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Monday, November 8, 2010

Put on your blue dress, mama. Or Clyde. Whoever.

This post is about what a previous post is not about.  It is a refutation of what another blogger claims that previous post is about.  This post says, in effect, that is not what I said.  I have repeated the thesis (read purpose) of this post three times.  Keep that in mind, while I make some preparatory comments to my review of what I did not say?

A problem with that post about which I am restating what I said was that I did not put the thesis, or statement of  purpose, in the first paragraph,  It would not matter in the world of blogging if I did, but, for the record, I put it in the third paragraph.  I made some introductory comments to establish the context of what I was about to say.  That is a mistake.  Particularly in blogs.  But I am going to make some preparatory comments here before I get to what I did not say.

To blog is to dally with stupidity.  Blogging has developed its own ritual for dalliance.  You post something in a blog.  Someone else says something in another blog or in a comment about your post, that you deign to correct or refute.  It is like being Bill Clinton.  You blog in the first place because you have an overactive verbal muscle.  (For the literalists, sometimes called illiterists, that is a metaphor.) So Bill Clinton was strolling through the outer office one day when this chubby young woman with a somewhat comely face flashed her  twat at him.  That got his attention.  Like a blogger answering an irrelevant comment, old Bill thought that the twat flasher was an interesting diversion, and perhaps he should explore the ramifications of equal opportunity of a president relating to this intern and see where it could lead.  It led to Bill getting orally exercised, although he did not think he was having sex with that woman, until Hillary explained to him that if you blasted that woman's blue dress with your DNA, you were having sex with her.  I may be wrong there.  It might have been Boots the cat or Buddy the Labrador Retriever who told him that.  But his encounter with the young woman in the blue dress changed the course of history by getting our minds off of Palestine and nuclear treaties and the like, and it raised the issue of whether sex breaks in the middle of the day right there in the office could trend us toward making more love than war.  Can orgasms change the world trend toward self-destruction?  A lot of people are engaged in the research to find out, but the blue dress episode did provide us with  a model for understanding the custom of the blog.   

Symbol of written discourse.
The field of journalism and attendant discourse is often represented by the symbol of a quill pen.  Blogging often is not discourse.  It is like besmirching an otherwise nice blue dress with all that  stuff with which one is full of oneself. 

Symbol of blogging non-discourse. 
So, I hereby declare what has become the ritual of the blog a blue dress moment.  

That ritual has a few basic rules to follow.  
  1. Never read a complete sentence in a blog.  Take a phrase or two out of the sentence and make that the premise of whatever you want to say for or against the post.  Coherence does not count in bloggery.  (Not to be confused with buggery, which means the same thing as bloggery when the image is invoked with dogs.)   In fact, coherence ruins this new tradition of discourse.  (Well, it's not new; it used to occur frequently in saloons after a certain level of inebriation is passed.)
  2. Never, ever, try to digest a whole paragraph.  That could mess with your mind and ruin your life.
  3. Reading an entire blog post that is not composed of disjointed phrases and unrelated sentences is a capital offense.  Never, never, never, pay attention to restrictive clauses, qualifying arguments, or anything else that could divert you from a reactive purpose.  And if some blogger presumes to announce his purpose with a thesis statement, forget it.  Blogging is not about coherent discourse.   
I am about done with introductory comments now and will address what I came to address, which is distinguished and esteemed Keloland colleague and NSU cohort by emeritus status Ken Blanchard's [that preceding identification could justifiably be called plagiarism] response post to what I did not say. 

Dr. Blanchard, who is a political scientist and comes from the same state as Bill Clinton, which is irrelevant but I throw it in for the convenience of bloggers and commenters, says my previous post was a bunch of excuses for why Democrats  lost last Tuesday's election.    

The third paragraph of said post announces its subject:

Since the debacle administered to Democrats on Tuesday, bloggers of the right stripe have been providing all sorts of denigrations of Democrats and particularly South Dakota Democrats for their absence in some contests and their showing in the ones in which they participated. 

The fourth paragraph announces specifically what will be discussed:

There are two main recriminations against the S.D. Democratic Party.  One is that it did not function well.  And the second is that it did not provide a full slate of candidates on which to vent the insult and abuse and about whom to make up defamations, which are a major component of bullying. 

You will notice, if you have  managed to read this far, that the post is not about why Democrats lost the election.  It is a response to the contention that the Democratic Party in South Dakota is in a weakened  state and that it was  remiss in its failure to field a candidate against John Thune.  I repeat:  it was not a post about losing the election.  No one I know of has suggested that we did not lose it, nor has anyone said that opposition to Obama and his party were not the reason we lost it.  My post was about the factors which are affecting the Democratic Party and the failure to find a candidate to run against Thune.
One of my main points of contention is that the people who possess the values and political beliefs that form the Democratic Party are leaving South Dakota, or are trying to. I said that there were socio-political reasons behind this  outmigration.    Dr. Blanchard says I did not spell out those factors.  I did not examine all the factors in detail, but I got quite specific in talking about the reasons for the outmigration.  When Dr. Blanchard doesn't read something, he often says the author forgot to mention whatever it was that Dr. Blanchard did not read.  That saves a lot of time if you want to refute something someone said somewhere.  I said that moving from one place to another out of dissatisfaction was a traditional motive for why our ancestors emigrated to America from the Old World and why frontiersman left eastern American communities for the western frontier.  I even said that people who migrated or were evacuated from Germany before and after World War II formed  America's leadership in the development of our technology.   Dr. Blanchard did not notice all this spelling out, or found it convenient to ignore.    At least one commenter noticed it, because she  got kind of exercised about it. 

I also remarked on the number of my friends and associates that have left South Dakota since 2004 and on the demographic shift I have noted in a list I maintain of active Democrats.   The Democratic Party in South Dakota is losing members because they die;  because they very, very frequently move to be with their children who have  moved out of state; because they want  to be in a gentler climate; and most significantly because they want to find jobs and life in a culture that is  more congenial and provides more outlets for cultural fulfillment.  And please note that the term culture here means not those artsy-craftsy frills in which we find occasional diversion, but to the organic system which sustains our physical and mental lives.  

Dr. Blanchard interprets the Democratic outmigration and failure to send up a candidate to face Thune as cowardice.  I contend that it is disgust and revulsion.  The same reaction I experience at having to examine one of those blue dress blogs.  (The cowards are those Democrats mentioned by Sam Hurst who hurry to re-register as Republicans after getting whumped around in an  election.)  My analogy in explaining this outmigration, both  mental physical, is that it is like kids in a school playground conceding that territory to the bullies, and taking up their lives in other more uplifting and productive venues.  People go to live their lives in places that afford them the opportunity.  South Dakota does not provide much opportunity for those who do not wish to adopt its conservative mindset. So they leave.  Or adjust their lives around that mindset as much as possible.  

The Great Outmigration.  As a humanities scholar, I have participated in reading series throughout the state which cover the history, the literature, and the culture of South Dakota.  That study has produced a wealth of evidence and materials that are engaging and compelling.  But when I first came to South Dakota, and you were to talk about its literary heritage, the major figure was Hamlin Garland, who is also claimed by Wisconsin and Iowa.    Since that time, scholarship has produced a much richer history of literary culture and inspired a substantial array of writers,* but Hamlin Garland remains a central focal point of South Dakota's cultural development.  That is  somewhat ironic.  Hamlin Garland did not like South Dakota.  He worked hard to get himself and his family out of it.   His writing contains the reasons for that dislike, but more importantly it provides an incisive chronicle for why he and other young people of talent and aspiration had to leave the state in the quest for satisfactory and productive lives.  

The outmigration of young people started with statehood.  The children of the first settlers started that migration, and it has been a characteristic of the state ever since.  In current times, it is referred to as the "brain drain."  The outmigration of the young and talented is a constant concern among state and community leaders.  They are caught in an economic and cultural catch-22.  They want to attract progressive businesses and other enterprises.  But progressive businesses and enterprises do not want to locate where the talent pool is so small or lacking in actual talent.  Instead, they locate in larger, urban communities and let the talent pool come to them.  

Here are the hard facts:  we lose the first wave of talent at high school graduation.  Those students with the highest ACT scores and high school achievement records leave the state to go to colleges that have better reputations than the South Dakota institutions.  Because of economic factors, South Dakota has seen an increase in the number of students who stay in state to continue their educations.  But in the Regents' report for 2009 of the high school students who sought post-secondary education, 46 percent stayed in South Dakota.   However, those who leave the state after high school hardly ever come back.  This year's enrollment figures for state institutions are up dramatically, which probably reflects how the recession has closed off some options to go to the more reputable institutions.

The second wave of outmigration comes at college graduation.  Students leave to find decent jobs.  A number of times while I was at NSU I was involved in task forces and study groups to examine the matter of the brain drain, the reason that talent left the state.  Jobs were, of course, the biggest factor.  But we did some surveys of students, and we were told repeatedly that a good job was a factor but was not the only goal.  A significant majority doubted if it was possible for them to build happy and fulfilled lives in South Dakota.  They could not reconcile the realities of the state culture with  their ambitions.  For the most part, they could not imagine how they could live in communities where the town cafe culture set the nature of community relationships, where bigoted intolerance and false and malicious gossip are big factors in community life that drive people off and make the communities dysfunctional.  These criticisms of the culture were not something anyone wanted to hear, including the professors who did the studies.  But it should have come as  no surprise.  We had all sorts of suggestions of what could be done to motivate graduates to stay in South Dakota, but none were even  remotely practical.  A key is to attract businesses that operate on intellectual talent, but such businesses find the state unattractive for the same reason the graduates do.

For over a hundred years, major American writers have explored the migration away from rural and small town America, often referred to as "the flight from the village."  The motives are consistent and persistent.  When Hamlin Garland returned to visit his parents in South Dakota, he was depressed as he saw so many people who  came to the frontier with hopes and expectations in the end submit to an environment of desolation, squalor, resentment, despair, and querulousness.   He was moved to buy and refurbish a house for his parents in Wisconsin near old friends and relatives.  His experience is retold hundreds of times in books, both fiction and nonfiction, about rural and small town America.  

A powerful motive for leaving for bigger and brighter climes in those many books is exploited with some dismaying success in  South Dakota politics.  When politicians go to Washington, D.C., and successfully form relationships with the people with whom they have to do business there, they are accused of abandoning and betraying those good, old South Dakota values.  This contention was played to the hilt in the campaigns against Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin.  It is a successful political ploy, but it also reflects an attitude and a value that is toxic, and when a majority of people assent to it and adopt it as the basis for a political decision, it defines the  social norms and climate of the state.  People of good will and good purpose cannot operate in that climate.

Dr. Blanchard says, "There is a tragic flaw in the South Dakota Democrat. The best of that species tend to look beyond our borders for greater things."  First, it is impossible to understand when looking for greater things became a tragic flaw (which is a literary term for that one flaw in a heroic character that sets up his demise).  But the reality is that they look for those greater things beyond our borders because that is where they are.  As I have discussed, moving to where one finds better prospects for life is a powerful American tradition of long standing that has built the nation. 

 There is a set of values and a socio-political climate that are factors in the decline of the Democratic Party.  People who are attracted to and in agreement with Democratic principles are leaving the state, and the people coming into the state are older white people who come here because of its staunch conservatism.  I cannot link that fact at the moment because it came from a poll and a census study presented in an oral pre-campaign report early this year.  The demographic shift is moving away from Democrats.  So, the state has taken a giant step back into one-party rule.  That kind of rule is not healthy for the state, but that is for the people left behind to contend with as best they can.  Those who remain and reject the defamatory and hostile conservative environment are coming to realize that party politics is an utter waste of time.  Partisan politics is irrelevant to defining and dealing with any of the problems that Democrats wish to solve. 

Conservatives have adopted the ideas expressed in Maoist slogans as their premise of operation.  A big issue in South Dakota is the absolute freedom to own firearms, and some people talk menacingly about Second Amendment solutions, endorsing the idea that political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.  And the current brand of conservatism endorses Mao's statement that "Liberalism is extremely harmful ... It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension."

South Dakota may well be the laboratory that shows how the hostile, increasingly violent struggle between the left and right wings works itself out. Or destroys the nation.

 Character assassination as political doctrine.  I have reported numerous times that some people who were recommended as very strong candidates to run against John Thune declined out of consideration for their families and others close to them.  While ad hominem politics has become the rule in America and campaigns have become a contest of defamations and abuse, the Thune campaign against Tom Daschle hit a low that makes Orwell's fictional accounts of character assassination look like a bunch of nuns rolling bowling balls.  Thune hired bloggers to echo the tactics that were driving his campaign.  His supporters took out full-page newspaper ads portraying Daschle as an enemy of America long with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  They pounded on the message that Daschle betrayed South Dakota through his accession to Senate leadership, his ownership of a nice house, and his work to look for consensus across the political spectrum.  In the closing weeks, his ads took after Daschle's family by stating that he abandoned his first wife for a beauty queen.  That campaign received a considerable amount of discussion earlier this year in Politico's Arena

I am among those who find such a campaign a true revelation of the character and motives of those who engage in it.   I am among those who believe that there is no way that a character of such malicious, devious, destructive and dishonest nature can represent people who strive for good will and good purpose.  In such an instance, character alone is enough to disqualify Thune from acting in behalf of the decent, but his Congressional record is one of feckless bumbling and recitation of tiresome  party cant.   

Noem's campaign was not as intensively offensive and destructive, but like Thune she aimed libel against Herseth-Sandlin through her defamatory sights.  Some people claim negative campaigning on both sides, but Noem constantly made stuff up.  Herseth-Sandlin responded by pointing out when Noem made stuff up, and the one aggressive point she made was Noem's driving record.  Noem's arrests, neglected court appearances, and arrest warrants paint a detailed picture of attitude and character. What is documented in the public record is not the same as making up contentions and implicating family members in nefarious schemes.  

Noem is in the same class of person as Thune.  Their kind of campaigning is something that the GOP crows about with pride and glee.  But it is the voters who bought into these campaigns and to whom the credit goes for making the state what it is, and what so many people want simply to get away from.

Words can be used in rhetoric to make arguments or used as weapons.  Words are capable of destroying the essential elements of trust and respect that make communication and community possible.  And the old analogy goes that words are like toothpaste, once they are  out, you can't get them back into the tube.  We live in a world built and destroyed by words.  They can leave behind structures of life or the desolation of dead respect and the rotting corpses of trust. The landscape is bleak and the stench is overpowering.

I am a liberal.  I  believe  "in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such  philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)."{That's a dictionary definition copied from Merriam Webster.}  Liberals also deal with the facts as they are, not as they are distorted, falsified, and denied.  That essential goodness of the human race is corrupted through avarice, primal hatred, and the mindless acceptance of the dog pack as the model for social and political organization.  

The principles around which the contemporary Democratic Party is organized are those common to most cultures and religions,  but articulated in the documents and the evolution of American history.  We acknowledge the rights to freedom and equal justice and essential equality.  Equality does not mean people are the same or possess the same talents, but it means that no  person is considered any more or any less valuable than any other person.  Most bascially we think that it is an obligation, as stated in the New Law among many other cultural documents, that we must attend to providing shelter for the homeless,  food for the hungry, healing for the sick and wounded, and opportunities for the poor to better their condition.  Liberals do not believe in programs and philosophies which serve only the rich and are destined to create more poor. They believe that the avaricious and predatory need to be restrained, that people should have equal opportunity to food, shelter, and health care, and justice. That means they need equality and freedom in the market place.   Only government can accomplish that end.  The facts are that in this country one percent of the people own a quarter of its wealth, the middle class is being systematically relegated to the class of the poor, and 44 million Americans--one in seven--lives in poverty.  Feudalism has returned to America.

This election was not a matter of changing who represents the people.  It was about rejecting the basic values of freedom, equality, and humane treatment of all people, and restraining the forces of economic predation. Capitalism does not have to be predatory.  This not not an election about choosing the best means to realize the American premise of life.  It was about rejecting the essential motives of that premise.  

The precepts of Christ, a political philosopher as much as a prophet,  resonate throughout American democracy and inform the reason people move from one place to another: "If the house [you enter] is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or town."  And burn that ugly blue dress.

People are going through a post-election ritual of making nice.  Democrats lost.  People are speaking of reconciliation.  The GOP thinks reconciliation means submission.  They want to dictate to the Democrats who to elect as their House leader.  Reconciliation of any meaningful kind has already been rejected.  American politics has become, like blogging, a dallying with avarice.   It has constructed a house of gross dysfunction, a vessel for greed and oppression.  

It is time to shake the dust off the feet and get moving. And leave that blue dress behind. 

*For those who  give a shit,  the forthcoming Volume II of the Dictionary of Midwestern Literature will have a comprehensive but concise outline of South Dakota's literary history up through the contemporary time.


larry kurtz said...

You rock!

Thad Wasson said...

Read the story about life on the reservation printed in the Argus-Leader. It describes a culture in chaos and children left to Grandma and parents jumping from bed to bed. How did this happen? One answer is the federal government replacing the father with social programs and handouts designed to replace stolen land.

Indian country votes for Democrats 80% of the time. Caring, concerned, social justice loving Democrats. Look at the result.

David Newquist said...

I am copying Thad Wasson's comment to the previous post, where it is more appropriate.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States