Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A National Struggle Against Republican Extremism

George W. Bush may be right. We are locked in a death match with global extremism. “Compromise” and “unity” are viewed quitter’s words. Ideologues dot the globe like capitals cities; the world feels poised for eruption. The national front of this mythical struggle has been washed upon our shores as the government of the United States of America crumbles like a sand art at high tide. Just as citizens struggle for breath beneath the toxic bathwater drawn by the Grover Norquist crowd, we may be finally awakening from the ravages of economic extremism championed by the Republican corporatists. Whether it is the cronyism of FEMA stooge “Brownie”, the back room politics of suspended Speaker of the House Tom Delay or the Martha Stewart style insider trading of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, this robber baron trickle down is drowning the rest of us.

What kind of government do we want? Throughout our history there have been flashpoint events that bring this question to the lips of the body politic and force a reexamination of what “we” believe and what “we” practice. The Constitutional Convention, Black Tuesday, the March on Washington, and the Cuban Missile Crises, are but a few obvious examples of cultural crossroads that have guided our young country in its march to supposed maturity. But what all these flashpoint events and their many cousins have in common is that the ideological framework of our country was questioned, changed, broken and rebuilt. In these historical moments not only did our leaders, lawmakers, artists and spiritual advisors grapple in this debate, but “we the people” lived and died by because of them. Hurricane Katrina and its deadly aftermath have blown through the gulf coast ushering in another of these national civic struggles that will clearly define the coming national discourse and policy choices.

The last five years have raced by like the landscape outside of a moving train. Momentous events pummeled us: September 11th, the Iraq war, global natural disasters, disputed elections, the move to the information age, the legitimizing of terrorism, corporate scandals and the rest of the never ending loop of almost surreally bad news. This torrent of events, each at the time seemingly digested and survived, is having their compacted impact now on the coattails of the most severe disaster in United States history. Katrina ripped open the scabs that crustily covered the wounds of poverty, race, class and just what the hell the government’s responsibility is to its people. What kind of government do we want? What it is it there for? What does it do best? Who does it serve? Who is it made up of? Why do we need it? Is it doing the job its intended? We as a people have rubber stamped many of the legislative and policy initiatives that have created the current situations we find ourselves involved with, whether it’s the sand trap of Iraq, the chasm in our economic system or the inability of government to protect and serve.

In the continual Groundhog Day hangover of the 2004 presidential election Democrats have examined the concept of “framing” in an attempt to understand how people are lead to vote against their own interests. Watching our fellow Americans suffer on television news has done what no linguistic think tank can and given us, the proper frame: when government doesn’t work properly people die. Suddenly, why it matters to vote and stay informed has a face and a story and a consequence. But wait! The uber-ironic, cynicism as vice, desensitized and doped version of myself reminds me “all politicians are the same man, there’s no difference between democrats and republicans/liberals and conservatives. Nothing matters.” I have to ignore that guy, its no longer the utopian Clinton years when society and I could afford to pretend Clinton was the problem. In retrospect Clinton, down to his National Enquirer tastes, had a much saner application of abuse of power: maybe an expensive haircut, semantics arguments on the word “is”, pardoning a few good ole’ boys family members, and maybe getting a little "strange." The same wink-wink crap we all do, or, would if we could. Call’em perks. But Since the 1994 Contract For America Republican Revolution it’s been wholesale looting of the public coffers via graft, no bid contracts and industry friendly legislation to the tune of trillions of dollars. Why do they always destroy their own countries?

The 21th century Republicans (party of Lincoln they are not) currently in power don’t have the interests of people in mind while they govern. That is deadly obvious not only in disaster response but in all facets of government. Beginning with the Reagan Revolution there has been an attempt (and a damn successful one at that) to repeal the late 19th and entire 20th century. It has been all out assault on the ideology and reforms of the progressive era, and the New Deal while most recently dismantling the good government policies of the Clinton administration (practices like balanced budgets, daily Al Queda briefings, professionals in top infrastructure jobs, and tough pollution standards, just to name check a few…). Rampant deregulation, the castrating of social programs, the vilifying of welfare (unless its corporate welfare for savings & loans, defense contractors and airlines), the breaking of labor unions, the politics of race bating and the manipulation of religious ideals have all become the norm circa1980. Even in the last five years we have seen the rich white dudes in power start wars of choice, belittle human rights, shift the tax burden from the elite to the working class, enact bushels of pro-corporate legislation and ignore scientific realities in favor of the potent combo of cash and dogmatic morality.

Are you pro-people or Pro-Corporation and what side do you think our government should be on? The American experiment has been a messy and painful, but the debates, conflicts and lessons have slowly elevated our society to meet the ideals mapped out in our bill of rights and constitution. It’s not naïve to dream of a country that is a lighthouse to the world, that is better at protecting, serving and representing its population, as cornball as that sounds. Our collective social history is moving us toward building a safety net that values the health and success of all the people. I am not afraid to buy into the myth of America because the potential, the possibility for positive is so strong. However I fear I hear the halting gears of progress and that “we the people” have been left systematically marginalized the past 25 years, instead content to gorge on fast food culture and the rhetoric of a me first mentality shackled on us by the corporate bottom line. The safety net is steadily and deliberately being cut away, and we the voting public must share in the blame. Perhaps its not to late, perhaps I am fatally optimistic but I believe that the civic snooze button has been hit for the last time with Hurricane Katrina as our blisteringly loud alarm.

The study of history turns up many collateral benefits of calamities, disasters and human folly. Plagues bring medical breakthroughs, poverty breeds ingenuity, suffering of others teaches the masses lessons on empathy and charity. What positives will Katrina force upon us? Is it too early to ask? It already has reintroduced us to thinking critically about our leaders and giving prosecutors and legislators the authority to start handing out indictments, making arrests and changing laws. It has embarrassed the fourth estate enough to wake them from the post 9/11 comas and start investigative reporting again. Even the most mundane and safe news sources now reads like a daily crime blotter of Republican wrong doings. We as voters unfortunately still have to wait over a year to get to the polls, which leaves many months for the cupboards, storefronts and coffers to still be pilfered. Yet in this time those who believe in progressive, or democratic or humanitarian or just plain sensible ideals need to be building coalitions and establishing common ground with reality based core values.

America is so diverse in meaning that we all find stuff to hate, value and cling to. So I have always dealt with the concept of America by defining it for myself and having it represent a place I wish/want/daydream it to be. And with this concept I love America. When I think of the damage that America causes and represents I try to remember Americans like the Green Mountain Boys, Harriet Tubman, Bill Monroe, Louise Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Thurgood Marshall, Robert Kennedy, John Steinbeck, Bell Hooks, Sally Ride and Ron Kovic . To think about the momentous civic and cultural advancements in less then three hundred years of development and let these pathways serve as a roadmap to reclaiming our country. It works for me anyway.