Notes from the muck… For those who don’t know me, I’m coeditor of Pandagon, which I write along with Jesse Taylor. I’ve spent the past Summer interning here at The Monthly, determined to to see if I like dead-tree media as much as its online variant. When Paul asked me to write something reflecting on my time here, I was stumped. No shocker, I’ve spent the last four days feeling that way. Politics, and blogging in particular, hasn’t seemed the most appealing use of my energy. Every time I sat down to fire off yet another chapter of “Why John O’Neill is a disgraceful liar”, I’ve had a voice running through my head saying “Screw it: I’ll resign from the blog, bid the Monthly farewell, put down my pen, turn off the news and go for a run on the beach. I can go to law school or do graduate work, I can enter academia or join the working world. I can spend more time with my girlfriend and wake up later. It’ll be great.”
That’s a new one for me. Usually, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 20-year old more politically involved than I am — I breathe this stuff. So feeling like this is a 180-degree pivot from my normal outlook on life. Worse, it’s not confined to my psyche. I’m hearing similar versions of it echoed throughout my network of young progressives.
Blame the SwiftVets. The tawdry, repulsive turns this election has taken. I started my blog to fight a war of ideas, but as the election has progressed, I’ve helplessly watched myself become just another body arrayed on our side of the dividing line, flinging myself forward to combat each smear, fact-check each lie, reframe each misdirection. And there’s the uncomfortable sensation that, were I to zoom out on this picture, I’d see thousands of frames with tiny partisans doing the same thing, an endless repetition of wars waged on ground neither side cares about but a few consultants have forced the election onto. And even though nobody wants that scarred patch of ground — who cares if Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve or a few days later? — we’re forced to fight over it if we hope to achieve our other goals.
So here I am, talking not about ideas and policies and the high-minded stuff supposedly supplying the political sphere’s component parts, but about a war fought — and ended — 15 years before my birth. Here I am defending a war hero whose real contribution was to help end the violent venture in which he earned his medals, and who’s now being tarred with charges of exaggeration (like the Gulf of Tonkin and Iraqi WMD’s?) and opportunism (like coming forth 35 years later to derail a campaign?) from bitter bottom-feeders who want to reelect an Administration that never learnt the mistakes of Johnson’s. And I know that if I recede because I’m tired of the messy fight, that’ll be one less voice shouting to empower the progressive forces in our electorate, and that small subtraction will make the conservative clamor that much louder. But still, diving deeper and deeper into the muck of this election has left me aching to hear someone, anyone, articulate the Gary Hart level of thinking that dragged me here in the first place. But even that hope is rife with cynicism; we all know where Gary ended up, and thus the lesson is underlined — you can never stop swinging.
You must, however, greedily grab the reminders of why you fight. One of the comforts keeping me going are the articles that cross my desk: pieces on energy innovation and teacher reform and media monopolies and securities scandals and the trade implications of international soccer, to name but a few recent favorites. The nature of the blog is to be caught in the moment, to unleash your most stunning broadsides in response to stories broken mere instants before. The nature of the magazine — particularly this magazine — is to transcend the moment, to enter the world of ideas and put the lie to those who prefer to cast the election as a battle over trivialities like old war stories and cheesesteak orders, to remind us it’s still a contest whose ultimate result will be policies and a presidency, and the ideas the coming Administration implements remain of the most urgent importance.
Next month?s cover story took on the likely shape of a second Bush term, soliciting contributions from people like Todd Gitlin, Grover Norquist, E. J Dionne, and some Kevin Drum guy, among others. This morning I reread it. It did its job, reminding me that this administration isn’t pretty and their actions are by no means trivial. Sometimes I need that refresher, the assurance that the dispiriting battles are fought in service of a more historic purpose. The truth is I’m not always proud of my involvement in the former, but being at the Monthly has kept me firmly aware of the importance of the latter.