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
* 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