Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Great Void: Democratic Political Theater.

Mr. President:

I wish to give testimony on the changes in our political culture, and what I, as an avid supporter of you, and your vision and agenda, need from you.

The Bush years were painful for me, as they were for many Americans, because of the arrogant violations of the Constitution, United States law, international law, and human rights, and the crass gaming of emotions and media for political, not shared, gain.

Your vision, of reason, debate, compromise and transparency, shone like a beacon in this darkness, beckoning to all thoughtful, compassionate, reasonable people, to rally behind someone who would try to restore our national dignity and our hope for a peaceful, prosperous, shared future.

I believe that your efforts have largely followed that promise, although I am uncertain or disagree with you about some things you have allowed to happen (indefinite detention stands out). I don’t know that you were able to discipline your majority into serious willingness to compromise with your opposition, and I can’t tell whether the failure to compromise started with your team or the other team. I do suspect that the other team would not ever “compromise” unless they simply got their way. So I cannot tell whether you have made a complete effort, but unmistakably, the opposition has stonewalled, obfuscated, subterfuged, demonized, misrepresented and lied, about the intents and the effects of your policies. They have even condemned what they have previously agreed with, to soot your eye.

I have taken the developments in rhetoric and posturing very seriously, because even taken as political gaming, they result in real policy and cultural attitudes. I have been very pained by the explanations given for the economy, and the spin given your initiatives, by the opposition. But I have been most pained by the failure of the Democratic Party to produce effective counter spin and alternative explanations. I think you have tried to focus on the work of being President, which is what I would want for you. But your absence from the public theater of  rhetorical sword-play has left me, us, your base, without the tools of combat, without the words and images to confront, to cancel, to invert, the words and images given us by the opposition, on behalf of you, and our shared vision.

I know that political theater is not in your heart. You are a serious man who wants to get good things done for the American people. But it is in the theater of the media, where perception and deception control, in the arena of the media, where vicious, irrational, emotional, combat, is normal, in not merely a leisurely market place of ideas, that the terms of contest are defined and the outcome is decided. You are controlled by this thing that you loathe. But that seriousness of purpose and principle, which animates you, as quick injures that seriousness of purpose, if because of it you fail to perform that most essential task in modern American politics – creating the words, images, and mythology with which your advocates can do rhetorical battle.

Mr. President, Mr. Obama, Please, we need you.

The vision of America as defined by the right is unsustainable. It drives global climate change, ecological collapse, and the kind of economic insecurity which puts people to rioting and to waging war. We need you, not just to do rhetorical battle, but to take the offense and with brilliant use of media to make visceral to the American people why the increasing disparity in wealth is dangerous, how climate change will change the world whether we are ready or not, why population and  consumption must be limited if our civilizations are to survive. I need you, as my surrogate, because I do not have the leadership skills or the brilliance of purpose with which you are endowed, to ask this question: Is it better for individuals to get rich, while the world around them is tortured by insecurity, or for the leaders of the world to promote security for all, even if the right to get rich is curtailed? 

Americans have forgotten how much they are dependent on each other. Surely the ambitions of individuals produces benefits for all. It must not be punished. But with equal certainty, not all of the wealth produced under the efforts of individuals belongs to them. Do they stand self-made like silos on the ancient soils of human beginnings, as though unaffected by history, by the labors of parents and previous generations,  by the willingness of those alive today to participate in their endeavors? What principle decides how much wealth belongs to the individual, and how much belongs to the community?  How does the community acquire its share of that wealth? Governments, the institutional expression of the community, to be democratic and responsive to their citizens, must be pay-as-you-go. Our governments cannot engage in profit making enterprise -- that is a privilege of the individual!  How are governments, to benefit the community, supposed to divert some of the wealth produced privately into services needed by all? How can the institutional expression of the community realize the resources needed by that community, that share that rightfully does belong to the community, but by taxing  for them? Ultimately, the great need of the people is to be secure, not to get rich, and their right to be secure must be protected, even over the supposed right to get rich. That some people want to get rich is not automatically bad for the rest, if the energy of their ambition benefits the community. But if people want to take and keep and share none, they are using the infrastructure of community and what the community has paid for without giving back. The “right” to get rich is not unlimited. It must be balanced by the imperative to channel some wealth into the commonweal. 

The primal motive of life – to survive, optimally to reproduce – is at the center of this question. Here, in our time, the question bears down on us with awesome weight because we face both personal and shared survival, even while the interests and right action of each are frequently not coincident. The drive for personal wealth accumulation, even while communities decay, manifests this fact. But while life may go on without a given individual, no individual can go on with out the services of the Earth’s ecologies. And these, verily, fundamentally, are not guaranteed, and are at risk. So this is our choice: To hope for survival through the agency of insecure personal wealth, or to invest in shared, common survival. I do not doubt which is the better gamble, but Americans are daily more persuaded otherwise.

This blindness renders me to despair. Please, Mr. Obama, because you can, mobilize your party, push for the think tanks and media mobilization, get in the fight, counter the counter factual, go head to head with the myth makers, put the brilliant and creative people that overflow your doorstep to work, making the political and media theater that we need, now, to save our futures from the wretchedness to which we are now subscribed.

Surely to use media theater is dangerous for integrity. But even fire-fighters set fires. We need you to join the fray.

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