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Through the (Looking) Glass, Darkly

Gavin Newsom in Wonderland

by ROBBY SHERWIN

With my apologies to both Lewis Carroll and the Bible.

“The Right’s Strange New Hero-Gavin Newsom”

That was the headline in the Huffington Post that caught my eye, as it was supposed to do.  A minor, momentary, tremor coursed through me; had Gavin done something stupid and the Republicans latched onto it? Was my Hero in Human Form straying from what I perceive to be his laudable life-goals in some unimaginably bizarre turn of the screw?

I clicked.  I read.  I read some more.

Only then did the truth and fact of Jon Ward’s in depth profile of Gavin Newsom come into clear focus. Gavin was safe upon the pedestal where I needed him to be.  HuffPost was huffing….and posting, what all media outlets seem to be required to do in today’s laser-quick, responsive-attuned, feedback frenzied milieu they all must exist in.

The “click” is the fix they are after.

But the phenomenon of that random “click”……that tremor……that instantaneous recoil of the trigger finger to click-on-through was what has recently struck me as the problem.

Every writer needs an editor, at least one, maybe many more in some cases.  And I would suppose editors; on-line publication editors in particular, assist with titles more than most.  It’s all about the “clicks”.  Those pesky EMMA-tracked clicks, and opens, and non-opens, and trends, and troughs, that are carefully scrutinized by denizens in the dark to process the soylent green currency that all business and hence all editors and by extrapolation, all writers, need to live.

But are we as a society, as a world, as humans, ceding our ability to think to something I call the Clickitization of Culture?

I worry that our swirling miasma of a world, often seeming to circle the drain of some giant, sucking, vortex, will be swallowed alive without a whimper into the black hole of the daily 24 hour news cycle and vanish from the radar screens of attentive, intellectual, reality.

Unless.

Unless it’s picked up by the Clickosphere where suddenly, like primitive protoplasm that once laboriously crawled and inched into life forms hither-to-fore unheard of, these scorching, sarcastic, judgmental, new lives that they will take on become loud, screeding, must-be-heard-NOW entities that are again, clickitized into amplified and noxious forms of their previous, just formed amoebic selves.

As Alice in Wonderland once said, “How quickly things come and go in this place”.

Indeed.

It would seem that Lewis Carroll’s almost 200 year old wisdom is more true today than even when he was au courant and, today, his characters are so much more immediately resonant.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”  How true, Queen of Hearts.

Jon Ward quotes Newsom; “Top-down, bureaucratic, hierarchical government [is] choking our democracy,” Newsom writes in his new book Citizenville: “We need to allow people to bypass government … to look to themselves for solving problems rather than asking the government to do things for them. “Government is the ultimate monopoly,” he writes at another point. “And monopolies, as any economist will tell you, often breed complacency and a lack of innovation.”

Yes its “rightish” sounding and thus frenzied fodder for the Rights to feast upon but it’s really more “right-mindish sounding” in this writer’s mind.  A conundrum not unlike the Caterpillar’s;

“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”

From one click to another we are never sure what we are going to be…….next.  We have a new fungibily of nature that allows us to run through the stages of metamorphosis at lightning speed without ever being truly exposed to the actual forces of nature that are needed to gently, yet firmly, mold new life forms.

Click.  I’m different.

Click.  I used to think that.  Now I think this.  All this change without the twinned forces of Darwinism and Fresh Air.

Alice asks the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends on where you want to get to.” replies said Cat.

Says Alice in return “I don’t much care…”

Aha. The crux of the matter.

We, having ceded the parts of our brains that reason things thorough to conclusions that suit us, fit us, feel correct to us, to the one-click-wonderment of today’s media solutions “don’t much care” and, as such, are creatures wandering in a wonderland without a lot of innate directional sense….or sense of any kind.

Cheshire once more; “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there”

Jon Ward again; “In Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of D.C., chief innovation officer Dan Hoffman said that the overwhelmingly Democratic county government has empowered him to put as much of its data into an “open data portal” and “see if someone builds an app for it.” Newsom’s critique of government’s failures and weaknesses dovetails with the narrative that some on the right are crafting to critique the Democratic Party and spark a revival of the moribund GOP. A loose coalition of thinkers — including Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs magazine, and Alex Castellanos, a veteran political consultant working on rebranding the GOP — have been busy promoting the idea of “reform conservatism.”

So the ultimate Democratic county opens their books and that’s suddenly such a radical idea that it becomes a Republican one? And isn’t “reform conservatism” going to be just another tool in the hatchet-wielding Cheney/Rumsfeldians quiver, used solely to sway the popular vote and, in the end, give the government back the power that frankly, both parties (whomever is in power at the time) want?

Back to Ward: “Levin and Castellanos, in particular, are each working independently to craft a way of talking about conservatism that can change perceptions of the right, even among those Americans who don’t pay close attention to politics. It’s a significant ingredient in the GOP’s hopes for resurgence. Their argument is that liberalism is a top-down, antiquated approach to modern governance. Devolving decision-making power and authority to local institutions is a better way, they say, to approach a technology-driven world that is increasingly complex, diverse and bottom-up.”

Not that Levin and Castellanos are wrong but the premise of their argument seems highly suspect to this writer because of the wellspring from which it flows; the editor of National Affairs and a “veteran political consultant working on rebranding the GOP”.  At least Newsom, with his multi-generational foundations as a free thinker (his way-out-front and unapologetic support for gay marriage, AIDS research, and other social issues of note) comes to the fray with some actual experience running a sometimes garrulous but always-endearing city.  These other guys are agendized at the outset.

Those of us who read, think, and struggle through the noisome ideology of today’s political realities to try and get to the actual facts would, if we’re honest with at least ourselves, agree that we, too, think the Tea Party has a point or two and that, heaven forbid, even the occasional Republican has moments of true humane clarity.  But because of the one-click wonder of our digitized world we are not inclined to express our thoughts as anything other than a quick, click-through, survey that only continues to reinforce the instantaneous and ephemeral quality of our news and by extension, our newsmakers.

Clickitization.  Quick, register that opinion and move on to the next throbbing headline so that we don’t fall behind in our mad, collective, rush to stay ahead.

Jon Ward; “Conservatives like Gingrich and Castellanos see Newsom as a prophetic voice who is ahead of the curve, whose ideas could help the Democrats if the party is wise enough to listen to him.”

In truth, Gingrich and his ilk see Gavin Newsom as a tool.  One that, if they can’t convert him to carrying an “R” beside his name on the next ballot, at least they can coopt his message and make it their own and then bask in some sort of republicanish glow that they hope he will allow them to bathe in as he moves his own message forward.  And move Mr. Newsom will.  He has the right stuff.

Jon Ward: “The Democratic Party that Republicans need to fear is one led by Gavin Newsom,” Castellanos said in an email. “He’s the trifecta: a business guy who understands jobs and growth, thinks government ought to stay out of people’s bedrooms and also gets that old, top-heavy, model-T government isn’t often agile enough to tackle today’s complex social problems.”

Mock Turtle here: “Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.”

Jon Ward; “Is there a bullshit translator?” Colbert asked Newsom. “What is ‘capacity’? What do you mean? Every one of these things could be carved on a stone and put in someone’s garden. You mean governmental bandwidth so that all of us can hyperlink our engagement to democracy? See? I can make this shit up, too.”

Far be it from me to….in this piece….take on Stephan Colbert as a source of actual news.  That’s too tough a steak to chew on in one article but it does serve my point up with at least a serrated knife with which to slice it.  Since when did comedians become the arbiters of actual news?  The smarmy sarcasm that these comedic cabals spit out is merely another symptom of our general lack of ability, desire, and frankly access to digestible protein sources.  Real News?

No, thanks.

I’ll click on comedian.

When asked if he wants government to be smaller, Newsom said he did not. “No, effective. Just effective,” he said. And Democrats, he added, “have the moral authority to drive those reforms,” while Republicans do not.

And this is where the rubber meets the Republican.  Newsom is a Democrat with a Capital “D”.  His lineage in that arena beats the Faux-Brahmin Bushes in theirs as well as any other comers.  When he says “effective, not smaller”, he is truly espousing what all Big “D” Democrats believe, we are a large and quarrelsome country full of bloviating banter and rancorous rhetoric and we need the government to act as Camp Counselor to keep the playing field fair and make sure no one goes home to their family with a bloody nose from the play yard bullies that seem to always bray the loudest.

“Government doesn’t have to come up with new killer features on its own,” he writes. “It has to step aside and let others come up with them.”

Newsom comes from the original “County Seat” of collaboratism.  Born and raised in San Francisco, a city that has always, of necessity, had to compromise to even exist and just up the road from Palo Alto where the building of empires upon borrowed ideas is the norm.

So how to deal with the madness of the new modemization?

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

I’ll stick with the Queen of Hearts.

OFF WITH THEIR HEAD(lines)! 

Robby Sherwin is a writer who splits his time between Portland, OR and Key West.  His roaming mind bounces off topics from politics to family.  His past and future musings may be found on pdxwiz.wordpress.com