Who By Fire: Writing About Politics

Posted on Mar 8 2013 - 11:54am by Harrison

Normally, ObamaNation appears in this weekend space but today it’s time for something serious.

Writing about politics is oftentimes no different than writing a gossip column.  Sure, we’re not interested in Tom Cruise’s divorce or Kelly Osbourne having a seizure but isn’t it gossipy to write about how President Obama invited some Republicans to have dinner with him without their leadership being present or how he golfed with Tiger Woods?

To be conversant in the goings on in Washington (and the world) a person needs to keep up on events and who the players are and what the issues are.

It takes time, of course, to “keep up” but, more importantly, the specific events about which we write are highly temporal.

Discussing whether free trade can lift up peoples is timeless but talking about the Sequester “cuts” will be old news in a month.

So, the question becomes for political (and gossip) writers is this:  How fulfilling is it to write about such temporal topics?

Last week I saw Leonard Cohen play in Oakland, CA.  I saw him last November as well.

I was extremely lucky to have seen this artist and poet perform.  Twice.

Mr. Cohen has so many magnificent songs but one is particularly moving.  It’s taken from a Jewish poem/prayer called the Unetanah Tokef and his song is titled “Who by Fire.”

Here is the song:

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

The song needs no explanation in that we’re all going to die one day… it’s simply a matter of how.

Refering back to the Unetanah Tokef we read:

 A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.

That is what man is made of or, in Christian terms, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We are temporal in the same way as the politics about which we write is, too.

And this is the frustrating thing because I have been asking myself why am I spending my time writing about these topics that have such a limited shelf life?

If you write about politics perhaps reflect upon your goals and desires and if you read about politics don’t forget that, as that song goes, all we are is dust in the wind.

Spend a few minutes listening to this beautiful song:

6 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Steve Dennis March 8, 2013 at 3:43 PM -

    Thanks for sharing this video Harrison. Within the last month I started listening to Cohen but I hadn’t heard this one yet. To think I have missed this man’s songwriting all these years is something I regret.
    I often ask myself why I do what I do but I think of my boys and I want to leave them with a chance at a better future and that is what drives me.
    Steve Dennis recently posted..From maverick to rump swap: John McCain calls Rand Paul a “wacko bird”

    • Harrison March 8, 2013 at 7:52 PM -

      Yes, Steve, I can understand that answer. And it is a good one, too.

      Regarding Leonard Cohen… you can see him live this year on tour… http://www.leonardcohen.com.

  2. edge of the sandbox March 8, 2013 at 10:01 PM -

    I wish I could see him… We are in the universe of parenting. :)
    I think the song is about suicide.
    I get what you are saying about political blogging. Sometimes I look at my old entries, and I can hardly remember what they were about. It’s good to mix things up, except that the readers usually visit for specific topics, and they don’t like it when we deviate.
    edge of the sandbox recently posted..War on Women: SF

    • Harrison March 9, 2013 at 6:25 AM -

      I do not think it is about suicide as some lines are “who by common trial” or “who by accident” or “who by slow decay.”

      Hopefully he will tour again and you can see him.

  3. LD Jackson March 9, 2013 at 2:30 AM -

    That’s a very thought-provoking song.

    Why do I write? It is a question I have asked myself many times and one my wife asks often. :) It is one best answered by Michael Clements, who has written several posts on my blog, although not recently.

    LD Jackson recently posted..Senator Rand Paul – Asking Questions No One Wants To Answer

    • Harrison March 9, 2013 at 9:21 AM -

      A well written piece.

      In the end, we write for ourselves, I think.