Thursday, September 17, 2009
Answers Are Blowing In The Rhetorical Wind
On a day when some of us are remembering the life of Mary Travers, it’s certainly not a time to condemn protesters and demonstrations, since she was inspiration for so many of them.
But we wouldn’t any way. What the city and the country need are more people willing to take to the streets to have their voices heard, and the fact that we disagree with the tea partiers does nothing to dampen our opinion that their protesting is good for democracy. In the market place of ideas, we predict that these protests will in time fade because of the risks attached to the excesses of its leadership, but that’s no reason to dismiss everybody with condescension, despite the unforgivable racist signs and comments by some of the participants.
But that’s the way it always is. In the midst of anti-war protests, there were always a couple of people who took it too far with their signs and their rhetoric. In gay pride marches, there were a couple of people who give every one else heartburn and get the message of the day askew.
In the end, the public’s good sense generally wins out, and the change takes place somewhere in the middle. It may take awhile, but screeds, irrationality and hateful name-calling kill off protesters’ chances to be heard and to have traction with the mainstream. Whether it’s the anti-tax Tea Party-goers, the birthers, or the town meeting health care hecklers on the right or the over-the-top sloganeering and the social media self-organizing of the left, it’s just too little these days about creating consensus on important public issues and too much about shouting each other down.
Change Changes Things
That’s the most frightening aspect of recent events. While invoking the names of our Founding Fathers and harkening back to supposedly inviolate American principles, protesters seem to look past the notion of e pluribus unum that sums up the supposed guiding principle for our nation’s crazy experiment in democracy.
We live in the world of talking heads who say one thing today and another tomorrow, and with little media fact checking, we are left searching for meaning in a swirl of hyperbole, situational politics and rhetorical blasts that stoke the base but burn up the chance for honest discussion. The Glenn Becks of the world create and then cover Tea Parties with a solemnity that suggests that he’s an objective bystander. (Of course, when President Bush was being portrayed as Hitler, he was aghast and enflamed, a condition he has apparently been cured of now.)
It is a frightening time for many people. Everything they thought was certain about their world feels upside down. A black man is president, gays are getting married, a wise Latina woman is on the Supreme Court, health care insurance will change, white men will become the new minority and Latinos will transform the country. They are left with little to do except to stand and scream as the tide overtakes them.
In a country where disillusionment is the coin of the realm, it’s also a highly combustible currency, and most of all, it shouts down reasoned debate and reasonable discussions about serious issues that are crucial for our future. The right has no exclusive claim to this behavior, and there are some on the left who are frustrated that President Obama is not moving quickly enough and is defending some of the policies of the Bush Administration that they abhor.
Ready To March
But, we hesitate to join the chorus at this time. It’s difficult at times to grasp the difference between campaigning and governing, between creating a base for election and creating a middle ground for your policies. Absurdist plots about a secret socialism conspiracies by the far right and continuing suggestions by the far left that President Bush is a war criminal do nothing so much as to divert us from the pressing tasks at hand. We seem so easily diverted by panem et circenses that are offered up reliably by to take our eyes off the ball.
Maybe, Aldous Huxley was right. It is indeed a Brave New World.
If it is, somehow, with in it, we have to find the means to rise above our identity as part of a special interest group and move beyond our own wedge issue to talk about what binds us together as a people and to find the common ground on which we all can stand.
As for us, we’ve wondered for eight years why more Americans weren’t out in the streets protesting tax policies that concentrated wealth among the well-connected and financial elites, many of the same people who now get multi-million bonuses after being bailed out by taxpayers less than a year ago.
For example, while some still genuflect at the altar of “tax cuts as magic answers” and passed more in 2001 and 2007, it’s incredulous to us that anyone is still willing to accept them as sound economic policy. In the past eight years, median household income declined to the lowest level since 1997, poverty climbed more than 50% and the number of insured Americans declined every year. The two terms of the Bush presidency were the only two in recent history in which income declined through eight years, and it predated the recession by seven years.
To our point, it may have taken six years, but the American people sorted it out. No one had to tell them that the recession began in 2007 although it took the Fed longer to figure it out. In the end, the on-the-ground understanding of an economy gone wrong resulted in the abysmal levels of support for the way the economy was being handled by the administration and voters delivered their inescapable message on Election Day.
So now, tea party-goers are incensed by the notion that health care reform could cost $1 trillion over 10 years, but we don’t remember complaints from them when the Bush Administration added that same amount to the deficit (without counterbalancing cuts) with its prescription plan for the government-run health care program that is Medicare. President Bush did veto the plan to expand health care to cover children, which contributed to the 21% increase in the uninsured during his terms.
In other words, we have a definite point of view, but we believe most Americans are like us: They’re willing to talk to anybody willing to find the common ground where all of us can gather to discuss the underlying challenges before us as a people. One thing seems widely held: It’s a tough time to be an average American. As our paychecks evaporate, the political bloviation condenses on our eye glasses, keeping us from seeing the political opportunism happening right in front of us.
Former House leader Dick Armey, who helped lead the Republican Party into the wilderness, is now working hard at FreedomWorks to build tea party turnout while turning out the same kind of “line in the sand” messaging that he mastered in Congress. He intones that “liberals don't care what you do as long as it's mandatory,” although he led passage of numerous bills aimed at institutionalizing his personal values into law. The same kind of self-parody is equally lost on Moveon.org which sees every single Republican idea as a slippery slope toward fascism.
Our favorite protester, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said: “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” What’s lost most in the present climate of fear and loathing is not just civility, but a sense of mutuality that should bind us altogether in search of answers.
Some of us here are old enough to remember the unbridled hatred for President John F. Kennedy and Dr. King and its painful results. As Dr. King often said, there is room for debate and there is room for disagreement. There just is no room for hatred and objectifying the other side.
He said: “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."
Maybe there is indeed a way to get to the Promised Land where we renounce the pandering and the hate-mongers, where we agree that every one should have a voice and where we find ways that we can get back to the barn-raising values that have defined this country for so long.