My State of the Culture Address

In days of yore when the  Republican party held the White House and sometimes one or both houses of Congress besides, displays of protest against the POTUS, particularly when made overseas or, worse, to his face, worst of all in the midst of the pomp of an address to Congress, were viewed as a kind of treason. A unified voice was necessary; dissent was for traitors; my president right or wrong.

But in the last, oh, 12 months or so, their position has shifted dramatically.  When Obama addresses congress the R caucus smirks and rolls their eyes. During his address on health care reform they waved their own papers in the air and chanted insults. The notorious Joe Wilson wailed “you lie!” when he took issue with the president’s (and I believe the congressional budget office’s) numbers. He should have been escorted outside, aggressively, by congressional security. Instead, he was made into a hero by the like-mindedly seething.

I won’t address the issues here, nor ignore the fact that the SOTU’s, and all similarly formal intra-government speeches, are full of kabuki-like displays of respect, awe and disapproval.

Yet, the contempt shown for this president – not just by typical wing-nut foamers, but also by supposedly reputable elected leaders – has sunk to scarifying lows. The persistent muttering about his place of birth, despite endless evidence to the contrary; the ongoing assertions that he is secretly a Muslim, the persistent use of race-baiting code-words. . . and so much of it from the actual halls of Congress, and their paid  helpmates on K street and beyond. . . edges ever-closer to terrifying.

In a nostalgic mood I sifted through my Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tunes this morning, and finally bit the bullet and downloaded the “Deja Vu Live” album, which is basically a live version of Young’s “Living With War” album. Some nice moments in there, even if it’s a bit out of date and wanky at times. But CSNY really only matter to the extent that they’ve got Y on their side; and it’s refreshing to hear those three ego-driven quasi-revolutionaries actually sound like they mean it, for once. I go back and forth on these guys, wildly at times, but some of their good stuff, particularly with Neil onboard, was, in fact, really good. And his guitar playing, particularly on stage, lights those coots up like an electric current.

I dig the audacity of “Let’s Impeach the President,” which is quite the cheery singalong, and definitely not to be recited/performed/emulated by anyone in an official chamber during a ceremonial presentation. Barring, of course, official and well-reasoned (and not intern-diddling-inspired) proceedings. “Thanks to the First Amendment!” Neil declares afterwards. And while you could argue that mid-State-of-the-Union snarling and snapping and insulting by opposing lawmakers might in fact be protected speech, I think it’s important to recall that there are times and places to consider, and my understanding, even when I don’t like the guy at the podium, is that in certain official circumstances, you must show your respect for his/her office, and the vital importance it plays in protecting the Constitution. Including the part that allows you to talk shit about him.

Neil Young and the boys talk plenty of shit on their album, but mostly it’s a call to support the troops and take their lives, and the nation’s priorities, in some serious, logical and not entirely cowboy-like way. Fiery dissent is for rockers. And there’s a hell of a good reason why rockers don’t set policy (and why Rep. John Hall, once the leader of Orleans) isn’t a rocker anymore. Here’s hoping he writes better policy than pop tunes.

And sometimes it takes a Canadian to remember what’s great about America.