Tuesday, October 26, 2010

After 22 years, a divorce

I grew up in a Republican family. My parents were Eisenhower Republicans. (It’s somewhat ironic that President Kennedy was assassinated on my parent’s 7th wedding anniversary.) Their parents were Coolidge Republicans. Some of my earliest memories involve politics: I watched Richard Nixon’s resignation speech live on television, I supported Dennis Kucinich’s recall (even though I was not old enough to vote and didn’t even live within Cleveland city limits) and I watched Ronald Reagan decisively beat Jimmy Carter during a debate in 1980 (apparently thanks to a stolen debate book, as I later learned). At that time, while I was more informed than most children of my age (I watched the news religiously), I parroted my parents’ views on just about everything.

But there were two seminal events in my adolescence, entirely unrelated, that formed my adult political consciousness and led to me casting my first vote (and nearly every one since) for Democratic candidates: I read James McGregor Burns’ two part biography of Franklin Roosevelt, which laid out how FDR fought for ordinary Americans – going back to when he ran for the New York State Senate in 1910 and the hot button issue was the size of apple barrels; I came out as a gay man.

I vividly recall in 1984, when Walter Mondale was slaughtered by Ronald Reagan, that my grandmother had a young boarder. J. was a genuine holy-roller (she even took me once to her Assembly of God congregation, where I witnessed the whole song & dance: “praise JEE-zus”, speaking in tongues, etc.). When J. announced her opposition to Democrats, she shouted that it was because “they’re for gay rights!” (How many LGBT young people encounter bigotry from those unthinking fools who never pause to consider who they may be proselytizing to?) Thanks to J., the division for me between the two parties was as clear as the fight to defend the United States against those who wanted to turn our country into JEE-zusland.

Where did we go wrong? As Nixon (arguably, our last economically liberal President) said, “Follow the money”. The recent Supreme Court ruling expanding corporate rights at the expense of people’s rights has only exacerbated an already dismally money driven political system. Did the ruling fire up Democrats to fight for the values that made them America’s majority party from the 1932 to 1980? On the contrary. In the wake of the ruling Party leadership caved to moneyed interests. America’s political scene has now devolved to the extent that there is very little difference between the two major parties: The Republican Party is controlled by corporations and the religious fundamentalists. The Democratic Party is controlled by corporations and labor unions.

This was not always the case. The Republican Party under Theodore Roosevelt fought not only for individuals, but for small businesses by writing and enforcing anti-monopoly laws. It was partly over that issue that T. R. left the Republicans in 1912 and ran as a Progressive. Many people doubted the viability of a Third Party candidate, but Roosevelt came in second place, ahead of the incumbent President, William Howard Taft. Following the election, there was no illusion that the Republican Party represented any constituency other than big business. But it was not until the Great Depression that Franklin Roosevelt aligned the Democratic Party firmly with the disenfranchised and enacted economic policies that arguably created the American middle-class. But in the 21st Century, those that Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt respectively called “malefactors of great wealth” and “money changers” now hold all too many cards.

The situation has devolved. As Gore Vidal once said “America has many elections, but no politics.”

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I formally announce that I am leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Green Party. My heart has been with the Greens for nearly a decade anyway. Once the party of Franklin Roosevelt - who signed Social Security into law, and Harry Truman - who advocated for single payer health care, the Democratic Party has lost its people-centered mojo. No wonder the Democratic laity is so dispirited. I am reminded once again of Truman’s line: Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time. (Ironically, one of the few Democrats to avoid this fate is Dennis Kucinich, who continues to win by large margins, and who I would support in a heartbeat if I lived in his district.)

It’s not just because Democrats have come under the mercy of their corporate masters, not just that they failed to enact the single payer health care system Truman wanted, not just that a Democratic President is continuing to wage the last Republican President’s war of choice, not just that our bass-akward tax system has not been reformed and brought in line with other advanced nations. Nor is it merely because the Democrats have been nearly as unenthusiastic about protecting the environment as Republicans - refusing to endorse the shared sacrifice that will be necessary if humanity is to make it to the 22nd Century in one piece.

As a gay man, I take very personally Barack Obama’s lackadaisical approach to the issues that affect people like me. President Obama has done everything possible to avoid moving effectively on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; he has not signed legislation outlawing employment discrimination against LGBT people; his justice department is not aggressively enforcing the Hate Crimes Legislation that he did very little to pass. Worst of all, he has had the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to allow his justice department to compare my marriage with bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. Given that two generations ago, his own parents would not have been allowed to marry in broad swaths of the United States, I can only ask: How dare he?

Mr. President, my love matters.

My decision doesn’t mean that I will never again vote for a Democrat. Where there are no Green Party candidates available, I may well hold my nose and vote for the Democratic candidate – even a moderate one. Hell, in the past, I’ve even voted for the occasional Republican – like William Weld when he ran against John Silber for Governor of Massachusetts. I always vote for the best person for the job. Sadly, Democratic candidates are finding themselves co-opted by corporations as Republicans have been since the 1920s, and they are rarely the best people for the job anymore.

There are those who would say: “But, Hank, doesn’t supporting the Green Party mean that in effect you’re really supporting the Republicans, because it will divert from Democratic votes?” I can only reply that I am no longer willing to support the “least-worst” option and ignore my conscience when there is another choice. I would also point out that many early Republicans faced that same dilemma when they left the Whig party. I would also state that this is not 2000 when the Democratic Party had an arguably Green candidate in Al Gore; we are not in Florida, and the “add one - subtract another” paradigm no longer applies. I am fully cognizant that the Green Party candidates I will be voting for have very little chance of being elected…this time. But one has to start somewhere. And sometimes, one just has to make a stand. For me, that time has come. In the end, I can only echo what Ronald Reagan said when he changed parties: “I didn’t abandon my party. It abandoned me.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CIM Orchestra at Severance: Mozart, Walton, and Wagner

Last night's CIM orchestra concert was held at Severance Hall - partly to accommodate larger than usual orchestral forces. It's always a pleasure to go to Severance.

Mozart's overture to The Magic Flute was tonally lovely, but blurriness and occasional discoordination in the string section marred the performance. Of course, we're close to the beginning of the school year, and there are some inexperienced members in the orchestra, but CIM's band has long been known for the excellence of its strings - outstripping a good many professional orchestras - so this was a disappointment.

I only know William Walton's music casually, being familiar with the Second Symphony, Hindemith Variations, Partita for Orchestra and Cello Concerto. So the Violin Concerto was new repertoire for me. A friend commented that it seemed like a battle between Romanticism and Modernism. I commented that both lost in this case. The soloist, Ai Nihira gave a commendable performance.

The post-intermission portion of the concert consisted of orchestral excerpts from Wagner's Ring cycle. Asher Fisch is said to be a Wagner specialist. His knowledge of the music may have accounted for the fact that he wisely reinstated several sections of music that are usually discarded when performing these "bleeding chunks". This was particularly the case with "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla" and "Forest Murmurs". It was in the former that the full dynamics of the CIM orchestra were at last unleashed. But in the latter there was some shaky intonation in the woodwinds. Siegfried's Funeral Music went at an unyielding, almost jaunty clip that drained the music of much of its majesty. But the Ride of the Valkries was thrilling - how could it be otherwise?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Support of National Service

 I was watching the news the other day, and there was a story about the pending expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. There has been considerable consternation inside the beltway as to whether they should be made permanent, allowed to expire for everyone, or allowed to expire for those making over $250,000 per year. This post is not intended to address that issue, but for the record, I am in favor of the last option.

What got my attention was a remark made by a typical outer-ring suburban soccer mom, who was whining that if the upper-income tax cuts expired her family wouldn’t be able to take their planned vacation in South America.

Well, boo hoo. Her complaint stuck with me all day, on many levels, including the fact that her family would be using a tax credit and spending it outside the United States. Then it occurred to me, neither this woman nor her family had probably ever experienced real poverty, had never known true struggle, and had been insulated for their entire lives.

I grew up in a solidly middle-class family – not poor, but far from rich. My parents were reasonably thrifty: drove used cars, and left the dining room unfurnished – all so they could live in an area with an excellent school system. I didn’t know material struggle until I finished high school and had to start earning my own way – and even then, jobs came easily to me in the boom years of the 1980s.

But in the summer of 1990, in the midst of the first Bush recession, I was unemployed. Living from check to check on unemployment, which I felt ashamed to accept, I was demoralized by my struggle to find work. The low point for me came in July: I was a week behind on my rent and was only able to stay in my apartment through the good graces of my landlord (he probably reasoned that it would cost him more to find a new tenant as to let me run a week behind on my rent); the refrigerator and cupboards were bare with the exceptions of an old box of penne pasta and a bottle of Thousand Island dressing. I was hungry, and as I ate the cooked pasta covered in dressing – slowly to make it last – I realized I was probably still better off than half the people on the planet. I had a warm bed to sleep in; I had electricity, books, television, and music. And I had another unemployment check coming the next day, which would go toward my rent and the cheapest food I could find.

Going back to the soccer mom: It’s probably too late to save the parents’ minds, I thought. But what about their children? And my thoughts returned to something I have contemplated for several years: National Youth Service.

It is my belief that every able bodied person between the ages of 18-25 should be required to perform one year of National Service. It could be in the Coast Guard or National Guard (standard military service for only one year would not be practical), or working in inner cities, helping the elderly, or getting back to nature in a revived Civilian Conservation Corps. For their work, young people would get minimal pay, food, a dormitory-style place to stay, and college credits. Not only could much needed work be done to better the country, but young people could better themselves and meet their peers from all walks of life. No mainstream American politician of either the left or right supports this idea, but I do.

National Service is a staple of young adulthood in many advanced countries. Several years ago, I met a young man from Germany who was performing his service by helping the elderly in Cleveland paint homes – later he went to New Orleans to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. How interesting that American generosity, such as after the Haitian earthquake or the mine disaster in Chile, is reported in our media – but people from other countries helping over here never makes the news.

America has dabbled in National Youth Service before, most recently with AmeriCorps – which started under President Clinton. But aside from the emergency programs during the Great Depression, it has never been wholeheartedly embraced by either the government or the populace. This may be, in part, due to fears of National Service devolving into a Draft. Or it merely may be that the Congress is unwilling to expend the money necessary – although that hasn’t stopped them from funding trillion dollar wars of choice. But the time has come to define citizenship as more than just paying taxes. Citizenship means that all must “ask what you can do for your country” and then act accordingly.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Hidden Horowitz

Horowitz at one of George Cukor's (with spectacles) Hollywood parties, c. 1950. Kenneth Leedom, Horowitz's lover at the time, is standing behind the pianist with his hand on Horowitz's shoulder.

Remaining persons are unidentified.