Friday, March 05, 2010

My Left (-wing) Foot

Was channel surfing last night when the phone rang and the cable-go-round ground to a halt at FOX.

Not that we never drop in behind enemy lines. It's good to check-in on that alternate universe to marvel at the sameness of the message and the ham-handed delivery.

It's like the soap opera you drop in on after 10 days to find out the whole sordid town of Westport is still suck in the same place.

It's not that highwayscribery doesn't hold conservative principles or drink with conservatives. Not at all. It's just that station is, frankly, beneath him, not good enough.

The mantra and cant are interchangeable, the anti-intellectual bent suffocating.

Conservatism, by its nature, reaches backward and into the past, so that it can't really offer novel ideas so much as old ones in new wrapping.

FOX is the land of the lowest common denominator, a dufus dystopia cluttered with tired buzzwords uttered so often that even "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" seems an acceptable emergency exit.

Anything to escape the simple land where things are true just because Simon says they are. Where Sarah Palin has an intellect, President Obama is stupid, the world is blessed with infinite natural resources, and liberals stole the wooden swing off rural America's front porch.

Now, highwayscribery doesn't typically groove on the ugly back and forth of American politics. FOX can walk alone to hell. But the scribe needed Wednesday night's "Hannity" show as launching point for a post on an obscure British politician who just died by the name of Michael Foot.

Hannity was simple-Simoning his way through another hour of color-by-numbers propaganda when he pulled out his shopworn charge that Obama has put the United States on the road to "SOCIALISM."

That's a big, nasty, dirty word that Fox refused to let die when the communist world did.

Now it is applied to ideas such as preventing banks that enjoy federal deposit insurance from investing in hedge funds and private equity funds, or increasing the minimum wage.

When Hannity slams a Democratic politician with "Socialism" it is expected that person run for cover or begin blubbering about the market, jobs, small-business entrepreneurs: all teflon terminologies in the American political lexicon.

Michael Foot, on the other hand, draped himself in the term. If you stuck a finger in this guy's chest and said "Socialist!" you got a smile and a thumbs up.

"The New York Times," obituary quotes him as saying, and we re-quote:

"We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is derived of their initiative, I would answer, 'To hell with them.' The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do."

That is something more like socialism. You can hear more than intellect in it. Passion perhaps, or a chip on the shoulder Foot, apparently, carried with him an entire career.

When the highway scribe was loitering for years with the far left of Spain's politics learning for his novel "Vedette: or Conversations with the Flamenco Shadows," he once saw a stage speaker say some very distasteful things about Che Guevara.

When they were done, an acquaintance by the name of Antonio Saseta, an architectural professor actually, stood up in the audience and told the person who said such unkind things, "If you were a little closer, and we weren't in such fine company, I'd sock you right in the jaw." (In Spanish, of course)

The point being that if Hannity thinks Obama and the Democratic Party are socialists -- and we don't think Sean really does -- he'd have no jaw.

Upon reading the afore-linked obituary, highwayscribery remembered Foot vaguely from his disastrous campaign to unseat Margaret Thatcher in 1983.

At the time, for those who cared, there was hope at this end of the pond, fueled by a great English Beat song called "Stand Down Margaret." And if the band's singer "Rankin' Roger" had led the Labour ticket that year, he would have probably fared better than did our subject.

Foot, if memory serves, hurt his foot during the campaign and hobbled around on crutches for a while. Not sure whether it was the right foot or the left, but either way it ploughed ample fields for the sowing of metaphors mostly cruel.

A few years later, Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his work in a movie entitled, "My Left Foot," which the highway scribe went to see, thinking it was about, well, Foot.

But we digress.

"The Times," quotes Labourite Gerald Kaufman calling the party's manifesto from the ill-fated 1983 effort as "the longest suicide note in history."

Hyperbole aside, that manifesto, drafted by trade and industrial union folks, and the party functionaries who did their bidding, was what you would call "Socialist."

Foot campaigned on a platform of -- and dig this -- higher taxes, a more interventionist industrial policy, unilateral disarmament, nationalization of the banking system, and scrapping the hoary House of Lords.

Does the highway scribe really believe in those things?

Why not? An adult lifetime both chronicling (as journalist) and enduring (as citizen) our world's experiment with the marvelous and unfettered market has yielded a nauseating cycle of irrational bubbles followed by disastrous bursts.

They seem to leave nothing behind but a few lucky slimeballs with giant sacks of money living behind gates. As Foot said, "The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves."

We enter Goldman Sachs, its post-bailout bonuses and perpetual middle-finger directed at the rest of us, as Exhibit A.

It's all been downhill in the scribe's lifetime. From the early heady days of the "Reagan Revolution," when government got out of the business of caring, through the recent weeks of relentless obstruction, less help, greater complexity, deeper insecurity, outdated infrastructure, invisible public engagement or assistance, homelessness, and illusory runs of prosperity have been the order of each day.

The "invisible hand" of the market has proven, again and again, to be a crooked one that mostly feeds the body it's attached to.

The great money-making machine of Wall St. has never produced a single widget the common person might take home and use to improve their small lot. It does not embarrass highwayscribery to admit he does not know what it is they do there.

Yet somehow Wall Street's unproductive white collars draw money upward until the bottom is emptied and the whole edifice tumbles down on innocents and rubes.

Yours truly included.

Finally, we honor Foot here, because he was also of a special breed prized by highwayscribery: The Politician Poet.

On top of doing the endless round of political luncheons, party meetings, factory walkabouts, backroom dealings, and parliamentary sessions, Foot wrote a number of books worthy of praise in "The London Times," for their "neat, economical, and muscular prose."

He wrote a two-volume biography of his own Labourite hero, Aneurin Bevan: 1897-1960, The Politics of Paradise: A Vindication of Byron, H. G.: The History of Mr Wells, and Uncollected Michael Foot: Essays Old and New 1953 -2003, among others.

And we must always honor men and women who make us wonder where they find the time to lead in two fields, when climbing the tall mountain in just one exhausts the rest of us.

Fare thee well, Mr. Foot, and may your politics, poetry and prose be missed somewhere.

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