Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'm Never Too Busy for Hasso Hering

I don't have time for this... but I can't resist.

In the Sunday DH (what is it about Sunday that produces some of the most obnoxious opinion work?), my good friend Hasso Hering has a commentary piece on politics.

Let me preface this post by saying that if this had written by someone with a different history (namely, one that wasn't so antidemocratic), I might have read it differently. However, given the context, it's just silly:

The trouble with politics is that it never quits.


But most citizens — at least those with a sense of proportion — have other things on their mind. These are the people with a memory, who remember that elections come around every two years, that this has been going on for more than two centuries and with any luck will continue for a good many years to come.

They also remember that with few exceptions, life in the country continues more or less as it has, except that in many cases things get a little worse as time goes on, regardless of who got elected the last time or the time before that.

How about that last little dig: "...things get a little worse as time goes on, regardless of who got elected the last time..."

I'd consider that evidence that Hering is a cranky old man. I've tried (and failed, sometimes) to stick to criticizing Hering's work on the editorial page and not him personally. However, that sentence just made me laugh: "Go away!" I heard him say. "Get off my lawn, you punk kids! Leave me alone! I want to go back to my idyllic childhood!"

Sorry, Hasso. Life doesn't work that way.

Don't get me wrong - I know that many, many people feel the same way as Hasso. Even I've felt that way at some points in my life - but in the end, I'm aware that such a feeling is some combination of nostalgia for a fondly-remembered past and a meme that won't die regarding the supposed goodness that was the 1950s/The Greatest Generation in Suburbia. In other words, a myth. (Case in point: The 1950s suburban utopia myth is racist; everyone is white & people of color don't exist. Not to mention patriarchal - have you ever watched "Leave it to Beaver?")

The other thing about this editorial is that it comes across, though not all that strongly for me, as Hering complaining about having to pay attention to politics more often than he wants. Of course, he paints it as "everyone" getting annoyed or just tuning out, but if there's one thing I've learned about Hering and his writing, it's that everything is ultimately about him, or that he writes "everyone" when he really means "me."

As I alluded to above, I think there's actually something to the complaint that 'politics' (and here he is really talking about campaigning; politics is always happening, even when it's not in the news) is too ever-present; that's been noted by lots and lots of folks, though they have the good sense to talk about the increasing length of campaigns and how that relates to the amounts of money being spent. Hering's level of analysis here is puddle-deep by comparison: remember, he just wants to be left alone.

Check out this sentence:

But having gone through an election, voters have earned the right to be left alone until the next one. Or so you would think.

Get that? It's the right of citizens to be left alone from the harassment of their elected officials. That's what he's implying right there.

What the fuck kind of model of society is that? I know - one that promotes consumerism and commercialism over genuine participation in the decisions that affect one's life. (Also, conveniently, one that allows cranky old men like Hering to sit on their lawn and complain constantly.) And he is a newspaper editor. It's like having the fox guard the henhouse, or an industry executive running an governmental oversight department...wait....the point is that Hering should not be in journalism if he thinks that less oversight and less democracy is a good thing. He should be writing press releases for the Heritage Foundation.

Finally, he ends this piece with a suggestion:

Maybe what the country needs is a change in the Constitution: Senate terms of eight instead of six years, House terms of four instead of two. That would give citizens a breather, at least on the national level.


For now we are stuck with the amendment and the schedule that requires elections whether anybody wants them or not. But not now. Wait till next year, at least.

Right. Because less democracy, and longer terms, is actually a solution to the problem Hering describes (again, no mention of how money or the two-party system affects campaigning). I swear, he must write half this stuff in his sleep. For most opinion writers, being able to get past the obvious and do a little analysis is a good thing, an advantage to being an opinion writer. I wonder why Hasso so rarely bothers?

Oh, and for the record, such a suggestion is both anti-democratic and would be totally ineffective. Rather, it would serve to entrench an already-elite class even more, and raise even more hurdles to citizen participation. Then again, we are talking about Hering here. I should have expected this.

One last thing: Hering refers to uses the term politics in this piece in a very broad and generic way. As I mentioned, he's really talking about campaigning, or at the least the sort of politics that happens when officials or elites are trying to convince the public of something. I would define politics in a much different way, but I'll leave that for another post.

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