Monday, November 08, 2004

Vision and U.S. Politics

I had not yet heard the 2004 election compared to the 1996 one... but once I did hear it, I had a slap-to-forehead reaction.

I was never a Clinton fan (of him na' her neither, as my family would have said), and I loathed the scandals. But I also never quite got the demonization of him that took place well before everybody knew the name of Lewinsky. Let us not forget Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

There were many times during the nineties when I definitely wanted to "slowly back away" from foaming Republican friends and family as they talked about Clinton. I find it amusing about myself that with all the comparisons I've been making mentally, for the past week, I've neglected to associate that same feeling with the similar one I've been having toward frothing Democrats here and there.

It took Virginia Postrel to make the comparison for me, and I can't think of a better way to describe the problem than the title she chose for her blog entry: The Party that Hates America Always Loses.

[The 1996] election was a test of the notion that Republicans can scorn anyone who talks about freedom, treat issues as matters of bribery rather than principle or vision, alternate between patronizing and ostracizing immigrants and women, regularly denounce American culture, and generally act obnoxiously toward the country they supposedly represent -- and still win, because the Democrats are worse and Clinton is a sleaze.
The test failed then, as it has failed now. I won't say that America's tendency to want to support the visionaries rather than the reactionaries is good or bad (because I can think of perfectly sound arguments either way)... I will say that it's a characteristic that I personally like and admire, and one of the big reasons why I like living here. Visionaries can be amazingly stupid, but it's also amazing what one can accomplish when one refuses to acknowledge what one can't do...

It brings to mind a (slightly) old essay from Den Beste: American Robustness.
What the founders created was a system which was engaged in perpetual revolution. They designed a system that could survive and even encourage ongoing revolution without being destroyed....

The American Revolution didn't end in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. It just changed that revolution from one against a foreign tyrant to an internal revolution which continues to this day. But it's a peaceful revolution, held in slow motion....

What was unique, and entirely unprecedented, was how it was able to adapt and change and improve. What was astounding was that it was designed to peacefully allow radical change which in almost any other known system to that time would only have been possible via violent revolution.
These are comforting words, to me. The First Amendment has never been perfectly enforced nor followed, but some group of silly visionaries somewhere were crazy enough to try it during a time when even today's limited success was completely unimaginable.

You want another dark glass reflection of the situation?

I have a couple of little notes that I keep posted on the wall of my cubicle at work. I ganked them off of this site. Hey, it's just an outline for a course. But what an outline! Take the fourth point, for example:
Filter #4: It is Wrong Unless it is Perfect
For the past week, what I seem to be hearing is that it is not merely Wrong, but quite literally the End of the World, if the current situation is not perfect. That kind of an attitude is death to a successful business meeting, and it's not much better in a political debate. (Then again, when one feels it is the end of the world as we know it, who cares about productivity?)

I'll go into the concepts of idealism (which encourages Filter #4) vs. cynicism, and why each is actually the opposite of what most people think it is, later.