Three Things I Don’t Understand About the Election

1) Why isn’t anyone describing it as historic? Granted, President Obama’s victory in 08 was more groundbreaking, but it’s as if the historic nature of this accomplishment is lost on the chattering class. President Obama’s election in 2008 made it more likely we’ll see a series of non-white male and female candidates from this point forward. His reelection makes that even more certain.

2) I understand why many on the right despise President Obama’s policies. Reasonable people can disagree about the optimal size of government, the strengths and limits of free markets, and how best to provide healthcare, strengthen the economy, and conduct foreign relations, but why are so many conservative critiques of Obama petty, personal, even pathetic?

Exhibits A and B from consecutive comments attached to an election article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Charlene Larson, who assumed Romney would win (in response to another commenter): You’re right, of course. Obama will go back to doing the only thing he’s a success at: creating a racial divide. He will try to undermine the Romney administration. He will violate the gentleman’s agreement that states no past president will speak ill of his successor. Because he’s no gentleman. He’s a bitter, delusional child. Michael Bukowski in response: I believe Charlene is rightly referring to the fact that not once in his Presidency has Obama ever acted like a grown man (see: leader). He does nothing but complain about what he “inherited.”

I’m not in the habit of accusing anyone of racism, let alone faceless names in a paper, but given the nature of Larson’s and Bukowski’s attacks, the onus is on them to prove they’re not racist. My conservative friends will accuse me of selective perception, correctly pointing out that some liberal ideologues routinely criticized “W” in ways that were also petty, personal, and at times pathetic. For example, making fun of the times he misspoke, jokingly labeling them “Bushisms”, the suggestion being he wasn’t nearly intelligent enough to govern. Certainly, some leftist ideologues demonstrated elitism and arrogance, but racism? A pox on anyone that hasn’t outgrown the grade school playground.

Exasperated with his incessant personal attacks on the President, I asked a close conservative friend whether his criticism was motivated in part by race. He said he’d vote for Walter Williams in a heartbeat. Nice return of serve, but still, the onus is on those whose attacks are especially personal to prove they’re not racist. I won’t hold my breath.

3) When will Republicans come to grips with changing demographics, embrace immigration reform, and seriously contend for nonwhite voters? An illuminating sentence from yesterday Wall Street Journal, “Romney thinks his path to victory is to win 61 percent of white voters as long as white voters comprise 74 percent of the vote—and the Obama camp agrees.” Add age into this mix. People between 18-44 tilted heavily for the President. As long as Republicans slight young Hispanic and African-American voters, sell your Republican stock.

Hope I Can Believe In

Please don’t slam the door. This is not a political message. I wouldn’t do that to you at this stage of things. That would be like throwing snow balls on top of you while buried under an avalanche (of incessant mailings and recorded phone messages).

You’d enjoy visiting either of my Pacific Lutheran University Writing 101 sections titled “The Art of Living” because each has developed a fair amount of trust and they’re pretty darn thoughtful when discussing challenging, consequential, open-ended questions like: Does one need a philosophy of life? Why is it so difficult to maintain a sense of gratitude for what we hold most near and dear? And what’s the relationship between wealth and happiness?

I like teaching writing which makes me an outlier. Most of my colleagues probably don’t because you have to read a lot of papers of uneven quality and there’s no formula for teaching someone to write. Also, it probably wouldn’t be much fun if you lacked self-confidence in your own writing.

I like it because learning to write well is transformative. I would have written “life changing”, but as a writing teacher I have to avoid cliches. Also, Writing 101 faculty get to choose their own themes and 18-19 year olds are at a fascinating stage of life—neither child nor adult, neither dependent nor independent. First years have to make a steady stream of consequential decisions mostly by themselves.

That realization inspired my current course, “The Art of Living”, which is based on a series of weighty questions upon which reasonable people disagree. The course consists of the following subtopics—Philosophies of Life, Gratitude, Education, Vocation and Money, Family and Friendship, Wellness, and Aging and Death.

During one class activity, I shared that I’m the King of Nicknames, which immediately led one student to request one. As is often the case after bragging, I was off my game and resorted to a weak formula, first initial, first syllable of last name. Understandably, KMitch wasn’t overly impressed, but as it turns out, there’s some WRIT 101—11:50a.m. greatness contained in that formula—EBai (pronounced EBay), KBum, EJack, and ALutt (pronounced A Lute, PLU students, for reasons I doubt I’ll ever understand, are referred to as Lutes)

KMitch, EBai, KBum, Ejack, and ALutt have a choice for paper four. They can agree or disagree with Krznaric’s paragraph to ponder highlighted in my last post or describe a personal, week-long experience with voluntary deprivation. From the syllabus:

Irvine advocates voluntary deprivation or periodically forgoing opportunities to experience pleasure because it has a dark side. In his view, we should sometimes live as if bad things have happened and embrace hardships like not having enough money for life’s essentials. That way we harden ourselves against misfortunes that might befall us in the future. That way we extend our comfort zone, reduce anxiety about future possible discomforts, and learn to appreciate what we already have. Absent self- control, we’re unlikely to attain our life goals. Irvine also suggests that forgoing pleasure can itself be pleasant. In preparation for writing this paper, practice voluntary deprivation for a week or longer. Repeatedly forgo some opportunity to experience pleasure (e.g., warm showers, three daily meals, wearing shoes, being connected to the internet). Next, reflect on your experience and explain what you did, why, and what you learned from it. Also explain whether and why you’re more or less convinced of Irvine’s recommendation that people periodically practice voluntary deprivation.

I didn’t know if this class would fly. I wondered if the students would get into the texts, William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life and Richard Krznaric’s The Wonderbox. And would they make time to think and then share openly and honestly with one another? Fortunately, on both accounts, most have, most of the time. I probably benefit from how few weighty questions are posed in standardized test-crazed secondary schools today. And by how few dinner conversations crack the “news, weather, and sports” surface. The students seemingly appreciate the opportunity to think aloud about substantive stuff and to learn what their peers are thinking.

When it comes time to communicating substantive ideas on paper their two greatest challenges are using specific nouns in place of vague ones (the favorite is “things” and variations of it, something, everything, anything) and writing more concisely. My goal is to help them grow vagueness and wordiness antennae.

It’s a privilege to work with young people who give me hope in the future.

Paragraph to Ponder

From Roman Krznaric in The Wonderbox:

The idea of passionate, romantic love that has emerged in the West over the past millennium is one of our most destructive cultural inheritances. This is because the main aspiration—the discovery of a soulmate—is virtually impossible to achieve in reality. We can spend years searching for that elusive person who will satisfy all our emotional needs and sexual desires, who will provide us with friendship and self-confidence, comfort and laughter, stimulate our minds and share our dreams. We imagine somebody out there in the amorous ether who is our missing other half, and who will make us feel complete if only we can fuse our being with theirs in the sublime union of romantic love. Our hopes are fed by an industry of Hollywood screen romances and an overload of pulp fiction peddling this mythology. The message is replicated by the worldwide army of consultants who advertise their ability to help you ‘find your perfect match’. In a survey of single Americans in their twenties, 94 percent agreed that ‘when you marry you want your spouse to be your soulmate, first and foremost.’ The unfortunate truth is that the myth of romantic love has gradually captured the varieties of love that existed in the past, absorbing them into a monolithic vision.