Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Monday, July 24, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Democrats and Ideas that Are Not New


"I been down so long, seem like up to me,
Gal of mine got a heart like a rock in the sea."

--Furry Lewis

Today, scrambling about in the briar patch that passes for political debate, we often hear that the Republican Party is now the party of ideas. This is vastly overstating their case. However, seeing the Dems wandering about clueless, unwilling or unable to pull themselves out of an immobilizing centrist slough of despair, does tend to give the "Republicans have the ideas" canard the appearance of merit. Sad, but perhaps history is turning to the side of Democrats who are progressives. Though one should never bet on history–it plays tricks undreamed of. Note the tragic practical joke of George W. Bush ambling onto the stage.

First, on Republicans with ideas. I suppose the mossback millionaire conservatives of the late 19th century also thought they were the ones with ideas. On close inspection, however, these ideas were about holding on to what they had, growing it to obscene proportions and forgetting about those who were being thrown brutally to the side of the track as their private Pullman cars raced on into the night. And this is just as true today. Trade in those luxuriously appointed Pullmans for upholstered private jets. Indiana and the people below are parts of flyover landscapes to CEO’s heading ever faster into storms uncharted. That gal does have a heart like a rock in the sea.

Progressive Democrats today are in the position they’ve periodically found themselves in for over a century. They face the challenge of fixing the mess into which conservatives of various stripes have twisted our economy and society. This was true in the days of the first Progressives who, around 1900, found the power of untethered capitalism, the sins and crimes of the Gilded Age, to be crushing the democratic life out of the American Republic. Looking around today, we find ourselves living in a similar milieu of over-reach and corruption.

T. Roosevelt, H. Taft (yes, even Big Howie from Ohio was a progressive) and W. Wilson all carried the banner of progressivism into the political fray. They won votes, they won elections and they enacted reforms ranging from conservation to an income tax, from pure food and drug laws to worker safety legislation. Many state governments joined in this charge toward change. Wisconsin had its Bob La Follette and California had Hiram Johnson–both opposed the octopus monopolistic power of corporations. Indiana, the nation and the world had Eugene V. Debs. All progressives of the day held that “The problems of democracy can be solved by more democracy.” By more democracy they meant more government, government being the tool the people could use to rein in the money power interests diminishing their lives.

And progressive political leaders (usually, but not always Democrats) have repeated this pattern for a century now. The business administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were partially straightened out by the New Deal and Fair Deal of F.D. R. and H. S. T.. Ike’s gray, do nothing, ride the wave years, and JFK’s “where’s the middle of the road” administration were overturned by L. B. J.'s Great Society initiatives. In the sweat of power, even Nixon occasionally used government for ends that served human interests other than those residing in the top quintile of wealth accumulation. It took the Hollywood actor, Ronnie, to mesmerize us with the image of the people’s government somehow climbing up onto their own backs. Talk about Hollywood’s use of special effects!

Domestic progressivism, however, foundered again and again on the rocks of foreign policy adventurism. We have been dragging through Cold Wars and hot wars, shadow wars and preemptive wars, for a long generation now. The strain on the home front is staggering. Hopefully the time has come for progressive Democrats to sweep aside the centrists in the party, the Clinton stronghold, the Democratic Leadership Council which harbors the Bayhs and Bidens and the embarrassing Lieberman. Centrists are truly the “no ideas” segment of the party–domestic and foreign.

Progressive Democrats, the historical soul of the party, should read the tea leaves of the past, note that once again the people’s government is in the grip of reactionary, narrow and unbelievably greedy corporate business interests. Progressive Democrats should ignore and dismiss (but not forget) gay bashing Republicans, anti-choice-- MY God not yours-- warriors, flag burning fear mongers, the Ten Commandments on every state house lawn crowd–issues that will be settled in the courts not through legislation. They should focus their ideas on, and responses to, economic crimes committed and disasters looming. For starters: fairness in taxation, intelligent spending (read arms cuts, cuts reaching to the bone of war profiteers) of the people’s money, medical care for all, protection of pensions and social security, minimum wage increase, full financing and full independence of public radio and TV. In general terms, progressive Democrats should follow the leads of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas and Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook’s The Winner Take-All Society.

Foreign policy? Easy. Borrow from the fountainhead of Republican conservatism, Edmund Burke. He knew that the world and nations are complex. Burke recognized what the United States lost sight of during the long, mind-numbing Cold War, the operative truth that foreign cultures/governments shouldn’t be trifled with, let alone “preempted” or feebly “democratized.” These are human entities created out of long and incredibly twisting and maze-like historical developments. Burke and common sense not clouded by arrogance, recognizes that the world and life doesn’t work according to plans cooked up by deep thinkers, let alone by an undistinguished frat boy and a couple of his daddy’s last hurrah friends.

In the world today, we have to play to our strengths not to cockeyed optimist dreams. Those strengths have been misused and weakened. We need to pull back around the world and become that City on the Hill so many conservatives speak of but do not understand. That City is a beacon and an example; a light, to be nurtured and touted. It’s not an armored shaft of mayhem and destruction to be thrown will-nilly out into the world in the wild hope that it will hit some temporarily desirable target.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary,

I read your contributions on Palosverdesblog, and always appreciate your perspective. I know it's hard to remain patient and rational while addressing the sometimes moronic contributions there. For that I say a heartfelt thank you. It's hard to see that it makes a difference, but it does.

Tex

12:40 AM  

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