Fighting Words

I could barely stand listening to Sarah Palin last night.  After a week of high ideas, we get a week of snide mockery.  As an antidote, I just listened to one of the speeches I missed during the Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama’s, where she talks at length about her husband’s distinction between the world as it is and the world as it should be.  Too often we settle for the difference between the two, but as Barack said, and Michelle remembers, we shouldn’t.  We should fight to make the world the way it should be.

I like this kind of fighting.  It’s what is otherwise known as ethics, what we in philosophy teach as moral philosophy.  In my own work I take ethics to be a performative practice aimed at bringing about a better world.  What we take to be “better” isn’t based on moral foundations but on our real, lived aspirations; what we hope would be a more decent and humane world, a world we’d like to bring about and belong to. It’s always to easy to settle for and try to make the best of the world that is.  If everyone is out to make a buck, why shouldn’t I.  If people have low ideals, why not do the same.  To hold out for the world as it ought to be is to fight what is.  Let’s fight what be and work for what ought to be. This is the same impetus that Christine Korsgaard noted in Kant’s moral philosophy, the same that motivates Levinas, the same that seems to motivate Barack Obama.  It’s not about fighting the power — power is good when we can put it to good use — it’s about fighting the status quo.

Sarah Palin’s speech was also filled with fighting words; but her enemy wasn’t injustice but “their opponents.”  All her vitriol was aimed at belittling everything that happened at the Democratic Convention, including the insulting claim that elected officials do more to create change than community organizers do. There was precious little in her speech that explained what she thought would be a better world, what she was ready to have a servant’s heart for.  She didn’t mention the specifics, but note that they include teaching creationism, banning a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, and exploiting Alaska’s natural resources, even more than McCain has been willing to do.

As for her jab at community organizers, excuse me.  When was the last time that officials did anything without either (1) thinking about how it would play with the public or (2) acting because of public pressure?  I wouldn’t mind elected officials who acted independently for the public good.  I’d just like to see some.

The Republicans are coming on strong accusing the Democratic nominee’s camp of all the usual democratic sins (taxes, spending, big gov) never mind that none of this is part of the Dem’s platform.  I wish Obama and company would fight back stronger.  So far their language is that the Republicans are disparaging the American people.  No, they’re disparaging Obama. It’s time to come back at that.

Blacks v. Women

This is the best of times. We have an African American man running for president, with a real chance of winning, and we have a woman running for president, with a real chance herself. And we have more than one white man running with seriously progressive politics.

And this is the worst of times: we have to choose.

I’m saddened by the vitriol coming out in all corners — from the front pages of major newspapers to the listservs of feminist philosophical societies — pitting women against men, white women against black men, black men against white women. My kids are thrilled to pieces; they just wish, like many of us, that there was a black woman running for president.

Oh, we did have one of those — where’s Angela Davis when you need her? Angela Davis could give us the black creds of Obama, the feminist creds of Hilary, the progressive creds of Edwards and even Kucinich. But Angela Davis wouldn’t be a viable candidate for president now, for all these reasons.

This is the best of times and the worst of times. We have to choose. But let’s not choose on the basis of race, gender, or ideology, but on the basis of which of these progressive people seem to be right for the job — and the run for the job — right now.