In June of 2009, The Rational Middle premiered on the national stage. Of course, by national stage, I mean 12 readers per day…well, maybe 12 readers per week. Right at the outset, the notion of government both big and small, interested me. The role of perception in how big government is defined was the subject of an early post, Other People’s Big Government. Human nature being what it is, our own plans are usually superior to those of our fellow citizens, and their plans are typified by the reckless endangerment of our liberties and way of life. I have written the idea often, but the point remains; in a nation of 300 million, everybody’s absolute liberty is impossible to maintain. The Stones had it right; you can’t always get what you want.
But if you try really hard, you really can get what you need. And that idea friends, is what our arguments should revolve around. The major problem now, is that our problems, dreams, ambitions, and issues have been marginalized in favor of ad-friendly soundbites. Our democracy is being talking-pointed to death. The phenomenon of the day is an outgrowth of how detached we the people are from our own ability, our own right, to chart the course of the nation. It may make perfect sense to establish policy that rewards personal responsibility and ambition within the working class, it makes none to structure an economy that favors only the most wealth-defined successful within the construct. This is precisely the path we have taken over the last three decades, and the results of the journey ought to be self-explanatory.
Top-flight columnist Chris Hedges and journalist Amy Goodman were on the equally excellent Charlie Rose show October 24. Hedges and Goodman were on PBS to provide a decidedly not mainstream media take on the Occupy Wall Street movement. Both counted among the Obama Administration’s most vociferous and eloquent critics, the Truth Dig columnist and Democracy Now! anchor were asked by Rose their thoughts on the President’s place in the building movement. The short answer, from their point of view, is that President Obama serves the movement as a symbol for everything wrong with government. The man roundly marked as a Marxist dictator leading a socialist world revolution, President Obama has now officially become a symbol of Wall Street to most of the political left.
Typically, statements and sentiments like those expressed by Hedges, Goodman, Hamsher, and others get under my skin. I have, on this site as well as in the various social networks, been dismissed as an “Obama Apologist”. But Amy Goodman’s remarks, taken in concert with the Occupy protesters themselves, give me a ray of hope. I have often taken the position of pragmatism, while the smarter and more established columnists who share my liberal world view have quickly jumped to the notion of a fight on principle. When asked what role President Obama could take, Goodman responded by stating that it was movements, not individuals or traditional parties, that made real change. Curious statement, I thought, given her propensity to blame an individual and traditional party for not making real change.
A stream of curse words. A river of filth. The coarsening of our culture. This article is a response to an email sent by the Tea Party Nation to its members that fits, in every important point, the notion defined by the previous statements. But the Tea Party Nation is not the only perpetrator of such offenses in our society. I am guilty of them; The Rational Middle, I have often noted, is an aspiration rather than reality. Liberals, conservatives, truck drivers, and school teachers; we Americans have become proficient in the debased art of degrading language.
What I will do in this article, I hope, is to deconstruct the obscenities hurled by Melissa Brookstone in the aforementioned email. I will not call her a traitor; I will not call her a bigot. I am writing this column in the full understanding that the Tea Party Nation email is written in a tone that more than a few friends and family members, folks that I respect and love, will agree with. This article is not being written about the character of the Tea Party Nation, it is being written to refute the premise of Tea Party Nation.
Occasionally, when she observes me yelling in rage and frustration at a video game, my wife will ask the rational questions; “Why are you so angry with an inanimate object, and why do you play it if it causes you such grief?” Friends, I have always been honest with you, this rationality deal is purely aspirational. And so it is that I continue to struggle with my addiction to politics, a field where very little seems to make any sense these days. All of which brings me to Herman Cain.
I really do feel for my conservative friends (yes, I do have quite a fair few of them). Herman Cain is an intelligent guy, an able fundraiser, and a competent top manager. He is also distinguished by the fact that he seems to have a plan of his own not wholly reliant on taking everything the President does or says and turning it into a glennbeckian Marxist fantasy. His plan of course, 9-9-9 (named, I am sure, for the British version of our 9-1-1 emergency call line), is the current incarnation of my frustrating video games. Herman Cain’s plan will raise taxes on the majority of Americans; not working Americans, unemployed Americans; not the 99% or the 53%; the whole bunch of us. Herman Cain is a Republican…and his plan is to raise taxes…and he is still in contention. I feel like I just drank a 32 oz. Slurpee™ in less than a minute.
The Culture Wars, and all of the single-issue politics that form the component campaigns, battles, and skirmishes, are orphans of the First Amendment. The remnants of Constitutional compromise, along with the battles fought over the Bill of Rights, are with us today. As much as economics, education, infrastructure, and defense provide the structure for American prosperity, the expression of our democracy is dominated by short statements that involve none of the above:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Think for a moment how positive many liberals are for an expansive interpretation of the clause leading the First Amendment, and how equally expansive conservative interpretations are for the clause in the middle of the Second Amendment. All Constitutional interpretation is correct, if said interpretation favors one’s individual needs and preferences. At the recent Values Voters Forum, the question of interpretation regarding the First came to a head in the form of a very particular insult hurled by one Christian at another.
Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, might have said the n-word. He might have hunted on a leased plot of land described with the same disgusting relic of slave-language. Heck, I would bet cash money that Rick Perry used that word in a joke last year about the President. I believe the language is crass and debasing; I know its use lowers my perception of the user’s IQ (regardless of the ancestry of that user). I find it only too easy to use the most powerful and important expression of my opinion, my vote, to sanction anybody I hear who thinks the word appropriate (again regardless of ancestry).
But to tell you the truth friends, I am dead tired of the race card. Chasing a given human’s ingrained perceptions of the people around them, labeling those perceptions, and then using them for public abuse is a process that has lost its charm and relevance. It is a nuclear option, dividing friend from friend and painting diverse peoples with the same course brush. It is also, in the context of American politics in general and the presidential election cycle in particular, thoroughly unnecessary. I won’t spend the next year hunting down the character flaws of various candidates, because their various policy flaws are more than enough for disqualification.