Monday, July 18, 2005

From the major papers: my near-namesake Joshua Clover and Joel Brouwer have written some reviews of poetry that doesn't suck in The New York Times Book Review, of all places. And in the Washington Post, there's a Terry Neal article about a book by Stephen Flynn, America the Vulnerable, whose description makes it sound like the most plausible and common-sensical argument on fighting terrorism that I've yet heard. Naturally the man has zero influence in the halls of power where they insist on fighting the kind of conventional war that's good for Halliburton and almost nobody else. I was also interested in the big Times Magazine article about George Lakoff; I haven't read his book, but the article's critique of him and how Democrats are fetishizing the notion of "framing" strikes me as plausible. Yes, Republicans are hijacking the language and we need to take it back; but the "ten words" Lakoff has come up with to counter the Republicans' ten words ("strong defense, free markets, lower taxes, smaller government, family values") seem very, very weak by comparison: "Stronger America, broad prosperity, better future, effective government and mutual responsibility." As the article writer says, the one is an argument, the other an assemblage of platitudes. I don't speak for the Democratic party, but I wonder how much of the problem might be that the ten or eleven words I might come up with (multinational leadership, economic justice [I might be willing to keep Lakoff's "mutual responsibility"], ecologically responsible growth, universal health care, personal freedom) are harder to sell in a time of war and paranoia. I'm not sure waiting around for the Republicans to shoot themselves in the foot (they've already blown a couple of toes off, it seems) is sufficient; we need our own "Contract with America" and a new generation of lawmakers to lead the charge for 2006. Gerrymandering has made it almost impossible to unseat incumbents: people blame Congress but excuse their own representative. Only by tying a local election to a narrative of national importance (and here maybe I'm vindicating Lakoff after all) do the Democrats have a chance at making serious gains in the midterm elections. It's time to take a page from Newt's playbook.

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