Political rage obfuscates real issuesBy JAY WIENER,
The protection of civil liberties is a birthright of the American people, through such documents as Magna Carta, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Denying their time-honored wisdom when those with whom we disagree are involved means, by tautology, that, if any one of us is falsely-accused of wrongdoing, Star Chambers might convict us, regardless of guilt or innocence. Diabolical or dictatorial misdeeds can easily occur once the Rule of Law disappears.
Nefarious misdealing was the hallmark of the governments that the Western World once opposed, with good reason. Internal enemies might suffer today but, if procedural improprieties are permitted and those next in power are antithetical to that in which we believe, we might be on the losing end. It is not an America that I wish to inhabit nor the type of government which I support.
The issue, in short, is not the civil and criminal courts but, more significantly, democracy. Clichés and myths abound about that for which the colonial settlers and founding fathers -- and, lest we forget them, founding mothers -- worked. Yet it is safe to say that greater openness and responsiveness to the needs of the people were deemed to be optimal outcomes. The suggestion that they were escaping tyranny is sound in a multitude of instances.
Could it be that Americans have become too comfortable and complacent? Are Facebook and favorite sports teams more appealing than fighting for good government? Maybe materialism means that the handsomest handbag or pair of pumps is preferable to focusing on the quality of one's government and its responsiveness to the will of the people. These are real issues that go wanting in contemporary times -- where "action news" (highlighting such concerns as "a scout troop short a child" in the "Car 54, Where Are You?" theme song) and sensationalism have become sordid substitutes for careful investigative journalism that "looks behind the curtain" and probes whether governmental officials are acting honestly and responsibly.
Lost in the miasma of insubstantial nonsense is the reality that we now have what I describe as "the best government that money can buy."
Not disconnected is what I have described as a troika of elected officials, campaign organizers, and political donors. The late Jesse Unruh, California's Lieutenant-Governor in the 1960s, famously said that, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." Molly Ivins, the late Austin-based political commentator, wrote, "You got to dance with them what brung ya." Disturbingly, what the three preceding sentences combine to mean for American citizens is that politicians have to raise money to pay campaign costs -- engage consultants and buy advertisements -- and those with the most to gain generally provide the largest contributions, expecting a "return on investment." They frequently emphasize that, if politicians do not comply with their wishes, the disgruntled donor will do everything possible to ensure that the "non-performing" elected official is ousted in the next election; usually in the form of a primary challenge. The Sword of Damocles dangled over the head of an elected official usually obtains the result desired.
Does the situation provide the best results for American Democracy? I doubt it. The Clintons mastered the art of what is often called "Pay to Play" politics. Only those benefitting seemed to like it during the William Jefferson Clinton Administration. Few beside true believers supported Hilary Rodham Clinton, 14 months ago, because countless questions had been raised about what was observed, 20 years earlier.
Rage is all the rage in the country today. Most of it is offensive. It runs counter to reasoned discourse, informed decisions, and compromise and moderation in governance. Yet plausibility is at play: People are sick and tired of seeing their relative economic well-being diminish. Virtually no one recognizes that the same donors referenced, two paragraphs above, dictate governmental policy. The cost of utilities, pharmaceutical drugs, credit cards, banking et cetera increase geometrically, not because inflation is high and spiraling out-of-control but because, "You got to dance with them that brung ya", and, if politicians do not accede to their wishes, the disgruntled donor will do everything possible to ensure that the "non-performing" elected official is ousted in the next election.
It might be best if concerned citizens begin debating campaign finance reform and constitutional amendments that might impede judicial fast-tracking of troubling trends.
Current realities raise concerns about the future of American Democracy, public officials' answerability to the electorate, and which priorities are paramount. If people do not inform themselves and disregard distractions, they will get what they deserve: "the best government that money can buy" will metastasize.
Jay Wiener is a Northsider.