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.

Economic Dogma

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.

Hate Bait

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 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.


Chuck said...

Where is "Ike" when we need him?


Anonymous said...

I find it very sad that we live in a society in which the media has dictated our own sense of judgement, resulting in the tea parties, the "shouting-fests" at town hall meetings, and the constant dipictions of our first Kenyan-Hawaiian-American president as being everything from Hitler's reincarnation to being an illegal socialist immigrant as well as being a secret terrorist and a racist.

But it's not just the media that is to blame. It's the people who have been allowed to start a firestorm of sensational and slanderous claims just to rally the people to revolt all for the sake of exercising their First Amendment rights.

The facts have become skewed, the lies have become persistent, and perception has become accepted as truth. Unfortunately, I see no end in sight to what has defined our culture as being blinded from logic, and knowing truth from false.

antisocialist said...

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government -- lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." - Patrick Henry

Michael Roy Hollihan said...

I was enjoying this column until I came to the term "tea baggers." Full stop. I didn't bother to finish it and rejected whatever it had been trying to say.

This column is clearly written from a lefty perspective but it was also clear an effort was being made to be non-partisan. But "tea bagger"? That's an insult term, and the fact it was used so blithely makes whatever else was being said moot. It's just one of those terms that marks a person.

Clearly, the author of this column needs to get out of their ideological house more often.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe, Aldous Huxley was right. It is indeed a Brave New World."

Maybe George Orwell was right, 1884is more like it.

Anonymous said...

I Hope you meant "1984"
But maybe not:

The Berlin conference which carved up Africa amongst the Euro powers began: and Isoroku Yamamoto, Harry Truman and Hugo Schmeisser were born.

packrat said...

Ike?? The intellectual forerunner of these teabaggers and birthers(an appropriate name in my view) was the wackjob John Birch Society, whose founder called IKE a communist. DDE was a commie, doncha know. If Ike came back now, these goofball wingnuts would call him a RINO and try to drum him out of the party for some fundamentalist lightweight like sarah palin. I voted for reagan, Bush I twice, Dole, and Bush II once but I've left the GOP for good.

Smart City Consulting said...


We can't deny our liberal bent, but we got the term, tea bagger (political, not sexual) off of Fox News' commentary on this movement.

Michael Roy Hollihan said...

SCM, when the user of that word is from the political left and the audience being addressed includes folks on the right, its use is automatically read as an insult by many of the righties. You can use it if you want, of course, but you're instantly polarising your audience and turning off some of the very people you would hope will hear your message. Your choice.

Smart City Consulting said...


Sorry we were obtuse about this being a derogatory world. We were actually trying to move beyond the epithets and stumbled over one.

memphisj said...

I always love how Smart City endeavors to be inclusive but once again you're creating a false equivalence when you make statements about "over-the-top sloganeering and the social media self-organizing of the left" compared to calling Obama a halfrican, muslim ad infinitum. Can you cite some examples of how those darn twitterers are acting in the same manner?

In my reading of SCM I get the impression that these are the type of people(social media folk) you deem would be good recruits for the city. I happen to agree with that. But the rising violent rhetoric of the right coupled with gun-packing at presidential appearances is alarming. It doesn't appear that any republican leaders are willing to try and cool down the base, probably for fear of being voted out of office.

Looking at our history the atmosphere at the teabagger/birther rallies is eerily reminiscent of the far right rhetoric when John Kennedy was assassinated. It's not a protest or desire to have your point of view heard, simply an effort to intimidate and kill debate.

vast_conspirator said...

For the record, and to burst a mystifying liberal myth, Kennedy was shot by a Communist.

RFK was killed by a radical Palestinian.

Wm. McKinley was killed by an anarchist.

The second woman who shot at Gerald Ford was a radical.

There's your assassin pattern: radical leftists or nut jobs like Hinckley. Facts is facts.

Actually, I think SCM has written a very good post here, reading past the admitted slant. Television political debate shows have become unwatchable argumentation with two or three people speaking at once. I generally agree with Limbaugh's political points but can't bear to listen to him because he is such an obnoxious blowhard. O'Reilly won't let anyone finish a sentence. I won't even get into the truth twisting by the other side. The point is, obnoxious goes both ways and we'd all be better off without it.


You know darn well the "patsies" personal political leanings were manufactured.
here's my take,
Right wingers = sold out to the devil for profit and misuse of Lincoln quotes.
Left wingers = this years winners, ten years ago,they commit high treason.
This is a Clinton campaign to make up for China's change of heart after Clinton (Hillary) brokered a seat on the american board of trade to chinese nationals in return for levelized trade deficit, which never turned out. They sunk us instead.
Nobody's perfect but some abuse the privilege.
FYI: This is a republic, not a democracy.
Lincoln said you can't rob the rich to feed the poor, but, that doesn't mean you can rob the poor to feed the rich as has been being done for millennia.
Time's up maybe?

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