We Have Our Democracy...If We Can Keep It
Having said that, I have to say this: I could be wrong.
Well, what if I am? What if the election is actually as close as everybody says it will be? What if Junior wins--or steals it again? (And how will we know the difference with no paper trail in most states?) What if the worst happens? And it is the worst--the worst for the environment, for the economy, for privacy, for the Constitution, for women's rights, workers' rights, human rights, for product safety and protection from corporate market manipulation, for political stability and global stability, for democracy itself. In every single one of those areas this radical conservative Admin has proved itself, time and again, to be an utter disaster, a boil on the neck of society, a plague, thoroughly useless and contemptibly corrupt, yadda yadda yadda. What then?
This then: Benjamin Franklin.
|Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.|
- and this -
The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.
- and finally this -
Gentlemen, you have your democracy--if you can keep it.
1. Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
In the wake of 9/11 we have shown ourselves over and over again to be willing to do just that. Worse, we have been willing to follow Bush down the road to making the whole planet less stable in the name of our 'security'. We have even been willing to forego actual security for the feeling of security we get from a 'strong' (read: stubborn, intransigent, blind, and disconnected from reality) leader willing to use the military as a first rather than a last resort. By over-reacting to 9/11, we played right into Osama bin Laden's hands and into the hands of every religious zealot in the Middle East who wants a massive jihad against the power of the West. We made our security an illusion when it didn't have to be, and now we're threatening to give the extremists the Armageddon they hope for--disrupting the security of the world, not just our own--because we've allowed Bush to talk us into believing the comforting illusion that Might Makes Right, and anyway it's only a few wackos who are causing all the trouble.
To that degree, our blindness, denial of and disconnectedness from reality must be said to rival his own. There is at this point no possible excuse for our ignorance except that. If we don't know that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11; that George Bush has allowed his corporate cronies and contributors to hijack the govt and loot the Treasury; that his Administration is run by ex-corporate lobbyists and executives who have spent the last four years dismantling every law, every regulation, every consumer protection in the name of higher profits; that John Ashcroft has done everything in his power to undercut and lay waste to the Constitution under the guise of 'protecting' us; and that Bush is shifting the burdens of paying--for everything--away from Big Business and onto our backs; if we don't know these obvious, well-reported facts, then this, too, must be said:
We deserve everything that will happen to us.
I'm sorry, but I'm broke and just as busy earning--or, in BushAmerica, trying to earn--a living as anybody else, and I know these things. I only have access to the internet and the radio, but I know these things. These things are so blatant, so badly hidden to even the mildly curious, that anyone with an ounce of skepticism or a pinch of realism saw them developing as soon as he was sworn in and cranked up to high after 9/11. And that can only mean that all of us who don't know them, don't know them because we don't want to know them.
I'd like to blame the press. They deserve to be blamed. They've abandoned their ethics, their professional standards, and their guts in the face of a few loud voices in the media and a fat little man with a mean streak who did little more than threaten to take their toys away before they caved. Their awesome gullibility, cowardice, and astounding lack of curiosity are the stuff of legend. It's impossible to overstate how lazy, inept, and corrupt they have become under Karl Rove's tutelage, or the extent to which they have been willing to sell us out in return for a few dollars and the privilege of being treated with ever-increasing disdain by the very people they sold us out to. Their complicity in and responsibility for the destruction of our democracy by the radcons and the corporate forces behind them is beyond dispute. They have, by and large with some honorable exceptions, acted like trained seals, jumping and honking and flapping their flippers whenever Rove barked. The evidence is overwhelming and they are guilty as charged. Period.
At the level of the bone, where decisions are made, we were the ones who ate up their recitation of BA talking points as if it were Holy Writ; we were the ones who were satisfied to sit in front of the tv and accept FoxNews as legitimate journalism and Bill 'King of the of the Dingbats' O'Reilly as a real commentator rather than the peddler of fantasies and fiction stories he so obviously is; we were the ones content to see troops in Iraq after all the reasons they were supposed to be there turned out to be lies; and we were the ones who were outraged by Abu Ghraib and then refused to hold anyone higher than a sargeant accountable, who never raised our voices about the 1600 prisoners in Gitmo held without trial and who--until recently, 18 months in--were refused legal counsel, who haven't demanded the resignation of John Ashcroft despite the fact that his Justice Dept has not succeeded in convicting even one of those 1600 so-called 'terrorists' in all that time and has lost every case it brought, who haven't protested the fact that people have been arrested for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts or standing in the wrong place at a legal protest gathering or taking the wrong book out of the library, and who don't seem to mind that this Admin has targeted a whole group of people based on their looks, ethnicty and religion--the very anathema of what America has always BB (Before Bush) stood for.
We have, after 230 years, finally allowed a single, tragic, criminal event to be used as the excuse for powerful men with few scruples (if any--I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt even though they don't deserve it because I am, goddammit, a liberal) to enrich and empower themselves by taking our liberties from us--liberties tens of thousands have died for over the years--in the name of 'protecting' us. After 230 years we have finally made the mistake Franklin warned us about, and we will pay the price he warned us about: we won't be any more secure and we will have lost our liberty for nothing. Nothing.
2. The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.
The mindless movement to cut taxes in this country, fueled by shrinking middle-class wallets desperate to find a justification for hanging on to more of what little was left to them, and Norquista conservatives whose radical faith in the tenets of Social Darwinism--the Law of the Jungle--provided the pitch the middle class was looking for, has gone a long way toward making the public school system a failure. Crumbling buildings they don't have the money to fix, antiquated textbooks they don't have the money to replace, class sizes triple that recommended by the profession and every educational expert because they don't have the money to either build more classrooms or hire more teachers, and complicated subject curricula they don't have the time to teach, have combined to make most of our current educational system what Big Business has wanted since Horace Mann--to turn schools into warehouses that do little more than train cadres of cogs to make their giant hamster-wheels run.
In the past 20 years, though there have been boom periods when education did its level best to push itself into the 20th century and provide a rounded education intended to produce well-developed minds, each spurt was inevitably truncated when the next bender of tax-cutting came down the pike. Especially with the onset of the radcon-driven 'testing' mania, our schools have become sad, warped, minimalist zones restricted to pounding away at the basics without providing a context to understand them in or a reason for understanding them at all except 'you'll need these to get a job'. We are producing graduates who know nothing of any life around them unconnected to making money and consuming the consumer-oriented corporate culture. The life of the mind is scoffed at, ridiculed, ignored; the life of the heart, in this adolescent society, is equated to sex; and the life of the soul means--maybe--going to church on Sunday and sleeping through the sermon.
Every attempt by progressives in the educational system to teach students how to think has either been shot down by being starved of funds as a 'frivolous extra we can't afford' or destroyed by a concerted onslaught against 'secular humanist' thinking by the same radcon forces--often allied with radcon Xtian fundamentalists--who are 'starving the beast'. We seem to have accepted this idiocy as being necessary in 'a time of belt-tightening' and to be totally unaware (perhaps deliberately) that the kinds of experiences we had when we were growing up, that we cherish as adults and that are often the loadstones directing our life-choices, are being denied to our kids through penury. We even seem to have talked ourselves into believing it doesn't matter, or that--even worse--'it will be good for them'.
What Franklin was talking about it all around us. The lies, misdirections, and obfuscations of the Bush Administration, obvious as they are, are ignored by a population that thoroughly lacks the critical thinking skills schools were meant to implant, and lacks them to the degree that the rankest, most base, most primal tricks fool us completely. There's nothing subtle or sophisticated about what Rove and his minions are engineering and have been for the past four years; by and large, they are the oldest tricks in the Propagandist's Handbook: bait-and-switch, the Big Lie, 'Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain', say-one-thing-and-do-another, rumor-mongering, libel and innuendo, and trash-talking. Karl has invented nothing new, he has simply opened the whole bag o' tricks and dumped them over our heads, removing the ancient constrictions of fair-play and lines-you-don't-cross as he implements them.
A half-educated monkey would see through them in an instant but we don't. They confuse us. We get all, 'I can't tell what the truth is. This is so confusing.' The destruction of the modern educational system (which started almost immediately on its creation) by corporate forces which see a rounded individual who knows how to think as a detriment to the smooth operation of its mindless routine has resulted in a giant class of robots who can only do what their previously-installed programming tells them to do. Faced with a new situation, with unexpected stimulae and undigested facts, the mechanism breaks down, crashes in on itself, and runs for the cover of its basic programming module. Our stunted hearts and souls may be (and I believe are) peppering us with doubt, dismay, and a sense of foreboding, desperately trying to get us to wake up and smell the coffee, but in their weakened, un-trained state it's slow going getting through the layers of indoctrination and invested belief.
A badly educated populace is worse than an uneducated one. An uneducated populace will fall back on instinct and experience, which have some value; a badly educated one knows just enough to distrust both but has nothing better to replace them with. A badly educated citizenry means, as Franklin understood only too well, a flock of citizens who don't know what their duties are let alone how to honor and fulfill them, and who represent the greatest danger to a democratic system: the ignorance and misperceptions of 'a little knowledge'. If we have allowed anti-educational forces to twist our system into a pretzel of convenient constrictions and do-what-we-tell-you orthodoxy, then we have created the very citizenry Franklin feared, a citizenry contaminated by an inability to face any reality more complex than a microbe.
If it has been done, we have done it to ourselves, for there is no one else in a democracy who has the ultimate responsibility for making the decision except us. We didn't demand that corporations pay their taxes so our schools could afford to maintain their infrastructure; we weren't willing to pay the price ourselves; and we allowed a public curriculum to be set by private interests to the needs of their self-serving agendas. We didn't question, we didn't protest, and we didn't think teaching our kids to be full-bore, active citizens was as important as teaching them to make a living. As a consequence, they may soon have neither. We will have to face that culpability when we add up the effect of our lives, and it won't be fun. There are dark, painful nights ahead for many of us. We went cheap and bought ignorance. Our children and grand-children may pay for our frugality with the loss of their liberty. Once we understand that--and we will--mirrors are going to be hard things to look into.
3. Gentlemen, you have your democracy--if you can keep it.
'...if you can keep it.' Franklin and all the other Founders knew perfectly well, having lived most of their lives under a monarchy and thrown it off finally only at great cost and sacrifice, that a democratic system, even a representative one with checks and balances up the wahzoo, was only as good as the amount of time, energy, and just plain work its citizens were willing to put into it to keep it running. By that measure, we have often deserved a much worse government than we wound up with, especially in the 30 years since Nixon's resignation.
It was as if by ending Jim Crow segregation, ensuring that no one in America would ever starve to death again, seeing the end of the subjugation of women, and stopping an unjust war, we had shot our bolt and decided that, as citizens, we needed a nice long vacation. Or maybe having done all that only to see Nixon pervert the Constitution as if by Divine Right took the heart out of us. We changed the world only to see the world change back again in a few short years--Jim Crow was gone but anti-busing was in; no one would have to starve but they might very well have to live in a cardboard box in an alley; discrimination against women was now illegal but the 'glass ceiling' was invented to fix it so that nothing much would actually change; Viet Nam was over but Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and even Grenada were on the horizon.
Whatever it was, we went back to sleep again and when we did, the forces of darkness moved in to take advantage of the stupor. Greed never sleeps, fear never rests, and the lust for power knows no limits. Citizenship in a democracy is, always has been, and always will be a job like any other. If we are not willing to support it with sweat, blood, and tears, then we'll lose it and, as Franklin said, we'll deserve to lose it. Democracy isn't a gift from the gods, it's employment for anyone who believes in liberty, a job of work that needs to be done every day, rain or shine, sick or not. 'I don't have time' or 'What's it got to do with me?' are not acceptable responses. If we let this latest batch of power-hungry, tunnel-visioned, narrow-minded, intolerant yahoos take it away from us because we can't be bothered to search out the truth of who and what they are, then we will have earned our just and reasonable reward and dishonored the sacrifice of thousands for the sake of a comfortable and convenient illusion.
I don't want to say out loud what that would make us.