A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You can't always get what you want, especially if you don't even know what you need

An anonymous poster (Hmmmm, really?) made the following points on my previous comment about the disenchantment of many, including myself, in the progressive camp with the administration of President Obama:
I never expected to like everything Obama did, even though I worked hard for him.
Ad [sic] I can't imagine either voting Republican or voting for a 3rd party candidate (same as voting Republican). Keep in mind, people, that only 15% of the country identifies themselvs [sic] as liberal, while close to 50% calls themselves conservative. And many of the rest lean conservative. We can't have an all-progressive President until we do a better job of educating and enlisting our fellow voters.

I am a big girl-- as I said, I certainly never expected President Obama to be able to do everything, and I don't think anyone else who is disappointed did either, if they are rational, adult people. I was hoping for some compromise and bipartisanship from our elected leaders, especially since we certainly didn't get that from the last administration, and I hoped that President Obama would use his surge of support to pressure out congresspersons to cooperate in this. I was massively disappointed by the failure to seize this golden opportunity, and now we as a country are in even more dire straits due to that failure. Our country can never win by having only one political side capitulate. Do we really want to live in a country that designs its government and economy so that there are more losers than there are "winners," even though we are all Americans?

I also agree that there is a need to better explain what progressives and liberals believe, and why those beliefs are in the best interests of this country. And who better to help educate our fellow-citizens than our president, as I pointed out in my previous post?

But something else "anonymous" said concerns me, and helps support my point. It's this part: "I can't imagine voting Republican...." It is this kind of thinking that marginalizes a voter and sustains and exacerbates our current political and economic situation.

I certainly can imagine voting for a Republican. Of course I can! I've imagined it a LOT-- I've just never been able to do it very often. But I've always been willing to consider it, as I view each election on a case-by-case basis. As much as I joke about being a "yellow-dog Democrat" (pronounced "yel-la dawg" in my youth), I have voted for Republicans during my political life. They make great dog catchers. No, no, I'm kidding. Besides, "Republican" does not necessarily mean "conservative" as it is currently used, just as "Democrat" does not necessarily mean "liberal." Can't be repeated enough.

Seriously, I believe it is the duty of a voter to be conversant with the particular positions of each candidate regardless of party, and then vote for the person who is the most rational, most reasonable, and the most likely to represent that voter's priorities. I did not vote for Senator McCain for president because he failed all three of those tests in his current political incarnation. His choice of a running mate who eschews any thought larger than a sound bite or a snippet of Scripture merely punctuated this for me. When he stopped being a principled politician who sought to reform corrupt politics and end government-sponsored torture merely for political expediency, he lost me-- after I had admired many of his positions for years.

Our allegiance as voters must be to results, not rhetoric or labels. It is precisely the kind of thinking that refuses to consider any alternative outside one's alleged political party that has put us in the current mess in which we find ourselves. Democrats, through their failure to stick together over any issue-- ANY one! Pick ONE!-- have allowed the Republicans to peel off former Democratic supporters through scare tactics and sham social issues. Republicans have used populist rhetoric and rigid party discipline to stifle debate even within their own party, much to their detriment as well as that of our country in general, as they are now discovering. But further, as I tried to point out in my previous post: when President Obama and his advisors believe that they can count on the blind and unreasoning support of core constituencies to whom they are openly unfaithful and even contemptuous, those constituencies will be ignored. Republicans do the same thing through cynical class warfare, but no one seems to expose this.

Now to the point about the alleged loyalties of the American electorate. It certainly takes an act of political bravery to openly proclaim oneself a "liberal" in this day and age, even though I would argue that loyalty to an identity or label is completely counterproductive. Progressives need to attack the idea that being liberal is being "unAmerican" or "elitist" and that what is passed off as "conservatism" is normative. I would argue that this paradigm is a kerfuffle merely designed to forestall examination of where one's best interests truly lie.

Historically, conservatism (as an international political idea, not merely as an American phenomenon) has been, by definition, in favor of preserving the status quo. Its roots are in feudalism and preservation of the aristocracy. Modern American conservatives have at least outwardly turned this on its head, and for the last fifty or so years have told the electorate that the American government is unjust, that the American government is a form of oppression, that American government is corrupt. This is truly mind-boggling, since that is the exact same claim made by the extreme Left during the 1960s-- I mean, it's like the Yippies suddenly shaved and bathed and put themselves in suits with red power ties and declared common cause with their complete political opposites, if you think about it. But even more shockingly, these same people who hate the federal government have then been in charge of that same government for the past forty years! At this point, I think it behooves us to ask how these two facts can exist simultaneously.

I think many people who are voting and self-identifying as "conservative" are actually strongly in favor of reform, and I think the Democratic party needs to capitalize on this, as well as on certain disconnects that would help awaken these voters from their knee-jerk allegiance to a label rather than their own rational self-interests.

Let's just talk about economic well-being as a case in point. There are millions of people who have genuinely suffered during this current recession and indeed since the late 1960s, as the average standard of living for middle class people has actually slightly degraded in real terms.

I would hope that we can all agree that the middle class is the largest cohort of citizens in this country, which means that they should be able to wield a numerically significant proportion of political power. And yet, no one would argue that those in the middle class have been able to hang together and exert their influence to any real extent. There is a basic disconnect between corporate policies and their impact on the middle class, and the support of the middle class for politicians who advocate these policies. This reminds me of a Rolling Stones lyric: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." In terms of the voting patterns of the middle class, one could rephrase our conundrum as, "You can't always get what you want, especially if you do not know what you really need." I will amplify this point at a later date.

Nonetheless, as long as voters evince the kind of blind loyalty to party, as well as by that huge mass who claims to be conservative while being phenomenally ill-served by that philosophy, it does accomplish one conservative objective. This kind of division and illogical thinking certainly will maintain the status quo. And, really, with so much dissatisfaction being voiced in public forums from polls to mass media to town hall meetings, certainly we can agree that change is demanded if this country is to become strong again.



At 7/23/11, 9:59 PM, Blogger John T. Spencer said...

I lean libertarian in many respects, but I am a firm believer in progressive education and in the need to fund it well.

I voted for Obama hoping he would be better than Bush (less war, less cronyism, no NCLB) but the moves he has made in education are a further step in the wrong direction.

I won't vote for Obama again.

At 7/24/11, 8:07 PM, Anonymous Brian Rude said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post. You say a lot of things that resonate with me, but sort of from the other side. Like you, I have in the past voted for people on the other side of the political divide. But for me that's the Democrats. I tend to be a Republican.

There is something about both politics and education that I'd like to complain about, and which your post brings up when you use the phrase "strongly in favor of reform". Are you in favor of reform? Are you in favor of reform in politics? Are you in favor of reform in education? If you immediately reply yes, then I'd say, "Wait a minute. I haven't told you what reform I'm talking about yet!" Isn't that important? Aren't there lots of possible reforms , in both politics and education, that should be opposed? Reform simply means change, does it not?

Or we could go one step farther and say reform means not just any change, but good change. Okay, but who's to decide whether a proposed change is good or bad? And perhaps even more importantly, does everyone agree on what is good change and what is bad change?

My view is that there is not, in either politics or education, much agreement about what change is good. Changes that are agreed upon are quickly adopted and pretty much forgotten about. The changes that are not agreed upon remain as issues. Therefore it strikes me as not at all sensible to declare oneself in favor of "change", and leave it at that. I am especially irritated by this in all the educational blogs I read. Again and again it will be taken for granted that reform is good. If you're a good educator, indeed if you're a good person, then you have to be in favor of reform. But what reform are we talking about? Doesn't that matter?

And what I really hate in the education blogs is when somebody says our current state of American

At 7/24/11, 8:08 PM, Anonymous Brian Rude said...

education is so bad that any change has to be good. I think that qualifies as stupid thinking, not at all helpful, and possibly dangerous.

I gather from your post that there is substantial disappointment in the Obama presidency. And I gather the same thing from the results of the election last November. What accounts for this disappointment? Well, one hypothesis that seems pretty sensible to me is that many, many people are assuming we agree on what we mean by change, when indeed we don't. I assume Obama has worked hard in a good faith effort to deliver what he promised in the campaign. But what did he promise in the campaign? If he wasn't very specific, if he just promised "change", and everyone filled in the blank with their own ideas of what that "change" is, then a lot of disappointment would seem to be the probable result.

So I am not in favor of change or reform. When someone will tell me what reform they are talking about then I'll give it some thought, and decide whether I favor it or not. When someone takes the attitude that it's obvious, that of course we know what reform we're talking about, that everyone knows what reform we mean, then they lose me. They also irritate me, because I think that attitude sets everyone up for a lot of disappointment. That attitude invites everyone to fill in the blank with whatever they want, and jump on the bandwagon. The bandwagon, after all, is flying our flag. We're expected to salute. But I don't think we should. I don't think we should jump on until it is very well understood just what's on the bandwagon and where it's going.

When you say, ". . .I believe it is the duty of a voter to be conversant with the particular positions of each candidate regardless of party, . . . ." then I'm with you. After that it becomes apparent that we see things differently.

I have two articles on my website that I think are relevant to this discussion. One is "How To Talk Politics", which is at http://www.brianrude.com/politics.htm. That article is not too long. The other one, which I think is much more important, is probably too long for anyone to wade through. But I'll mention it anyway. It's "Let's Do It Together", at http://www.brianrude.com/let's-do.htm.

At 7/24/11, 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Cornelius, thank you for your thoughtful omments on my post above. I did write that post in haste, and should have said, "I can't imagine voting for a Republican AT THIS MOMENT." Because Republicans of all stripes from moderate to tea party, seem to be lining up to oppose pretty much every attempt to avoid default, merely in order to score political points. I too have voted for Republicans, not often, but when their opponents were corrupt or incompetent. I don't see any Republicans, right now, who voice any willingness to make hard choices. I do think Brian Rude's point is well taken: Republicans are just as likely as anyone else to say they want change, but they often mean something very different than you or I would, when they voice that opinion. I have Republican relatives whose idea of a good change would be no OSHA. Fewer taxes on businesses. And these are working class people. So we have a long way to go.

At 7/25/11, 6:30 AM, Blogger Majid Ali said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/25/11, 11:56 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Brian, I appreciate your points. Since it is counterproductive to define every single term when one is writing anything, much less a blog post and not a manifesto or treatise, I was not focused on defining what I meant by reform, although I thought I had touched upon it in this sentence, to which I am going to add three words in order to answer all of your areas mentioned (wish I had done it originally, and I will go back and add those two words after I make this comment). The reforms I am speaking of address this concern:

"Do we really want to live in a country that designs its government and economy (and education policy) so that there are more losers than there are "winners," even though we are all Americans?"

That might sum up in an extremely vague way my idea of what reform is. There will be winners and losers in any human endeavor, of course, but I feel uncomfortable based upon my religious and philosophical beliefs with designing systems with that outcome in mind when I believe opportunity should be as evenly distributed as possible. What each individual DOES with that opportunity is another matter, of course, and that discussion is far beyond the main point I wished to make.

But I do not agree that the concepts of or even the words "reform" and "change" are identical. You are certainly correct that the meaning of "reform" is different for different people, however. I thought I had made clear what "reform" meant for me.

I have gotten a sense from my friends of all political stripes, from those who identify as socialists to those who identify with the Tea Party movement, that we are living in a time of great economic uncertainty that has reached the level of fear, and when one is fearful one begins to act on an instinctual rather than rational level. Our late 20th century expectation of continual increase in standard of living and educational progress, in particular, has been challenged by this recession and by current educational policy, respectively, once again in my opinion.

My main point was about the divisive and counterproductive adherence to party affiliation over all other considerations. I feel that the current crisis over the budget and the debt limit makes this tendency even more dangerous. We may disagree politically, but I appreciate your reasoned and thoughtful response to my post. Thank you for commenting!

Anonymous, thanks for your response. You and I are in common cause in your revised sentiment. But I know many, many more people ( and especially elected officials!) who behave according to your original statement, and I remain concerned about that fact and its effect on a lack of real debate and political progress.

What I don't want to see from anyone is a refusal to get the business of government done through blind allegiance to party, which our political founders themselves warned about in the early days of our republic.

Thanks so much for your comments!

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