Jeff Chang’s Meditation on Post-Election Culture Shifts

AUTHOR AND scholar Jeff Chang is the subject of a Q&A in Colorlines that parses the election. He looks the midterm as a harbinger of what’s to come. Culture, he suggests, “always moves before politics’ He cites Jackie Robinson’s Major League integration in the same breath as Ellen Degeneres’ coming-out preceding “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Cultural Change, he says “is often the dress-rehearsal for political change. Or put in another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.

The disconnect, Chang explains, “is that progressives —have not yet figured culture into their theory of change. Unlike the right, they have no cultural strategy.”

In 2007 and 2008, Obama was the microphone, but he was not the song. He was the page, not the text. He called himself “an imperfect vessel for your hopes and dreams.” And it’s clear that he still does not grasp the significance of the new cultural majority that elected him. The fact is that neither do we. The new cultural majority has not disappeared or shifted to the right. They stayed home this election. Obama did not reach them. We did not reach them.

One thing progressives need to do is to understand the importance of expressing our hopes and dreams in narratives. Progressives misunderstand culture. The right is clear about it—Beck, Brietbart, and O’Reilly were long in the creation; they are the products of a four-decade long conservative movement building initiative. We need to build up an infrastructure that includes cultural strategy. We focus on facts and figures, but stories are what move the country. Culture is where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated, and emotions are attached to concrete change. It is where the national imagination gets moved. So we need cultural strategy.

We also need to take the long view. Electoral politics is episodic, short-term, and transactional. Movement-building must be constant, long-term, and transformative. It is not a cyclical task. It is work that reaches toward the horizon.

The full interview here:


The People Have Spoken

RICHARD AVEDON’S 1976 portrait of Edmund Brown, Jr.
Rough day yesterday for the Dems overall, but here in California the new governor is the old governor. Jerry Brown has made history as both the youngest, and now oldest, person to win the seat of California’s Governor. A.P. called it early via exit polls. Brown made an exuberant victory speech last night in Oakland, Calif., nearly an hour before his opponent, Meg Whitman conceded.

The Rules of Engagement: Journalism Style

THIS IS one I’ll be discussing in the classroom. N.P.R.’s All Things Considered broadcast a very strong piece on Friday about wartime coverage and reporters’ privilege, prompted of course by the Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone profile which served to unseat Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan. What is on and off the record when it comes to access? In a moment when the debate over who is protected by shield laws for protecting sources — bloggers vs. staff writers and stringers– this has been a turned-up debate as “the rules” of journalism are being tested.

Here’s a taste:


The “Rolling Stone” article that wound up toppling General Stanley McChrystal’s military career has sparked a roiling debate in journalism circles about access and what exactly constitutes on and off the record exchanges.

The “Rolling Stone” reporter Michael Hastings threw gasoline on the fire when he accused other war reporters of long ignoring the general’s rather dim view of the Obama security team, and instead lavishing him with generally positive coverage.

Some high-profile reporters took exception, including The New York Times columnist David Brooke, a frequent guest on this program and Lara Logan of CBS.

Ms. LARA LOGAN (Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, CBS News): The question is really is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious that they deserved to – I mean to end a career like McChrystal’s? When Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.

NORRIS: Logan and others say Hastings violated wartime journalist code by focusing on the McChrystal team’s salty repartee, instead of the steely challenges they face.

The piece — the rest here — goes on to question what part of this is important for the public to know — just the “steely challenges” of the wartime theater or the meta-story of the “steely challenges” of those moving the pieces?

Howard Zinn ~ 1922 – 2010

YESTERDAY WE crowded into the old Immanuel Presbyterian Church on the old, faded end of Wilshire Boulevard, (my favorite end of Wilshire Boulevard), for a memorial for “People’s Historian” Howard Zinn. The beautiful old cathedral quickly became a vivid mosaic of L.A. past, present future. The Red Hill folks climbed down from their wooden houses, their denim shirts made fancy with big amber necklaces or turquoise brooches; the community organizers from East and Southwest L.A. came with pamphlets and buttons; public radio reporters cradled their microphones; a young, young mother frantically juggling three children under five, stepped in-and-out of the sanctuary trying to hold on to bits-and-pieces as her daughters squirmed in the hard, narrow seats. People came to testify, to bear witness, to ramble, to re-articulate the goal. There were union songs and work songs, and spirituals, the cautionary tales of war. The crowd was moved to its feet, not once or twice, but often. Activist, Blase Bonpane made the very fine distinction that Zinn didn’t moralize he was a moralist: “The two are very different.” War in the background, Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation in the foreground, the work isn’t complete, what of the sagging spirit? “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” That quote of Zinn’s echoed throughout the auditorium, throughout the evening into the dusk and maybe, catching a tail wind, perhaps around the world.

Of Health Care and Nooses

FRANK RICH, as he so often does, connected the dots and articulated the unease and ugliness around the health care debate: Hate haltingly stenciled onto cardboard signs; lawmakers spat upon; nooses arriving in the daily mail bag. And so on. This weekend in his column, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” Rich went right to the heart of the roiling problem:

When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with the ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.
But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype of the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance

Rich goes on to, point by point, explain that this shrill “debate” has less to do with health care and more to do with the measurable changes that have been occurring in our country every day, every hour, every moment — the numbers are changing, the face of the nation looks very different and will continue to. What we’re seeing, hearing and sadly what journalists are busy recording are a death rattle of sort; the horrible sputtering of the end of things — a “majority.” Writes Rich:

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman –would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that [Barney] Frank, [John] Lewis and [Emanuel] Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.”

Post-race? No. Not in this census year.

photo caption: freedom riders, 1960

In Country

ARTIST, Vincent Valdez, whom I wrote about a couple of years ago for the Times, has been working on a series of paintings about war. This recently completed portrait is now accompanied by a tragic story. The young man, Valdez’s closest childhood friend, and a medic who had been diagnosed with PTSD, just took his life upon learning that he would be redeployed to Afghanistan. Too many stories like this. And young John’s story flickers in those haunted, terrified eyes.

Obama’s Troubles

Obama’s Troubles

George Packer, in the New Yorker, points out something telling about GenY and the Millineals:

The Obama movement. The most disappointed people I meet are under thirty, the generation that made the Obama campaign a movement in its early primary months. They spent their entire adult lives under the worst President of our lifetime, they loved Obama because he was new and inspiring, and they felt that replacing the former with the latter would be a national deliverance. They weren’t wrong about that, but the ebbing of grassroots energy once the Obama campaign turned to governing suggests that some of his most enthusiastic backers saw the election as an end in itself.

Read more: