November 01, 2004
Ever since late July of last year, my morning ritual has been slightly different than it had been for the preceeding 29 years of my life. The daily routine of bludgeoning the snooze button, grabbing a shower, ironing some clothes that I know I should have ironed when they were hot out of the dryer, and packing up for my day had one very distinctive new process.
I pinned a blue button with the words "Howard Dean for America" to my chest.
Tomorrow, my routine will return to what it was seven months ago. And a not insignificant part of me will have died in the process.
Now, I'm sure many of you out there think that the previous sentence is the kind of hyperbole that all writers are practically addicted to when describing their emotional state. And, of course, there's a modicum of truth to that. I'm only recently becoming aware just how much my love for the taste of clever words in my mouth has chilled some friendships & relationships, and earned me the lovely title of "judgemental arsehole" on more than one occasion.
And maybe that's why I love Howard Dean. Because, quite honestly, he and I have alot in common.
Even though I'm someone who prides myself on being tactful (which is often quite easy when placed in relief next to some of my intentionally tactless immediate relatives who shall remain nameless), there are so many things that I cannot NOT say. And things like that are hard to swallow for alot of people, no matter how much sugar you sprinkle on them.
Personally, I never had much of a sweet tooth. I tend to prefer the taste of salt. Or red meat. And, let's be honest: isn't protein and iron better for you than sugar?
Dean was, more than any other person in public life that I can even think of, the guy who wasn't just willing to tell you the truth you didn't want to hear. Dean LOVED to tell you the truth that you absolutely HAD to hear. The truth that your life depended on.
The truth that, when you run the numbers, NO ONE in the middle class really got a tax cut. The truth that, even though there may actually have been a legitimate national security argument to justify invading Iraq, Bush held it in his back pocket in the hopes you'd all swallow his fear-mongering line of bovine excrement rather than doing the hard work of honest persuasion. The truth that Bush thinks Ken Lay and Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are better at spending your money than either you OR the Federal government, so we might as well just give it to them because we would only blow it to feed our $2000/month perscription Lipator habit like the degenerate junkies that we are.
Yes, all of these truths were self-evident. But only Howard Dean had the (yes, I'm going to say it) balls to actually say it.
On National TV. Loudly.
Someone with the strength of his convictions, demanding that everyone actually acknowledge that the President has no clothes.
That is leadership. Governing in the absence of fear. THAT is what I wanted in the White House.
But morale backbone was just a gateway drug.
The real intoxicant Dean sold was America itself.
Not this paranoid army of exploited Wal-Mart drones being mass produced by a cabal of elitist, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, inbred, dyslexic sock puppets too stupid to realize that they're putting their own heads on the pikes of the starving masses by bankrupting the country to stay in power. Not that America.
Dean showed us jaded Americans the America Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence - the America where regular people not only had a say in what their world looked like, but where they actually cared about what happened to their neighbor. Where the government was an instrument they all created to pool their resources and better their lives. Where they were able to fulfill the blessings of their own liberty and everyone had a stake in making sure that everyone else succeeded.
He showed us the America that Haitian refugees see when they try to ride a rowboat across the Atlantic for a better life. The America that South Asian immigrants see when they sell themselves into virtual slavery just for the chance to ride on a shipping container to the New World.
Dean showed us, for the briefest of seconds, The Land of Opportunity. The place where everything is possible.
He showed us The Future.
We used to call it the American Dream.
And he showed it to us in a way that made us all kind of slap our foreheads and say "what was I thinking? OF COURSE THIS IS WHAT I REALLY WANT!!"
I'm reminded of a speech the late Richard Harris gave in Gladiator about Rome:
"There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more, and it would vanish. It would disappear. It was that fragile."
And yes, part of that dream died today. The part where Dr. Howard Brush Dean III, the former governor of the State of Vermont, becomes the President of the United States in the year 2004.
But, then again, not even Moses got to go to the promised land.
And yes, today, there is mourning for the death of that part of the dream.
But there are 640,000 people in mourning today.
We've all tasted the dream, and we're all still hungry.
The campaign for the White House may be done, but, if I can quote KRS-One:
"We will be here forever.
Do you understand me?
For ever and ever.
And ever and ever.
WE WILL BE HERE."
No link or associated article this time. Just my semi-random observations.
So, last Sunday, I watched a debate between 5 of the nine contenders for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, sponsored right here in L.A. by the League of Conservation Voters, a progressive environmental group. One of the things that struct me was how much time they all spent talking about why they are capable of beating President Bush in a general election. In many ways, it's more of the same mantra that has really burdened our political process for years - "Don't waste your vote on a loser."
This brings several things to mind. At a philosophical level, it just reinforces for me how much failure is equated almost with immorality in the American Dream. But that's a different discussion for another time.
On a more practical level, it makes me wonder how much time do we devote to thinking about who SHOULD be president as opposed to who CAN be President, because the two are clearly not always analogous. When Bob Graham says "I'm from the electable wing of the Democratic Party", my knee-jerk reaction is to castigate him for lauding his appeal to the other side as a virtue. There's so much talk about electoral calculus, i.e. if I can get the people in just the right number of states to vote for me, then I can squeeze my way into the Oval Office.
Number-crunching aside, I think that this approach is, quite frankly, beneath the ideal of what America is supposed to be. Just like, for all his virtues as a candidate, I thought Al Gore's approach of "I'll protect you good Americans from the bad Americans" is beneath America as well.
America is bigger than that.
America is, for lack of a better term, a symphony.
It is the blueprint for a song that calls upon the very best from every single instrument in the orchestra. And the President is the conductor. A conductor cannot take the elements of the piece meant for the brass section and give them to the strings simply because he likes the way the strings sound. On the other hand, the conductor can't take from the strings and give to the winds because he thinks the strings are too arrogant and full of themselves. And he certainly can't make the symphony work by catering to the natural divisions between the various sections.
The conductor's goal should be rousing, fulfilling, beautiful harmony.
Which means the President of the United States of America has to represent the entire country. Not just the red states or, my personal favorites, the blue states. Every section has a role to contribute to the endeavor, and the President's job is to led the way by which ALL sections contribute and are provided for. He must be the President for the workers, the poor, the underclass, but he must also be the President for the business community and the wealthy, those who provide the opportunities for the others. He has to find ways to balance the needs of the industrial sector to prosper with their civic function to provide for the society, by both the goods they provide and the jobs and benefits and wealth they create for employees and shareholders alike. He has to protect and defend the downtrodden and the disenfranchised while calling for responsibility on the part of those who reap the most benefits from being members in this club we call America. But, at the same time, he has to find ways that the disenfranchised can contribute to the nation as a whole, while helping the successful protect and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
The President is not beholden to PACs and lobbyists and interest groups and big donors and protest parties or the DLC or the Green Party or the Electoral College.
The President is a servant to an idea. The idea that all men & women are created equal, and deserve an equal chance here, in this place, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of their own happiness.
So, as you think about the upcoming election, don't let them drag you down to their level. Don't let them trick you into believing these false choices, that only certain people are "electable", and only this person or the other deserve to be there.
That, my friends, is an aristocracy.
Reach out with your hearts and think about who SHOULD be there. Who do you dream about being there.
It's only when we stop settling for the lesser evil that we can ever hope to get the good.
OK, so one of the many fringe benefits of participating in the Dean campaign is that I have a much better understanding of the landscape of modern political discourse. The New Republic likes to think that it's the venerable, old guard standard bearer of modern liberal thought. But, considering that they endorsed "Joe-mentum" Lieberman as the Democratic nominee, I think it's pretty safe to say that they're out of touch with the Democratic electorate.
But once I figured that out that they were really, if I may paraphrase my favorite retired ghetto superhero Al Sharpton, "elephants in donkey jackets", I started casting about for some more progressive publications. Which lead me to The American Prospect.. Admittedly, I think I've only just scratched the surface of what they do, but the punditry seems to be right on the money.
Case in point: this little blurb they put together on the potential legacy of Dean for America. I'm particularly interested in Garance Franke-Ruta's article on the way Dean has re-invigorated American democracy. One of the standard critiques of DFA has been that, given the spotlight, they concentrated on the political process (i.e. meetups, fundraising, grassroots interactions like letterwriting, etc.). But, and I quote:
"How we govern ourselves -- who has power and who can use government power to improve their lives -- may be a process question. But it's also the one this country was founded on. Americans did not fight against the British for universal health care, gay rights, and a 50-cent increase in the minimum wage. They fought for the freedom to be self-governing.
Which raises an interesting point to me.
Have we, as a country, simply forgotten what democracy is?
After decades of special treatment for the wealthy and enormous corporate donors and lobbyists at the expense of the average taxpayer, has the notion of "government of the people, for the people, by the people" simply been beaten out of us?
A democratic government is intended to be a an agent that gathers the collective resources of a group of people to act in their interests as they determine it in ways that they, as individuals cannot. And yet so many of us look at the government as irrrelevant at best, antagonistic at worst.
Dean for America was a real microcosm of what a national, American democracy could look like in the 21st century. More importantly, it reacquainted over a half million people with the idea of self-rule.
This is all a thought in progress. Stay tuned......