The Clare Spark Blog

February 28, 2016

“The dangers of apathy”

From the Sam L Slick collection of South American posters

From the Sam L Slick collection of South American posters

I am reading an eye-opening book on US political history by two Cornell professors that is literally blowing my mind.

Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin’s Rude Republic: Americans and their politics in the 19th Century (Princeton UP, 2000) seriously contradicts what I had been taught in graduate school. According to my dissertation adviser, Alexander Saxton in his course on American mass media, American political culture drastically changed from an 18th C. “politics of deference” to a 19th C. “mass politics” (the latter implying either proto-fascism or communism?)

On the contrary, the Cornellians argue that 1. The Constitution was an aristocratic document that discouraged democratic participation; and 2. The politics of deference persisted more than had been documented until the Civil War direct involvement of the American populace in matters of life and death and preservation of the Union; and even after the tumultuous period following the Civil War, most Americans remained detached from politics (preferring respectability and separation from dirty, increasingly urbanized machine politics), a condition that they hint persists today, implying that it was a struggle against apathy to gain support for the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.

I have looked for reviews, but the tiny number I found distorted their arguments. None mentioned their opening salvo that the Constitution was “aristocratic,” discouraging political participation; and all suggested that mass political involvement was intense (perhaps focusing on the Civil War).

I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far it explains a lot; e.g. conservatives produced a Midwestern radio series “The Dangers of Apathy” that I used to play on Pacifica to make fun of the Right (I regret this now); Watters’ World on Fox’s The Factor displays the ignorance of young people regarding knowledge of US leaders and their issues; both political parties appeal to “family”: the social democratic Left tries to extend “the family” (the preoccupation of most Americans) so that it encompasses Big Government solutions to “income inequality,” while the conservative Right seeks to recover the patriarchal family to solve the problems of education and crime in minority neighborhoods; while all factions seek to unify Americans to defeat polarization in One Big [Familial] Union. (See

(update 3-2-2016: I have finished  the book and found some sentences  worth quoting, as they emphasize the revisionist character of their research “Political historians of the nineteenth century have augmented their tabulations of voter turnout with other evidence of popular political participation, especially in the party-directed campaigns that preceded presidential elections. What they have been less attentive to is the evidence of qualified participation and of outright rejection. They have, for the most part, heard the cheers but not the sneers, and have taken very little note of silence…Large numbers, we believe, embraced the institutions and rituals of self-rule hesitantly, limiting their political engagement to brief periods, distancing themselves from the wire pullers and office seekers who ran the parties to their own advantage, and resisting the intrustion of politics into the more sacred precincts of family, church, and community…Political engagement–increasingly partisan engagement–was for some a serious business, for others an amusement or temporary diversion, and for still others an intrusion. (p.270)”

In 2016, the tide seems to have turned.

Women's March on Duma, February Revolution 1917

Women’s March on Duma, February Revolution 1917

January 26, 2011

Obama and the rhetoric of the political “family”

Fragonard’s Happy Mother, 1753

[Here is a new blog that relies on this earlier one on the rhetoric of “family.” See

The President’s State of the Union speech, January 25, 2011, began with a declaration that we (the American people) are a “family”* and then went on to list the “investments” in a happy future that would be originated and subsidized by the federal government. Hegel once said that the family delivers the child to the state. I am not a Hegelian, but he got that right.

When I complained about the use of the F word to drastically and unforgivably describe the individual citizens of a democratic republic, I was immediately reminded by one Facebook friend that it was the Right that proclaimed “family values.” This blog will attempt to analyze the political speech that misdescribes citizens with diverse and opposed opinions about economics and culture as members of a potential “family,” for the F word is one of the most potent items in the arsenals of mind-managers, while “the Right” is by no means unified in their use of the word.

First, on “family values.” Liberals today should stop for a moment and contemplate the massive changes in our political culture since the movements of the 1960s and 70s began their assault on the traditional family, an institution that for many signified protection and solidarity, notwithstanding such divisive emotions as sibling rivalry and flawed parenting strategies or bad examples (i.e., clinging mothers, absent fathers, deadbeat dads, etc.). The middle class family was held to be “a haven in a heartless world” and a bulwark against the State as Christopher Lasch famously wrote in his study with that title.  The culture wars have been fought over the perceived decadence and/or dysfunction that “liberation” movements brought in their wake, and I have written about them here: primitivism, bohemianism, early adolescent sexuality and a frightening rise in teen age pregnancy (See . Add these rational fears to the propaganda churned out by social psychologists after World War 2, namely that fathers must stay at the helm of the family in order to avoid too strong an attachment between sons and mothers–an attachment that led straight to feminization and Marxist adventurism. (I wrote about it here:

I have not studied libertarians on their positioning regarding “family values,” but suspect that most would prefer that the state keep its nose out of the choices of individuals, whether these be marijuana use, abortion rights (Ayn Rand supported them, but limited abortions to the first trimester for the sake of the mother’s safety), or the freedom not to reproduce at all.

I have noticed with some outrage that the image of Gabrielle Giffords has been deployed by liberals, and it is here that I complete this blog. The moderate Democrat was the focus of public concern for many weeks, and we still do not know that she will fully surmount the bullet to her brain. But as a famously “caring” politician she fulfilled the happy mother archetype, eager for face to face contact with her constituency where a very bad boy assaulted her and killed six other innocents. Hence Democratic propaganda blaming excessively harsh political speech on the Republican Party and on conservative talk radio and television could be effective in raising Obama’s approval rating, especially after his speech calling on civility (by which he could only have meant the toning down of “right-wing” radio and television). The good father was protecting the good mother from resentments internal to the national “family.” In his call for a national healing, Obama benefitted from decades of “family” rhetoric and the faith in the possibility of  national unity, notwithstanding the glaringly opposed political philosophies that confront each other today as Keynesians and proponents of the laissez-faire economy (or limited government) slug it out in public space. Of course by healing and moderation, POTUS means yielding to statism as he defines it, for one cannot through “common ground” or “compromise” reconcile irreconcilable facts and strategies to achieve a “national consensus”.

As I wrote in my last blog (, the year 2011 will see a rise in public talk about the Union and the Civil War that was fought to vanquish slavery and enable the modernization process stalled by the Southern slaveholding politicians in the antebellum period. I predict a resurgence of the far Left and its stigmatizing America as a very bad, essentially evil entity whose sins overwhelm its positive achievements. They will press for a reconstructed, redistributionist “family” that repents and makes reparations to its millions of victims, using the failure of Reconstruction as a talking point. Given the positioning of the 60s-70s generation in the commanding heights of the education establishment and in the media, get ready for the Happy Mother who gathers all her children to her ever lactating breast once “social justice” is finally achieved. And the milk-fed “children” will never notice that they are in a state of strategic regression, enlisted men and women in the eternal war against Evil.

*Here are the President’s exact words:

“…It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation. (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. (Applause.)”

Blog at