Rep. Reed’s “Renaissance Moment” Reviewed

The following article was written for the New NY 23rd by Anne Markel, a friend of this blog. It is posted with her permission.

In his latest Facebook posts, Tom Reed’s repeated use of a certain new hashtag tells us a couple of things about both the man’s ideology and his understanding of history (in Renaissance Manaddition to showing that he’s probably put a new social media coordinator in the payroll; that much will become clearer when he files his next quarterly financial reports).  Tom’s “renaissance moment” has, of course, to do with his financial interest in getting fracking underway in the Southern Tier, a two-pronged financial interest, as he both owns mineral rights to land in Tuscarora, and has been the beneficiary of some very generous campaign funding from the gas and oil industry. That those folks expect payment in kind is just one of Reed’s problems with accepting such largesse, but I am sure it is one that is at the forefront of his thinking.

But what about his use of the word renaissance in this context—why not #TapAmericanEnergy or #MakeAmericaSecure or some other tried-and-true Republican phraseology? The use of the word does class the joint up a little bit (despite the Francophobia that was running through the halls of Congress not that many years ago). Perhaps Reed doesn’t understand the origin of the word? What is clear is that he doesn’t understand its real meaning. Just as they say that youth is wasted on the young, so education would seem to be wasted on the cocksure.

The term Renaissance as used to describe the era that came roughly between the 14th and 16th centuries first appeared around the middle of the 19th. By then, historians could look back over those centuries as a whole and begin to see the patterns emerging—every age is a reaction to the age that came before—that were a sloughing off of the superstition and ignorance that had so enveloped the Middle Ages. Our Renaissance forebears were nothing if not intellectually engaged and curious: they re-read the classics, they expanded universities (which had themselves been founded firmly in the Middle Ages), they remade architecture into something airy and lofty, they invented humanism. They sailed and explored and mapped the world. The invented telescopes and turned their attention to the stars; the emphasis became less on the afterlife and more on the current world they inhabited. Literacy rates improved, and life expectancy.

Now, as a medievalist and a folklorist, I am still firmly in love with the medieval world…and I am glad that I do not live in it. On the other hand, there are some very real parallels between that time and our own. Today’s income gap is the Middle Ages’ feudalism; the capital-c Church has been replaced by the capital-e Energy industry; even the rampant illiteracy of those centuries past has found a new form in the anti-science, anti-intellectualism so prevalent among so many in the GOP. Religious fundamentalism has replaced, in a weird way, religious superstition. Entrenched career politicians exercise their own kind of Divine Right, and trickle-down economics form the basis of their personal royal treasuries.  The specter of punishment in the afterlife for the sins of this one has morphed into a more literal hell-on-Earth for people in need, with the punitive idea that poverty is a result of laziness or some other moral failing, and that the poor are where they are solely through fault of their own making.

Tom Reed’s false #Renaissance does nothing to vault over these problems, as the real Renaissance did, but instead tells us that more of the same is surely the way to go. Had any of the same worked by now, there would of course be no conversation to be had here. But the policies that Reed would enact—slashing social programs, energy production at the cost of both environmental and human health, more for the rich, less for everyone else—do not work, have not worked, and have been given their chance. In his insistence that this is the way to go, he shows only that his arrogance takes the place of his intelligence, and that his concern for self-enrichment trumps it all. It’s actually difficult to think of a precise antonym for the word renaissance but a google query leads first to the word sleeping. Which is as good a word as any to describe what Reed’s vision would mean for progress: it would go directly back to sleep. In keeping with the French construction, we come up with the word r’endormi. #ReedR’endormi.

What would a #RealAmericanRenaissance look like? Well, much like the last Renaissance, with an expansion of education, a renewed interest in and emphasis on the viability of the world we inhabit; progress, not regress, in the areas of science, medicine, technology. A renewed familiarization with the past—keeping us from being doomed to repeat our mistakes—and along with that, a renewed appreciation for the writers, artists, photographers and others who help to document, explain, and explore the world, and in so doing, sometimes give us fresh ways to think about ourselves. I’m a big fan of the WPA and the work it generated, both in the sense of getting people employed again and in the sense of the products those people created that still inhabit our world today. To reboot such a program would not put fat money into the pockets of profit-driven energy, banking or other interests, but it would be more truly a rebirth, granting a fuller realization of the potential that now sits untapped. The Renaissance was a time of creativity, insight and intellectual courage, all attributes which, sadly, our own man in the House lacks. His courage is of another kind (what the French term les couilles; you can look it up) and it’s the kind that hopes the rest of us will content ourselves with his rhetoric while he gallops after his personal wealth, taken at the expense of everyone else’s.

About pystew

Retired Teacher, political science geek, village trustee. I lean a little left, but like a good political discussion. My blog, the New NY 23rd (http://newny23rd) is about discussing the issues facing the people of our new congressional district. Let's hear all sides of the issues, not just what the candidates want us to hear.
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21 Responses to Rep. Reed’s “Renaissance Moment” Reviewed

  1. Deb Meeker says:

    Alas, if only Tom Reed had even the intellectual curiosity to try to understand this insightful piece.
    There’s nothing to add – this is bang damn on point.


  2. whungerford says:

    Thanks, Anne, for a good read–pauca sed matura.


  3. BOB McGILL says:
    During the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance (1350-1450) the bubonic plague, also called the “Black Death,” devastated one half of the population of Europe

    The Black Death gave life to the Renaissance
    ALEX T. MAGNODecember 3, 2009 2:56pm
    It’s hardly an exaggeration: The Black Death – the bubonic plague that killed from 25 to 40 million people in the 14th century – had a big hand in triggering the cultural revolution that would come to be known as the Renaissance.…/the-black-death-gave-life-to-the-renaissance
    Now, with so many people dead – more than in any other epidemic, or even war, past or present – so many worldly possessions were left without owners. These included land, houses, furniture, jewelry, and clothes.
    Of course, those who survived the plague got hold of these things, presumably through means fair or foul.
    But I’d say mostly fair, because there was so much to go around for everyone. In fact, so many people became suddenly richer that they had a surplus of items, especially clothes.

    we won’t need a plague with Cuomo as govener, he will drive millions out of the state and the people that are left can take over 🙂


  4. BOB McGILL says:

    but next time proof read it before you post it


  5. josephurban says:

    Very thoughtful post. As Anne’s essay demonstrates, the values of the Renaissance are what set it apart. Curiosity. Intellectual debate. The understanding of ancient texts followed by the questioning of ancient dogma. The emergence of magnificent new art forms.
    Anyone who has stood in front of Michelangelo’s “David” and not been in awe has something missing from their brain. Or visited da Vinci’s final home in Amboise and not been equally awed at his inventiveness, nurtured by the renaissance values.
    It is these values: education, artistic expression, critical thinking and experimenttion which lead to the scientific revolution…that some people seem to think are not important. Yet, they are the basis of all the subsequent economic growth and production.


  6. solodm says:

    Bob, i tuoi commenti sono irrilevanti.


  7. BOB McGILL says:

    it only proves your ” OBSESSIVE HATRED ” is clouding your thought processes 🙂


  8. josephurban says:

    Bob…next time you “proof” “read” remember that “proofread” is one word, not two.


  9. BOB McGILL says:

    i tuoi commenti sono irrilevanti. – ‎your comments are irrelevant .
    🙂 I’m Sicilian


  10. Anne says:

    Well, I did do just that, Bob, and am not seeing the mistake that you appear to be seeing.


  11. Anne says:

    Thanks, William. And thanks for the chuckle–irony!


  12. BOB McGILL says:

    aw gee, you forgot the most important value of the time ” GREED “


  13. BOB McGILL says:

    can’t you see that all the things that you praise from the Renaissance are an example of the GRANDIOSE SELF INDULGENCE of the filthy rich of the time, The top 1% of the Middle Ages



  14. Anne says:

    Wouldn’t your name be DiGillo, in that case?


  15. whungerford says:

    While Tom pretends expertise in manufacturing, he has no relevant education or experience. When he claims that manufacturing in Western NYS would flourish if only prices for gas and electricity were lower, I am dubious. In the decades I worked for an Elmira manufacturer, energy was never mentioned as a significant cost–there is no figure for it in the annual reports.

    We were concerned about products, markets, and labor cost. Once to my astonishment the CEO remarked at an employee meeting that he would be oh so relieved if a government program would assume responsibility for employee health insurance. The company never in 20 years made a significant effort to save energy, but I recall several instances of careless indifference to waste.


  16. Maureen Harding says:

    Great writing. A pleasure to read.


  17. BOB McGILL says:

    Energy Policy & the Environment Report


    Robert Bryce, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute.
    Motivated by a desire to reduce carbon emissions, and in the absence of federal action to do so, 29 states (and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have required utility companies to deliver specified minimum amounts of electricity from “renewable” sources, including wind and solar power. California recently adopted the most stringent of these so-called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), requiring 33 percent of its electricity to be renewable by 2020.

    Proponents of the RPS plans say that the mandated restrictions will reduce harmful emissions and spur job growth, by stimulating investment in green technologies.

    But this patchwork of state rules—which now affects the electricity bills of about two-thirds of the U.S. population as well as countless businesses and industrial users—has sprung up in recent years without the benefit of the states fully calculating their costs.

    There is growing evidence that the costs may be too high—that the price tag for purchasing renewable energy, and for building new transmission lines to deliver it, may not only outweigh any environmental benefits but may also be detrimental to the economy, costing jobs rather than adding them.

    The mandates amount to a “back-end way to put a price on carbon,” says one former federal regulator. Put another way, the higher cost of electricity is essentially a de facto carbon-reduction tax, one that is putting a strain on a struggling economy and is falling most heavily, in the way that regressive taxes do, on the least well-off among residential users.

    To be sure, the mandates aren’t the only reason that electricity costs are rising—increased regulation of coal-fired power plants is also a major factor—and it is difficult to isolate the cost of the renewable mandates without rigorous cost-benefit analysis by the states.

    That said, our analysis of available data has revealed a pattern of starkly higher rates in most states with RPS mandates compared with those without mandates. The gap is particularly striking in coal-dependent states—seven such states with RPS mandates saw their rates soar by an average of 54.2 percent between 2001 and 2010, more than twice the average increase experienced by seven other coal-dependent states without mandates.

    Our study highlights another pattern as well, of a disconnect between the optimistic estimates by government policymakers of the impact that the mandates will have on rates and the harsh reality of the soaring rates that typically result. In some states, the implementation of mandate levels is proceeding so rapidly that residential and commercial users are being locked into exorbitant rates for many years to come. The experiences of Oregon, California, and Ontario (which is subject to a similar mandate plan) serve as case studies of how rates have spiraled.


  18. BOB McGILL says:

    did they have electricity back then 🙂


  19. BOB McGILL says:

    i tuoi commenti sono irrilevanti.


  20. josephurban says:

    Of course , any honest analysis would have to take into account the cost to clean up the environment based on the particular energy source. Oil spills, for example. The Gulf spill of a few years ago costs the local economy at least $40 billion. The recent spills along the corridor in North Dakota and Montana where the XL pipeline is anticipated to go will cost millions as well. And these are not isolated. More spills are happening every year.
    So, as intelligent beings we need to assess not only immediate costs, but long term costs as well. The Exxon Valdez spill of many years ago destroyed the livlihood of an entire community.And when Exxon used its vast resources to tie up the case in court for over 20 years, the working class fisherman and other local small businesses went out of business.
    This, of course, passes the burden on to the taxpayer in the form of increased social services, payments, etc and disrupts family businesses, Most of which never recover.
    A similar situation in the Gulf where thousands of fisherman have seen their livlihood destroyed and now Mobil has decided to fight paying the agreed upon damages.
    Of course deregulation has only increased the problem. As the Minerals Management Service Reports that from 1970-2000 there were an average of 4 major spills per year, form 2000-2010, the age of deregulation, there were on average between 17-22 per year.Failure to understand the long term economic costs of fossil fuel production and use is to be short-sighted. A more conservative approach is needed. One tht recognizes both long and short term impacts of various technologies.


  21. whungerford says:

    We would not expect an honest analysis from the Manhattan Institute which is a propaganda outlet for the Koch brothers.


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