Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6

 

Two four-letter words

(No, not "bull" and "sh-t" … "POLI" and "TICS"!)

GHLIII

The Mongolian Cluster Bang that is the George W. Bush administration stands revealed in the wake of Katrina. It's the only positive thing about the entire obscene disaster. Not even the most devoted Bush apologist can whitewash its incompetence, cronyism, lassitude, indecisiveness, corporate favoritism and corruption - all right out there for the world to behold.

With domestic disaster compounding W's bollix of foreign matters, and more and more Americans catching on to the folly of the last five years, we liberals have the chance to reassert our point of view into public policy. To do so, we need to present a clear alternative to conservatism's failed philosophy - create a platform based on resonant and easily understood ideas.

This is tough for us. The problem with Democrats is that their - our - concept of good government and decent life is inclusive and complex - not easily reducible to simply stated ideas. But it's a sad fact of life that "simply stated ideas" - slogans, if you want - sell. Liberalism's best chance to reassume a preeminent public role, therefore, is to speak bluntly and plainly - to articulate clear and easily understandable principles.

So what do we say? Given dominion over the Democrats, what principles would I articulate? What do I believe is the best course for the republic? What are my hopes for a decent government? How would I win the people to our point of view?

First things first. We liberals have to learn to fight. Our opponents are creatures of certitude who attack without scruple. We need conviction of our own, and the will to argue forcefully. For decades we've been cowed by winger nastiness. Enough: we must fight back. Anyone who calls us unpatriotic or anti-God because we don't agree with their agenda must be made to defend their accusations. The most underworked phrase in English may well be "That's a lie!" We must not be afraid to use it.

Tough talk aside, let's remember that this is politics we're talking about. Our aim is not to antagonize but to persuade, to convert the electorate from W's politics of fear to politics of sanity and hope. Remember what the Bishop advised the feminist in Phil Dick's Transmigration of Timothy Archer: "If you would conquer us, show us love and not scorn." Republican slanders should be met with open contempt. We must not, however, extend that contempt to those who believe those lies. Our job is to convince those people of the truth.

Can they be convinced? Oh yeah. The last election had me doubting the vox populi as I never doubted it before. But I should be attentive to times past. The brave, ambitious, imaginative and delightful Christa McAuliffe, for instance, staunchly maintained that she was ordinary. Such Americans behaved splendidly after 9/11, and the catastrophe of Katrina was met with astonishing generosity by the people, for the people, from the people. I felt pleasantly abashed. If we assume that decency is typical, then everything is okay, because the reactions of common Americans to 9/11 and Katrina prove that the common American is a giving and courageous soul. Such a person will believe the truth and adhere to sanity - if the truth and sanity are presented with conviction, clarity, and force. The alternative belief - that the ordinary American is a frightened and bigoted doofus who countenances torture and can be manipulated into dictatorship - is unthinkable.

Okay. So what beliefs do we should put forward? What should a government do?

 

Respect suffering. Compassion is the noblest impulse in the human experience. Understanding, empathy, unselfishness and uncynical caring - good will towards men - should not only be our nation's political philosophy, but should govern the personal conduct of each of us as human beings. Other people matter.

Probably the most revolting thing I read after Katrina dealt with the alleged ingratitude of evacuees towards those who gave them succor - obvious winger propaganda designed to divert onto the victims outrage at government's spastic response to the tragedy. Decent human beings will not begrudge people who have lost everything a taste of public bread - or understanding if such victims express frustration with their fate. Our commitment as liberals is to reclaim these victims of nature, and restore them to society - because principal among the prime duties of American government, as for human individuals, is to

 

Care for the uncared for … what one of my judges once called "the lost of this world." The underbelly of society is not solely populated by those who choose to be there. It teems with the mentally ill or limited, the drug-addicted, and the poor, whose suffering is not simply "evolution in action" but human agony no decent society should tolerate. Poverty requires both short-term solutions and long-term solutions. Adequate sustenance and health care must be available to every human being within the province of the American government. Crime - which hurts the poor and the "lost" worst of all - must be met by smart, efficient, fair policing, well-financed, impeccably trained and strictly supervised. Our aim is not to control these lost, not to restrain them, not to ghettoize them, but to help them lift their lives.

 

Adhere to the Bill of Rights. More than any other country in the history of the world, America is its ideas - ideas articulated in the documents of its foundation. Principal among these are the Bill of Rights and the XIVth Amendment, among the clearest statements of the natural rights of man ever put to paper. We should trumpet them as the foundation of our politics.

This means that we support civil rights and due process of law for everyone, everywhere, in every circumstance - no short cuts; no manipulation; no rationalizations. Every man gets his fair trial, everyone plays under the same rules, punishment should always fit the crime, and torture is unacceptable. (As are cynical technicalities like rendering, passing prisoners along to allies who have no laws forbidding torture.) Our government acts legitimately or it does not act at all. This is a policy that does not weaken us as a society; it sustains us.

What I like best about the Bill of Rights is what it assumes as self-evident. (Thanks to the late Don MacIntosh of Ygnacio Valley High School for pointing this out to me some 40 years ago). The Russian constitution read: "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics guarantees free speech to all its citizens." Our 1st Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech." See the difference? In the USSR, freedom was a gift that the government could withdraw at any time. In the US, we recognize that freedoms such as speech exist above and beyond the reach of government, because liberty is the natural state of man. Our politics should begin and end with this proposition.

 

Mind your own business. Liberals believe that government has no place telling people how to live their private lives. Moral questions are best left up to the people who have to live with them. Reproductive decisions are private. Marital decisions are private. Government, in short, should keep its nose to itself.

The key issue here is Trust. By standing for freedom of speech, religion, and the unstated but understood Right to Be Left Alone, Americans express faith that our fellow citizens will not, when left to themselves, conduct themselves in a harmful manner. Therefore, let people read what they will and watch what they will, and don't try to lay moral filters over what they can read or watch, think or do. The obvious exceptions apply, of course - but they are extremely limited and apply only where physical or mental harm to others comes into play.

 

Forget political correctness. The left has wasted its energy in recent times seeking to propound courtesy, tolerance and sensitivity through social and legal pressure: political correctness. Foolishness. Americans have an historic allergy to being told what they can or can't think or say. Political correctness goes against that grain; it's self-indulgent, celebrates power over persuasion, and is counterproductive, because it alienates those it should be instructing. If we assert trust in the people to think what they will without causing harm to the body politic, we have to mean it.

Besides, P.C. is a foredoomed proposition. It assumes that those with authority to dictate right thinking and correct speech will always have that power. Not so. Power can and will change hands. When it does, the side using their authority to pursue arbitrary agendas will pay for it - a price the left is paying now, and a price the right will pay come the turning of the wheel.

 

Rebuild the infrastructure. This year's natural disasters have demonstrated conclusively that the infrastructure of this nation - its buildings, roads, levees - is aging, in some cases to dilapidation. Government's job is to keep the common turf of this country in repair. It's not doing it. New Orleans paid catastrophically for government's neglect of its antiquated levee system - as will the rest of America. It isn't simply leftist hyperbole to declare that the cities and regions and states of this country are interdependent, and share a common fate. It is an economic truth. The national government must guide the never-ending, on-going and literal reconstruction of America, and it must do so by

 

Develop[ing] fiscal sense. I don't know if it's possible to abandon pork barrel politics, but America is so broke and so burdened with sickening debt that such a sacrifice has become necessary. Legislatures need to learn discipline - and the people need to learn to live without pork. (I know the impossibility of what I'm saying. This isn't a science fiction fanzine for nothing.) Connected to this: government is dominated in this Republican era by the insane idea that wealth should not be taxed. In the decay of society's infrastructure we see the result of that sort of favoritism. Liberalism's belief is that benefits bestowed by government should resonate upwards, not trickle down. Literally, we cannot afford to act differently.

 

Pragmatic environmentalism. Al Gore is my favorite for the presidency - not that he's interested any more - so I should mention his personal crusade. (Watch for his documentary, opening RSN at an art cinema near you.) Environmentalism means much more than preserving the beauties of nature. It even means more than the basic mantra of "Clean air, clean water." It means acknowledging man's effect on the world - and the importance of that effect. Did global warming play any role in the resurgence in hurricane activity this year - or the ferocity of Katrina and Rita? We need answers and action without agendas. In that same vein ...

 

Support science - without phony moral filters. I speak, specifically, of stem-cell research, frustrated in this era by W's wacky winger religious posturing. My mother is ten years dying of Alzheimer's Disease and I am likely to develop it myself. To forestall the potential for cures for this and many other horrid diseases because of extreme and politically-motivated ethical arguments is fatuous, and fundamentally inhumane. The hopes of living, suffering human beings are more important than the alleged "rights" of a few cells.

The scientific method and its results have run into resistance in this winger era, call it creationism or "intelligent design" or faith-based or what have you. Here's where rational progressives must be unafraid to shout "bullshit!" because nothing less than the quality of our kids' education is threatened - as well as the true power of science to explore and explain the physical universe, and the true value of faith.

One of my favorite Bible verses goes something like "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Faith has its value in the conduct of men's lives, in how we relate to other people. Its tenets are essential to a decent life in a decent society, and are beyond question. Science always doubts - always questions - never settles for dogma. Can the twain e'er meet? Sure: they coexist in any rational mind, complementing and completing a sane personality - and culture.

America must continue and increase its research into all of the sciences. Someone once described the Apollo moon landings as "our cathedrals" - perhaps of no immediate value (although the research they inspired makes that a false proposition) but a resonant statement of our values - specifically, the accomplishment of a worthy scientific goal. Nothing must be allowed to hold back the acquisition and application of new knowledge, and the spread of its benefits to humanity.

(Superb elucidations of this issue: "Greetings from Idiot America" and "Intelligent Design" in the November, 2005 Esquire. Yes, I still read Esquire.)

 

Rekindle conversation on race relations. Since the Reagan years America has stopped talking about race and poverty, the conjoined twins of America's fundamental social disorder. Our underclass has been left to fester, and as a result the racial divide has become even more of a class division. We have seen injustice in the aftermath of Katrina the results of that division, that inequality and that- and America stands disgraced. Radical conservatism's contemptuous policy of benign neglect towards the poor has failed, completely and unarguably. Race relations and poverty must once more be addressed.

I'd like to see original and critical thinking turned to the problem. I'd like to know how much has changed since the days of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement which overcame it. I'd like to hear honest truth without regard to political pressure. I'd like to see challenges exchanged - to the underclass, for its self-crippling criminality, familial breakdown and drug use; to the power structure, for its neglect, its miserliness, its unwillingness to listen. Mourning and huzzahing Rosa Parks is all well and good, but it is empty rhetoric without acknowledgment that the problem is never-ending and must still be addressed.

Katrina has forced America to acknowledge, for the first time in a generation, that we have a problem with race. Now we must try to solve it. To do otherwise in the face of the disaster disaster, and the rotten schism in our culture it has revealed, would be unthinkable.

 

Honest and Intelligent War. Talk about oxymorons! Nevertheless, in the Iraqi debacle we can read vital lessons to be applied to the future. In the splendid phrase of Thomas Friedman, whose The World is Flat should be open before every eye, America invaded Iraq thinking that it would be easy. We completely misunderstood the enemy, we had no rational objective, we had no strategy aside from brute force, and we have no idea of what to do. Never again. War must be entered into as a last resort, and only based on a true threat. The subterfuge behind Iraq became public record with the Downing Street Memo has been revealed. America was fed a war based on "intelligence and facts … fixed around [a] policy" decided by W's administration with no regard for the truth. The "Outing" of Valerie Plane as a CIA operative, meant to discredit and punish her husband for his public disagreement with the administration's rationale for war, shows how desperately, and irresponsibly, W's operatives seek to mask his mistakes. War, the most serious act of any nation, must never again be undertaken again in such an atmosphere of falsehood, recrimination, and duplicity.

Anxious to rationalize the sacrifice of their sons and daughters, Americans are reluctant to believe that their children ever die in a flawed cause. Nevertheless, in recent decades Americans have died in any number of flawed causes, and we must have the moral courage to admit our mistakes and learn from them. Saving American life & treasure is good enough reason, but if we need another …

 

"A decent respect for the opinions of mankind". America is part of this world, not its master. America is not alone on this planet. We need the good will of our neighbors. Bullying, browbeating, and badmouthing variant points of view will ill serve our country in times to come, as such actions ill serve our repute with the rest of humanity, now. In the W era we have lost that understanding. When Amnesty International condemns our treatment of Arabic prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and the obscene hypocrisy of "rendering," that isn't the mere hand-wringing of leftist furriners, as wingers maintain. It's the sane and humane judgment of mankind. We ignore it at peril of our national rectitude, our stature with other countries, and our future as an avatar of democracy.

Our arrogance since the beginning of the Iraq War has squandered the world sympathy we enjoyed after 9/11 and turned it into unprecedented world contempt - as extreme an example of diplomatic ineptitude as history holds. We need to learn, once again, that influence is not merely a matter of military might. Remember the Lincoln-Douglas debates: will America be the hope of the world or settle for being the terror of the world? We must opt for the former. The world has known terrors before - and it has always torn them down. Its hopes, however, have endured throughout recorded time.

America can choose which it will be. So - which will it be?

 

I love to quote lines from movies. Here's one from Platoon, addressed to all those who believe as I do. I've had my problems with Oliver Stone, but he hit this pitch out of the park and into the river. Remember it:

"Keep your shit tight and your powder dry and the worm will turn."

 

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Challenger is (c) 2003-2005 by Guy H. Lillian III.
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