Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Rally to Restore Balance

Throughout history, countries have tried to manage tensions between the few wealthy and the many other. It's not been true of every culture, but enough to call it a trend.

The U.S. has existed this way from its inception. For all their talk of freedom and liberty, the founding fathers created an underclass with fewer rights than they had. Even as more classes of people gained full citizenship rights, there has always been a vulnerable underclass.

Our politics has been characterized by tension between business/haves and labor/have nots. Haves are few in number but have always had more money and more resources to push their agenda. Have Nots don't have money or resources, but they are far more numerous.

I'm intentionally not saying Democrats and Republicans because these are labels that can change meaning over time. It's not about the history of a party, it's about the history of wealth trying to cement its hold on power.

When our politics are balanced, the rich don't have enough wealth to shut out the public, and the public is not organized enough to shut out the wealthy. Our economy is the most effective and prosperous then.

When the economy has shifted too far toward wealth, as it has now, the rest of the people need to come together to oppose wealth and push a more public agenda. The wealthy know this, and so they have set out to prevent this from happening.

The propaganda of the wealthy has pitted demographic group against demographic group. They have discouraged voting. They have portrayed the opposition government, the traditional champion of public rights against the excesses of the wealthy, as the enemy of the people. The mainstream media, that other traditional champion of public rights, has been meekly lured to support the wealthy through the combination of pressure from the Fox machine, the lure of business advertising dollars, and the additional lure of post-Citizens United campaign dollars. Anyone who dares disagree with the house spin on events is painted as biased, extremist, and unpatriotic.

This is the world in 2010: a world in which the wealthy have taken power and used the lessons of history to prevent a restoration of balance, even when that balance would benefit them as well. Before we can rebalance the economy, we need to do two very different things. We need to speak up and make the truth heard, and we need to join with our brainwashed brethren until we have a critical mass that can topple the wealthy.

These are two very different movements that should not be led by the same people. One is about confrontation and the other is about harmony. One shames the opposition, and the other makes it possible for members of both sides to save face.

To shout down the false propagandists, we have people like @shoq and @keitholbermann. They are passionate, they are angry, occasionally they are hyperbolic, but they are always right. Through them, I met more polite people like Rachel @maddow, @ezraklein, @karoli, @cdashiell, @StrandedWind, and more. But it's the leaders who inspire others to get involved and get the word out, and they take the heat for being in front.

Creating a critical mass of public unity is as essential as getting the truth out. Yet what major public figure other than President Obama have you heard calling for unity between sniping political groups? Who is out there building a bridge and creating a forum allowing people to work together who currently can't even listen to each other?

Jon Stewart has stepped in to fill the role of neutral unifier. He brought a quarter of a million people together in person and more watching at home. His primary message was that we're all pretty good people, we already get along and work together every day, and we can work out politics too. This is a great message and the first step to creating a critical mass of the electorate to oppose the wealthy. Positioning this message right before the election reminds voters not to be taken in by the divisive ads, which mostly come from the right.

I loved the traffic analogy. We are all anonymous in traffic, with little accountability to each other, and yet we cooperate. After creating that sense of commonality, he then reminded us that the real enemies are the jerks who cut in (the closest he came to demonizing any anonymous group).

Did Stewart completely ignore the fact that there are bad people out there who are doing terrible things to the public? Except for the traffic assholes, yes. However, it is not the place of the unifier to point this out, at least not at this stage. That is the place of the confrontational people. And they do a great job; may there be more of them.

Did Stewart completely strain credibility with false equivalencies between the confrontational people spreading truth and the propagandists spreading lies? Absolutely. Did he have to do this to get the brainwashed people to feel included? So they could save face? Perhaps, but I'd bet that at least Stewart felt he had to do this. And I think that Olbermann understands the purpose behind the slap, though a slap is never pleasant (and ok, the Scott Brown comment that Stewart used was hyperbolic and KO already apologized for that).

It's a gamble for Stewart to position himself as a unifier. He won't stop needling politicians who do dumb things, and right now the easiest political targets are all tea partiers. It will be difficult to move the people who seem proud to be "out of the fray" toward civic participation, which must happen to support real progress. He has laid the groundwork with talk of responsibility and doing what we have to do even when we don't want to.

We need a way for ordinary people to put aside their differences while saving face, come together, and trust each other enough to fight our common enemy. It won't happen in a confrontational environment. I don't know if Jon Stewart will be able to pull it off, but kudos to him for trying.


  1. Really well-said. I especially agree with Stewart and with you on the traffic analogy, which has astonished me everywhere I've lived. I call it the zipper effect. And Stewart didn't miss two other salient points: Americans are mostly not this or that politically, they are mostly just a little late getting somewhere they have to be, that they don't want to be, but they WILL get there; and the light on the other side of the tunnel is probably only New Jersey.
    On July 4, 1954, just before my 8th birthday, President Eisenhower added the words "under God" to the Pledge. It's possible that my memory of that change, along with the knowledge of how the Pledge grew from its inception in the 19th century, allows me to discuss it without thinking of it as a holy relic. Discussion of changing the Pledge began the vitriolic voices in Congress.
    Later in 1954, Joe McCarthy and HUAC was on TV live and I saw much of those hearings and didn't quite understand. Then it was over and things went back to normal - sort of - with everyone trying harder but nobody seeking perfection.
    But now it seems to me that perfection is the only goal. There is no compromise, no conversation, no exchange of ideas. As Robert Heinlein once said of a certain philosopher "he proves his conclusions by his assertions." McCarthy attempted that, and self-destructed in the process.
    My fear is that we have become so uninformed as a nation, so unwilling to step out of our own safe boxes, that we may never trip over a different idea, give ourselves the permission to look at or test something new to us. Didn't someone once say that patriotism was being in love with the food you grew up with? If so, we are the most patriotic nation in the world.
    A final thought: it's too bad that Christine O'Donnell is more likely a liar than someone who dabbled in witchcraft. Had she been a dabbler, she might have actually learned something. She might have become a person.

  2. Thank you. A friend of mine recently told me about how the body position of the salute was changed from arm pointing at flag to hand over heart once the Nazis came along and ruined the arm-extended pose for everyone. I hadn't known that either.

    My grandmother told me that in the 1930s, when my mother was born, she had friends from many different countries. They all wanted to give their children American names, to dress American, and learn the ways of their new country. In learning, of course, they added to the culture. They were not ashamed of where they came from, nor did they forget, but that was their past and America was their future. I too wish that sense of adventure, discovery, and community was more widespread in this country.

  3. Hey! Bounced over from Bluegals blog over at C&L. I just wanted to say good job. I too think Jon understands his role in all this better than we do sometimes.