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Last year Tate, one of my fellow Charlotte Drinking Liberally hosts, said "The Democratic Party is the only one of the two major parties that acknowledges that sometimes life comes at you sideways." In essence, that there is no inheriting, insuring, preparing or praying one's way clear through every random event that your life will experience.
That goes for the lives of everyone around you, the ones you love, the ones you don't. The ones you know, the ones you will never meet.
The Democratic platform calls for many things. Mostly it calls for public policy that helps people in those numerous cases where private resources are either ineffective or unavailable - in other words, when life comes at Americans sideways.
This might seem fairly self-evident. The writers of the Declaration of Independence certainly thought so. Ditto the Framers of the Constitution who tightened up the laundry list from the Declaration into a few short lines.
Usually, it's available in simple paragraph form. Yet the majesty of these words really comes through in the spoken verse. So let's read it as such (read it aloud in private, if you wish)
These 52 words are the distillation of the finest philosophy from the preceding two thousand years at least. If you count the legacy of Native American wisdom written into our Constitution, you can add another ten thousand years to that legacy. We are at once a young and ancient society. We are of the West - and not of it. We are of Europe - and everywhere else. We are of the faiths of the Holy Land - and from lands and holy traditions from every inhabited continent.
We the People
of the United States,
in Order to form
a more perfect Union,
insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty
to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish
for the United States of America.
We are also transcendent, something apart from the past - the early heartfelt embrace of invention, of innovation - of the sciences, of social and sectarian practices including having none of the last item at all.
Think of the things we can be proud of - crafting a way for mass politics to work on a continental scale. Developing a vast (unfortunately now-decayed) rail transportation network. Repeating the feat (for better or worse) with the interstate highway network and air travel, too. Oh, yes: the Moon landings. We took that small step, that giant leap for all Mankind. The very magnitude of that event humbles and honors us all to this day.
Yet... we the people have also been horridly reactionary. Let's visit a favorite refrain of our right wing brethren...
Some colonies were expressly founded as religious settlements. Yet we are nothing of the kind now... and given that reading the wrong kind of Bible could get you flogged, exiled or executed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony under the Puritans, that's a damn good change from past practices.
Likewise, Georgia was founded as an alternative to poorhouses - yet no one goes around declaring that America was founded as a poorhouse nation... though lately it seems we sure do have a lot of poverty lately.
Many of the original colonies were slave-holding societies. Ditto many of the states later on. Find the person who will dare declare openly that America was founded as a slave country... and pines for those days. You won't find them in elected office. If you do, they won't remain in office for long. That sick, sad ship has sailed.
Many commentators on the American condition will either craft paeans to exceptionalism or decry the exceptional dangers of our country's unprecedented power to do great things or cause great harm. Some celebrate the power without thought that, sometimes, it can come at entire regions of the planet sideways. Others relish the idea of coming at rival countries sideways and leaving them in ruins. Think of the character Conan the Barbarian and his ethos. Hint: it's not the Preamble
We share this awesome society of ours with barbarians. We always have... and they are so often the ones who uphold themselves as defenders of the land, of the faith, of the people, of every good thing.
To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
If life has ever come at you sideways - especially if human agency is involved - you know of what I speak. Harm is willfully done - not always for status or profit but for the lulz. For no other than because it can be done, and some people get off on it. Because someone holds, if but for a moment, power of life and limb and dignity over you... and acts on that barbaric impulse to deprive some measure of all three from you and yours.
It's the sort of degradation and deprivation that makes a person want to respond in kind - if not then and there, then later. With better planning, better gear and more friends.
That sort of thinking, even delayed violence and seeking of payback, is likely barbaric and sets a barbarizing example.
These petty barbarisms can take many lesser forms: acts of rape, torture, murder and bullying children and vulnerable young adults into suicide are just a few examples.
What we are as a society is in great measure defined by how we hold to a simple idea than that in Galen's admonition to physicians:
We qualify that simple statement through law and custom and habit. No society can function in a purely harmless state.
First, do no harm.
Yet at least we can refrain from not just tolerating but encouraging barbaric, willfully harmful impulses not only as acts of private conduct but of public policy as well.
Sometimes, life comes at you sideways. We should be doing our level best to keep it members of our society, members in positions of public trust most of all, from doing intentional harm to the body politic.
In this last respect, Democrats are different. We are not perfect. We fight, we contend, we even draw blood sometimes and relish the prospect of combat, righteous and victorious, against our adversaries. Yet ours is very much the battlefield of the election. We approach politics and politics. The problems are grave and ideally the alternative solutions should be discussed gravely.
Our brethren on the right appear to see otherwise...even to the issue (for them) for the legitimacy of imposing solutions at all! For current-edition GOPers, life's sideswipes not only should NOT be mitigated; they should be intentionally multiplied and magnified!
Er... why? Because from the right's perspective, sideswipes act as a valuable filtering mechanism to sort the deserving (most often the ruthless, unsharing and uncaring) from the undeserving. That would be those who are either unlucky or victims. (In either case who cares? They're losers.)
I know many Republicans. Some live well, some do not. Some are highly educated and can follow this diary here with detachment, albeit with strong disagreement. Others see an advantage in federation with wilder-eyed partisans as a lever to intimidate opponents. The former abet barbarism by turning the other way. The latter take explicit advantage, perhaps even pleasure, from the continued existence of such behaviors.
If I seem harsh on the Republicans, well, Democrats aren't the ones trying to promote rapists' paternity rights, or make prosecution of rapists difficult. Democrats aren't the ones out to stop abortion AND contraception AND sex education, on some notion that (a) life begins at conception but (b) if you conceive even from rape you have to live with the consequences but (c) educating young adults about consequences is the worst thing of all (because: icky lady parts and stuff). That's willful harm, out to create a permanent population of easy victims, male and female alike. That's not just barbaric. It's sick and wrong and about control. God, by any other name, has got nothing to do with it.
That's just one example. Another is America's God-given right to lay waste to any nation-state of its choice (because: size issues and stuff) and it should only be the president who decides such mass-scale life or death things (except when he's -Kenyan- Democratic as of January 2009) and even then only Republicans are blameless even if millions are killed by teh bombz (because: of the appropriate tribe, and stuff).
So - To the extent that the rest of us tolerate barbaric attitudes and behaviors, we ourselves are barbarized. And we barbarize each other, and our children ... even if we just look the other way.
Democrats, I am proud to say, try NOT to look the other way. Many, many voices from the left and right alike will protest that statement. I welcome the discussion, here and elsewhere. Because... drones. Because... assassinations. Because... indefinite detentions. Because... torture. Because... we are fracking better than that and we know it.
But that's the difference: As a movement, we know we are blowing it and struggling to do better.
The other team? Most of that cadre loves the smell of carnage in the morning. They like victimization. Sorts out the deserving from the undeserving. For them, the more life comes at 'we the people' sideways, the better.
And that's just pitiful.
On a personal note
Because many of you are Twitter tweeps and Facebook peeps - MKK and the kids are ok, despite their meeting the acquaintance of an 18-wheeler truck on the highway on the way back from school this afternoon. MKK was in the right lane passing a Peterbilt. Said semi tractor-trailer's driver claims to have turned on his turn signal. Well, the police officer at the scene later could not make any adjudication as to fault and like they say, any crash you walk away from is a good crash. Whew.
For a while there, I was a wreck. About.. forty-five minutes or so. MKK had called to say, citing my Facebook post from earlier..
Thanks for the well wishes from many of you. Regards, CSK
"Oh, we're running late because a Peterbilt 18-wheeler just took off my back bumper... but we're all okay and waiting on the police to come fill out an accident report. I'm thinking of getting takeout tonight. By the way, the dog hasn't had a walk yet..."
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