Monday, October 10, 2005

The Divine Comedy

Are we there yet? Slipping into banality.

I certainly think so. Negativity and intolerance of people who are different or disagree with us on a personal and group level must be at an all time high. Is America in the midst of a dark night of the soul?

Shouldn’t this be a time to build hope by supporting leaders who are fundamentally honest? Who demonstrate character and stand out because they have new ideas? It seems in these times we find ourselves caught in the cesspool of real or imagined over busy-ness that accomplishes nothing to lift us up. Bombarded by a manipulated mass media. Pursuing self, false prophets or material prosperity only. We are divided blue against red. There seems to be no real hope, or hope generating leadership politically, that can lead us towards the brightness and liberation of a new day of hope, meaningful contemplation and creativity. Yes, a nation moving towards the embrace of a new personal level of spiritual reality that knows the humility of its place. Perhaps we can call it “a big idea” that captures the imagination of the nation. Control the present and overcoming obstacles in our path. De-politicizing our environment. This country, once a bastion of the belief in readily overcoming our problems with guile, hope and a little help from the government has now gone inward into self-preservation. We are often living a philosophy of “rugged individualism” rather then community. It seems we are not content in being a great nation living in peace among other great nations. We must make war on our perceived enemies and force our philosophy upon them. Are we confused about who are real enemies are? Weren’t we the champion of human rights not the banal purveyor of injustice and torture that we have become? Can this nation and it citizens collectively pull ourselves out of the pit? Or are we to eventually becoming a nation of fat, lazy, selfish delusional people more concerned with idol gossip, triviality, character assassination and the lowest common denominator living in constant fear. We have lost access to our intuition and common sense.

Now as we slowly sink into a world of self-mediocrity we must look for new ideas, new hope, new leaders and new directions?

Modern day conservatives philosophically stand against being governed and government. If asked I think they would say no, we stand against “big government” or burdensome taxation or government involvement in their property rights and other fundamental “rights” they see as nonnegotiable. But by their actions they indicate that they dislike and really wish to dismantle all government and the tax systems that support it. Some examples of this would be tax breaks in the face of record deficits, privatizing or eliminating Social Security, opposing government sponsored universal health care, no controls on business, no protection of the environment that affects free enterprise, no interference with their right to make personal choices even if they are contrary to the common good.

Republican and conservative success at the polls has created an ironic dichotomy because they have become the government. The very thing that they wish to eliminate and reduce they must now be. A fundamental problem exists because of this. Best reflected in a severe lack of any new ideas coming from government. In a time when the country is crying out for political leadership and a new creative age of ideas in the new century we get practically nothing from Republican leadership. This paradox is further complicated by an attempt by conservatives to impose their moral and religious standards on Americans everywhere by controlling judicial appointments and just plain old fashion jingoism. The contradiction of being the government and not liking government is beginning to produce problems for the conservatives when it comes to governing the country. We see glimpses of this when we see corruption, cronyism, banality, and breakdowns in government, spending out of control and polls reflecting wide mistrust and doubt with the course government is going. There is no hope I believe generated by this form of government.

The belief that government could play a role in making citizens lives better or “social liberalism” grew out of the “progressive era” in the early 1900’s. It really took form and shape in this country with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” beginning in 1932 upon his election as president. This movement believed and demonstrated that government’s directly involvement in the lives of common people would better protect them with a better quality of life. Examples of the “new deal” were government created programs aimed at improving the working conditions, job safety, pensions, compensation, rights to associate and to unionize, child labor protections, Social Security and minimum wage laws. Many of these programs, created in the early days of the “New Deal”, are now generally taken for granted by most citizens. Conservatives opposed this social engineering and frequently labeled it as “socialism” or even “communism” and, therefore, basically un-American. I think few can argue that the Roosevelt’s new deal brought America forward. It was an important period in the creation of what we understand to be modern day America.

In the 1960’s Lyndon Johnson’s “great society” and “war on poverty” were further examples of social liberalism and progressive government programs aimed at common citizens and the less fortunate in a effort to reach out and help . VISTA, Job Corps, Head Start, and Medicare are examples of “great society” programs that, once again, we take for granted today.

1980 brought us Ronald Reagan. Reagan a conservative was elected to office on a platform of returning America to greatness with a muscular foreign policy mainly aimed at Soviet Communists and Iran (who the US was involved directly with at the time because of the “Iranian hostage crisis”) and fundamental American ideals centered on the rugged individualism, family values and personal responsibility. Reagan brought with him the real beginnings of a return to conservative ideas like limited government, tax cuts for business, reforming or abolishing welfare and government sponsored social programs, a return to catchy sounding themes like “family values” and a strong military. His presidency laid the ground-work for what was later to become known as the “republican revolution” when the republican party in 1994 took control of both houses of congress for the first time in 40 years. Though Democrat Bill Clinton was president during most of the 1990’s he was often on the defensive when he went up against the conservative republicans controlling congress. This era was marked by a new style of politics that’s hallmark was viciousness, polarization and lack of compromise. Today under George W. Bush the conservatives exercise of power is unprecedented, because they control all branches of government.

Many Americans are beginning to see the true conservative agenda. Focused selfishly inward on the individual rather then on the common good. Creating elitism and worship of wealth and position. Enforcing various Christian moral standards down our throats. Dividing and polarizing political thought. We say they are leading the country down the wrong path. Away from the social compact made and instituted by “new dealers” and those who came after them. A compact that reached outward and protected the working man and created extremely successful programs like Social Security. In spite of what conservatives say they want, they wish to end government responsibility for social security.

The Democratic Party has a great opportunity to return to power. By retaking the congress in 2006 congressional elections and in a run for the White House in 2008. We must become a party of new ideas and truth. We must provide hope to the people once again. Bruce Reed in his article “three men and party” in Slate talks about this need. He identifies Barack Obama D-Ill., and others as forward thinking leaders in this area. Obama talks about “tone, truth, and the Democratic Party”. He talks of being bold and unorthodox when trying to elect democrats. We must take the political high ground back. We must abandon old tired rhetoric and be unique and sincere in our approach.
"Whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government. We must become the party of ideas not rhetoric."
The Service Employees International Union has created a website which is soliciting ideas to promote economic opportunity for ordinary people. Politicians like Obama, and the outspoken Howard Dean understand that the Democrat Party must begin to frame the political debate on values and positive reform. The conservatives offer only the negative the old outdated approaches to our many problems. We Democrats must support candidates who will return honesty and hope and ideas to America.

1 comment:

  1. Really love your blog, except for your essay on the Suicide Girls :)

    The fundamental conflict in our democratic republic has been and will always be the conflict between the individual's interest and the good of society. A corollary conflict is between the minority rights and majority interests. However imperfect, the constitution was the founders best effort to balance these violently competing interests. Their premise was that man is by nature self-interested and the only way to preserve society and the rights of the minority faction was by a system of checks and balances that distributed power among and within the branches and defined the government's power and the people's rights. This system watered down the possibility of violent factions which would destroy our democracy's credibility. Tocqueville wrote around the 1830's that the health of our democracy was contingent on the "Christian religion" because it tempered our self interest and turned it into "self interest rightly understood." "Self interest rightly understood" would be for example, public schooling because it helps society as a whole when I pay taxes that support my neighbor's kids' education. To me the most dangerous disease in our republic is extremism. Fanaticism about erasing the "In God We Trust" to those would bar a women's access to birth control for religious reasons. Then again, moral issues always create violent factionalism: slavery, abortion, euthanasia... Not to mention the increasing sense that our natural resources are not as abundant as once thought. So now we start experiencing the Clash of Cultures that Huntington wrote about near the end of the cold war...and fanaticism is on the rise.