Monday, February 27, 2006

Editorial on Hurricane Katrina and Security

Security after New Orleans
copyright Jayson Harsin 2005

Poignant images of poor New Orleans residents retreating from the deluge have touched a nation and a world, raising troublesome questions about security and the cyclical issue of poverty in the United States. For some older Americans, these images evoke an earlier security panic—the Great Depression. We are hearing talk about New Deals: both the rediscovery of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and the promise of George W. Bush’s. Beneath the surface of apparent similarity, however, the two deals and the insecurity they promise to relieve are fundamentally different. Bush’s affinity for the New Deal does not run deep, and this is not the first time that he and his predecessors have used its keywords to support policies that undermine its spirit of securing freedom for all Americans.

Roosevelt’s deal was new by comparison to the security and freedom doctrine that came before him. His predecessor Herbert Hoover responded to a condition of national insecurity with ineffective solutions of rugged individualism and minimalist government. Roosevelt argued for a more activist federal government, not to expand government-for-government’s-sake, but because the Depression had shown that individuals could no longer be held completely responsible for their own security. In a time when small shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and farmers were fast disappearing, Roosevelt identified the primary threat to security as the market free of public interest. He promoted a vision of Abraham Lincoln’s government of, by, and for the people as a citizen’s vehicle for dealing with the inevitable and sometimes catastrophic whims of nature, markets and businesses. He maintained this mature vision of security even in the throes of World War II, emphasizing the equal importance of military and social security. For Roosevelt, the social and economic aspects of security were so critical to American freedom that he went so far as to call for an Economic Bill of Rights to supplement the already existing political Bill of Rights.

At the heart of Roosevelt’s New Deal was his argument that freedom could not be viewed as a natural state individually embraced through work or willingly denied through sloth when 1/3 of the American nation was ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-housed. In fact, Roosevelt viewed such poverty as a threat to the nation’s political, social and military security.

The poverty laid bare by Hurricane Katrina demonstrates that obtrusive conditions confronted during the Depression do in fact persist today. Bush’s response to this is far from “new.” Like Hoover, Reagan, and his own father before him, Bush continues to promote self-discipline and private cures, including voluntarism, as solutions to large-scale security problems. In this decades-old argument, the federal government should cut all but verbal support for those living in insecure economic conditions, leaving the relief work to good Samaritans who represent the best of the American spirit. But the private sphere of charities could not deal with the magnitude of the security fallout in New Orleans.

The media unwittingly promoted this voluntarist line, telling the New Orleans story almost exclusively through the melodramatic frames of individual heroism and natural disaster. Largely absent from this coverage was an analysis of how Bush and his predecessors’ attempts to repeal the (old) New Deal directly contributed to the un-natural disaster that was Katrina. Katrina was a necessary cause for New Orleans, but it was not sufficient. By relentlessly trimming the “fat” of FDR’s legacy from the federal budget—including income supports, transportation, and public works such as levee repair—the Bush administration has left behind a skeleton security state unable to withstand any significant threat.

In the wake of the hurricane, Bush has promised support for minority-owned small businesses but has failed to specify how education, public health, and other key resources will be permanently secured for vulnerable citizens. On the contrary, he and some Republicans have argued that reconstruction can be financed by trimming more fat. Additional cuts would only aggravate the insecurity of poor Americans. Besides, why reconstruct if only to abandon citizens to insecurity again?

George W. Bush staked his reputation on security and has said repeatedly that his number one duty is to protect U.S. citizens. The deep floodwaters of New Orleans revealed just how shallow our understanding of security really is.
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Von Trier's Brechtian Gamble: on _Manderlay_

Bright Lights Film Journal Manderlay
On Manderlay. This time “liberal” is a dirty word. By Jayson Harsin. “The movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of ...
To view this review, please click on the post title above.

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Bush's Green About-face?

I had to laugh and cry at the latest headlines on the bush administration and energy proposals. It appears that now the administration is gung-ho to promote hybrid cars and decrease dependence on oil—foreign, oil that is, Iranian gold, Saudi tea. Now they’ve decided to re-frame the world’s ecological crisis as a national security issue, not that the fate of humanity and the planet is in peril! But hey, in the name of national security, let’s change our ways. How about earth security for human security!
Tuesday, 2/21/06

The Rumor Bomb: A Convergence Theory of American Mediated Politics [click here to download]

Abstract: The "Rumor Bomb" is a theory of contemporary American mediated politics, an actual state of affairs, and a particular rhetorical strategy. This paper argues that only through a convergence theory of media, culture and politics, can one begin to understand how and why rumor is the arme de choix of the American political present. That convergence is marked by the increasing presence of PR driving American politics (electoral and issue campaigns, media agendas, and representations of governance) throughout the 20th century; the effects of speed in mediation and circulation of information; the effects of speed and new technologies such as the internet and satellite broadcasting on news as a profession; the rise of infotainment and tabloidization in news and fierce market competition partly behind such trends; and the technocratization of American politics which in communication style and strategy mirrors war propaganda techniques. Paul Virilio's theory of "pure war" and the information bomb is used to frame the discussion. Click on title link above to download paper.

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The Rumor Bomb Continued: John Kerry is French

In the rumor bomb I argued that American politics, and increasingly global politics, is marked by PR-driven games of scandalous accusation. Unlike the Nazi's "big lies" repeated incessantly until believed by many, these statements are of an ambiguous factual status; their veracity is in question. They are often not even policy-related, as is the case with rumors of adulterous affairs, though claims of weapons of mass destruction relate directly to consent for war policy. These strategies are to preoccupy publics by branding opponents negatively and oneself positively, in order to produce consent for or diversion from current political agendas. These PR strategies cater to contemporary tabloidized news market values. Their effects are catastrophic for media diffused public debate and democratic forms of public deliberation. This paper illustrates this theory by analyzing the seemingly ludicrous claim that John Kerry was "French-looking" or "seems French" in the 2004 American presidential election.
This one is under review at a journal. For a draft, email

Sunday, February 26, 2006

My dissertation Abstract

Here follows my disseration abstract for "A Tale of Two Citizenships: The Economic Rights Discourse of Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt." Chapters available upon request.


Two Episodes in the American Discourse of Economic Rights: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan

Jayson Harsin

This study examines the concept and the discontinuous historical usage of the term “economic rights” in American political discourse. The study views the idea and ideology of “economic rights” as a discursive marker pointing to historically contingent relations between government, national economy and individual freedom. It focuses on the two American presidential articulations of an Economic Bill of Rights: one by Franklin Roosevelt and another by Ronald Reagan. These two articulations represent two opposing political traditions of economic rights in the United States: the neo-liberal laissez-faire free market tradition and the liberal welfare-state tradition. Both of these liberal traditions are haunted by an older republican discourse of economic rights, from which they continue to draw normative and affective energy without ever confronting its guiding premises.

Further, this study explores the role of rhetorical agency in influencing the way “economic rights” are understood. It attends to the ways in which historical conjunctures pose limits on the articulations of political ideas and identities, and the way in which key actors like Roosevelt and Reagan respond skillfully to those conjunctural constraints, while others fail. The study argues that Roosevelt and Reagan used many of the very same arguments to propose two diametrically opposed conceptualizations of an Economic Bill of Rights. Their respective efforts attest to the importance of rhetoric in the struggle for political.

Finally, the study argues that while American political discourse has been saturated by “rights talk,” economic rights have not enjoyed the same currency as other rights, largely due to deeply entrenched though historically outdated understandings of the promise and possibilities of individual freedom and autonomy within the folds of a society completely transformed by capitalist modernity. The neglected history of economic rights discourse in the United States is a phantom history of the American public sphere, of the limits on American political participation or citizenship, of the continual irresolution of racial conflicts, and of alternative modernities.

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