I just want to record an insight on politics from a discussion with our favorite American in Italy. (Call him Giacomo.) It is this:
Americans, taken by and large, are compassionate as long as they don’t have to talk or think about “compassion.”
“Compassion” is fuzzy-headed, ineffectual, improvident, and invites all kinds of trouble. It symbolizes vulnerability to lazy, dishonest, even cruel people who’d rather live off of others than contribute. People like that really make our blood boil. This is why some of us still resent “welfare” without realizing that it no longer exists.
This attitude also contributes to our vague sense that it’s always good to reduce taxes and spending. But few of us are ideologues about it. We’re willing to use government to help the poor, sick, and weak. It makes sense to do this, as long as it’s done right. Just don’t tell us it’s the compassionate thing to do.
Well, this is something new in a presidential campaign: a half-hour television program. Will we see more of these in the future? Is this going to become a minimum requirement to win the White House? It was made possible by Obama’s record-setting fundraising. Public financing of presidential campaigns (through government) is dead. Future campaigns will strike some balance between small donors sending $5 gifts with their web browsers, and major donors who get special access to the candidate’s inner circle.
That said, I appreciate the themes that the campaign chose to sound. Now it’s up to us to accept the challenge to develop democracy in the United States. It’s easier when the head of state is sympathetic.
Andrew Sullivan has a piece in the Atlantic, called Why I Blog, full of strongly held views and doctrine about what blogging should be. I’m not convinced of the necessity of letting it all hang out, as he imagines one must. But the piece has persuaded me to take up this project again, for whatever reason.
So has the fact that my mother has started blogging. No one can accuse her of being leery of the social Web. She preceded me onto Facebook as well.
I let this blog lapse while in Basel this summer, as I felt unprepared to write about my experiences. It seemed presumptuous to expect an audience, for one thing. Sullivan would say I have entirely the wrong attitude for the new media. Maybe so.