The TV show West Wing provided ordinary people with an emotional look behind the scenes in the White House, complete with political manipulations, personal drama and a sense of being in the center of political history. While conservatives lack their own TV drama, they have reactionaries such as Bill O’Reilly, Ollie North and Rush Limbaugh to play on their emotions and provoke them to anger.
Political anger, campaigns, lobbying and elections are, of course, hallmarks of democracy and today’s “cultural war” spurs more of the electorate into taking part in the political process. No doubt, such urgency provides some with a sense of purpose, but it can also lead to an overblown sense of self-importance and promote an emotionalism that is a disservice to the political process. Emotional responses polarize the electorate and lead to stalemates.
The role of a citizen is not to imagine oneself making political decisions for the country. In a democracy, the primary duty of a citizen is to be informed, while voting, lobbying, fund raising and other activities play their parts. A citizen best serves society by using reason to choose the best possible leaders and policies to promote the common good of the community, state and nation, not by fantasizing about being in charge of US policy.
Unfortunately, many Americans react emotionally to political policy-if I were president, I’d bomb the bastards-rather than judging alternatives and arriving at a rational policy. Our emotional responses-revenge for 9/11, building a fence to “protect” ourselves from immigrants, filling our prisons with drug users, fighting them “over there” so we don’t have to fight them here-are cleverly played upon by Karl Rove and the Bush Administration to gain power for the benefit of a capitalistic elite.
Backed by emotionalism, which includes a professed Christianity and private conversations with God, the Bush presidency has driven us to a record low point in American history. The Republican Party, owned by business interests and stacked with pontificating blowhards like Newt Gingrich, Bill Frist, John McCain, Jack Abramoff and Dennis Hastert, has created the most corrupt Congress since Ulysses S. Grant.
Hiding behind an “everyman is us-wave the flag” propaganda campaign, Republicans use a mixture of fear, nationalistic jingoism, and “you can get rich too” emotionalism to tilt power and money to those who already control a large part of the nation’s wealth, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Thanks to the Republicans and their “the president can do no wrong” agenda, the US is faced with a war that it can’t win-and has already lost in terms of worldwide prestige and public opinion.
The failure of the invasion of Iraq masks a far wider scheme to corrupt Congress and the political process and turn over governmental functions to private corporations with phony oversight that allows them to cheat and steal. Corporations are raking in record profits and companies are swallowing each other up at record rates, while Bush’s policies weaken the military, radically increase the national debt, drive manufacturing overseas, feed a bloated weapons industry, and make the whole economy dependent upon Wal-Mart.
If the US were a business, capitalists would close its doors and sell off the pieces, which has already begun with the privatization of public utilities and freeways, a mercenary army, and plans to contract out the education and social security systems. Don’t expect any changes soon because there’s more profit to be squeezed out of the citizenry. The economy will be milked dry and people will be kept fearful in much the same way as they were during the cold war.
But there is a political battle on the horizon. The Democrats are back in power in Congress and the Republican coalition of exploitive capitalists, white Bible thumpers, family values dogmatists, military hawks, and tax and regulation haters is beginning to unravel. Even moralistic hypocrites are flabbergasted by the top four Republican presidential contenders who account for nine marriages, five divorces and a number of extramarital affairs.
Given these assumptions, let’s dream about some political changes:
* Immediate withdrawal from Iraq;
* Real support for a Palestinian state;
* A comprehensive immigration policy;
* Universal health care;
* A minimum wage indexed to inflation;
* A progressive income tax;
* New taxes on churches and advertising;
* Banning professional lobbyists from Washington;
* Radically addressing global warming on a national and international level;
* Deemphasizing consumerism to focus on living a better life;
* Forcing corporations to pay their share of taxes;
* Protecting everyone’s health and the environment;
And that’s just a beginning.
Utopian proposals lacking in concrete details? Perhaps. But it’s also an outline that begins to talk about a shared public sphere that involves everyone rather than one set up to maximize some individuals’ ability to get rich. One that returns to the notion of a public good, sharing resources, benefits, protections and rewards. An agenda that shifts public debate to new issues that will be desperately needed as we face the great dangers that lie ahead.
Don Monkerud is a California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.