Friday, August 21, 2009

Truly Surreal Patriotism

The word surreal comes into play a lot these days, at least for me, and it generally comes into play when I observe other people's inexplicable one-sidedness in the pursuit of the right to express themselves politically. I'll grant that I'm exercising the same right, and that I support the right to do so unilaterally and without condition. However, I find myself amazed at times like this, when I realize just how many have formed fierce opinions with nothing to back them except the spurious claims of hired pundits and spokespersons. It's one thing to have a fierce opinion built on a principle that has served you a lifetime and which, after careful thought, merits ferocity, it's another thing altogether when a person rushes to judgement based on the patently manufactured outrage of a hired political pundit that hands you a string of catch phrases to repeat.

This behavior isn't limited to one party or philosphy, to one region or religion, but can be observed everywhere, and provides a great source of interesting news clips and sound bites for the media grist mills that pass as news in the US. At the moment, the ball has fallen into the court of the aggrieved, out-of-power GOP, and we find ourselves treated to a spectacle that harkens back to the worst moments of the 1960's and 1970's. The reactionaries in our new era are largely comprised of lower middle class whites, but the single-minded determination to ignore inconvenient facts is shockingly familiar.

I sympathize greatly with every person who is sickened by political inaction, misinformation, thinly veiled lies and deliberate obfuscation...BUT, I find an alarming number of people focusing on a single party, just as the left and many Democrats did for the last eight years. The same one-sidedness and careful avoidance of information that might conflict with a dearly held view is in place, this time for the right. I challenge this way of thinking almost daily, because I too am a person frustrated by politics in the United States, but I am ALWAYS striving to question the information I take in, and to weigh what can be trusted and what cannot. My beliefs don't come from a limited number of trusted sources, and are not dictated to me by friendly televised faces, and I strongly believe that others should accept the hard task of constantly examining their media, their beliefs and the potential consequences of their actions. For the most part, this is the high price of adulthood in a democratic republic. It is your responsibility to sift fact from fiction, instead of depending on others to do it for you.

I can afford a certain freedom to criticize without hypocrisy, because I have a critical view of both major parties, no lasting political alliance to any organization or persons thereof, am financed by no one, and I withhold my criticism from no one. The most unbearably common technique of the informed political hack, when faced with critical questions about the point of view or representative they champion, is to dodge the issue at hand by shouting about the perfidy of the other party. This is irreverant and ignorant conduct. It simply proves beyond doubt that a person possesses no credible defense for the actions of their party or its leaders, and that they have no choice but to scurry to a different topic rather than facing the harsh and unpleasant possibility that a treasured faith in a party or person may be unwarranted.

This stands for Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal alike. Where was the psuedo-left and the DNC during the Clinton era? Mostly applauding loudly or defending every inept or inadequate decision. The same held true for eight years of the Bush administration, with stolid, traditional Republicans keeping a tight lipped silence and marching in lockstep instead of demanding accountability from their own party. This brings us to the current day, in an era where tension is rising fast and tempers are fraying, with one party paralyzed by internal wrangling for lobby dollars and another descending into pandering to paranoiacs and lunatics.

When I hear the screams from barely articulate right-wing hacks about the erosion of our personal liberties and the certain doom of our way of life and the freedoms enshrined in our constitution...well, mostly, I want to vomit explosively to vent that bile and incredulity that comes from hearing concentrated idiocy. What forms in my mind after the urge to hurl has passed is a single shining question: WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU A YEAR AGO? OR FIVE YEARS AGO? OR TEN YEARS AGO? OR FIFTEEN? OR THIRTY?

Were these people living in a cave for the last decade? Did they not notice the multiple power-grabs by the executive branch that dominated the past few decades? The court stacking and gerrymandering? The fraud and graft and collusion by both parties? Did they just now FINALLY notice that, since the president isn't an elderly white man, that the infringement of government into our personal lives is at an all-time high?

Here's a free clue, just for those who might need it. If you paid your taxes without complaint for eight years while the federal deficit skyrocketed, but proudly "teabagged" the minute the other party was in office, before any changes were even made to our system of taxation by the new administration, you are the person who needs to wake up and think about your role in a democratic process. If you feel that you have no voice, it's because you didn't use it until the slime that passes for today's pundits told you to start feeling that outrage.

For every person who spent eight years in silence or loudly defending the corrupt and inept Bush administration, here's your new marching orders. March home. Go to the woodshed. Beat yourselves silly for being so damned permissive about your party's behavior that you allowed it to acquire greater and greater heights of executive authority, which now rests in the hands of another party, because the rest of the country reacted in horror and disgust at your party's excesses and chose to elect anyone other than the status quo. Then shut up and sit down...we don't need you if you can't educate yourself sufficiently to make rational judgments about your own party's conduct.

For every person who maintained radio silence during the Clinton years, but suddenly had the heart to speak up about the wicked nature of the GOP as soon as George W. entered office, here's a new set of marching orders for you. Find a VW Bug with flowers on it to the hospital...then walk in and have a doctor to examine the contents of your skull. Then go home and stay stoned and quiet long enough for another generation to take over. Your silent complicity and refusal to hold the DNC's feet to the fire is the precise reason that wind up wondering why you never get the results you want. We are better off without you.

The people who herd you on command are not afraid of you (as they rightly OUGHT to be). They expect and receive your cooperation every single time they come calling. Your outrage exists for one party only, and you have the nerve to call yourself patriots because you are surrounded only by voices that agree with you utterly and won't challenge you to think or question. When you run across a contrary opinion, it's more likely than not that it's a person from the 'other side', your natural enemy, and they are just as poorly equipped and as sadly misinformed (and comfortable with it) as you are.

Nothing can be solved or even marginally changed by brain dead herds of rabid followers spewing the same empty phrases from the same collection of talking heads. That isn't debate...that's sports...and at least in sports something is actually decide based on visible, recorded, measured performance. In politics we're down to people just lying and saying that something was accomplished, and with enough blind suppoprt from partisans they make it true in the history books, even while nothing tangible changes.

I freely call this stupidity. Engaging in that kind of conduct is antithetical to patriotism. It is what patriots should oppose at every turn. Let me share a beloved quote that has guided my political thoughts like an unerring rudder for almost two decades now.

"The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders.... The nation blessed above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks." -William James

So here is my most reasonable request. If you are uninclined to bring accountability to anyone save the side that opposes your own, if you cannot speak and respect the right of others to speak, if you cannot abide that sometimes your chosen side will find itself in the minority, if you cannot bring yourself to listen, even momentarily, to an opinion that contradicts your own, and if you cannot conduct yourself in a civil manner because the absence of genuine facts must be compensated for by the weight of your ire...stop voting. Now and forever. Just stop and stay away from even the simplest of debates.

Get out of politics entirely, and leave it to people who are willing to endure the discomfort of hard questions and cautious consideration. You are the plague of locusts and the rain of frogs that warn the rest of us of ill times to come. You are the embodiment of all that chokes the life from good government. You are the problem because, allegorically speaking, we are struggling to repair something delicate, and you are wielding the axe that broke that delicate thing in the first place.

Let me say in parting only this: should you find yourself questioning your own party loudly, should you realize that only by demanding the highest levels of accountability and transparency from all parties and persons can we hope to regain control of runamuck leaders, then by all means join us in the long struggle to put this country back together, so that we might rebuild a little of the greatness of spirit this nation once proudly cherished, and which our children deserve to inherit.

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