Sunday, November 4, 2012

First we reelect the president

Next we heal the world

Well, so much for my abilities at foreshadowing what I might do next. My last post ended with the hopeful observation that I might write next about "the Chicago Way (here or here, for example)," a concept intended to suggest that dirty tricks and corruption have been refined to an extraordinary degree by Chicago politicians, of which Barack Obama is one and whose campaign, as the story goes, is too slick and too malign for the honorable likes of Mitt Romney.

I intended to belittle the notion that Chicago was so exceptional in the way of corruption and cynicism, and to call on lessons from my own experience as a politician in Ann Arbor and as a journalist in Chicago and Dayton to support an opposite conclusion, namely that politicians are no more corrupt or venal than the rest of us. That's a point that I think needs elaborating and repeating, but I've lost interest in the idea as the topic for this post.

Instead I want to elaborate on a comment my friend "kpdriscoll," left responding to the previous post, a bit about October surprises and the unlikelihood that there are any secrets left about Barack that might come out at the end and damage his political position. I wrote that only Romney could be victimized by the sudden appearance or elaboration on one of his "secrets." I was thinking about, say, the release of previous years tax returns or some nasty story about Bain.

The piece was weak. I wrote what I did because at the time I was feeling a little puny myself. Hell, I've been feeling a little puny for the last month or so. And my lassitude, I am convinced, came from the dread I felt about this election. Obama will lose, Romney will win, I've been thinking for more than a month now, and what will follow will be more of the Republican attack on government, an attack that has already, in the 32 years since Reagan was first elected, significantly defunded the government with severe consequences for the poor, for public education, for college students, for consumers, for healthcare and for the environment, to select just a sample.

In réponse, KP cited Hurricane Sandy as really the only October surprise of this election cycle and expanded with the observation that Sandy injected climate change and the environment back into political debate, however belatedly. This is true, I guess, as far as it goes, but climate change has been injected back into a debate that has been substantially soured by the ongoing Republican project, aimed at deligitimatizing the notion that government can improve and advance our common interests.

The two-pronged attack, defunding and deligitimatizing government, have left the country in a perilous state, especially in regard to a challenge as enormous as global warming and seas rising. Of course, the complete collapse of the U.S. and the global economy would have go a long way toward slowing the increase in the average global temperature, but as George Lakoff points out in "Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy," burning the gas reserves of Exxon Mobil alone would raise the average global temperature high enough to threaten civilization as we experience it. "The oil stored by all the oil companies everywhere would, if burned, destroy civilization many times over," Lakoff continues.

Under such circumstances, it should be obvious that even worldwide economic collapse would not eliminate the threat of devastating climate change (devastating superstorms are already here). It will take a government-led project many times larger than the Marshall Plan, larger than all public and private space exploration to date, to back us away from the damage that has already been done and to do so in a way that maintains the livelihoods, aspirations and quality of life for billions worldwide. It may be that it cannot be done.

It may be that the damage done by Reagan, Bush, Cheney, Bush, Rove, Boehner, McConnell, Romney and others has already crippled the faith that Americans have in their own government to the point that any new Marshall Plan would sound like "Solyndra" in American ears. But taking on that lack of faith and restoring American belief in the power of government to transform the world we live in is the challenge before us.

Like I said, I've been feeling pretty puny. Keeping the faith in the face of the threat presented by Romney has been harder for me than the experience of living with 12 years of Reagan-Bush and another eight years of Bush the Younger. Of course, in this instance, the fact that Marrianne works in the Obama administration and brings home the lion's share of our bacon is a factor, too. Without Marrianne's earning power I'd just be an aging retiree on a fixed income with a 14-year old kid and a terribly spotty work record. I'd be toast. So, yes, I have a personal stake in the outcome.

But I have a personal stake in restoring faith in government. It will not be hearty individualism or capitalism or the right to carry firearms that will protect the lives of the people I love who will be here after I'm gone. It will be American faith in the grand possibilities of collective mission articulated and guided by a progressive, democratic government. Unfortunately, climate change is gonna' keep on comin' while the essential work of restoring faith gets done.

So, first, we need to reelect Obama. Then, at a minimum, we are going to need a President Obama ready to play rough with plutocrats and corporations that have been the principal beneficiaries of the widening wealth and income gap and the deregulation push of the last 30 years. Close that gap, restore justice in the marketplace, and lead.

Do that and billions of us will have a chance of living reasonable lives into the second half of the 20th Century. Fail that and watch the continuing march of reactionaries and worse leading us to a place we never dreamed was possible.


  1. I'm not worried about this election. I think Obama has it pretty much in hand because as much as people feel duped for not having the Hope or Change they desired, they are still not going to put a rich guy that ships US manufacturing jobs overseas in charge either. That said, I'd have rather had a Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich there instead.

    In terms of faith in the government, that's tough, as I've lost my faith in pretty much any large institution out there. Too much blind faith and ulterior motives to trust the ethos through all the levels of those organizations. Recent complaints about the failure of the Red Cross adequately helping with the aftermath of Sandy will fuel debate about if any large group, governmental or private, is effective enough to react to serve a public connected so well through social media. Surely our level of dependency and feelings of entitlement on electricity and other modern necessities has been exposed by "Superstorm Sandy." The effectiveness of local organizations vs. large scale operations will hopefully turn some lightbulbs on in people's minds.

    The other failing large organizations are the Democratic and Republican parties, as evidenced by the similarity and weakness of the two candidates in contrast to the third party candidates. Why are so many voters content to be lemmings of the two-party dominated society we've let our political system become? At a time where there is so much potential for grass-roots social media to unify new ideas taking hold in our declining society, why are large organizations like corporations, the two parties, and the federal government stronger than ever? This country needs a resurgence in local and state government routing funding through smaller organizations to help the community. We need more identity as communities and less as US citizens. Turn off the tv's and walk out in your community. Shop at the farmers market, not the Super Walmart. Reversing the global corporate lemming mentality that has infected our society is fundamental to taking the power from the Murdochs, Roves, and Adelsons.

  2. A lot to respond to here, KP. But let me start by saying that I'd never take a Kucinich or a Ron Paul over Obama, however much I might appreciate Kucinich. The thing of it is, we will always need a centrist figure in leadership. What we don't need is a centrist who doesn't know how to be bold when that is the only choice. In that way, Obama is problematic. He fully understands the threat that climate change represents and he must find a way to initiate a comprehensive and progressive federal response to that problem.

    And, yes, you are certainly correct in asserting that decentralizing our society and building cohesive (and heterogenous) local communities has merit and potential. But we are also a country of 350 million and a world of 7 billion and nothing but catastrophic change can alter that. Under those circumstances we cannot do away with large (and ponderous) central government. The bigger question, to me, is what will it take to make people feel better about such a big and powerful institution.

    My answer is that people will feel better about the federal government when more of them feel as though their needs are being met--that they have good jobs, that they and their neighbors can move around in a community that offers a good education for their kids, diverse cultural encounters, walkability and decent public transportation, and a variety of other amenities. They shouldn't have to apologize, either, for feeling "entitled" to electricity. That, in turn, will require more effective and progressive state and local governments, as well as a progressive federal government.

    As for taking power from the Murdochs, Roves and Adelsons, well, that requires a central government that decides to take on corporate power in the interests of democracy and of increased equity in wealth and income.

    Unions originated out of a compelling need to balance the power of large employers, similarly democratic government must evolve to meet a compelling need for balancing the power of global capitalism and multinational corporations. The fact that large, centralized entities can be both corrupt and inefficient is unfortunate, but it seems to me that dealing with that requires a renewed grassroots and individual commitment to democracy, not a walking away.

  3. Agreed that a centrist leader is probably the only viable solution considering our system, but the parties themselves hold too much control over the individuals. Republican block voting shows that party allegiance over national identity is twisted and wrong. I even feel that our national pride overshadows our compassion as members of the global human race too often.

    The model of cellular division displays nature and physics practical limits to function that has evolved and underpins our very existence as living, multi-cellular organisms. Similarly, the fragmenting of the former Soviet Union into the collection of Russian satellite nations shows a society's breakdown into more manageable nation-states. Look as well to the states of Europe evolving after the Roman Empire's demise. Check out the Nine Nations of North America on Wikipedia ( for a reflection of our nation in a different configuration. Its worthy of some open-minded thinking to contrast the way we try to force uniformity across so many different ethos and ways of life in our vast land.
    You may be due for a visit to your fair wife's Driscoll cousins near Ithaca for some new age farming and community. Your urban bend on our society's entitlement to the grid versus local self-sufficiency need some exposure to the other end of the spectrum to make it evident how far within the box your thinking is. I believe they'll have read your poetry book by the time you arrive :)

  4. Hey, KP, I read the Nine Nations of North America when it first came out, what, some 20+ years ago. It's an interesting read and, yes, worthy of further thought, but the fact that there are some distinct cultural differences defining the regions that Garreau describes, does not mean that there are also some critically divisive differences. Colonial and imperial expansions against Native Americans and Mexico aside, the United States grew pretty organically and, as presently constituted, has a long history of decisions to unify and stay unified that did not exist for Poles, Hungarians, East Germans, et al., who were conquered and had separate national traditions of their own.

    Regardless, there's plenty of good arguments to make for further decentralization within a federal structure. But the argument for decentralization and technological simplification is different.

    Maybe, in the face of climate change, there will be a future in which there is less reliance on electrification and high tech. But that would be a huge federal project, as well. It could only be accomplished quickly as a result of the kind of catastrophic events that would also cause huge social dislocation and human suffering. To avoid that, to substantially and permanently and productively change in the life styles of 350 million Americans, half of them urban dwellers, would take decades, probably longer.

    It is reasonable to argue that some of that is going to happen, and happen because of disruptive climate events, but Sandy doesn't prove the inadequacy of federal responses, it only proves that the federal government has to up its game, as it did between Katrina and Sandy, once more.

    As for little, old urban dweller me and mine, Marrianne bikes or mass transits to work, we compost and grow as much as we can, have an 8kw solar installation on garage roof and house and are planning further green changes as we can afford them.

    As for visiting Driscoll cousins, I look forward to it. Let me know when you're going, maybe we can carpool.