Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Golden Game

This entry is going to be about several topics, but before I get into them, I want to make an offer. I want to give a copy of my novel away free to everyone who reads this blog. You can read part of it free anyway at the web site below, but for a while, you can download the whole thing gratis.

Here’s how to get your copy if you want it.

Go to

In the column beside any of the available formats, click “Buy.” This will take you to a checkout screen.

In the “coupon” box, type KD26A. That cuts the price to zero.

Once it’s “bought,” you can download it in any or all of the formats provided. This will let you read it on the Kindle, a Sony e-reader, a Nook, an iPhone, or a computer screen. All for free!

The coupon is good through March 12, 2010. After that I’m going to get greedy and start charging again.

Ok, that done, let’s see what there is to talk about.

Well, to begin with, there’s the president’s interesting Congressional Republican town meeting yesterday. I have to say I’ve been less than thrilled with Mr. Obama in recent months, given some of his appointments and his less than stellar performance as a leader since he took office. He needed to do what he’s doing now, which is to channel, while toning down and mixing with political realism, the anger on the left. He needed to do that, but month after month he didn’t. That is to say, he did tone it down, but rather too much, so that the anger, and the hope, the reason he was elected in the first place, were lost somewhere along the way. But this recent change in his behavior has somewhat restored my faith in his ability to maybe pull it off. Maybe. If he does it perfectly, he may even be able to coopt some of the anger on the right, too, because in some respects that and the anger on the left are coming from the same place. Both the disgruntled and disappointed young liberals who voted him into office, and the Tea Party folks who mostly voted against him, are disgusted with the degree to which corporate influence corrupts the government. Up to now, Obama’s actions have had the simultaneous effect of disgusting his supporters and energizing the Tea Partiers, which is something he just can’t afford. By coming out more strongly against the corporate interests and at least sounding like he stands for the people, he can conceivably reverse that. The Tea Party folks mostly won’t agree with him enough to vote for him, or for Democrats generally, but they may quiet down and do their damage to the Republicans instead (whom they by and large consider traitors to the cause). Meanwhile, if he manages to mollify his supporters, they may actually vote this fall, and the Democrats in Congress badly need them to.

One question is whether he sincerely means any of it. I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question. But as long as the pressure can be kept up, it may not matter. There’s a pattern to what’s going on here. These difficult times are in many respects a lot like certain former difficult times, such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression. (You can find out more about this idea at this web site: At all those times (we can particularly consider the latter two in view of the fact that both occurred after the Constitution had been ratified, so that presidents existed), there were serious problems, and people were ready to vote for, work for, and even fight for (literally in the 1860s) dramatic changes in the way the government operates. But the president of the time (Lincoln, FDR), although nominally on the side of reform, was inclined to be more cautious and conservative than either the situation warranted or the people wanted.

Mr. Lincoln, although personally opposed to slavery and in practice opposed to its expansion, was unwilling to come out in favor of abolishing the institution. He wanted to focus on restoring the Union instead, and felt that if he got too pushy about slavery, the effort to restore the Union would suffer. He was particularly worried about losing the support of the Union states that permitted slavery. So he soft-pedaled the whole business. His supporters, especially the ones known as the “radical Republicans” (no, at that time that wasn’t an oxymoron – the party has changed a bit, unfortunately) were disgusted. Meanwhile, the British and the French, sensing a divide-and-rule opportunity, were toying with the idea of recognizing the Confederacy and pressuring the U.S. to accept the seceding states’ independence. Combine that with Union military failures in the early Civil War, and Lincoln’s presidency looked like a disaster. But under this pressure, he moved decisively. He passed the Emancipation Proclamation and took other actions that turned the war from a simple question of union or secession into a war over slavery itself. This removed any danger of foreign intervention in the war, because, however much Britain and France might have preferred to see a divided America to a united one, they were certainly not going to come in on the wrong side of a war over slavery. The new cause was controversial to be sure, but it helped solidify Lincoln’s political support in his own party and gave the troops and the nation a powerfully moving cause to fight for. Because of this, the nation was dramatically changed in a few short years. Today, Lincoln is a revered national hero, and most Americans are unaware of the fact that the abolitionist Wendell Phillips once called him, with considerable cause, “a huckster in politics, a first-rate second-rate man.”

Mr. Roosevelt, like Mr. Obama, consistently fell short of his own rhetoric in his actions. He spoke in his campaign of intending to govern for the “forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid,” and to cast the “money-changers” from the temple of government. In practice, though, particularly in his first term, he was the champion of the moneyed interests, if a bit more practical than they often were themselves, and not blind to the fact that some degree of reform was necessary. Yet his early reforms were paternalistic in nature and took the form of a partnership between government and business, with labor’s aspirations largely suppressed. Things were somewhat ameliorated as a result of Roosevelt’s initiatives, more his relief measures than the economic reforms of the First New Deal. But the Depression dragged on. The economy began to grow again, but not enough to return to the prior prosperity. Meanwhile, progressives expressed their dissatisfaction and began supporting radical measures like those of Huey Long or the Townsend plan, or third-party candidates such as Socialist Norman Thomas. There was a serious threat that such political insurgency could drain enough of Roosevelt’s support in the 1936 election to throw the race to his Republican opponent. (The GOP were smooth enough to run a moderate that year, so it wasn’t going to be an automatic walkover. We’ll see if our own Republicans have the same savvy in 2012.) Under this pressure, Roosevelt rolled to the left in his rhetoric, and passed the first measures of what became the Second New Deal, including Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, and other measures which created the ground rules of the historic prosperity of the postwar years. Today he, like Lincoln, is a hero to progressives, and with equal irony.

Also ironic is the fact that both these men provoked absolute, and absolutely unwarranted, fury on the right. As moderate and (to the progressives of their time) frankly inadequate as they were, their ideological opponents thought them dangerous radicals. Conservative capitalists and Republican ideologues regarded FDR as a socialist, which he most certainly wasn’t (any real socialist would guffaw at the suggestion) and as a traitor to his class, which he also wasn’t. As for Lincoln, his opponents in the south thought his election so dire and dangerous that they seceded from the country and provoked the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. We see the same irony in the way that the right regards Barack Obama: the radical leftist who wasn’t.

And this brings me around to the other subject, and also back to the universe of my novel. This irrational opposition and polarization in our politics, which has recurred in all eras of crisis such as the present, or the time of Roosevelt or of Lincoln, does not arise from anything sensible. It occurs to me that it might be something instinctive, archetypal, atavistic, a boiling in the blood to the confounding of the brain. Something the soul needs, though the mind should scorn it. Or perhaps we are all moving to the steps of a collective dance, something no one person fully wraps his brain around. Perhaps it’s as Karla said to the Star:

“I think there’s something more. I think that if we imagine utopia as an ending, we deceive ourselves. I think that it’s in our nature to strive, and when we have world peace and the end of hunger, when there is no more tyranny anywhere and the weak are protected from the strong, we’ll still be striving. But for what? I can’t imagine.”

Neither can I. But perhaps that's asking the wrong question. Perhaps it doesn't matter for what we strive. Perhaps the striving is the whole story, and the reason for it all, and the goals of our politics or our morality or our religion or anything else are just lures to keep the Golden Game in play. And so at times when passions burn hottest and the need for change is greatest, that is when the players of the Game become the most intense in their conflict. We may hope, I think, to avoid civil war this time around. But to avoid the kind of partisanship that Mr. Obama deplored in his talk with the opposition party yesterday is, at such a time as this, perhaps too much to hope for.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Congratulations with your book. It looks very interesting. If I ever finish this goddamn 600-page Haruki Murakami book, I'll take yours up!