Sunday, August 01, 2010

Further Thoughts on Recent Subjects

The bit from Norman Mailer about John Kennedy's presidency having, for a brief time anyway, inspired Americans to dress better made a big impression on me. Are there any political leaders nowadays who actually cause multitudes of people to earnestly seek self-improvement in small ways by mimicking certain aspects, or perceived aspects, of the leader's behavior? There was obviously some hope that Obama was going to be this way, perhaps especially among blacks and other minority groups, but as yet I have not seen any such response. Plenty of people loved Reagan's attitudes towards taxes and Communism, and many set to reiterating these in a spirit of great faithfulness, but I have noticed many people actually aping the man himself wholly separate from his ideologies however. Kennedy on the other hand, along with the sartorial example set off a speedreading fad among a certain segment of the public when it became public that he possessed and frequently resorted to this skill, as well as convinced many young boys especially (such as Bill Clinton and my father) that being a student of history and showing respect at least towards important figures in the arts could be cool (and not be a hindrance in skirt-chasing either, if you must go there. Kennedy's famous book, or the book that was published in his name, Profiles in Courage, which seems to have been shrewdly modeled after the vigorous but still cultivated works of admired fellow patrician-politicians such as Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, was still selling well and had a pretty wide readership even into my childhood in the 70s. Of course armies of scholars and ideological enemies have been diligently at work over the last 30 years exposing Kennedy as a fraud--who doesn't know by now that he preferred Ian Fleming's james Bond books to those of the Nobel Laureates and legendary poets he was fond of entertaining at the White House? This is still largely beside the point, however. He exuded a certain degree of real urbanity and idealism, wherever or however he picked it up or packaged it, to which a great many ordinary people were attracted and aspired to emulate. I don't think this was such a bad thing. John Kerry (whom I voted for, but didn't particularly like) by many accounts is in his private life a genuinely cultivated man after a fashion, but politically he had no sense of how to turn this to any advantage with the public, and obviously in George Bush's America regarded it as something to be hidden from view at all cost. This very trait was the genius of most of the great political figures in American history however--making the people believe that fundamentally you really are one of them, in fact are just a somewhat more perfectly realized version of themselves.

One thing I left out in my account of my visit to Tennessee was how cheerful many people--and native-born Americans at that--were in working at what would appear to be very unpleasant and poorly-paying jobs in the service industry, the kind that in the Northeast, if they are not held by immigrants or the very young, are usually the provenance of, if not surly, decidedly unenthusiastic people indeed. I know I am working from a very small sample but the contrast was immediately large enough to make an impression. Obviously many of these workers, mostly women, but there were a few men, have children and all the usual expenses, they put forth a real conscientious effort both to do a good job and remain upbeat--I wish I could always say the same for myself--which contributes substantially to the quality of life, which by a cursory glance at the socio-economic statistics would appear to be rather low, in that area. I think they deserve a better deal, though maybe that will be their destruction, as the too easy life has (it is asserted) been the destruction of both the moral and intellectual vitality of modern Europe.

My understanding of both politics and economics is apparently so weak that even 'weak' as an adjective would give too strong an impression of it, but after some point doesn't the continued high unemployment rate, lack of job creation, etc, need to be addressed as a immediate political problem separate from a classical economics problem? The capitalists have done a very good job persuading important people as well as the general public that Franklin Roosevelt's policies exacerbated and extended rather than helped the recovery from the Great Depression, which would have come about sooner if the business cycles had been allowed to run their course. Why the general wage-earning public should trust the capitalists' interpretation of anything as far as it regards themselves, I don't know, but if the market determines that 20% or so real unemployment is inevitable for 5-10 years, or even more permanently, I certainly hope the government has some kind of plan for coping sensibly with a society living on these terms, which I don't think they do.

Another thing I don't get is the obsession right-wingers have with poor people not paying any, or even very little income tax. I suppose there is an argument that everybody with an income should have to pay something on principle, as a reminder of their having a stake in society, etc (which of course everyone does with regard to Social Security and so on). I would imagine however that classic economic analysis and number crunching would have determined that the sums acquired from taxing peole making $25,000 or so a year would not outweigh the increased burdens, services, etc that would result from the individuals' loss of that income...this last is just dashed off as I have to go. I will think it through more at another time.

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