Friday, August 17, 2007

Ask For What You Want


It started early and it's already pretty discouraging: the general election campaign is winding its way like a wrongly-inserted cassette tape, warbling and out of tune. The candidates stagger about like mummies conjured from the dead, trying to find traction, arms outstretched like Boris Karloff, hoping to get a clear grasp on a rival's lapels and head-butt them into silence.

What can we do, while they rehearse their bluster and prepare for yet another vastly expensive campaign of negativity and dissembling? We can we do when we feel discouraged, drowned out by corporate money and the false "conventional wisdom" of election politics where truth and civility are considered valueless, or even liabilities?

There isn't a whole lot you can do, but there is one thing you can do that means a great deal. And if we cannot change the playing field, we can at least offer something meaningful for ourselves, our neighbors, and our republic. And that one thing is to ask for what you want.

I've lost friendship and dinner invitations for saying what I am about to say, but those of you who read this thing (all what, four of you?) have heard me say it before: I think you and I, and the American people in general, are equally culpable for the state of our politics. We are not entitled to throw up our hands in disgust, because we have permitted things to be this way. We have settled for what the media hands us, settled for the lies and evasions of our representatives, and voted for the same jackals over and over again. We have rewarded the Republicans and the Democrats for disappointing us, and nodded docilely as other political parties with viable agendas have been denied a seat at the debates. A lot of people make themselves feel better for the last decade by telling themselves George W. Bush's people stole votes in 2000 and 2004. Even if it's true, dear reader, you can't deny this: a shitload of people really did vote for him, and voted to give him a second term. We speak of stolen votes, but do not howl in outrage about the people who didn't bother to vote for ANY choice. Our country is more active in deciding who wins American Idol than in selecting representatives for our government. This was no coup d'etat. We have allowed this criminal gang to roll right over us because we have surrendered the people's power to a mass of lazy imbeciles. That's right, kids, I blame the people.

Did that make you angry? Good. Let's do something, let's do at least one small thing, each day, to demand the kind of politics we do want, and to invite the kind of leaders we want to run for office. Let's do this even on the days we think it won't work. Let's do this in defiance of conventional wisdom and short-term results; let's do it because it works well, makes us feel like we're being active citizens, let's do it because there is nothing stupid about asking for what we truly want.

First, be clear about what you want. In a President, I want a highly capable manager who understands and appreciates the three branches of government established by our Constitution. I want someone who respects people above everything else, who values democracy, who will set good priorities and appoint good, capable people. Similar general values apply for local elections: my state legislators, my city council, my county board. They must value people and democracy, and they have to value the resources and systems that sustain human life. That, in the broadest terms, will guide them toward good judgment and sound decisions.

Maybe you want different things, and maybe you have a better way of saying it than I do. (Let's hope so!) At any rate, now that we have met up at this paragraph: we've got to ask for what we want. Again: one small thing every day.

Writing. Letters to local newspapers, editorial submissions. (Yes, you can write and submit an editorial to the paper. And if you haven't had a letter in the newspaper yet, get on it - it's free copy for them, they LOVE publishing your letters.) Don't stop there. Write to the Democratic leadership; write to your Congressfolk (speak to them respectfully, but don't forget they are YOUR representatives); write to anybody pertinent. Don't be shy to send a letter to anyone whose actions concern you. Write to CEO's, heads of political movements, foreign leaders, celebrities, anyone. (It may take a little research to find a mailing address, but go for it.) Address them as you would your neighbors, because they are: they are people. Even corporations are made up of people. One of the major challenges we face in getting the kind of politics we need is establishing human contact.

Calling. You are paying for people to staff the offices of your political leaders, who will make a note of your concerns and comments. Use that service. Call up your Senate and your Congress.

Here's a good assignment for today: call up the Democratic Party in Washington and ask them why, on their website this morning, they have a big headline decrying the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping authority - when a number of Democrats voted to give them that authority? Ask them why, if they are so outraged, did they not fight it effectively - and why so many of them actually voted for it.

Listen to them hem and haw. Enjoy it. For a moment, you have the power. And you got it by establishing human contact.

Get involved in a campaign. Again, human contact. Ask questions. If you get involved in a campaign, sooner or later you will be invited to take part in some kind of disappointing "politics-as-usual" - cold-calling people with a slanted "opinion poll," or doing "opposition research" on an opponent (i.e. looking for feces to throw around), or something unsavory that has nothing to do with telling the truth and making the case for why Candidate A would make a very good Senator/President/Assemblyman/etc. That's when you will have an opportunity to say something like this:

"You know what? I like Candidate A and want to help her win this election because I think she's really that good and can demonstrate that. I'm not interested in debasing my country by [doing what you are asking me to do]. That kind of politics is bad for us."

One small thing every day -through the current campaign and beyond. We have a lot of laziness and entrenched politics to catch up with. There will be days when this feels foolish and naive; and plenty of people will tell us it is naive to ask for what we want. Which only demonstrates how far we have come from the aspiration of our brave, flawed, human, but admirable founding colonists.

Today, I started with the Democratic party. I not only questioned the hypocritical crowing about the Protect America Act, but also why - right next to that story, at the top of their website this morning, they are assigning such high priority to combing through Mitt Romney's finances to find some impropriety and recruiting volunteers to help them sling mud. I ask, is this the kind of campaign you're going to offer us?

Time to get involved, even if only for a few minutes a day. Time to take our individual space and insist on the politics we want.

Otherwise, we have no excuse, and we should expatriate, or shut up, and accept the consequences of that decision.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I still think you need to submit this to the LA Times. A lot of people would benefit from reading it.