Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

Categories

Archives

Scott Cawelti Photo
Latest from Scott Header
  • Patriotism, Groupthink, and PINOs

    • Posted on Jul 06, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This appeared in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier this morning, July 6.   

    Early July brings out patriots, waving flags and proclaiming allegiance to their beloved country.  I love our patriotic parades, red-white-blue displays, picnics, and the night’s bombs bursting in air.

    Since childhood, they stand as highlights of summer. 

    Behind it all, that great 1776 July day in Philadelphia when our forefathers proclaimed we were free from British tyranny. Then came a war to win our independence, a victory, a long constitutional convention full of compromises, and finally a union of states.  Well worth celebrating.   

    For 238 years we’ve been a union, minus five years for a terrible civil war to resolve slavery.  Since then we’re united by shared beliefs in freedom, individualism, rights, and equality before the law.  Oh yes, and we’re eternal optimists—Americans remain optimistic about nearly everything.   At its core, the American Dream involves hope for a brighter future, given hard work and a bit of good luck.   

    OFIRE, I used to remind American Civilization students:  Optimism, Freedom, Individuality, Rights, Equality—five pillars of American ideology.

    Thomas Paine wrote in late 1776, six months after the Declaration of Independence:   

    “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

    “Summer soldier” and “sunshine patriots” rings true still—those who love their country when it’s easy, when it requires little more than a pledge, a flag-wave or two, some fireworks and repeating talking points for your base choir.  Patriots in name only, or PINOs. 

    The real sacrifice today, however, doesn’t involve going to war against a tyrannical enemy.  Our age involves something that’s both more complex and almost as difficult:  Questioning your own party, its behavior and stance on major issues. 

    As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put it last January, “The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It’s more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans.”

    The “wacko birds,” as John McCain calls them (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and others of their ilk) play well to their base but turn off most voters for being utterly out of touch.  

    Rabidly pro-gun and anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-government spending on anything except the military, anti-immigration, and certainly anti-compromise, they don’t reflect the rest of the world or most of the country.  

    Yet GOP Moderates other than McCain seem to tolerate and even kowtow to them, especially since Eric Cantor’s loss to another wacko bird.              

    It’s going to take heroic effort to oppose them, since the radical right owns talk radio and the Fox News propaganda machine.   

    WE’RE A COUNTRY IN DECLINE!  They cry from their Fox News rafters.   Their evidence?   Cherry-picked issues and manufactured crises, including a lawsuit from John Boehner over Obama’s use of executive orders—and our President has used far fewer than any modern president, (168 total so far) including their beloved Ronald Reagan, who issued 381.  Check Snopes.com for the facts on this one, facts which the radical right ignores.

    They’re grasping at straws, and it’s both mean-spirited and unpatriotic.  Put another way, the entire GOP has become victims of “groupthink,” a psychological phenomenon in which the desire for harmony or conformity in a well-defined group results in terrible decisions that group members won’t criticize or even analyze. 

    These PINOs are un-American because they’re total pessimists, group thinkers who’ve lost their individuality and freedom to question, who pay little attention to the issue of rights when it comes to sexual orientation, and for whom equality gets lumped in with political correctness, which they also despise.

    As Tom Paine would put it, those who stand up to them deserve the love and thanks of man and woman.

    Moderate Republicans: Endangered species and true patriots.  

               

               

     



    Early July brings out patriots, waving flags and proclaiming allegiance to their beloved country.  I love our patriotic parades, red-white-blue displays, picnics, and the night’s bombs bursting in air.

                Since childhood, they stand as highlights of summer. 

                Behind it all, that great 1776 July day in Philadelphia when our forefathers proclaimed we were free from British tyranny. Then came a war to win our independence, a victory, a long constitutional convention full of compromises, and finally a union of states.  Well worth celebrating.   

    Early July brings out patriots, waving flags and proclaiming allegiance to their beloved country.  I love our patriotic parades, red-white-blue displays, picnics, and the night’s bombs bursting in air.

                Since childhood, they stand as highlights of summer. 

                Behind it all, that great 1776 July day in Philadelphia when our forefathers proclaimed we were free from British tyranny. Then came a war to win our independence, a victory, a long constitutional convention full of compromises, and finally a union of states.  Well worth celebrating.   

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Politics
    • Hot Button Issues
    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • More on Feelings, Opinions, Judgments, and Hypotheses

    • Posted on Jun 04, 2014 by Scott Cawelti


    Originally published Nov. 30, 2008

     I thought this essay deserved resurrection because of recent discussions on Facebook about opinions. 

     Someone asserted that all opinions are in fact equal.  Below, I argue just the opposite.  What this Facebook poster calls “opinions” I call “feelings” as in

    “I don’t like rock music in church,”  “Apple pie tastes better than pecan.”

     Feelings are personal, everyone has them, and they are equally valid.  That’s why rhetoricians caution about arguing about matters of taste—there’s no way to “prove” what tastes best, which color is a favorite, and so on.  

     Though all feelings may be created equal, all opinions/judgments/hypotheses are not. 

     Incidentally, my “hypothesis” at the end turned out to be terribly wrong, sorry to say.  If only.   

     

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Hardly a day slips by without my hearing or reading  “That’s just my opinion,” as if to say don’t bother to examine my statements closely, since they’re just idle chatter.   It’s almost an apology. 

    But what about this:  “Obama has been worshipped by the media.”   Chatter, or a serious point?  Or   “Only an idiot would support Sarah Palin as a serious candidate for the presidency.”  Or “Democrats will turn America into a socialist country.”  

    Since we’re now blanketed by similar statements from bloggers and bloviators, opinionizing deserves special attention. 

     Not all opinions are created equal, nor are they endowed by their creators with facts, logic, and the pursuit of effectiveness. 

     Whole classes of opinions are designed to provoke a quick gut-level response from either conservatives or liberals.   These are called “polemics,” and the vast majority of current “opinions” fall into this category.

     Those three assertions with which I began are polemics, and when offered in a public forum, generate plenty of responses, meaning still more polemics.  It’s a form of entertainment, and the anonymity of blogged responses to columns or news stories encourages bloggers to create veritable towers of babble.

     None dare call them enlightening.  Except for a precious thoughtful few, they’re verbal pornography, designed more for arousal than for understanding.

     Another class of statements, however, is based on facts, examples, and logic.  Such assertions deserve analysis, followed by agreement or refutation.  These I would call judgments, and I respect them.   Instead of the polemic  “Obama has been worshipped by the media,” one might assert, “Obama’s ideas on the environment are similar to editorial positions of several mainstream newspapers.” 

     That’s a statement that can be supported or refuted, and doesn’t create an immediate visceral response.  It’s potentially fact-based, and therefore worth far more than two cents.

     The columnists I read most often write more about judgments rather than polemics:  Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Leonard Pitts, and Kathleen Parker come to mind.   But not Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity, who polemicize for profit and not much fun. 

     Another class of statements deserves serious attention, more so than either polemics or opinions and judgments.  These are the conclusions that derive from research based on extended readings of historical events, laboratory experiments, direct observation and experience, or some combination.   

    Here is where knowledge of our world and its workings gets created and shared, and which we ignore at our peril.  I call them “hypotheses” for want of a better term. 

    Understanding hypotheses takes a good deal of energy and time, and they aren’t found in the rants that pass for commentary on cable news channels or blogs.

    Nor does it come from right-wing pulpits, where faith-based assertions can overwhelm common sense and logic. Though faith and religion deserve study in schools, they don’t belong in political decisions or in science classrooms.  That’s a judgment, by the way, not a polemic. 

     Some hypotheses can be highly controversial, and have become the subject of extended debates among specialists and laypeople alike:  “The World Trade Center Building collapsed from a controlled demolition, not just from jetliners flown by terrorists.”  And “JFK was shot both from behind and in front, so Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone.” 

    Citizens need to take time to study the logic, facts, and sources behind such hypotheses and decide where the truth lies. 

     Some opinions and hypotheses, to be blunt, are just plain wrong, and deserve oblivion. Incidentally, in my opinion, both of those conspiracy hypotheses are wrong, based on cherry-picked or faulty evidence.

     My advice, then:  ignore polemics unless you find them entertaining.  They’re mostly just distractions.  Judgments and hypotheses, however, are the stuff of adult conversations and deserve attention, even analysis.  Feelings are merely personal tastes made as assertions.  

     Judgments and valid hypotheses can make all the difference when understood and applied.

     Here’s a judgment that I hope will prove to be a valid hypothesis:  The current economic crisis will force Democrats and Republicans to put their country ahead of their political parties and cooperate on a range of solutions. 

     [June 4, 2014] And what a shame I was wrong—the country is still divided, still ruled by polemics, and therefore still stalled, thanks to a perfect storm of misguided politicians, angry Fox-news viewers, stoked by virulent polemicists, and a visceral hatred of President Obama among right-wing fringe elements.  

     

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Language & Writing
    • Hot Button Issues
    • Politics
    • Predictions
Contact Scott Header
Contact Scott Photo
Brothers Blood Book
James Hearst
Landscape Iowa CD