Archive for the 'politics' Category

Writing for Guernica


Some Moment. Must Mark It.

Please indulge me here. If you haven’t taken a couple of minutes to watch this, I think you should.

I’m sure you’ve been following the convention, but it’s worth pausing to consider again exactly what happened around 6:45 pm eastern time Wednesday evening. Our parents could hardly have imagined it forty years ago. And our grandparents! Forget it!

In a big nutshell: It’s one day after the eighty-eighth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote. Illinois yields to New York during the Democratic party’s nomination roll call. The first serious woman presidential candidate (all due respect to Shirley Chisholm, Pat Schroeder, and Margaret Chase Smith), U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton, moves to halt the roll call and suspend the rules so that the party’s delegates can nominate Barack Hussein Obama by acclamation. Another awe-inspiring woman, the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, asks the convention hall to second Clinton’s motion. Far more than two thirds of the floor are in favor: the vote to nominate Obama by acclamation is, in fact, unanimous.

Barack Hussein Obama, the first black man to enter his name in nomination at a major party convention since Frederick Douglass did so 120 years ago, wins the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency a day before the forty-fifth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s delivery of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The anniversaries in and of themselves are, in one way, just well-placed bookmarks holding up a few moments on the convention hall floor. But they also provide a lens through which to view those incredible few moments. I mean, this is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about a country that can transform itself and inch closer and closer, in governance and representation and vision (if not yet in practice—we will get there), to its core founding value: all people are created equal. What a day… I have to say, it’s a fantastic one to be American.

Reporters and commentators are saying that many on the convention floor were just in tears. You’ll see quite a lot of emotion in the footage if you watch it from start to finish. I wish I’d been there.

NB: And if you haven’t listened to Joe Biden’s and Bill Clinton’s speeches (and John Kerry’s as well), do! All superb. And watch tonight for Representative John Lewis’ speech, not to mention Obama’s. Lewis is the last man alive of the ten who spoke at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

Conversation With Dustin Beall Smith

I recently interviewed my good friend Dustin Beall Smith about an essay of his — “Shade: A Letter From Gettysburg” — that appeared in the May 2007 issue of The Sun. I’m not up for buying the space upgrade necessary to offer direct access to the audio files of the interview, so I thought I’d post a link to the files on this neglected blog.

Most of the questions I asked Dusty were generated by students in my writing classes at NYU. You can download the interview here (note: there are two .mov files in the .zip file, as we got cut off). Well worth a listen even if you haven’t read the essay, the first few paragraphs of which can be read here. It’s a kick-ass essay.

Mistakes Were Made

There’s a kick to be had out of the phrasing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ mea culpa with regard to the White House’s involvement in Justice Department firing decisions. “I acknowledge that mistakes were made,” he said during a news conference yesterday.

Mistakes were made. How many English teachers have used Nixon’s acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the Watergate cover-up to teach their students the pitfalls of the passive voice? (It’s worth noting that former national security advisor and secretary of state Henry Kissinger used similar phrasing if not the passive voice in his 2002 acknowledgment that the administrations in which he served might have played some role in war crimes committed in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and South America in the 1960s and 1970s: No one can say that he served in an administration that did not make mistakes.)

You’d think Gonzales would know better than to use Nixon’s language in this setting. Or maybe you wouldn’t think that.

The passive voice in politics: something bad happened, but the perpetrators… next question!

A good time for some Life in Hell