have chosen his current style, or if he would have gotten as far with it.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure that Conservatives look at some of the stuff believed on the Left and shake their heads ... for their sake, I hope it looks just as whacky to them."

Yeah, it does. Though to some extent that has to reflects the heterogeneity of human competence, and its fairly even distribution among Right and Left, as much as anything else.

As for universal health care: I have anecdotally observed that young people from the U.K. living in the U.S. are more enthusiastic about it than a noticeable quantity of people back in the U.K. itself, at least this year. I got that distinct impression from having spent two weeks in May in Britain and having read every newspaper or advertisement for private health care I came across. The most scathing critique of the NHS I read was in the Guardian (!). It's not Utopia over there.

--Erich Schwarz

mjholt said...

Love your post! While I can think of a lot of reasons not to vote for Obama, none of them involve John McCain or Sarah Palin.

Since the race issue has not panned out for McBush, his surrogates are now again trying to say that Obama somehow forged an Hawaiian birth certificate. One woman said today to a friend of mine that Obama had to have been born in Somolia where his father had returned home (his father was Kenyan). My friend pointed out that it makes no difference where the father is, only where the mother is at the time of the birth counts. The woman got huffy, shall we say. These nut cases might vote, and perhaps influence people. I read it again on, like it was new news. What a load of ....

I do like Alley Oop, and I read the comic, but I doubt that anyone including the current authors or the originator thought that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, except in an alternate universe. Thanks SP for the lyrics of the Alley Oop song.

Finally, I do wish that Obama and Biden would settle on the $250,000 number for his tax reduction package. Saying any other number just provides fodder for McBushies.

P.S. Because of election irregularities in King County, WA, where I vote (the 13th most populous county in the country) we now are permanent absentee ballot voters. I have already voted a straight Democratic ballot, and for all the liberal judges I could find. It's gone. I read a great opinion piece in the new The Daily call "Obama is the Real Conservative" by Jeffery Hart. (www.
For a moment I thought about sane, well spoken conservatives, and had a sad (albeit not teary moment) that there are none left. He was endorsing Obama.

P.P.S. Dean Young, the man who brought King County voting irregularities four years ago, lost his job here, but got a new one as the head of elections in Los Angeles, CA.

Marty S said...

I find this post and the comments on it really scary. First of all the characterization of conservatives strikes me no different from how you would react if I said among the millions of intelligent blacks out there are a considerable number of violent, untrustworthy, watermelon eating blacks. Secondly my life experience with violence, particularly ethnically related violence tells me that among the billions of wonderful peace loving people out there, there are a considerable number of power hungry, vicious people who will make our life unbearable if somebody is not prepared to defend us against them. I grew up in the Bronx, I got out of a number of violent situations. All I had to do was give the robber my money or my watch or what ever else he wanted.

owa said...

Mr. Barnes,
I have read your blog on the topic of excercise and recovery. I love to work out ( jogging and wieght lifting) Four times a week. My problem is that I work at night (five days a week) and I'm unable to get the 8 to 9 hour of rest that you suggest. As a result I have gained wieght/fat. Do you have any ideas

suzanne said...

what I find dispicable
is how deep into
hypocracy and lying
the Macain campaign
and its surrogates
have fallen

such scuzz
such swamp gas

not to mention Bush
trying to ram through
lifting of environmental regulations
at the last moment
and the way the bailout money
is being thrown to the already wealthy

I was against the bailout bill
as it was because it didn't have
the teeth to prervent just this sort of thing
from happening

Hal said...

"I read an interview with Obama's Tae Kwon Do instructor, who said that O's defensive footwork was "incredible.""

Steve, I love that quote... But I'm curious where you found it? My google-fu isn't turning up anything.

Marty S said...

Steve: The terms by which you and the other liberals evaluate conservatives are a product of your own liberal biases. If I take as a sample the conservatives I associate with they are all over the map on the social issues feminism, gay rights,abortion etc. They define themselves as conservatives most on economic and foreign policy issues.
They would define a liberal wacko as

1) Someone who believes a ditch digger, car mechanic and heart surgeon all deserve the same income.

2) Two heart surgeons one with 50% success rate and one with an 80% success rate both deserve the same income.

3) That George Bush was wrong to invade Iraq, wrong on Gitmo, deserves to be prosecuted for crimes, but also believes that the leaders of all other countries are good guys who won't do the same to us as we did to Iraq if we don't maintain our military strength.

Steven Barnes said...

Marty: are you saying that there AREN'T more Creationists on the Right? That a common rumor about Obama is that he is a Muslim? That there have not been dismaying numbers of people who flat-out say "they would never vote for a black man?" I prefaced my comment carefully, and have never suggested that there is greater virtue on the Left than the Right. NEVER.
"Liberal Whacko:
They would define a liberal wacko as

1) Someone who believes a ditch digger, car mechanic and heart surgeon all deserve the same income.

2) Two heart surgeons one with 50% success rate and one with an 80% success rate both deserve the same income."

I would agree. The above beliefs are, in my mind, nutty. I know a couple of people who feel this way. Neither of their lives are working very well.

"3) That George Bush was wrong to invade Iraq, wrong on Gitmo, deserves to be prosecuted for crimes, but also believes that the leaders of all other countries are good guys who won't do the same to us as we did to Iraq if we don't maintain our military strength."
Wrong to invade Iraq? I agree. Wrong on Gitmo? I agree. Persecuted for crimes? I'm not sure. Believes that the leaders of other countries are good guys? Unbelievably naive, and I would agree with "whacko"--and I've met a few people who actually seem to believe that. Not many, but a few.

Steven Barnes said...

"If I said that among the millions of intelligent blacks out there are a considerable number of violent, untrustworthy, watermelon eating blacks"
Nice try. Do you really think I'm that easy? I'd have no problem with this statement (aside from the implied equation of stupidity with eating watermelon. I LOVE watermelon). Your comment is absolutely accurate. It wouldn't be offensive unless you implied that a higher percentage of blacks are violent and untrustworthy than whites, and that that difference is due to innate qualities. Or that there were not balancing and equally negative characteristics among whites. Do that, and we have no problem.

Steven Barnes said...


I have no idea why working at night prevents you from getting the sleep you need. Why not post a reply over on the Lifewriting discussion board, so I can see what's going on?

Steven Barnes said...


Sorry. It's called the 'Five Minute Miracle" forum, and you'll find the button on the right side of the page.

Marty S said...

I love watermelon too.

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