Water Man Spouts

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Central Organizing Principles

"On Saturday afternoon Al Gore called me from Carthage, Tennessee, and asked whether I would help on his acceptance speech. I said of course and asked what he had in mind saying. He spoke for quite a time about global environmental problems, ‘family values,’ the ‘spirit of caring,’ and the need for ‘connections.’ He talked with passion about the rescue of the planet – ‘the central organizing principle for the 21st century.’

"He went on to attack the ‘hubristic’ assumption that we are sufficient unto ourselves and wandered off into a long disquisition about gnosticism, Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes ….People are now questioning the assumption that individuals are separate units unconnected to natural world and to society. We are coming to understand the importance of interrelationships – our duty to the environment, to our families, to our communities, etc. Unusual talk from a politician. ….

"He then mused for a while about the generational aspect. ‘The baby-boomers are coming of governing age – and everything is declining as we take over the reins.’ The world is changing, he said, and the shift calls for ‘a redefinition of our relationship to reality. We are going through the greatest change in the world since the scientific revolution.’ He spoke about the potentialities of high technology – supercomputers, fiber optic cables, information highways, and other esoterica. …

"He then discoursed about ‘values’ and returned to his insistence of the day before the urgent need for individuals to locate themselves as part of larger wholes, getting in touch with nature and with society. ‘Our duty is not just to what helps us as individuals but what is good beyond ourselves. …..People living unto themselves feel that their lives have no meaning. We must work to reestablish the balance of nature, and we must work to reestablish the balance of society. As the false assumption that we are not connected to our natural environment creates the ecological crisis, so the false assumption that we are not connected to the larger community creates the social crisis. We must restore the connections. …. We are in a spiritual crisis. The problem is how to define our place in the universe.’ "
--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; Journals; July 21,1992; pages 724 -727.

When I watched some of the televised coverage of the presidential primaries yesterday, and read through many of the threads on the GD-P forum of the Democratic Underground, I was reminded of how one of my best friends had hoped that Al Gore would run for reelection in 2008. After reading "The Assault on Reason," I thought that Gore had moved beyond competitive politics. The campaign process alone is so divisive, and tends to appeal to the negative side of both candidates and their supporters.

Politicians, like all human beings, have both a "good" side and a "bad" side. An interesting example is VP Dick Cheney: a number of people who used to be on good terms with him in the 1980s have said that they do not recognize him today. Cheney represents the dark potential of humanity.

In the current republican primary, there has been some confusion created by Governor Huckabee’s attempts to portray himself as a positive force in government. It made their party anxious. Willard Romney was forced out of the contest, but secured his place in his party’s future by delivering his most hate-filled speech when he stepped aside.

In a year when their party had no real leader, the republicans are settling on an angry and bitter John McCain, who promises another 100 years of war in Iraq, and more wars in the future. Yet this alone did not seem enough to secure the support of all of the party: it took reports of cheating and scandal to really rally the republican troops.

The democratic party’s primary presents a closer contest – at least on paper -- than that of the republicans. As the field of candidates was reduced to three, and then two, the democrats showed the potential to become as bitterly divided as the republicans could possible have hoped for. Appeals were made to the diseased passions of racism and sexism, and former President Bill Clinton’s behavior during the South Carolina contest will long be remembered as severely damaging his wife’s campaign.

Barack Obama’s campaign, and his supporters, have been attacked by both the Clinton campaign and now the McCain camp for being too positive in outlook. The attempts by Senator Obama to call upon the better natures of American citizens has been mistakenly called a weakness by those confused individuals who believe that dirty politics, with its insults, distortions, misrepresentations, outright lies and cheap attacks are the sign of strength.

In the latest democratic debate, many anticipated that Senator Clinton would resort to ugly tactics. The one most notable attempt by her was booed by the audience, and has been correctly identified as an utter failure by all objective people. However, Senator Clinton the politician was temporarily eclipsed by Hillary Clinton, the human being, at the end of the debate. She spoke about unity – including what appeared a sincere statement expressing her pride at being there on stage with Barack Obama.

That moment clearly opened a door to the potential of the democratic party presenting an extremely strong ticket in the fall, and offering the people of the United States an avenue to travel towards those goals that Al Gore spoke to Arthur Schlesinger about. It is there, and it is real. It is the appeal of our better natures.

Yesterday, of course, there was a step backwards, and some of the negative potential reared its ugly head. By no coincidence, the discussions on DU reflected the dead end approach of divisive "politics." But it is not just on a political discussion forum that is supposed to allow for progressive and liberal democrats to engage in meaningful discourse. The divisive tactics damage the entire party The longer the democratic party is subjected to the ugliness that some of the Clinton campaign advisors have identified as "the way to win," the more we stand to lose.


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