Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are the tea party folks giving “socialism” a good name?

A few weeks ago I heard a story on NPR about Americans’ changing attitudes towards socialism. I was surprised to hear that 36% of Americans and 53% of Democrats have a positive impression of socialism.

I thought I must have misheard, so went to the Gallup website and sure enough my ears had not deceived me. No surprise, the terms free enterprise and capitalism had much more positive ratings (86 % and 61%respectively).

However, I didn’t expect the favorable responses for socialism to be this high given the way the term has been demonized and given that no elected officials holding national office (except for Vermont’s Bernie Sanders) have embraced the term.

From the Gallup website:
Socialism had the lowest percentage positive rating and the highest negative rating of any term tested. Still, more than a third of Americans say they have a positive image of socialism.
Exactly how Americans define "socialism" or what exactly they think of when they hear the word is not known. The research simply measures Americans' reactions when a survey interviewer reads the word to them -- an exercise that helps shed light on connotations associated with this frequently used term.
There are significant differences in reactions to "socialism" across ideological and partisan groups:
A majority of 53% of Democrats have a positive image of socialism, compared to 17% of Republicans.

So what gives? I decided to check other polls to see if the Gallup poll was an outlier.

An April 2009 Rasmussen poll showed even higher favorable responses for socialism—a story I somehow missed.

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

The most amazing statistic:

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided.

Something is going on here. Perhaps when those who like President Obama hear all these ( ridiculous) charges that Obama is a socialist, instead of feeling less positive about Obama, they feel more positive about socialism?

Those who find the tea party crowd small-minded and mean-spirited might think if these guys think socialism is so awful, then maybe it’s not that bad after all.

What just about all polls have found is that Americans don’t pay much attention to complicated public policy debates. Most are stressed out, overworked, struggling to keep their heads above water. They don’t have much time (or inclination) to pay serious attention to politics.

But when folks hear ideas grouped together over and over again, unexamined associations can form. The Obama = socialism craziness of the far right might just be having the unintended consequence of making the word socialism a lot less scary!

Monday, February 15, 2010

One of the best things about retirement: Not having to go out on cold snowy days

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you hated something until you no longer have to do it.

That’s how I feel about trudging to work in ice and snow. And give the amount of snow in Philly this year, I am thanking my lucky stars I didn’t decide to work for one more year.

Granted in blizzard conditions, the College would be closed. The real problem came when the storm was over, the roads were partially cleared, school was open, but it was seriously hard to get to work.

Buried deep within me I must have a little bit of the Catholic school girl striving for perfect attendance. In 35 years of teaching I never took a sick day and missed only one day because of snow when, despite my husband’s Herculean efforts, we could not get our car out of the driveway and the R7 train was not running. If it was at all possible, I managed to get to my classes.

I wasn’t conscientious about every aspect of the job. Towards the end I stopped going to department meetings and sometimes didn’t return student papers as quickly as I should have, but I was always super conscientious about showing up. I really identified with what one of my colleagues wrote on Facebook last week:

Faculty who blew off class today when students trudged all the way to school simply suck.

My sentiments exactly.

So given my compulsion to get to work no matter what, it has been such a relief to no longer have to make that effort.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Judis’ article “The Quiet Revolution: Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine.”

John Judis’ article “The Quiet Revolution " is worth a read for progressives unhappy with President Obama.

I don’t understand how progressives who worked so hard to elect Obama are so quick to turn on him for not cleaning up Bush’s mess in a year’s time.

Yes, there are decisions that can be questioned, appointments that can be criticized, but I don’t see how this justifies the 180 degree turn on the part of some in the progressive community.

I too worry about Afghanistan—my biggest reservation about the Obama adminstration. I blame the health care mess largely on spineless Democrats and obstructionist Republicans—a truly dysfunctional Congress.

But there have been some real victories which been overlooked by many progressives. John Judis in his New Republic article makes a compelling case for this:

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for--but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.
There’s a lot of non-sexy detail in this article which is probably why it hasn’t lit up the blogosphere. When I’ve mentioned it to my friends, I’ve discovered that none had heard of it. And probably if I weren’t retired with the time to read a lot of policy stuff, I would have skipped it and gone on to read something more entertaining--like an article about Sarah Palin.

But this is a really important article about how government works and should have an audience beyond policy wonks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

More Thougths on New Year's Resolutions

From my friend Fran Waksler:

I was motivated by Karen’s New Year’s resolutions to consider my own, but I never did get around to an “official” list. I think that the idea of “to-do-list” resolutions is excellent and I at least have a mental idea of what such a list should be.

Two hours a day of writing would be a useful goal for me, though other stuff keeps getting in the way. I also like the idea of 20 minutes a day of dealing with junk—it’s been on my mind, but I’ve made only a little progress so far. It can be useful with to-do lists to give some wiggle-room. I have found that the most effective to-do lists include things that you want to do so Karen might add “two hour breakfasts” to her list. I also think it best to follow the list 5 days a week, not 7; that way one can miss a day or two and still keep to the list.

Taking stock with record-keeping, as Karen does, is a great idea. It can help to be more focused and also feel less like one is not getting anything done. So what did I do in January? I continued to send out materials to publishers and may have an actual nibble from one!

My first goal in retirement was to find publishers for a bunch of materials and while I haven’t been successful in the search, I’ve worked out a method of keeping things circulating. It turns out to be remarkably time-consuming. I’ve been doing lots of reading (but just in English), so that will take care of itself.

I alternate between the academic/quasi-academic and the lighter stuff, e.g., English mysteries that are charmingly described as “cosies.” (As an aside, I share a birthday with Wilkie Colllins—the day, not the year!--so try every year to being reading one of his novels on “our” birthday. This year it was Fallen Leaves.)

I have cleaned out one bureau drawer full of junk—made some interesting discoveries! Put some books out in front of the house for people to take—some have been taken, but I keep having to bring them in because of the weather and then get lazy about putting them back out. And I’ve started a bag of clothes to bring to Goodwill.

I do go to the gym pretty faithfully 3 times a week (in part to stay in shape for gardening) and, when weather allows, walk my dog a mile a day, but weather has not been allowing much lately. I’ve been doing lots of dog training and will be entering obedience trials with Greta. And I’ve done lots of knitting (see photo of Norman’s dog Duchess with the sweater I made for her). Spelling it out this way is helpful—it looks like a lot more than it feel like.

I think retirement takes some getting used to. Hardest for me is that I still never seem to have enough time. The other day I thought of something I’d love to do—can’t remember what—and heard myself saying, “Maybe I’ll have time when I retire.” Oops.



Friday, February 5, 2010

In praise of New Year’s resolutions: I didn’t keep them, but I’m glad I made them.

Maybe it’s a silly gimmick, but as a retiree I need help keeping track of my time. It’s easy to let the days slip by without doing much of anything. The Italians have a phrase for this-—dolce far niente, sweet doing nothing.

Yes, it is pleasant to just relax and hang out, but I really want to finish Feminism in Philly: The Glory Years within the next few years. So I have to make sure dolce far niente doesn’t take over my life.

Less urgent than the book project, but high on my list, is really learning Spanish. I resolved to spend at least 2 hours a day on my book and 30 minutes reading books/articles in Spanish.

So how did I do? In the month of January, I averaged 54 minutes a day on my book and 18 minutes a day on Spanish. Not great, but if I hadn’t been keeping track, I’m sure it would have been much worse. (The Spanish number is somewhat inflated as I included my Spanish group at which more English than Spanish is spoken.)

The biggest failure was exercise. I had resolved to swim or walk briskly for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week. This averages 12.8 minutes per day of aerobic exercise. I managed a pathetic 3.5 minutes a day.

For people in their 60’s, it’s “use it or lose it” time with our brains and our bodies. Supposedly learning something new (like a language) is a great anti-Alzheimer’s strategy. So I guess I have that covered with Spanish.

I put exercise on my list primarily for my husband. I get a whole lot of exercise in my daily life. I’m a fidgeter and a forgetful fidgeter who lives in a 3 story house, so I'm continually running up and down stairs. During the gardening season I get a lot of weight bearing exercise lugging 50 lb. bags of fertilizer.

But my husband is nowhere near as active on a daily basis. I want him alive and well for a long time, so I’m trying to get him to exercise. Several years ago we joined a health club with a good laps pool. We hardly ever used it and vowed when we were retired we would swim 3 times a week. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way and keeping track of this really brought it home to me. I’m determined that we’ll do better.

My final resolution was to spend at least 20 minutes a day on the kind of housework which is not done as part of my weekly routine: cleaning kitchen cabinets and junk-filled drawers, tackling a filthy basement and cluttered attic. I managed an average of 9.3 minutes a day—-better than the 3.5 minutes on aerobic exercise, but still pathetic.

All this record keeping may seem a little silly, but I’m kind of getting into competing against myself and reaching my goals in February.

Anybody have any progress reports on their New Year’s resolutions?