We spend a lot of time here deriding the Bush administration, and rightly so. I just finished reading the excellent recommended diary
, "America's Unbearable Shame", by One Pissed Off Liberal
. Read that, by the way, if you haven't. That really evoked a visceral response from me, in a way few diaries do. It's a great example of the kind of self-examination we must do.
Then I was reading this comment by lecsmith, in a different diary:
When I realized that the Cheney/Bush/Rove machine uses the tactic of belittling, devaluing, and undermining to the point of destroying academic disciplines and professions that seek truth (like science, medicine, journalism, history, the social sciences, each in their way) it dawned on me that I was seeing nihilism in action. And it's not just academic disciplines they attack; they attack the good in anything that gets in the way of consolidating more power to themselves. And they do not seem to care what they destroy; now that is pervasive sociopathy. They are happy to destroy the idea that government could be competent. They are happy to destroy the idea that we should even try to have international institutions. They will destroy anything that is the least bit good in order to win. They will use anything in order to win. They will pretend anything. They will say anything. I don't even think they practice "honor among thieves." And they do all of this under the guise of religion and superior morality.
when something dawned on me. Are Bush and Cheney merely products of the system? Has our political system and our society simply come to the point where this is to be expected? The statement, "They will destroy anything that is the least bit good in order to win" is what struck this chord. It seems like a paradox, doesn't it? Destroying the public good should not produce wins. But it has. What's going on? What I'm asking, essentially, is: Are we unfit to govern ourselves? Aren't we ultimately responsible for the mess we find ourselves in?
Why is it OK to subvert truth? To try to rig elections and get away with it? To unjustly "swift-boat" the opposition, and succeed at it? To vilify those that oppose clearly unjust practices like torture, and convert that into political capital? To question the patriotism of those who merely want honest answers and analysis, and get approval for it in the form of votes?
There are three main hurdles the successful candidate must surmount:
Of course, any successful candidate has to raise money. That's a sort of proto-election, the election before the election. Clearly, it is problematic when this proto-election relies on "one dollar, one vote". That screens out many candidates who are truly interested in the public good. The pragmatics of it mean that a homeless or poor person does not get a vote in the proto-election. And that is clearly undemocratic. The people could be vigilant and rebel against this by demanding legislation to correct this, but they have not been. Many people undoubtedly do not even understand, or care to understand, that this is a problem.
There is also the election process. The people must demand integrity in this process. They must truly care that the vote they DO get actually counts. They must be vigilant about this. But they have not been.
Then, of course, there is the election itself. People must devote themselves to a clear understanding of the issues, or at least rely on credible experts to help guide them through this process. But they have not. When the "experts" are entertainers like Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter, it is a recipe for disaster. But no one is making people watch these shows or take the advice given on them to heart. People must be free to make their own decisions, but when they base those decisions on catch phrases that make them feel vindicated or entertained, rather than on an earnest assessment of the public good, then the leaders they elect will reflect their failures in this area.
In other words: garbage in, garbage out.
I don't think there is any question that the level of public discourse on important issues has become asinine. That people aren't nearly as truly engaged as they should be. But what is the cause of it? Is it mere complacency? Laziness? Unwillingness to question authority? It's not all 9/11, because we saw this already in 2000, when even a Bradley-McCain contest would have been much more compelling than the blahfest of Bush-Gore that we settled for. Then we saw the Florida debacle, accepted it, and all went on our merry way.
We swallowed hook, line, and sinker the "evidence" in the runup to the Iraq war. I believed Colin Powell. I LIKED him. He wouldn't hornswoggle me. I was ready to buy one of those decks of cards with the most wanted Iraqi leaders on them. But my wife dissuaded me, because she was on to them before I was.
So I accept some of the blame.
I've woken up, and I can actually thank the Bush administration in a way for causing me to do so. I never hoped for anything more fervently than for a Bush loss in 2004. But not enough people were with me.
The Daily Mirror, as you recall, asked afterwards: "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?"
And that's the question. It's not, "How can Bush do what he does?" But rather, "How did we let this happen?" There will always be more Bushes.
Thomas Jefferson said: "The price of democracy is eternal vigilance."
But he didn't mean doggedly shooting down perceived threats and asking questions later. No, he meant this, from John F. Kennedy: "Democracy is a difficult kind of government. It requires the highest qualities of self-discipline, restraint, a willingness to make commitments, and sacrifices for the general interest, and it also requires knowledge."
Americans seem to have lost these qualities. We've lost the willingness to even talk about them earnestly. We don't even consider questions like, "What is the public good?" And here we find ourselves. I'm sorry to say it, but collectively, we have only ourselves to blame.