Thursday, January 31, 2008

An Unfortunate Attitude

Recently, I've become concerned with aspects of American disillusionment and the upcoming Presidential campaign of 2008...

What does "progress" mean?

How can we improve the United States of America?


You know, some people say that the government is broken. People say that it is more than the pro-business, reactionary tone of the neo-conservative alliance that has run Washington D.C. for much of recent memory.

Nobody absolves the Republicans, but many people also blame the opposition Democrats for giving a rubber stamp to a wrong-headed policy agenda.

They say the two-party system itself has become castrated, incapable of making substantive improvements to the state of the nation.

Certain people say that the Democrats and Republicans are too similar, too entrenched in a corporate system to be capable of making any kind of structural improvements.

Other people say that the Right and the Left are too ideologically opposed. They say that the partisan gridlock in Washington has rendered the federal government unable to solve basic problems because of a material inability to forge compromise.
How do people go about fixing their government?

Some decide to vote for third party candidates whose political ideology aligns more directly with their own. Sometimes these candidates fall into the group that believe that the two major parties are too similar - the Green Party and the Libertarian Party come to mind. Those that believe that the major parties are too different work to find moderate insurgencies. The Unity '08 movement surrounding Mr. Bloomberg, Senator Hagel, and others comes to mind.

Other people are disillusioned with the two party system in a different way. They believe that the US government is so broken that it is beyond repair, as far as electoral politics are concerned. Some decide that the system is so stacked against the alternative party/ideology of their liking or they decide that none of the candidates in either major or minor parties truly represents their values. They opt not to vote at all. They determine it isn't worth it to do so.

Then, I think about my own values, my own virtues, my own ideas.

I think about how far away we are from achieving the Utopian America that I have envisioned in my brain and in my heart.

And we are so far... so far away from reaching it. There are times I've felt we are so far away that I think about scenarios in which I might consider giving up entirely.

Some people that are disillusioned shake their heads at those that decide to back a major party candidate:

...Naive, they are. They'll never get real change with candidate X. They might make a positive adjustment or two here and there but everything will be the same, for the most part. We'll still be far far away from the ideal America and then someone else will come in and take us backward in a circle to where we started the first time...

Sometimes, these attitudes make me upset. And it's not because I think the two party system is the ideal model for good governance, popular representation, or democracy. It's not because I don't agree that this nation needs striking and substantive change at some point or another.

I do agree. I do agree this country needs way more than an oil change. It needs more than new break pads.

There are major problems with the engine. I agree.

This country does totally messed up stuff to people all over the world. Our own government does totally messed up stuff to us here at home.

I agree!

A lot of people do, t00. So many people.

But I think about progress and I think about how to improve the United States of America.

I realize that there are also a lot of people out there that hate my Utopian America. There are so many ignorant, hateful, misinformed, reactionary people that have an irrational fear of all adjustments that I think would improve this nation.

I know that those people will fight my attempts to make changes.

I know that there are so many changes I'd like to make that the couldn't happen in one day, even if I were king of the world. Certain things would have to wait until day two or week two or year two, I mean, a man's gotta eat and nap and catch a ball game now and then.

But I'm not king of the world (yet)...

The closest person to king of the world is the President of the United States of America. We are going to elect a new one soon.

Which candidate will get us closer to the Utopian States of We Could Be Famous?

Which one is more likely to succeed in making enough lasting change during their four or eight years in office so that in 2010 I'm typing about the NEXT logical set of changes that need to be made to get us that much closer to the US of WCBF?

Some people that I agree with on a lot of things thought that that person was John Edwards and were planning to vote for him.

I like John Edwards and I can't really be mad at people that believed his policies would represent the most progress of the major candidates. I understand arguments that Mr. Edwards would have been the strongest candidate against the Republicans in the fall.

Now that Edwards has dropped out of the election, some of his former supporters are now lining up behind Barack Obama, who has always been my choice for most capable of leading a sustained generational push for a more progressive America. He is their second choice, they believe he is at least marginally more capable of creating positive progress than the other electorally viable choices available.

Others believe that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are too similar to each other or too similar to the Republicans.

These people may not vote at all. Some might consider voting for Ralph Nader, a candidate that will not win but provides a ballot choice for those wanting to express their disillusionment in electoral form.

I like many of Mr. Nader's ideas. I like his fearlessness in expressing politically unpopular realities that neither major party has the boldness to address.

But I don't think a disgruntled, self-righteous vote for Mr. Nader or a disillusioned, self-righteous decision to abstain from voting helps one iota.

Barack Obama's candidacy, even if you think it is mostly rhetoric, even if you think his enthusiastic supporters have become irrational followers of a personality cult, even if you don't think it advocates for authentic change, represents something substantially different from the candidacies we've seen from the Democratic Party in decades.

You might not agree that his ideas are any different. Other things are different, however.

Mr. Obama's grassroots support through small donations and his ability to attract large crowds is impressive and unprecedented in the TV age of politics.

His galvanization of young voters is unprecedented in the TV age of politics.

His appeal amongst independents is something that I have not witnessed from a Democratic candidacy in my lifetime.

These things are encouraging developments. I like these things. I believe that his policies are decent. I disagree with him on lots of things. I want his health care plan to be more universal, I want him to end the death penalty, I want him to favor gay marriage.

But I think he can lead an electoral coalition that can get us closer to the Utopian States of We Could Be Famous than any other major candidate left running. I think he can get us closer than Ralph Nader could, even if Mr. Nader magically broached the magical 5% number to earn the media coverage of a major party candidate.

That marginal moral victory would bring way less change than a landslide victory for Barack Obama would.

A landslide victory, a mandate would allow at least some changes. Depending on Mr. Obama's competency it could lead to a few medium-sized changes. It would allow people like me that want to see big changes to demand them in an environment receptive to arguments about change-oriented policy. A Democratic Presidency, if it succeeds in making improvements to this country, would allow a person like myself, a person that wants big changes, a better environment for the advocacy of my longterm policy ideals. A Democratic Presidency, if it fails to make this country better, puts me in a better position to criticize politicians for not offering enough change or for being too complacent.

A Republican Presidency puts in me in a place where I'll be arguing against more reactionary and backward policies. It forces me to abandon my Utopian States ideas in order to argue against the agenda of neo-conservative dystopia advocates that they'll be a better position to put forth.

Why is it stupid for like-minded people that hate the neo-conservative agenda to resoundingly unite behind a candidate, even if he's not the most perfect thing of all time? Isn't it worth it to work together to see how much change we can get? To see how far along we can get? To move this nation to a new set of debates?

Franklin Roosevelt was an awesome President that changed lots of things about this country for the better. He also made some vile and sinister decisions that violate my ideals regarding liberty and human rights.

But I'd certainly take him as President over and over again. He was able to forge a generational coalition that lasted for a long time and made substantial progress in terms of establishing a social safety net and extending civil rights.

Now I want a better social safety net and I want civil rights extended further. He didn't finish the job. I don't expect Mr. Obama to do so either. I think we could move the boulder, though.

If it isn't worth it to give it a shot, then why are you living in this country still?

I'm ready to leave when I reach that determination, myself. I want to live in a society that I respect. I think America still is that society, I'd like to think we can make it a better match.

When I don't think that's possible anymore, I'm gone.

It seems like people that are conscientiously abstaining from voting or voting for Ralph Nader have already made that determination. They're engaging in the discourse without really engaging in the discourse.

Give this coalition a shot. It's not perfect, it never is going to be. We can get closer to it though.

Why is it not worth it to enthusiastically support Mr. Obama's coalition? What is there to lose?
Don't we have more to lose by remaining disillusioned? Don't we have more to lose when an enthusiastic change coalition could mean the difference between another backward Republican administration or a Democratic one receptive to making things at least somewhat better? Don't we have more to lose when an enthusiastic change coalition could be the difference between an anemic Democratic administration that struggles to force the passage of progressive bills in Congress and one that has a mandate from the American people and wide majorities in the House and Senate?

I disagree with Mr. Obama on many fronts. I am not seduced by the hope he inspires.

But I have hope. I have hope that this country can be better if we can build a coalition of like-mined people, even if we differ on a lot of different little things. Mr. Obama provides as viable a pretext for progressive unity as I've ever experienced in the United States of America.

How could this not be worth a shot?

I'm gone if it fails and we're left in the same position we're in now in eight years. But, I tell ya, I'm gone sooner if we don't try.

1 comment:

GentillyGirl said...

I think the both of us are on the same page.

We have a "Paticipatory" Democracy, and that means each and every one us must do our part. The only way to continue the Social Contract is for all of us to be interested.

Isn't in all of our best interests?