Name Your Box

The expression “think outside the box” is now as overused as a politician who says, “I’m a people person.”  (Personally, I prefer cats and dogs, but I’m not running for anything.) However, what it implies is that we need a new way of thinking about any particular problem. In the movie Traffic, the character Robert Wakefield, a conservative judge who’s heading up the war on drugs, suggests to his inner circle in private to come up with new ideas; any idea is worth listening to, regardless of whether it’s been mentioned before or even practical.  The result is that everyone remains quiet with their heads down.

Clearly, thinking outside the box is not how our system deals with serious issues.  When having lunch with fellow educators and arguing about the crimes, especially against the Constitution and on war,  of both the Bush and Obama administrations, my frustration is palpable.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Republicans enjoy being in the box whereas the Democrats don’t even know they’re in one.

On issues of war and economics, the Republicans and many Democrats I talk with clearly support the idea  that the US is a world economic power and needs to maintain it in any way they can.  They might acknowledge the wrongs committed but see it as necessary.  OK, that’s where dialog comes in.  My partisan Democratic friends, especially in the teachers’ lounge of my school, are simply oblivious to the wrongs or come up with every conceivable way of minimizing it or laying blame elsewhere. The most common response to the economic disaster that we’re in due to Obama’s Wall Street cabinet is that the Republicans won’t let him do what needs to be done. Another gem is that in politics you can’t always get what you campaign on and its corollary, the political climate is not ripe for what you’re asking.

Bush controlled the Congress. Obama is certainly the antithesis. He punted every major decision to them. Whether it be health care or Don’t Ask, President Obama relinquished the bully pulpit for the collaborative approach of having the other arm of government have a role, but in most cases, the only role.  If only President Obama, when he was elected with an American-style mandate, and with a Democrat-controlled Congress, were to have rallied the pro-Single Payer (Medicare for All) populous, a majority of Americans, for universal health care, it would have passed over both Democratic and Republican opponents in Congress.  He simply could have equated the health insurance industry with the likes of Al Qaeda.  Who would have had kind words for, or dare to come out and defend, the insurance industry? If not Single Payer, then at a minimum, a public option would be the law today, paving the way for universal coverage.  But President Obama preferred the box that we’re in. Yes, I’m implying that he falls within the Republican view of the box theory since he earlier sided with the industry by giving them what they wanted, and no public option, as long as they didn’t pull a Harry and Louise on him.

Missing in the dialog is acknowledgment of reality.  “No we’re not in a Police State because we’re not living like under Nazi Germany.”  True, unless you’re an undocumented alien or whistle blower- military or civilian-, where you’ll be tonight or tomorrow is likely known.  The drone war, supported by a majority of ‘progressives’ in America, is just a way of achieving a military solution without requiring the presence of American boots on the ground.  Rachel Maddow’s all for it so it must be the progressive thing to do when it’s done by a Democrat in the White House.  “Why make a case of habeas corpus?  Abraham Lincoln suspended it and thank God for him. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.”

What is the ‘box’?: the capitalist economy. With it comes imperial wars for others’ natural resources (Why is our oil under their sand?); support for military coups against democratically elected governments (Honduras and the Maldives); support for apartheid regimes and theocracies in the Middle East yet mouthing praise for the Arab Spring, as long as it’s in the ‘right’ countries; wages far below needs; reform of health insurance but not health care reform; homelessness and foreclosures when vacant houses, owned by banks and local governments, sit idle; public education under severe attack by both Democrats and Republicans who want to privatize it, bust the unions, and, of course, blame the teachers for not increasing test scores that have no baring of the real learning that is taking place; for-profit prison population booming (especially for the undocumented being prepared for deportation); etc.

Electoral reform is certainly needed to remove the box of capitalism from discussions on solving our problems. As it stands, it is virtually impossible for a variety of Third Parties to have ballot access in every state. There’s too much of a fear that it would cause the demise, in particular, of the Democratic Party. After all, if their platform isn’t marketable and another’s is, then they would go the way of Betamax.  The Republicans can stay as the legitimate 1% Party; the Democrats would do best to merge with them. How can we have electoral reform when states like Virginia require a 10,000-signature petition (not terribly difficult, but onerous) yet require a minimum of 400 in each county? Can you imagine that many supporting a Socialist party in Pat Robertson’s neck of the woods?

Dialog on issues can work as long as there is a recognition of reality and ownership of responsibility for why things are as they are. Without it,  it’s status quo.  Your everyday, typical Republican, on matters of war and economics, needs to see how the system is not working for them, except for those in a minority that it does.  Democratic partisans and Obama die-hard supporters need to truly question their values and principles and objectively see if their party truly stands by it, or equivocates to the point of non-recognition of the principles.  Maybe easier said  than done but the box remains strong, or invisible, as long as thinking remains stagnant.

Myles Hoenig is a veteran of the Prince George's County Public School system in Maryland, USA. He's a long time activist for social justice. He lives in Baltimore. Read other articles by Myles.