According to Ben Franklin, there are precisely two certainties in this world of ours: death and taxes. It seems to me that were the "great American overachiever" alive, well and doing his thing in 2006, he might well consider a couple of additional items for his list of perennials . . . like the Cubs playing before packed houses at Wrigley Field, the rich getting richer, and the next election being called "the most critical in all American history." About the last, there can be no doubt. I mean when was the last [or indeed, the first] time anyone heard a political pundit proclaim "well, I don't really think the next mid-term election is going to amount to a hill of beans!" Indeed, it seems that every two or four years, our elections are likened to the titanic, monumental struggles betwixt David and Goliath, Hector and Achilles, Wellington and Bonaparte. Each succeeding election, we are instructed, is really a battle for something called "the soul of America." Well dear reader, the next engagement on the great battlefield of American politics is only 100 days away. And you know something? This election may well be the most crucial we've faced in a long, long time.
Back in 1966, folk rocker Stephen Stills penned the anthem "For What It's Worth," containing the haunting lyric "There's battle lines being drawn. Nobody's right if everybody's wrong." To stop, look and listen to Democrat and Republican mouthpieces, that would seem to just about sum things up.
To Republicans, Democrats seem to be nothing more than a cult of spineless secularists without an original thought or program in their collective head; a mass of ultra-liberal ectoplasm that stands foursquarely against American security, American values and the American Way of Life. "Put the Democrats back in control," Republicans warn, "and soon America will be under-siege, over-taxed, and around the moral bend." To listen to Republican mouthpieces, one might imagine that Democrats aren't children born of human mothers and fathers, but rather, malevolent beings sprung to life from the blood of the headless Medusa. Democrats are often stereotyped as having the morals of Bill Clinton, the demeanor of Howard Dean, and the dry, self-righteous mien of Al Gore.
Often times Democrats are just as puerile and absolutist in their characterization and condemnation of Republicans. To many Democrats, Republicans are nothing more than a clique of bloated, self-centered oligarchs who speak like pietists but act like piranhas. Republicans are charged with being bigoted, narrow-minded, rapacious reactionaries who care far more about profit and loss in the next quarter, than the viability of planet earth in the next century. To Democrats, Republicans are all named Bush, DeLay and Abramoff.
Sounds like what's coming up in 100 days isn't so much an election between Democrats and Republicans for control of the Congress, but a holy war between the forces of light against the forces of darkness. The only question is, who represents the light and who the darkness? When two sides of a political tiff spend more time deriding and demeaning than explaining and elevating, elections become far, far less than we would want, but just about what we deserve. I ask you: is this anyway to run a democracy?
It seems to me that real political democracy is only possible when one is willing to act as though one's opponents have hold of some important portion of the truth, however much in our hearts we doubt it. This is the beginning of political civility; something all but missing from our current system. Furthermore, when we become determined [as, I am sorry to say, many national Republicans have] to combine our conviction of the absolute truth of our own ideas and the rectitude of our motives with overt political action, we have launched ourselves on the path of the dictator and tyrant.
Believe it or not, there are significant issues and situations that should be addressed in the coming election. Consider that we are mired in a hopeless war/insurgency in Iraq; that Jews and Moslems are killing each other and no one has any idea of how to get them to stop; that America, though hopelessly in debt continues to cut taxes; that the government is listening in on telephone conversations and could care less what the law has to say about it; that temperatures are rising, earning power is shrinking, money continues to flow unabated into political coffers, and no one knows what to do about millions upon millions of illegal immigrants.
And yet, to the proverbial Martian, all that seems to matter to the American people is whether our Pledge of Allegiance contains the words "under God," our flags are protected from burning, and our embryos are safe from the clutches of medical science. Somehow though, I don't think even a Martian would be fooled.
A few nights ago on CSPAN, four Democrat members of Congress, led by Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz [the others being Kendrick Meek of Florida, Tim Ryan of Ohio, and William Delahunt of Massachusetts] took to the floor of the House and delivered an hour-long "101 course" on the problems and challenges facing America. Their presentation was, to put it mildly, a tour-de-force. The only problem was that they had virtually the entire chamber to themselves; not a Republican was stirring. As I watched, listened and learned, I found myself wishing that every American voter, indeed, every member of that august body [The House of Representatives] had been there; that the American public had been glued to their TV sets, and the various Representatives chained to their antique desks. For what these young political upstarts were doing was something utterly unique: making sense. Not only did they attack the various problems; they even offered recommendations on how to solve them. Now there's a revolutionary thought!
Unless and until we stop demonizing those with whom we disagree, no progress can be expected. No party has a corner on the market of divine inspiration. Republicans and Democrats are mere mortals, not gods from on high.
Justice Louis D. Brandeis once wrote that "the highest office is that of private citizen." That thought should stay with us during the coming 100 days, for we, the people, will have the final say.