Author Archive: Mark Tiedemann

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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Motherhood and Politics

April 13, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Motherhood and Politics

I don’t have a lot to say about this kerfluffle over the remarks of someone who, as it turns out, is not actually working for Obama regarding Ann Romney never having worked a day in her life.  This kind of hyperbole ought to be treated as it deserves—ignored.

But we live in an age when the least thing can become a huge political Thing, so ignoring idiocy is not an option.

I remember back in the 1990s a brief flap over Robert Reich.  I’m not certain but I believe it was Rush Limbaugh who started it by lampooning the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Labor for “never having had a real job in his life.”  Meaning that he had gone from graduation into politics with no intervening time served as, at a guess, a fast-food cook or carwasher or checker at a WalMart.  Whatever might qualify as “real” or as a “job” in this formulation.  In any event, it was an absurd criticism that overlooked what had been a long career in law and as a teacher before Clinton appointed him.  It’s intent was to discredit him, of course, which was the intent of the comments aimed at Mrs. Romney by asserting that she has no idea what a working mother has to go through.

A different formulation of the charge might carry more weight, but would garner less attention.   It is true being a mother has little to do with what we regard as “gainful employment” in this country: employees have laws which would prevent the kinds of hours worked (all of them, on call, every day including weekends and holidays) for the level of wages paid (none to speak of) mothers endure.

Hilary Rosen raised a storm over remarks aimed at making Mrs. Romney appear out of touch with working mothers.  A more pointed criticism might be that Mrs. Romney does not have any experience like that of many women who must enter employment in order to support themselves and their families, that a woman who can afford nannies (whether she actually made use of any is beside the point—the fact is she had that option, which most women do not) can’t know what working mothers must go through.

But that’s a nuanced critique and we aren’t used to that, apparently.  Soundbite, twitter tweets, that’s what people are used to, encapsulate your charge in a 144 characters or less, if we have to think about it more than thirty seconds, boredom takes over and the audience is lost.

Unfortunately, the chief victims then are truth and reality.

So the president gets dragged into it for damage control and the issue becomes a campaign issue.

Which might not be such a bad thing.  We could stand to have a renewed conversation about all this, what with so many related issues being on the table, given the last year of legislation aimed at “modifying” women’s services and rights.  Whether they intended it this way or not, the GOP has become saddled with the appearance of waging culture wars against women, the most recent act being Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s repeal of that state’s equal pay law.  Romney is the presumptive nominee for head of that party and one of the things he’s going to have to do if figure out where he stands on these matters and then try to convince the country that he and his party are not anti-woman.

Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but not by much.  This is where the culture wars have brought us—one part of society trying to tell the other part what it ought to be doing and apparently prepared to enact legislation to force the issue.  Ms. Rosen’s remarks, ill-aimed as they were, point up a major policy problem facing the GOP and the country as a whole, which is the matter of inequality.

That’s become a catch-all phrase these days, but that doesn’t mean it lacks importance.  The fact is that money and position pertain directly to questions of relevance in matters of representation.  Ann Romney becomes in this a symbol, which is an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of our politics, and it is legitimate to ask if she can speak to women’s concerns among those well below her level of available resource and degree of life experience.

The problem with all politics, left, right, or center, is that in general it’s all too general.  Which is why Ms. Rosen’s remarks, no matter how well-intentioned or even statistically based on economic disparities, fail to hit the mark.  She can’t know Ann Romney’s life experience and how it has equipped her to empathize with other women.  Just as Ann Romney, viewing life through the lens of party politics, may be unable to empathize with women the GOP has been trying very hard to pretend are irrelevant.

Like with Robert Reich’s critics, it all comes down to what you mean by “real” and “work.”  And that’s both personal and relative. Isn’t it?

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The Other Sides

March 23, 2012 | By | Reply More
The Other Sides

Let’s imagine the conflict known as the Civil War. It had been brewing since before the Constitution was ratified. The issues were marrow deep in American society, so much so that any attempt to address the issue of slavery was, in effect, a deal breaker for the new nation. The South made it abundantly clear that any action on the part of the North to write into the new guiding document the idea that black slaves were somehow deserving of the liberty being claimed for their white owners—and thereby signaling the end of slavery among the Thirteen Colonies—would be met with absolute refusal to play. Had the reformers, exemplified by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, tried to assert any kind of racial equality at the time, the United States would have been stillborn.

Instead, they put a time limit into the document—20 years—which forbade the topic from even being discussed in Congress until that later year, at which time, presumably, the issue would come to the floor for some kind of resolution. History shows that every such attempt was met with denunciations by southern members of Congress and often with threats of secession—which by then were illegal.

Make no mistake, as some revisionists might have you believe, secession was not an option and everyone who voted to ratify the Constitution knew it. Contrary to popular mythology, the original 13 states locked themselves together permanently.

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Coming GOP Meltdown

March 1, 2012 | By | 8 Replies More
Coming GOP Meltdown

I considered writing something about the recent primaries in Michigan and Arizona, in advance of Super Tuesday, but things have become so mind-numbingly bizarre I’m not sure I’d have anything relevant to say, at least not about this particular election cycle.  As a personal observation, I’d like to say that any of the Republican candidates […]

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Stepping Up Finally

February 4, 2012 | By | Reply More
Stepping Up Finally

I’ve been hesitant to write anything about the Susan G. Komen fiasco. Not for fear of invoking controversy, but because things started unraveling so fast it was difficult to know when it would play out. Here is a handy overview of the series of events. The position taken by the Komen charity group shifted, mutated, and reeled in the sudden upwelling of negative response, that on any given day whatever I might have said would be irrelevant the next morning.

One aspect, however, strikes me as significant. That response. It came swiftly and it came from all quarters and it came with cash. I cannot recall a similar response happening so swiftly and so decisively in this ongoing struggle over abortion rights. One of the most annoying things about being progressive and/or liberal is the tepidity with which we meet challenges. It would appear that all of us who espouse a progressive view, when it gets down to the nitty gritty of political position-taking and infighting, have feet not even of clay but of silly putty. It is actually heartening to see an abrupt and united response that is categorically decisive for once.

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A Last Picture Show

February 3, 2012 | By | Reply More
A Last Picture Show

The last motion picture theater of my youth is gone.

For several years, The Avalon, sitting on Kingshighway in St. Louis, across the street from a mortuary that has now become a church, has been shuttered and slowly decaying and finally has met its inevitable fate.

In a way, good. It has been an eyesore for some time, a constant reminder of neglect and a ruin of a bygone era.

Hyperbole? Indeed, yes, but true nonetheless. As you can tell by what remained, it was an elegant, simple building, with a lovely facade. A symbol of an age thoroughly gone—the single-screen, stand-alone movie theater.

The last film I saw there was back in 1986 or ’87—The Last Temptation of Christ. The theater had passed into the hands of a single owner who was a bit of an eccentric, and he tried everything to keep it going. He had a bit of a windfall with that film because of the timidity of every other movie theater in the city and county. They all refused to show Scorcese’s flawed depiction of Jesus’ final days. The Avalon announced it would screen it and it was no doubt the last time it had sell-out audiences for several days.

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Conservative Fantasy Role Playing

January 16, 2012 | By | 5 Replies More
Conservative Fantasy Role Playing

I wonder sometimes how a modern conservative maintains.

Romney has won the New Hampshire primary.  All the buzz now is how he’s going to have a much tougher fight in South Carolina, primarily because of the religious and social conservatives who will see him as “not conservative enough.”  There is a consortium of social conservatives meeting this week in Texas to discuss ways to stop him, to elevate someone more to their liking to the nomination.  And right there I have to wonder at what it means anymore to be a conservative.

I grew up, probably as many people my age did, thinking of conservatism as essentially penurious and a bit militaristic.  Stodgy, stuffy, proper.  But mainly pennypinching.  A tendency to not do something rather than go forward with something that might not be a sure thing.

I suppose some of the social aspect was there, too, but in politics that didn’t seem important.  I came of age with an idea of fiscal conservatism as the primary trait.

That doesn’t square with the recent past.  The current GOP—say since Ronny Reagan came to power—has been anything but fiscally conservative, although what they have spent money on has lent them an aura of responsible, hardnosed governance.   Mainly the military, but also subsidies for businesses.  But something has distorted them since 1981 and has turned them into bigger government spenders than the Democrats ever were.  (This is not open to dispute, at least not when broken down by administrations.  Republican presidents have overseen massive increases in the deficit as opposed to Democratic administrations that have as often overseen sizable decreases in the deficit, even to the point of balancing the federal budget.  You may interpret or spin this any way you like, but voting trends seem to support that the choices Republican presidents have made in this regard have been supported by Republican congressmen even after said presidents have left office.)

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Santorum In Defense of the Family

December 12, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More
Santorum In Defense of the Family

This is an unscientific response to a ridiculous claim.  Rick Santorum, who wishes to be the next Bishop In Charge of America (or whatever prelate his church might recognize) recently made the claim that Gay couples are going to destabilize the family in America in order to accommodate their lifestyle.

We’ve all been hearing this claim now for, oh, since gays stopped sitting by and letting cops beat them up on Saturday nights without fighting back.  Ever since Gay Pride.  Even on my own FaceBook page I had someone telling me I was blinded by the “Gay Agenda” and that the country was doomed—that because of the Gay Agenda little children were being taught how to use condoms in school and this—this—would bring us all to ruin.

So….okay.  How?

If we collectively allow homosexuals to marry each other, how does that do anything to American families that’s not already being done by a hundred other factors?

I’ll tell you what destablilizes families.  And I’m not genius here with a brilliant insight, this is just what anyone can see if they look around and think a little bit.

Families are destabilized over money. 

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In The Tradition of Great American UnAmericanisms

October 10, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More
In The Tradition of Great American UnAmericanisms

Herman Cain is the latest in a long line of political mouths calling a populist movement UnAmerican. He says Occupy Wall Street is an assault on capitalism and that capitalism and the free market system are what have made America what it is.

Can’t argue with that, but his intended meaning is other than reality.

Setting that aside for a moment, though, it’s his statement that protests in the street are UnAmerican that I take greatest issue with. I’ve been hearing that from more or less conservative people since I was old enough to be aware of political issues. During the Vietnam era, the antiwar movement gained the hatred of Middle America not because they were wrong but because they were unruly, in the street, loud, and confrontational. “You should work within the system,” people said, “that’s not the way to do it.”

Except it was clear that working within the system was not achieving results. The system is so constructed that those who understand where the controls are can make it respond regardless of general public sentiment. The system is often The Problem, and today we have another example.

But more fundamentally than that, it was a failure to recognize that people in the street is very much a part of the system. What do we think “freedom of assembly” is all about?

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9/12

September 12, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
9/12

I didn’t write anything for yesterday’s commemoration.  Many others, most far better suited to memorializing the day, said a great deal.  My paltry mutterings would add little to what is, really, a personal day for most of us.  Like all the big anniversary events, the “where were you when” aspect makes it personal and maybe that’s the most important part, I don’t know.

Instead it occurred to me to say something about the element of the disaster that puzzles most of us, even while most of us exhibit the very trait that disturbs us deeply in this context.  One of the most common questions asked at the time and still today is in the top 10 is: how could those men do that?

Meaning, of course, how could they abandon what we consider personal conscience and common humanity to perpetrate horrible destruction at the cost of their own lives.

The simple answer is also the most complex:  they were following a leader.

I’m going to string together what may seem unrelated observations now to make a larger point and I will try to corral it all together by the end to bring it to that point.

Firstly, with regards to the military, there are clear-cut lines of obligation set forth, the chief one being a soldier’s oath to defend the constitution.  There is a code of conduct consistent with that and we have seen many instances where an officer has elected to disobey orders he or she deems illegal or immoral.  There is a tradition of assuming that not only does a soldier have a right to act upon conscience, but that there is an institutional duty to back that right up.  The purpose of making the oath one to the constitution (rather than to, say, the president or even to congress) first is to take the personal loyalty issue out of the equation.

To underline this a bit more, a bit of history.  The German army prior to WWII was similarly obligated to the state.  German soldiers gave an oath to protect Germany and obey its laws.  Hitler changed that, making it an oath to him, personally, the Fuhrer.  (He left in place a rule explicitly obligating the German soldier to disobey illegal or immoral orders.)

Unfortunately, human nature is not so geared that people find it particularly easy to dedicate themselves to an abstract without there also being a person representing it.  (We see this often in small ways, especially politically, when someone who has been advocating what is on its own a good idea suddenly comes under a cloud of suspicion.  Not only do people remove their support of that person but the idea is tainted as well.  People have difficulty separating out the idea from the person.  The reverse is less common, that a bad idea taints a popular leader.)  Dedicating yourself to supporting the constitution sounds simple in a civics class, but in real life people tend to follow people.  (Consider the case of Ollie North, whose dedication to Reagan trumped his legal responsibility to uphold the constitution and its legally binding requirement that he obey congress.)

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