I'm so sorry...

Sunday Night Journal — February 12, 2012

There But For Fortune

I watched, in snippets over a week or so, the above-named documentary about Phil Ochs. Once considered along with Dylan a major "protest singer," Ochs had a considerably lesser artistic gift, and stuck with left-wing activism long after Dylan had withdrawn from it. I never listened to him very much, because most of what I did hear of his music wasn't very appealing. Setting aside the intrinsic problem of polemics in art, I just didn't care much for his music as music. It may seem odd for someone who always liked Dylan's weird rasp to say he found Ochs's voice annoying, but there it is. I did come to like a couple of his songs very well when performed by others: Joan Baez's "There But For Fortune," one of Ochs's less topical and more lasting songs, and Ian and Sylvia's "Changes." I didn't hear much of him as he tried to make the transition from voice-and-guitar to a more expansive musical style in the late '60s, and in the '70s he vanished completely as far as I was concerned. I don't think I even heard of his 1976 suicide till long after it happened. He was thirty-six.

The documentary is very good, as far as the treatment of Ochs himself is concerned. He seems to have been fundamentally a good man, but one who lost his way completely as the energy of the '60s radical movement dissipated. Perhaps, in a very different way from more visible figures like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix (whose connection to politics as such was pretty well nonexistent, but who were very much of the same broad cultural phenomenon), he was a casualty of the times, in that once the excitement and foolish hopes of the period had ebbed he could find no meaning in his life. I don't mean to suggest that any such simple or single explanation explains his suicide--he had developed serious mental problems, for one thing--but it seems to have been a factor.

The film does engage in what I've come to expect of any treatment of the '60s: it hews to the standard Innocents Abroad line of most of those who participated in the whole political-cultural attempt at revolution. In this view, the movement begins in "idealism" which is never really defined except as opposition to war and racism, rides the enthusiasm of John Kennedy's noble presidency, and is crushed by the oppressive war-mongering capitalist imperialist sexist System. Thus we get Tom Hayden trotting out, yet again, the idea that Kennedy's assassination was the work of sinister forces opposed to "social change"; the '60s began "innocently"

believing in the redemption of the American dream through direct action...to take the New Frontier to a more progressive and radical conclusion.... The murder of Kennedy was the first warning that there was something fundamentally dangerous about embarking on social change.

That's ridiculous on several grounds, which really should be obvious, but is not to the diehards of the '60s. It's hard not to believe that someone like Hayden isn't being deliberately dishonest, but perhaps it's just very powerful self-deception.

It occurred to me recently that these old leftists of the '60s resemble those Southerners who continue to insist that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. They're so committed to their myth that they simply can't consider the possibility that it is wrong in any really important way--in the case of the Southerners, that their ancestors were deeply committed to the institution of slavery, in the case of the leftists that they were driven, whether knowingly or ignorantly, by variants of a utopian ideology which has proven its capacity for destruction and oppression many times over. (I know, slavery was not the immediate cause of the Civil War, but it was the primary reason for the division that was the immediate cause.)

The wisest words in the film come from the somewhat unlikely source of Ed Sanders, who thinks guilt about his marital problems and derelictions as a father weighed heavily on Ochs:

When you make mistakes--there are no time machines to rectify mistakes--so mistakes are lodged like harpoons and fishooks in an intelligent person's soul, and I think Phil couldn't get beyond those personal harpoons that made him feel in some ways worthless.

What he needed, obviously, was repentance and forgiveness. I pray he found them.


A Progressive and Radical Conclusion

What would Tom Hayden's "progressive and radical conclusion have looked like? Something like Cuba, perhaps? With its wonderful free health care? He should be comforted to find that the flame is very much alive in the White House. We can see part of it in the shocking move of the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to subsidize contraception, sterilization, and the abortifacent "morning after" pill. I think it would be superfluous for me to say much about this. The main line of argument by the administration is startling. It seems to go something like this: that one major goal of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act, or whatever the Orwellian name is) is to foster health, that contraception is good for women's health, that therefore they have a right to it, and that this right entails that someone else must provide it. Can this reasoning really be accepted as law in the United States of America?

 This may be the first open skirmish in what I'm afraid is going to be a long war between Church and State in this nation. When I was first seriously considering the possibility of becoming a Catholic, I decided I wanted to read a serious history of the Church. I went to a lot of trouble to obtain all three volumes of Msgr. Philip Hughes History of the Church. I didn't retain many details of the intricacies of events and their causes, but I came away with one single powerful impression: that conflict between Church and State had begun with Pontius Pilate and never really stopped for very long, even during the Middle Ages, and that in this conflict the Church had always stood for the primacy of the spiritual over the material. In this country the two have enjoyed, for the most part, a fairly stable and mutually respectful relationship for the past 100 years or so. But as our government has grown in power so it has grown in pride, and Caesar is always enraged when his claim to final authority over his subjects is disputed. I fear we are entering a new period of active conflict. 

It was probably inevitable that the implementation of Obamacare would take this turn. It was certainly predictable. To quote myself, writing while the law was still being debated:

Among many other problems with the idea is that it would increase the polarization of the country by locking our disagreements about abortion, euthanasia, etc. into a health care system that no one can escape, either as a patient or as a taxpayer.

(The whole post is here.) 

As I write this, the administration has offered what it describes as a compromise. It seems to be having the no doubt intended effect of dividing Catholics, with those who supported Obamacare feeling that they now have an escape route from their embarrassing situation, and those who say it is inadequate or meaningless in the position of seeming intransigent. If this is accurate, it is indeed meaningless. In any case, does anyone doubt that the Church's opponents will give up short of complete victory? Or that it will be birth control pills today, abortion tomorrow, since the "women's health advocates" of HHS consider abortion equally important to their cause?

(Personally I've always suspected that there may be a stronger link between the birth control pill and cancer, especially breast cancer, than has so far been recognized. It is at any rate a fact that the pill is carcinogenic. So women's health is hardly the only consideration from the HHS point of view.)

And Finally

I must register my offense that the secretary of Health and Human Services has the same name (apart from a variation in one letter) as one of our greatest composers. Click on the picture to hear something beautiful (image from Wikipedia).



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I'm copying this from the Ignatius Press blog:

the first paragraph of the February 10, 2012, New York Times editorial:

In response to a phony crisis over “religious liberty” engendered by the right, President Obama seems to have stood his ground on an essential principle — free access to birth control for any woman. That access, along with the ability to receive family planning and preventive health services, was at the foundation of health care reform.

Who knew that family planning and preventive health servies (love that) were at the foundation of health care reform?


Hope this will turn off the bold.


OK, I give up.


Looks like you fixed it ok.

I read that editorial the other day, or most of it. I think I was too sick to finish it. These are the people who are supposed to be among our wisest and smartest. I thought about posting it with a note along the lines of "This is an example of why Fox News succeeded."

The worst thing about social security systems, medicare and the like is that our taxes are used to fund abortions. Once the system is up and running, there is little the citizenry can do about it. I don't oppose safety nets etc, but this is definitely a down side.

Please tell me "Obamacare" is a nickname?

"Once the system is up and running, there is little the citizenry can do about it."

Exactly, and that of course is what they're counting on. I know this sort of thing is a non-issue in many countries with "democratic socialist"-type govts. I don't know if we can hold the line or not. Perhaps if we could, and could approach health care etc. in a different way, it might appear to the rest of the world as an alternative.

Wishful thinking, I fear.

Well I hope you can hold the line.

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