As We See Them
The Aftermath: Presidential Elections and other Stories in the Meat Market
Brief Observations At the Still Point
James Madison, writing as Publius in the Federalist Papers remarks that, "Ambition must be made to
counteract ambition." Thus, politics. And we are witnesses to what happens when one ambition succeeds
The political parties are the fullest expression of political ambitions. Ambitious men and women make their
way through each one and they are always met by other ambitions contrary to their own. This is simple enough
to know. We expect the political parties to have one large ambition, outside of wanting power, and fighting
another large, nearly philosophical ambition. We can say that in the Democrats are the ambitions of those
who have been slighted, excluded, impoverished, and so on. And in the Republicans are the powerful and those
who want the same sort of power, especially economic power. That's a very safe thing to say and it's generally
true. And each of these parties has their own rationale for why their ambition should succeed to power.
As we noted before, the 60's and 70's saw the successful ambitions of the slighted, excluded, impoverished,
idealistic come to the fore in a time of great adrenaline. That tsunami was met head on by a countervailing
ambition contained in the middle-class tax payers, neo-conservatives, and fundamentalists. Both, at the height
of their victory appear eternal and destined to rule forever.
It never happens. A new ambition must arise to fight the successful ambition.
This was brought home by the election, yesterday, of a Hispanic as mayor of Los Angeles. The
Hispanic's are ecstatic, some observers believe it will awaken a sleeping giant of Hispanic political
involvement and so forth. And others rightly caution that he is the mayor of Los Angeles not just
Hispanics of Los Angeles and will have to step lightly through this ethnic minefield to be successful.
At the state or national level a candidate is always going to be judged by their leadership and not
their ethnicity. And ambition, again, thwarts the savvy political leader who steps from local and city
politics up to a larger stage on the basis of ethnic appeal. There is only one "ethnic" politician at this point who could garner a
national following and that is the Senator from Illinois.
I'm sure there are good and bad things about ethnic politics but to fear ethnicity is foolish and
does not understand the political system. Personally I think it would be foolish for ethnic groups to fight
each other for different ambitions.
What transcends ethnicity?
There are two main problems when thinking of ethnicity. One of them is that majorities are always
oppressive or can be. It doesn't matter the race, religion, or ethnic background. We're fortunate that the framers recognized
it, it was a chief part of the debate, and resulted in the Bill of Rights along with whole idea of checks
and balances. So, praise to those wonderful folks! They erred on the subject of slavery but the question
was the same then as it was during the Civil War: Union.
The other problem, which is more contemporary, is that when majority populations sense their
self-interest is threatened they tend to band together. And there's little question in my mind that the
conservative mood in the country is related, somewhat, to the ethnic politics of the 60's and 70's.
What politics needs to do is convince people that their self-interest is not damaged or destroyed by
the ambitions of another ethnic group. In fact, the argument has to be put forward that the success of
an ethnic group is very beneficial to all groups.
That is the sort of awareness that happens over time and will happen in the United Sates I
believe. And it's a good thing.
May 19, 2005
It's ironic but true that the worst trait in a democracy is contentment. Democracy should produce
anger from time to time. The citizens sitting around watching the golf tournament or Survivor, believing
that life could get no better; who drive SUV's down the freeways with bold contempt for everything else
are not the peak of democracy. And we hold nothing against those who do we simply ignore them.
We believe that the founders of the democracy did not want syphllis-riddled leaders who had simply
inherited an office their families could get for them. They feared that a good deal because they were victims
of it. To prevent such a malady they put in a lot of checks and balances against power and against those
who sought power. But it all depends on a strong, intelligent citizenry, and a strong, critical press.
And if there are huge segments of the population who can't stand the heat, then they should remove themselves
from the practice of democracy.
We live in a huge womb-like nation that is privileged and unprecedented and happily so. We should be
happy about it and protect the system against the stupidities that led to the revolution in the first place.
That lead to the downfall of many empires and unprecedented societies. It's the willfulness of the people
to forget how it was built; where it came from and why. This is very disturbing especially as we see the
types of blinders and complacency that's fallen down over the eyes of the people.
Democracy is activism. It is work. It is deferral of gratification because, one's hope and vision is greater
than one's appetites.
More than any other system democracy depends on the quality of people who make it up. It is that
and little else. All the armies and bombs and billions are meaningless if the people don't raise above
what they believe they are capable of.
Saying that I still believe there are excellent character strengths to Americans. The culture went through
a terrific crisis in the 60's and 70's where nothing was believed and all was attacked. And the people outgrew
that and became stronger, I believe, from the experience without giving up this belief that things will get better.
Once the people give up on progress as an idea they are cooked. Now, they need debate what this progress is and how
it works itself out in reality but it must seize on something pointing toward the future it can strive for.
More things? Oh goodness, that's probably fait acompli. So what?
May 12, 2005