Page Two: A Pleasant Summer Afternoon Outing
With an all-too-familiar rant recalled and reoffered
Silence avoids me. It has been years since I've known quiet. Not that I've ever enjoyed quiet or spent time in its pursuit. All expectations of finding silence or hearing a return to reason, however, are foolish and futile. The years of the great noises still are upon us.
When we honestly try to explicitly describe our beliefs, what is explicit does not necessarily match our deeper, more ingrained, near-biological emotional beliefs – as in the case, for example, of people who insist that they're colorblind when it comes to skin color but are clearly as color-conscious as anyone. This is as much about liberals who are extra-sensitive about their manner of interacting with people of color as much as it is about racists who don't acknowledge their biases. It is about people of color as much as it is about Caucasians. There is a distance between who we think we are and who we are, but, as with many things, it is probably neither consistent nor knowable.
Remember the heady days of the previous administration, when many who disagreed with it were labeled Bush-haters who were irrational about the issues because they were so blinded by emotion? This was a means by which opinions and views could be marginalized and dismissed. Welcome to the New World, same as the Old World.
Currently, the attacks on President Obama's nascent administration are deafening. Many of those responsible for what detractors are decrying were, only half a year back, the same people declaring how personal, unpatriotic, and anti-American the attacks on President Bush and his administration were. Now, seeming delirious, presidential critics are showing no restraint but instead going to even further extremes. Evidently, they have now embraced the theory that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Duplicating the very attacks once criticized is not seen as hypocritical, but rather as the sweetest smells of the dawning of a new day.
Even when betraying my most partisan roots, my disagreements with Bush had nothing to do with either imagined possible actions or insidious, traitorous scheming but instead were about what was actually being done. None of it was personal; all of it had to do with politics.
President Obama is not only being personally targeted; his administration is being burdened with ill-deserved labels in order to destroy its legitimacy. There is honest disagreement with what this administration has done so far, but more often the charges are about how this nation is now doomed – honest disagreement is rare.
Racists, overly conservative fundamentalists, Republican loyalists, our beloved conspiracy-hobby friends, the militant right, and the militant left all share some variant of the belief that this is an illegitimate administration – that Obama became president because he was chosen and installed by some cadre of the secret, controlling elite or, in a more democratic take, he mesmerized the soulless, dim-witted masses into voting for him. Offering no doubt as to the imminent fall of the republic, with clairvoyant certainty they insist that, either because of outright treasonous inclinations or sadly misguided beliefs, the Obama administration is leading us into some historically loathsome ideological cesspool. This could be anything from socialism, communism, fascism, or one-world government to globalization, the New World Order, or a police state. The actually quite distinct and different ideological beliefs driving each of these are never really specified, as they are of no interest. It is the very words themselves that contain all the meaning: Dripping with oppressive connotations, they will change our constitutional government into an evil tyranny, determined to change our way of life!
Boasting a complete lack of self-doubt and an absolute certainty of purpose, many of these detractors also share (even if only subconsciously) a view of the "real" world that is tailored exactly to their inside ideologies. The real genius here is that, since they know the truth, there is no need for discussion or debate with those who disagree with them. They are the patriots, while all the rest of us are willingly somnolent, dupes, conspirators, fools, slaves, sheeple (so damn clever), stupid, hopelessly naive, and/or mindless members of the masses.
Terms such as "open-minded," "truth-seeker," "aware," "discovering the truth," "learning what is really going on," and "speaking truth to power" are basically ways of describing those who are in complete agreement with them. If one is not in agreement, then one is wrong and a willing slave.
Check the current Chronicle online forum discussions. There is a simply delightful discussion going on as to whether President Barack Obama is, as the Constitution requires, a native-born citizen. Obviously, there are few issues more relevant or critical facing this country.
Reasonable disagreement is dismissed.
There is a Hawaiian birth certificate widely available on the Internet. "It's a forgery" is the response.
There are mentions in both the Hawaiian daily newspapers of the birth. "Those damn Illuminati!" say skeptics. "So this has been planned for that long."
Many who oppose the present government, having no respect for the workings of a constitutional democracy, don't deign to offer specific criticisms and policy alternatives. Although they don't like Obama, to many he is just a symptom. Taking a much broader view, they insist that evil people have intentionally destroyed democracy. Our government, failed and irreparably broken, is now being run by one secret, malevolent, all-powerful cadre or another.
The biggest fictions, as this view has it, include the belief that democracy still exists, that the government in power was actually elected by the people, and that citizens still have rights. They dismiss the idea that, though battered, bruised, legislated across, and beaten down by laws and lawyers, the Constitution is relevant, it works – though awkwardly – and it is the basis for this country's government.
Most opposition members share at least some of any number of theories as to how it is broken and what is needed to fix things. Among the many solutions are campaign finance reform, term limits, banning the Democrats, banning the Republicans, deconstructing capitalism, limiting the power of corporations, eliminating multinational corporations altogether, violent revolution, nonviolent revolution, having more than two political parties, and restoring trust in the validity of each individual vote. (That most of these solutions would be unconstitutional is a subject for another column.)
Given that 300 million people are theoretically all empowered citizens who either can or will be able to vote, I have to wonder how things would or could work differently. How could the government work better or more efficiently representing so many people than it does now?
Accepting that humans are human, please subtract yourself from this discussion – given that one, in so many cases, finds him or herself with more common sense and a greater understanding of what this country needs than does any politician. If dogs could fly, they probably would do so. If only those governing were above succumbing to pressure, possessed with great political courage, and noble beyond reason – if they were immune and uninfluenced by the whim of the voter, the pressure of special-interest groups, the lure of the dollars, and/or the dangerous consequence of the addictions to power. If that were the case, then we would have a decent government. And if cats could talk, they probably would do so.
Now, add yourself and other voters back into the equation. If elected officials showed uncommon courage and integrity but advocated positions you strongly disagreed with, what would you really think of them?
In this country's popular discourse, these politicians are corrupted, traitors, pawns of the New World government, incompetent, wrong, and/or evil.
You may declare this nonsense, but remember that, rather than being admired for at least taking a difficult and unpopular stand, pro-toll-road politicians were instead branded as corrupt. When they gave in to the popular will by changing their positions, they were declared courageous.
There is nothing wrong with – but also nothing courageous about – shaping your principles to the will of the public. The Republican congressmen who came out against the last immigration reform bill (convoluted, unenforceable, and shaped to opinion rather than reality) declared that they would never support any legislation that was even distantly tinted with amnesty. They were hailed by many as brave heroes in a hopelessly corrupt Congress. Sorry, but they were pandering to you, and you bought it. Immigration reform without amnesty is about as possible as alchemy.
Quite contrary to the dogma and claims of so many, this country now has fewer laws restricting universal suffrage than ever before in its history. The general citizenry has more rights and is more empowered.
The despair with the current governments, I fear, comes far less from constitutional failures and far more from its successes. Rather than being the consequence of impending fascism or encroaching socialism, the general discontent emanates more from a sense of disappointment driven by feelings of entitlement and power. Unhappiness with the direction of the government, the content of legislation, and/or the consequences of judicial rulings is compounded when a citizen, having rights and the vote, takes this misdirection as a personal affront. Ignoring all the governmental actions in harmony with their beliefs, when things don't run their way, these citizens often suffer from an outraged feeling that the government has been taken from them.
The power blast of thousands of simultaneous spit-takes makes the air seem moist and windy. I imagine very few agree with this take, while many of every ideological stripe, perhaps violently, disagree. "To live outside the law you must be honest," Bob Dylan wrote. To be a citizen in a constitutional republic is to live with a government that is deliberately slow, clearly awkward, and often moving in a direction one hates.