Planting and Politics

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In addition to reading, research, and course prep this summer, I'm hoping to get in some exercise and some gardening. My task this morning was prepared the greenhouse soil (removed weeds and leveled the soil a bit), then planting eleven tomato plants and eight peppers. Sometimes I try to grow all my plants from seeds, but this spring I knew I'd be going away on vacation and unable to plant until the first week of June, so I decided to take the easy way out and buy plants. The plants are planted in rows where there are buried soaker hoses, so they are going to get a lot of water. I hosed them down when I planted them, to remove the dust that accumulated on the leaves as I was planting.

As I was working, I listened to a series of podcasts at 1.25 speed. Chris Hedges talked with an author named Will Potter who has just written about how law enforcement has been targeting environmental activists as ecoterrorists. Then there was a Lex podcast with a comedian which was okay but not that memorable. Then I caught the beginning of a conversation between RFK Jr. and David Stockman. I've never been much of a Stockman fan, although it was interesting hearing some of his backstory. He apparently went to divinity school to avoid the Vietnam draft and he says the first campaign he worked on was that of RFK Sr. At least that allowed Stockman and Kennedy a connection on the anti-war issue.

It's interesting to see how politics is developing in this upcoming election cycle. The "uniparty" seems pretty happy with the status quo and the populists on the left and the right seem likely to be left out in the cold again. I read a really stupid substack by Robert Reich this morning, in which he went way out of his way to mischaracterize RFK Jr. in order to make him seem like a lunatic. This seems a bit unnecessary to me, but I suppose it means the corporate Dems are nervous. I saw RFK Jr. described as "Ralph Nader on crack" yesterday. The implication being that he would spoil voter turnout for the Dem candidate and hand the election to a Republican.

I can't help thinking this is the wrong way to look at it, although I suppose we're likely to see a replay of the "lesser of two evils" and "existential crisis of Democracy" tropes in 2024. The parties in power have no incentive to change, as long as they can count on voters responding to these oversimplified depictions of the political world. And I do think the people who support this story (whether that's Mr. Reich or Dr. Richardson), although they are gaining tremendously loyal followings of readers by validating people’s prejudices, are exacerbating the problem by constantly beating that red vs. blue drum.

I do think that a lot of what these "outsider" voices say is of questionable veracity. Some of it's probably a bit paranoid. Some of it may even be pandering. But at least it's challenging and questioning what we're "supposed" to believe, and asking
why we're supposed to believe it and who benefits? The thing about critical thinking is that not every challenge of the conventional wisdom is right. But we won't know if we don't look. One of the things that is typically said (and repeated by the likes of Reich) is that someone like RFK Jr.'s ideas about a certain topic have "all been debunked". But if you dig down a bit, it turns out what Reich says RFK said is inaccurate and what he actually said is a bit more nuanced and complicated. RFK cited a lot of sources in his book; Reich not so many in his takedown. And how many times in the last couple of years have we been assured by the authorities that a dissenting perspective was a tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory, until it turned out to be true?

It's going to be interesting for historians of the future to try to understand this decade. What primary sources will turn out to be valuable? How will they judge today's "muckrakers" and whistle-blowers? What will they consider "yellow journalism"? It's the ten-year anniversary this week of the Snowden revelations. He’s still an exile in Russia. Julian Assange is still a prisoner.