Recovering the courage of our convictions
October 27, 2006
I’ve been taking a break in the southern part of Colorado, near the reservation that we “white eyes” were so kind and so generous to let the Southern Utes have – since at the time no self-respecting white farmer or rancher could see a way to make much of a profit out of this dusty, dry bit of globe.So, since “we” had not much use for this part of the Rockies, why not just hand it over to “them” and take their ancestral lands, which contained minerals that we had a use for?It all makes such perfect sense from a racist, ethnocentric perspective, and thus America was born, nurtured and made powerful – we like it, we take it, no questions allowed. You got a problem with that? We’ve got an answer – shut up or die.Of course, history has proven us wrong on this one. The Southern Utes are just fine these days. Between oil and gas revenues and other business ventures, they’ve banked billions and are an economic and social powerhouse in the region. All we proved back then was that we didn’t know what we were doing as we bulled ahead, shedding blood needlessly and heedlessly.The odd thing about our history is, we’re still basically thinking and acting the same way.Take, for instance, the sovereign nation of Iraq, part of the cradle of civilization, where tribal customs and rule by force of arms have been the way things are done for millennia. Granted, their definition of “force of arms” hasn’t quite kept pace with our own. So when “Shrub” (that’s George Bush the Smaller, for those who need assistance) decided his advisers were right, and daddy (George Bush the Bigger) had been wrong, it really was no big deal to topple ol’ Saddam right off his perch and finish the invasion begun, but aborted, back in daddy’s day.Unfortunately, it’s proven just as difficult to keep those pesky Muslims in line as it did to whip the Cheyenne, Sioux, Utes and Apaches into submission more than a century ago. One thing can sure be said about us white folks – we’re clever as hell, but we don’t learn the big lessons easily, and sometimes not at all.We treat our political campaigns in much the same way. If the facts don’t fit your need, you twist ’em until they do and present ’em as gospel in television attack ads. Everybody knows that television has achieved virtual godhood in America, if by nothing else in the realization that if you say it often enough, firmly enough and loudly enough on TV, pretty soon people either will believe it or will act as if they do.Religion pulled it off without television for most of history, of course, relying on the belief that since the priests seemed to be the smartest ones around, they must have a direct line to some higher power, and we ought to listen to them. The fact that every different religion had similar claims and aims wasn’t that tough to deal with – it became the justification for wars without end, which was good for business, and there we were.Anyway, back to politics. I’ve been reading an interesting tome during my vacation. It’s entitled “The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for Democrats,” by former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, a Colorado Dem who once was a heartbeat away from being his party’s nominee for president.Some will recall that Hart tossed away his chance at the White House by daring the press corps to find some dirt on him and use it, which they did. Reporters found him lounging around on a sailboat with a blonde who was not his wife, and the moralists took it from there. Hart was out, and we got Bush the Bigger instead.All that aside, Hart has a lot of things to say about how we’ve gone wrong in our domestic politics, mostly in a searing indictment of our abandonment of progressive, humanistic ideals in favor of a race to become the most selfish nation on Earth. As a nation, we no longer see government as a vehicle for human betterment, Hart maintains, but as a tool for enriching and strengthening the already wealthy and powerful, and I think he’s right. The losers from this socially, intellectually and politically bankrupt ideology, adhered to most openly by the Republican Party, is not just the U.S. but the world, as we engage in policies that push the globe farther toward the brink of war and chaos.The right course, Hart reasons, is to regain our national character, to reformulate our priorities toward a more equitable distribution of resources and power, greater justice for all people, and less dependence on military solutions to the vagaries of international relations.I haven’t finished the book, but my reading of Hart’s thesis so far is that he’s on the right track, despite a somewhat overly rosy view of Democrats as the historic party of all that is right and good.And now we work our way toward another election, and yet again are worried that the mechanisms of democracy will be subverted for partisan ends, so the greedy and the power-hungry can stay on top and continue their anti-human machinations.The picture is not pretty, but all is not hopeless. Vote your conscience, think less about surface appearances and more about deeper meanings; consider the fate of the world if we keep going as we have been, and make your mark for a change in direction.