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Writers Notebook
Brief Impressions At the Still Point 

By David Eide


"....don't just stain the dress, hit the egg....."


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Impressions on Political Dreams

Politics often hinges on this perception: If the problems are overwhelming, if they're not being solved, if they continue to mount, then what is the justification for the process as a whole? What good are all the educations and rituals of power and billions of dollars if it can't justify itself at the very crux?

Hopefully, a sense of this failure generates long, profound reassessments.

From crisis to crisis leadership is a kind of Sargasso Sea floating through huge communities with offers it knows it can't deliver. But rarely are problems solved. The poor neighborhoods I drive through to get to the airport haven't changed in 40 years of politics, anti-poverty programs, preaching, teaching, or volunteering.

That's not to say there shouldn't be preaching, teaching, and volunteering. But there should be an admission that whatever the past has attempted to do has failed and that new vectors, new angles of attack need to be developed. The political parties and their ideologies have simply meshed together and effectively stopped the real dialog.

* * * * * * * *

One reason why there is resistance to the federal government is clear: America, under normal circumstances, would have become five or six distinctive nations. The establishment of a federal system from the very beginning brought in all the distinctive regions with their odd political needs and leadership. A good Californian cringes when a political idea, twenty years behind the times, comes popping up from Alabama or Indiana and succeeds to push through some policy. And every region has its moments of cringing. The President and a few Senators are supposed to bridge all of this but they have great resistance across many regions.

Hopefully the persistent facts win out as in the universal recognition of global warming.

And it does muddle along in a mud flow of good, bad, and ugliness. The problem for America is that the combination of hugeness and fracturing doesn't allow the nation to shift quickly enough, especially in the new environments created by a post-cold war world. Just as there was a time when the Dreadnoughts were kings of the sea, a few military inventions later they were obsolete.

Americans rightfully resist top-down management. But it can only be avoided when there is bottom-up self-rule. And that is determined by the morale of the people and their ability to stare into reality and accept a few facts. To do that they have to let go of a lot of emotional garbage.

The Morale of Democracy

One of the morale problems is that in a free society "everything is known." The ideas out of which the political and social institutions developed were known and are known now however deep they are piled under generations of experience. Every institution has a root that is known, discoverable, and rational. Yet the people themselves exist in a kind of blind fury.

How could the people survive the disillusionment of their ideals and freedoms unless those dreams were embodied in the stone and oil of the institutions and machines? They stand as a modern counterpart to the ancient totems and rituals and king-worship that fixed the attention of the people to "what life is about."

But, the morale of democracy suffers when things carry the dream and ideas of the nation, not the people. The people are reduced to reactors. They are emptied of spirit, of nobility, and reduced finally to a part they play well or poorly. And the word nobility means the ability to sacrifice for a better future.

If the spiritual dimension of democracy is carried on by things and institutions then the people have had it; they will have become persona non grata in the very land that gave them birth. They will no longer respond to facts or to the changing landscape locally and globally and will become their own worst enemies.

Of course most people view democracy now as voting on who has the higher stack of dollar bills in front of them. When that happens the democracy is well on its way to becoming a sorry lesson for the future. The best of the democratic people flee the scene, the worst of them are energized. A natural process of decay takes place even in the face of gleaming, glassy structures.

Local, community organization and fight is the best example of American democracy. The best fights are made out of moral courage.

Democracy Dreaming

Good dreaming is rare in the modern brain thick with traffic. Perhaps for a brief moment the psychological fear of incessant necessity lifts and the spirit enters. For a brief moment that dubious fluid known as illusion disappears and then light draws up and a profound break is made.

Americans are excellent dreamers of course but those dreams are usually squashed when they find themselves staring into the hard and cold environment and they feel the scourge of working things. It's at that point that a radial tire becomes vastly more important than a poem or well-thought opinion.

And when does the good American ever discover that the hard and cold environment came out of dreams and are only frozen, habitual dreams?

Creativity is the leading edge in a free society, not those who want power or those who are trying to maintain power. It may start small but eventually a group of creative types shows the way. It is not apparent for awhile but, eventually, it is stark, even as power-to-be and power-that-is claims the leading edge for itself.

May 25, 2008

Impressions on risk and reward in the Democratic Party

Progress is audacity. It is willing to throw out the last forty years of political life and go with an open window to the future.

The American people are always called the least historical and yet they live with the weight of the last forty years on their necks.

Enlightened people weigh the risk: A new vital politics based on the renovation necessary after Bush or the muddling along in a morass fantasizing everything will be ok if we can just redo the 90's.

"Make it new but know all that has happened previously." That is the American myth in a nutshell, at least the type of attitude the framers wanted in the body politic. They knew that the teats that produced rich milk one era, soured in the next.

The risk of not throwing over the burden of the last forty years is a crumbling America, a mish mosh of pig slop, dead idealisms, and corruption masking itself as the unchangeable necessity.

There is only one certainty at the beginning of the new century. The future will challenge America as it has never been challenged before. And the 21st century may determine whether the U.S. survives as a large nation-state or whether it has a more negative outcome.

* * * * * * * *

At stake for the Democrats is whether they take a leap of faith, put a genuine leader in there who will only mature as time goes on, and significantly keep a hold on the many millions of young people who will shape the politics of the next ten to twenty years. Or take an aging political couple who will deaden the weight of the future with their own personal glory and split the party. Remember, if Obama is rejected by his party he hardly has any future in it. Hillary still has a fabulous political future if she wants it.

In fact, the moment she falls on her sword and sacrifices for the good of the party she becomes a heroic figure. She would have the potential to become the next Ted Kennedy and help birth legislation for her pet projects.

To be frank about it I think she will take her rejection fairly well and move on. It will humble her to realize that the political culture is more inhuman than even her.

We will have a female POTUS one day but she will be an authentic leader and inspire the confidence of people. She won't have the arrogant belief she knows more than everyone else, therefore inspiring a level of lying remarkable even in these fin de siecle days. If Hillary is rejected it's not "of a woman," but of a "Clinton who will bridge, not the future, but this awful royal dynasty of families" that the democracy was set-up to defend against. Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton would be a remarkable failure of the vital democracy and signal a terrible turning into the 21st century.

Both she and McCain have been shaped by politics; Obama is a shaper of politics and arrives on the scene at the right time.

* * * * * * * *

Strike the new thesis. Create the new vector. All that follows and all that does not follow will have to change one way or the other. The system is re-moralized by such tectonic shifts. Make innovation in political thinking as vital as it is in technology. Make the self-rule of men and women as important as the next generation of gizmo's.

* * * * * * * *

Impressions of a political writer.

How political should the writer be? After all the writer has as much power as the bugs buzzing around the garden. Nothing a writer writes effects one vote, one piece of legislation, one idea in the head of one representative.

At the very least he'd want every implication of freedom to be played out. He would want every implication of imaginative life played out. He would want the present to be exuberant in taking on large challenges. He would want a brilliant politics that knows itself better than it appears at this point.

We are free men and women after all. As long as the dysfunction of the system is kept to a minimum our stark and real freedom will be enjoyed. It is on behalf of our freedom that we keep tabs on the politics. And at this point the stink is either that of dead ideas or a compost heap ready to deliver up its rich soil to the new seeds around us.

* * * * * * * *

For the most part the writer is simply concerned for the narrative that gives meaning to life. Is it Republican or Democrat? No. Is it conservative or liberal? No. Is it urban or rural? No. Is it male or female? No. Is it black or white? No. Is it believer or skeptic? No.

His loyalties shift as the necessity to bring about a greater whole shifts.

If politics becomes a new window the writer rejoices! If politics is a clogged artery that menaces the heart of the political culture then the writer is growly and pessimistic.

* * * * * * * *

Of course, there is the vital jumble of people's we name "democracy," and then the professional structure that rules we name "Republic."

What is the connection between them? In the present time there is an exciting break with the past; the old politics is crumbling by the moment. Since the system is broken all must change, not one party or one special interest but all must change. That is what is implied by a "broken system." It is a time when democracy is most meaningful and most dangerous.

A writer is a member of the democracy and knows that politics is a responsibility and knows the moment he gives up on it, the process and organizing principle, then the whole is dead for him, the future is dead for him and that is that; perhaps the historians will come along and size it all up for one of many coffins the corpse will be stuffed into. Maybe the writer will be fitted for his own peculiar coffin but, at least, something good will have died.

* * * * * * * *

In a McDonaldized culture one is damned if they spend too much time on politics. "There's nothing you can do unless you become one of the criminals yourself." And one is damned if they ignore politics altogether. "It is your duty to pay attention to what is going on. What are you, an idiot?"

At times a fashionable alienation breaks out or the snake-poison of cynicism is injected into the democracy and the consequences are predictable: removal of vitality in the democracy, more command and control among fewer and fewer people, easing into a comfortable corruption to give the comedians fodder, warning signs ignored, then a bolt of lightening that luminates all that is missing in the people and their Republic.

April 21, 2008

Impressions of the mind-game called democracy

In the mind-game that is modern democracy the Americans have two plays. One is to be very end-gamish, say we are on the threshold of a historical implosion and that the implosion will end the powers of the Constitutional government, weaken the boundaries, allow for massive migrations through the weak borders and end up destroying what we know and what we value. The problem with that scenario is that it calls on the very worst instincts in the people and finally rides itself out of the game altogether.

The other play is this: We are at the beginning of a new historic era that began at WWII, shifting the global power from Europe to America and introducing the globe to dazzling amounts of innovation and surplus. That we are in the beginning stages of learning how the dynamics of science, technology, capitalism, and democracy play through us. That we are in the process of trying to assess what it means to be a liberal, democratic citizen in the 21st century. That the future will contain the basic structures and values we will recognize.

This is a healthier view, a better gambit and leads at the very least to what is sorely, pathetically missing in America at this time: Vision, progress, intelligence, dreams and aspiration.

The idea of progress makes sure there is no apotheosis in a secular sense. That would prove to be corrupting after a time. Rather, progress induces a sense of growth and development more appropriate to a dynamic period than this flailing period has proven to be.

An idea of progress would bring in the notion of sacrifice, would promote healthy vision, would promote the idea that people, even in a secular state, can have faith that things will get better. Almost all ideas of progress now are in the form of technology rather than in the idea of democracy and, in fact, hardly touch on the fact that it will be people, good, bad, and ugly who will be using the generations of startling new technology.

There is always the apocalyptic view, the dark view that most civilized people experience from time to time. That is, the people opt out, crazy beliefs supplant science, education decays, the culture separates into the professional rulers and the backward people, this is enforced and over time the professional rulers get so corrupt they don't notice real problems and the thing collapses, perhaps globally, and then you have enormous migrations of people, billions who have nothing to lose and move to the better climates, to the more productive areas and because everything is flattened there is hardly any resistance. This catastrophe is followed by a few centuries of brutal power, wars, a "dark age" followed by a slow move upward from the darkness to a new civilization that rediscovers "our time" and uses its contributions the best way it can.

If after death one flies free through space and time I would like to see what happens. As a living person I would not want to see it. I would not want to go through it.

A gamester would also admit that it would be preferable if the people were strengthened, made better, took on some of these questions as part of the democratic-mindful-sporting-life. We can still say that now, at the beginning, there is a connection between the people and the people-who-run things. But under the pressures of global competition and a continuing fragmentation of the democratic people we see more and more the classic split between them resulting in new habits of thought and doing.

The habits, thankfully, have not yet been formed to enforce this split. But the potential of those habits are very real.

* * * * * * * *

Politics is the tail that wags the dog. It's a necessary tail and the dog needs it. But the darling pooch can not simply be disgusted but welcome much which is not politics. This is the privilege won by brave people who fought in wars and who chiseled out a Constitution.

Mere change in policies is not enough. There must be change that involves every aspect of the body politic. The old-time politicians will never assert this, frightened as they are of the vox populi but the truth is the nation, to have any future, must change radically from one end to the other.

"How can we change, we have such a rotten political class!?"

Yes, they are bad, very bad but are you good?

The good invariably throw up their hands, "Well, there's nothing I can do about it. It's a serious game but I have other responsibilities!" And so, like clockwork, the bad come rushing in. And they have promises and they speak with conviction and they are self-righteous but underneath it is their great lie. Power has given sanction to the lie.

The lie trips frothingly from the words slipping between the lips of he or she who seeks power. And there are times when the will-to-power is an old-as-Adam-wish-to-kill-with-impunity, especially acute in the modern world since its lack of drama and lack of meaning puts incredible pressure to do something, anything to break up the empty moment one is enacting on the stage of history.

Their words are often the shadows of hate and resentment.

They will kill to gain power and yet the people cheer them on, identify with them and hope they gain the power they seek!

* * * * * * * *

Who defines what politics is, why it is, and who is it who believes them? That's an interesting question to pose to no one in particular.

When the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are meaningless for a free person then what state of political reality is one in?

After all, we are merely in the middle of a politics defined by disgust. And despite Obama that could roll on for a decade or so. A small idealistic remant may fight but they do so with the shades drawn. Liberals, post-Reagan, did fight for quite awhile until they found themselves in empty rooms, laughing hysterically to themselves. At least they had the temerity to understand that when a full-monty cynicism overwhelms the feeble people there is nothing anyone can do, at least in the political sector.

Politics is never likeable and likeable politicians can't be trusted. That is a nice and skeptical way to keep things under the thumb of the citizens. The other side of the equation is the need to know about the system of governance and why it is necessary. What are the lines that connect it together to permit more freedom and more good to pour out of the people and culture? It is a dangerous territory to venture in since what is at risk is more than a few opinions.

We are going through a soft but significant transformation as the tired old era's that preceded this one bite the dust. Let the historians rush in to write their books about the Kennedy Era and Reagan Era. Let them try to explain to the future what "liberal" and "conservative," meant. A "liberal" was a guy who read Marx too early in his life and a "conservative" was a guy who had his props kicked from under him too late.

They found their heroes.

March 17, 2008

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