By DAN SMITH
This has been an extraordinary summer for political activism, one whose equal I don’t recall since I was a very young journalist and we faced a myriad of problems we believed had never before been equaled: Vietnam, civil rights, the women’s movement.
We were, of course, wrong about being unique, just as we are wrong now in stating without equivocation that we are in the worst financial/moral/spiritual condition we’ve seen in the history of the republic.
It’s bad, but it’s not civil war or Great Depression; the capital’s not burning and the British aren’t invading; huge business monopolies are not working our kids to death in sweat shops and mine owners aren’t counting miners among their possessions; women and minorities are not statutorily omitted from the American Dream; and we have protections and opportunities never before imagined. Of course, we have problems.
This is the worst economy in more than 60 years, caused by the same kind of institutional greed and governmental indifference that has nearly sunk us several times in our history.
Our electorate is as polarized as it has been in my lifetime, though Vietman divided us significantly for a number of years before the bulk of the populace finally saw the futility of it.
We learned nothing from that disaster, which means we have repeated it and are suffering. We are separated on many concerns conveniently (but incorrectly) termed “moral issues” and it appears to me that so many of our disagreements come down, not to their merits, but where the arguers stand on abortion and gay rights.
So much of what we are in the late summer of 2009 is exemplified by those Town Hall Meetings our representatives have been engaged in during recent weeks, as Congressional representatives have sought to reach out to their constituents. These meetings have been the essence of Democracy, even though they have sometimes been controlled by the vulgar, the loud, the misinformed (“death panels,” indeed), the frightened, the desperate and the thoroughly obnoxious. Some, though, have been quite expansive, informative and informed, challenging, respectful, and exactly what they were meant to be.
It has been an exercise in democratic/republican (little “r”, little “d”) sausage making and I don’t know whether we are richer or poorer for it in the long run, though my inclination is to settle on the former. We should know soon enough. The worst case scenario is frozen government and nothing happening. That, of course, is a distinct possibility any time people are immobilized by fear and prefer the status quo—even when that status quo is destroying them—to the untried, the unknown, the new.
I have a clear vision of where I’d like for us to go in the next few years and it may well not be a reflection of your vision, but that difference should not make us enemies. It should not devolve into shouting and even violence (though, honestly, there was a time when I supported both).
Cool, reasoned reflection and measured, thoughtful discourse might get us through this with a good solution. Crashing into each other guarantees only two things: bad decisions and an aftermath filled with rancor.
It guarantees no solution, no finality. I have decided to unilaterally respect the people who oppose my position in this debate, to listen to their arguments and to re-evaluate mine every time I get new information. It would seem to me that’s a good way to run a government … and a business.