John’s Lament

bagpiperI’m Scots, and I sometimes become emotional at the sound of bagpipes. One of the most emotional forms of pipe music is the “Lament”. There are a lot of Laments, and you probably know several. “Loch Lomond” and “Auld Lang Syne” are two of the most familiar. Laments are slow, sad tunes, and usually mourn a loss, call to mind old victories, and celebrate the hope of future triumphs. Laments frequently express the yearning of overseas Scots to return again to their homeland. The Scots, being warriors, have had much to mourn, much to recall, and much to celebrate about the future.

That’s the way I’m feeling about politics this year, and that’s why I’m renaming this my Lament. I’m extraordinarily proud of my adopted country, the Liberal nation, and I yearn to see it once again. Liberalism has had some great victories; chattel slavery is no more, women can vote, old people no longer beg on streetcorners thanks to Social Security, pure food and water are taken for granted, child labor is illegal, de jure segregation is barred, my daughter can go to law school (or any other school she likes), etc. The list is long; the causes celebrated; the heroes are in the pantheon.

Every one, every single one, of those victories was fiercely fought by entrenched power, and now entrenched power, through its surrogate, money, seems to be gaining in its effort to roll back those victories. Chattel slavery may be gone for good, but today’s economic slavery may be little better; with the too-high unemployment and foreclosure rates and union membership ever declining, a lot of people “owe their soul to the Company store” and who among them is so bold to challenge their bondage? We must privatize Social Security and reduce its coverage, some say, to pay for our never-ending wars and enrich the military-industrial complex. Pure food and water must be diluted because it is the result of an overreaching federal government. We must repeal health care security because if God meant for us to be well, he would not let us get sick. De facto segregation rules in much of the country. Good friends, a class war is being waged, and we are losing.

And why, why with such a joyous liberal victory just two years in the past, are we losing so badly? Are there so many people who can’t remember when or why the great recession started? Why the focus on the national debt now, when not a word was heard from the tea party or Republicans while our wars of aggression doubled it between 2001 and 2008? Has every single skilled propagandist been hired by the conservatives? Where, oh where, is the bully pulpit of the Presidency to preach, educate, explain, persuade, cajole and satirize, and when necessary, to thunder, to fulminate, to defy and to punish? Sadly, its silent, except to admonish liberals for timidly raising their voice.

No one has offered a satisfactory explanation of why the pulpit is silent, so I’ll propose an explanation based on what I know about lawyers. I’m a lawyer; so is President Obama. Though there are exceptions, lawyers are either litigators or transactional lawyers. Litigators try cases, advocate causes, challenge city councils, raise hell and call codswallop what it is. Transactional lawyers strategize, negotiate, do deals, find bipartisan solutions, lubricate the gears of commerce so that the economic engine can produce.

If that sounds like I’m exalting litigation and denigrating colleagues who do deals, I’m not. Transactional lawyers are vital to a nation’s prosperity. You simply can’t have prosperity unless someone helps people cooperate with one another for their mutual advantage. That’s what transactional lawyers do. In doing a business deal, though, one crucial assumption is made. It is assumed that both sides want a deal to be made. If one side wants a deal, and the other side doesn’t, no deal gets done. You can be the most skilled lawyer and negotiator, but you will never be successful if the other wins by not doing a deal.

That, I suggest, is what hobbles the President. His focus has been on the deal — or in his case, on doing what he believes will be in the best interests of the American people as a whole. He assumes that the conservatives ultimately want to accomplish that as well. The conservatives, however, want no deal. They figure that if they can avoid the blame for bad government, they regain power if they refuse to negotiate. And here is the key point. The President, never a litigator and without the instincts of a warrior, has so far not been able to make the absence of a deal politically costly for the forces of entrenched money. Until someone finds a way to punish Senator McConnell for making the defeat of Barack Obama more important than advancing the good of the nation, things will remain the same — and they could get worse.

But not forever. I do believe that the arc of history will eventually, though perhaps not in President Obama’s time, take back the ground that has been lost, and then gain new ground. Perhaps next year I can tell you how this will take place, but even now the emergence of a warrior seems essential. For now, I’m mildly comforted by recalling that Laments, while mourning losses, also foretell even better days to come. Though Scotland is no longer a sovereign nation, it’s people have a national anthem, a Lament, “Oh Flower of Scotland“, that mourns Scotland’s loss of sovereignty to the Sassenachs but celebrates a future victory:

Oh Flower of Scotland
when will we see
your like again,
that fought and died for
your wee bit hill and glen,
The hills are bare now
and autumn leaves
lie thick and still
o’er land that is lost now
which those so dearly held, Those days are past now,
and in the past now
they must remain.
But we can still rise now
and be the nation again
and stood against him,
proud Edward’s army,
and sent him homeward
to think again. that stood against him,
proud Edwards’s army,
and sent him homeward
to think again. that stood against him,
proud Edward’s army
and sent him homeward
to think again.

I yearn to be among those that stand against Proud Mitch’s army, and the armies of Proud Rush, of Proud Sarah and of Proud Glenn. For the sake of all, they must be sent homeward. We can still rise now and be the nation again that achieved greatness through generosity of spirit. Please rise as you are able and join me in the new year in a Lament, yet to be written, that stiffens the spine, celebrates our past and spurs on the liberal warriors among us.

And all the while wishing you joy and prosperity in the New Year.

John A. Blue

John Blue is an old lawyer who has lived in Pasadena, California, for many years and who occasionally writes something useful.

Published by the LA Progressive on January 29, 2011
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