In November 2004, I published my “Personal State of the Union Address“. It was election time, and the BS was flying at least as much as usual. I didn’t reveal who I was voting for, but brought up good and bad reasons people were voting for either man. I gave my opinion, trying to cut through the fog of rhetoric surrounding various issues.
I defended national debt (quite pertinent today), talked about the environment, military intervention, and of course, the economy. My predictions regarding homeland safety and personal freedom were dead on, while others’ prophesies of doom that would manifest if Bush were reelected failed to materialize.
But this isn’t election time. It’s Independence Day. I won’t dwell on the questionable sanity of state and federal government or specific arguments and issues thereof. I won’t lament the uncontested armed invasion of our country from the south while earmarks and pork fly like the wind in Washington. This is not my state of the “Union”, meaning a nation, but of my country, America.
But first, a confession. There was a time when I scorned patriotism, unable as most to distinguish it from nationalism. At a college semi-formal, I even refused to have portraits taken until they removed the red, white, and blue background. It was the first Gulf War, and the patriotism seemed contrived. After 9-11 I felt the same way — I didn’t change my colors like a lemming. It wouldn’t have been sincere … it didn’t feel right.
But now I fly the flag proudly, work with vets, and the anthem still brings me to tears. I’m not sure what changed. It certainly wasn’t confidence in our leaders (of this or that administration) that swayed me. If anything, it was a simple awareness of history, a growing appreciation for the “Grand Experiment”. It was the achievements of a People and Country in spite of the imperfections of our collage of ideologies and the humanness of politics.
I even vote now, where I honestly used to be proud that I hadn’t previously. I write legislators. I keep up on and engage in political discourse. I have even collected signatures to put people on the ballot in one party and canvassed in a primary for another. Believing the People, businesses and communities are the answer versus participation in the democratic machinations of government is not an either/or, though battle lines seem to have been drawn between them in many people’s minds.
I still abhor nationalism. I am a Citizen of the World and can have pride in my own country — it’s diversity of culture and values — without the need for imperialism or losing a belief in individualism. We insist – at least up to now — on a government that for the most part entitles its citizens to be selfish or wrong rather than compelled what to do, and yet people have aspired, for the most part, to be the best in all things anyway. This is even more of a paradigm in that we have allowed these notions to be challenged by foreign ideologies that are more cynical toward the nature of the individual, yet oddly idealistic regarding artificial social controls that have no precedent for anything but oppression.
So this is my address, directed at the Spirit of the People — our past achievements, present sentiments, and future challenges. Here politics are the backdrop, not the play, and I speak not so much the facts of our lives so much as how we perceive them.
Conflict of Ideologies
We live in a strange time, where tyrants of the globe praise our leaders, and free countries are scratching their heads wondering what the hell is going on over here. I almost miss the days when the US was considered the playground bully … almost.
We’ve taken the reigns from England as the despised global power, yet inspired countless millions with regards to human rights, our most precious export. We’ve fought — and won — our own battles of civil liberties, and there are a few more hurtles to go. But freedom of speech and press in this information age is everything, with near ubiquitous access. We’ve been the frontrunner in this as well.
We’ve taken for granted a banking system that has been the basis for a rising tide of prosperity everywhere in the world. In spite an unambiguous victory in the Cold War over communism and socialism, we pretend not to see a free market that has raised up more first-generation millionaires than perhaps any time or place in history … adjusted dollars and all.
Instead of counting our blessings, and celebrating America as the first Meritocracy, we still parrot the straw man arguments against individual prosperity from European leftists who lived in a different world, in a time long gone.
Today, Socialism is either a rough accusation or no longer a bad word, depending who you talk to. And just as few people as ever have any handle on what it really means. But something good is coming of all this liberal supermajority bulldozing — it is causing the middle class to lose complacency, fearing we’re moving toward a wholesale dependency that will, if anything, instigate a class war the left is supposedly trying to end.
The big question of the role of government has come to a head. The simple color-coding of states — a solidified product of the times in my last address — is falling away. The lines are being drawn multidimensionality and not along two columns of stances on every issue. People are starting to talk and be passionate, even over the yelling of fanatics.
Like always, the fanatics come out of the woodwork. Under Bush, the worst of the left showed it’s face; not it’s the worst of the right. But something is different. Not just the crazies are protesting any more. People know there is something fundamentally wrong — more than usual — and it can be heard if you listen closely, underneath the din of talking heads.
People are starting to articulate the issues of mass entitlement and government dependency on a large scale, no longer the grumblings of some necessary evil, but a condition strong enough to overcome the complacency of the average Joe. After all, the conditions of complacency — a predominantly decent standard of living — have been threatened. Ironically, the threat comes from the actions of those who think it’s their moral imperative to play (a less discriminately thieving) Robinhood to bring such a thing to every last person our society considers unacceptably poor, whether or not they want or deserve it.
The New “Man”
We’ve come full circle, where the generation that fought for civil rights and rocked the establishment now wants to legislate and enforce some “social contract”. They fought “The Man” and now they are The Man. In my lifetime, I saw them trade in their hemp clothing for a professor’s elbow pads, and now they wear the suits of senators.
They are telling the next generation they know better, forgetting past echoes of the exact same message from conservative counterparts directed at them, just outside recent memory. Perhaps it’s some subconscious generational oedipal retribution. Either way, it is a sort of self-righteousness equal to the most fervent religious fanatic, selling a new generation the illusion of progress as a moral imperative that can only be met by a majority vote to sacrifice liberties.
Even the law of the land has been buffeted with bad arguments, and where it served us well in the past, it’s a thorn in the side for others who either think it defends their point wrongly, or think the whole document is outdated, as if human rights and common sense were no longer relevant.
And no one seems to know why we argue over pieces of paper so much. We simply can’t or won’t take the time to look closely and share an all-important missed distinction: the Bill of Rights is unlike the mountains of modern legislation in that it was constructed to RESTRICT government’s role in relation to individual rights, not expand it for some misinterpreted “general welfare” where the majority decides our destiny in a million little ways.
The Breaking Point?
The backlash of the pendulum swinging too far this time isn’t coming from college campuses or the hard streets, but from the Middle Class and Middle America — not residents of the Ivy Towers but the companies and their workers who keep building our country. And these people are measured not in words of debate or pages of union clauses, but by their free will contribution to America. Or not so free will, which is the problem.
Taxation on one end and social programs on the other are the measure of national housekeeping, and it’s reaching proportions unimagined by our ancestors. The Tea Party and similar efforts — no different in tenor from the “anti-war” protests of earlier in the decade — are craftily dismissed as radical, when in fact they are a response to radicalism being mainstreamed. Some of us never thought we’d be so close to the precipice of dangerously intrusive government and the rest of us think we’re over-reacting. The benefits of a planned society somehow justify everything — at least to some.
Intuition is merely logic that hasn’t reached out conscious mind. Even the best-intentioned government “salvation” has a cost. But of what? The price is the same premise that underlies fascism — that the end justifies the means. But I don’t think it will come to fascism, at least not any more than any government exists in the end by force. We are more of a lobster slowly boiled, where protestations against incremental change can be more easily dismissed by many and swallowed by the rest.
Again, some of us see it as a clear, no longer ignorable circumstance. Many who aren’t usually alarmed are starting to be, and not irrationally. Rhetoric of some vague notion of revolution, even couched in the language of physical or even armed action, is no longer the voice of the few on the edge. Our society in general is too polite to speak loudly about it — and the idea of violent revolution isn’t on the table, yet — but the desire for REAL change, combined with a lack of confidence in government being rehabilitated by due process, is brewing in the masses, not the fringes.
I say we’re both divided and confused, and our future could go in any direction because of it. Our whole country is showing signs of a mid-life crisis. Will our old age be an affront to the greatness of the generations that came before us, or will we age gracefully as a continued free country and prosperous people while other citizens of the world have their chance in the spotlight of history?
In every time, we see ourselves at a seemingly important crossroads, and in every time there’s at least some truth to it. We must ask ourselves at what point did the dominant voice of the American Colonists migrate from fringe extremists to calculated revolutionaries.
I don’t think we’ve yet been pushed too far, but I suspect in my lifetime, this will be the time people look back and say this is when the basic conflicts of ideologies have come to a head. Will it be the seeds of a tax revolt, or worse, devolving into cycles of escalated descent and oppression through paranoia against what would be labeled “home grown terrorism”? I hope not.
My hope is that this will be seen as a time where the hard questions are finally asked, distinctions being made, and implications clarified.
At the heart of this, the class war issue must be settled once and for all — not by being so foolish to think we can solve it by forced redistribution, but by returning to our roots of Meritocracy and shedding our pick-and-choose prejudices regarding success. We still have a chance to learn how to foster and protect the Pursuit of Happiness, instead of despising the ideal result, or pretending it can be taxed and granted.
My hope is that the People can find their way back into relevance to our leaders through peaceful yet powerful actions, remaining at all times open to dialog, much like the existing “Coffee Party” intends. This can only be done by breaking ALL conflicts of interest with special interest groups, which necessitates serious campaign reform and independent oversight.
My hope is that We the People do something, perhaps without precedent, and that something is to force our leaders by sheer numbers, public outcry — and yes, a little fear that the 2nd Amendment wasn’t just for hunting — to truly reform the system in fundamental ways. We have the technology and existing freedoms of press and speech — at least for now — to create a responsive, accountable leadership.
My hope is we can get on with building and growing our communities from the ground up according to our own conscience, and have unfettered freedom in our individual pursuits of happiness.