Page Two

Songs of democracy in distress

Page Two


Democracy in Austin: Part 1

Regardless of how you feel about the war, let's support democracy here at home: Vote! The election has been swamped by the news of the war. The national, state, and local budget crises are overwhelming citizens' sensibilities. In the country and the state, the response has been an orgy of service-cutting that should fulfill the dreams of all small-government advocates. We'll see if this turns out really to be the world for which they wish. Austin is lucky to have Toby Futrell: She'll do what she has to, no matter how painful, but with intelligence and compassion.

City Council is important. Vote! Whatever shortfalls Will Wynn may have, he stands well above the other candidates. Marc Katz, whom we like, offers empty political promises; Brad Meltzer has little grasp of local issues; and Max Nofziger was a weak council member and won't be stronger as mayor. Margot Clarke will focus on this city, which is what is needed. The two incumbents deserve re-election. You own this city; take the responsibility: Vote.


Democracy in Austin: Part 2

Let's love the live music scene, support local businesses, and "Keep Austin Weird." The first steps are noise and no-smoking ordinances that are more likely to kill them? What am I missing?

The Smoke Free Austin health activists insist that no-smoking ordinances don't damage clubs or restaurants. In support, they offer that overall restaurant receipts and employment numbers in areas that have passed these ordinances haven't fallen, and in some places have increased. These are overall numbers. If, for example, a few mom-and-pop restaurants and a half-dozen live music venues closed, but fast-food and chain takeout restaurants did more business, there would be no impact on overall receipts. In a deadly economy, with the live music scene in a deep slump, is it really worth taking this chance? Can't this health/business experiment wait for healthier economic times? For all the love and support music gets in Austin, the paychecks come from the clubs. Why put them at risk? Smokers won't be allowed within 25 feet of a business' doors or windows -- you can't just go outside to smoke, but have to walk down the block. This seems designed to get smokers to stay at home with their takeout and CDs. Council members, politicians, and civic leaders: If you're going to talk the talk, walk the walk. Don't screw with the clubs; they're barely holding on.


Democracy in the United States: Part 1

The genius of our government (a democratic republic) is not simply that we are allowed to speak, believe, and vote as we wish, but that dissent, disagreement, discourse, debate, and compromise are the very foundations of good government. Partisanship is reaching unprecedented levels. Texas is facing an economic crisis, but instead of our elected legislators working together to solve these problems, the Republicans have shoved their vision full-blown down the state's throat. Listen to talk radio (which I should stop doing) and our nation's leaders. Democracy will be great in Iraq, but here it is a failed experiment, with the evil and subversive Democrats (read liberalsocialistcommunistanti-Americans) destroying our economy, culture, and society. Instead of cherishing the ideals on which this country is based and appreciating the commitment and goodwill of its citizens, regardless of their beliefs, we've degenerated into good guy/bad guy crap.

In defending controversial pieces and opinions the Chronicle has published, I try not to use the free speech/First Amendment argument. The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights did not create the ideas they contain; they brilliantly argued that a functioning, free society was dependent on them. Instead of ever-begrudgingly citing these as sources that permit inappropriate behavior, we must keep in mind the necessary (even when difficult) vitality of their concerns.


Democracy in the United States: Part 2

Redistricting. A bipartisan affection largely responsible for current unilateral government. There used to be a lot of swing districts that might vote for one party one election, the other party the next. After several decades of fine tuning, districts are remarkably homogenous, and there is no reason for elected officials to work together. Congratulations to both sides. This isn't enough for Tom DeLay, who wants to carve a few more Republican congressional districts in Texas, getting rid of Lloyd Doggett in the process.

Religion. As far as is evident, God hasn't actually weighed in with a political party preference, though you wouldn't know it from listening to the right. The worse blasphemy is to assume one knows God's positions on the most mundane of issues, though this knowledge seems surprisingly common.

Language. Opinions are not facts. Beliefs are not absolute givens. Objective truth is an oxymoron. There is the truth in God's eyes; all else is subjective. Just read history. There are libraries of work arguing not just the meaning and effect of events but the specifics of what happened. The right is trumpeting absolutes; relativism is a failure of liberals. There is good and evil; there is truth and lies; and there are right actions and wrong actions. They know the difference. This is often called fascism or fanaticism, but regardless of label, historically has not proven fertile ideological soil for democracies.


History

Last issue, I pointed out that conservatives in the Muslim world and the U.S. shared certain core beliefs, if not specific values: a fear of the future, a dislike of the present, and a conviction that returning to the (idealized and reimagined) past would solve most contemporary problems. My wording was lousy, and I tied Islamic terrorists to American conservatives, which is inaccurate. My point was more general. A caller to The Chronicle Hour (Fridays, 5-6pm, 1370AM) pointed this out, and I acknowledged my mistake. He then went on to point out that it is progressives who hate free speech and kill journalists, citing some atrocities by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. The head spins, as complex histories are reduced to the facts that we most like because they support our case. To look at the last 100 years of South African history as defined by some atrocities committed by one group is staggeringly simplistic. However, it sure does make history, ideology, diplomacy, and philosophy easy.

History as a weapon: The Southern Democrats were racist, therefore Democrats are the true racists. Politically, the South relatively quickly evolved from Democrat to Republican after LBJ's civil rights legislation, changing party allegiances but not politicians' agendas. Ignore historical realities; assert disconnected facts as having the most meaning.

History doesn't exist: A couple of hundred years of slavery and 100 years of segregation had no real-world consequences. Even if the best predictor of educational and economic success is family performance, a true believer in the constitutional guarantees of equal opportunity demands current absolute equality, regardless of previous societal obstacles. History is not relevant and should not be a factor in current policy.

History is meaningless: Many who opposed human rights as a criteria for diplomatic relations in the immediate past supported the war of Iraqi liberation. Conversely, many who have long fought for human rights opposed the war. Yet the former love freedom and care about the Iraqi people, while the latter are selfish cowards who care nothing for the people of the world. History is an ideological tool.


The Anti-War Movement

According to Americans reveling in victory, the war is over, Iraq is liberated, and the Bush administration's assessments of the situations were proven correct. Consequently, the anti-war movement has embarrassed and discredited itself, and liberalism is about to be forever buried.

Many in the anti-war movement asserted:

  • The Iraqi military was devastated by a dozen years of sanctions and represented no threat to the region or American invaders.

  • Even if the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction, there is no indication they will use them.

  • The peace would be far more difficult than the war.

  • The consequences of the war in Iraq, the Middle East, the world, and the United States won't be known for decades.

    Where were we wrong?


    Democracy in Iraq

    "You talk about the people as though they belong to you. As long as I can remember you've talked about giving the people their rights as though you could make a present of liberty -- in reward for services rendered. You remember the workingman? You used to write an awful lot about the workingman. Well he's turned into something called organized labor and you're not going to like that a bit when you find out it means that he thinks he's entitled to something as his right and not your gift."

    -- Joseph Cotton's Leland to Orson Welles' Kane after he's lost the election for governor in Citizen Kane

    Democracy in Iraq is a right of the people, not a privilege granted by the United States. Don't expect the Iraqi government in 10 years to in any way resemble the fantasy of American conservatives who came to the concept of liberation late in the confrontation. Their country and their government belongs to them, and they know it.

    The routes of American government go back to the Magna Carta in 1215, reach some mass in 1776, and continue through present-day Supreme Court discussions. Close to 800 years of philosophical, legal, and social evolution. Iraq should be ready for elections when?


    Coda: Buying the Big Lie

    How longtime conservatives who don't trust politicians, big government, or huge deficits reconcile their current partisan, Republican, fanatical loyalty confuses me. They don't trust government to take care of the sick and educate children, but they do to invade foreign countries? Taxes can be cut for those who least need the money, resulting in the loss of funding for people in need -- as well as the loss of thousands of jobs -- and, in an already devastated economy, this will have no great effect? A tax cut, coupled with increased spending that a handpicked Republican economist who leads the Congressional Budget Office indicates won't spur the economy, will? Depleting all of America's fossil-fuel resources while not seriously developing alternative energy sources will lessen our dependence on foreign oil? The goal of United States' concerns are aggressively national, not global?

    A caller on talk radio last week argued that Iraq should be forced to pay for rebuilding the World Trade Center, since they had destroyed it.

    Karl Rove must be a very happy man. end story

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