Friday, April 29, 2016

POLITICS IN THE BUBBLE



I recently took sociologist Charles Murray’s 25 question “bubble” test. It was an interesting exercise, with questions like “Have you ever lived in a neighborhood where more than 50% of your neighbors never attended college or earned a degree?”… “Have you ever walked on a factory floor?”…  “Have you ever worked in a factory?”... “Did you grow up in a family where the primary bread-winner was a manual laborer?”

Murray developed the exercise to give the person taking the test some sense of how in touch or out of touch he or she might be with the average American. The higher the score, the more in touch. The lower the score, the more out of touch.

My score was a 70, which placed me in the “average guy” category. 

One of the conclusions that Murray drew from the responses to the test was that there are massive disconnects between those he called “elites” and the average American. They live and act in what Murray defines as “bubbles.” They have no idea what the average American is thinking, nor do they know much at all about the average American’s daily life.

According to Murray, those who live in the “bubbles” reside mainly on the east and west coasts and have little or no contact or interest in the lives of average Americans.

While Murray didn’t express it directly, the term “elites” described our political leaders perfectly. 

There’s a part of me that wants to breathe a sigh of relief. After all, I live in Emporia, Kansas, which is in Lyon County, Kansas. I’m safe….right? Our political leaders are our friends and neighbors. Our political leaders are men and women of the people…right?

Wrong!

I’ve lived here for almost twenty years and I’ve seen over and over again that we have our own elites who live, breathe, and act in bubbles. They’re the reason we get things like welcome rocks, Astroturf, TIF’s, and the political gobbledygook that goes with them.

Last Wednesday I went to the City Commission meeting concerning the vote on the Emporia Pavilions Project. My gut was telling me to stay away, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m a glutton for punishment. In the end, my gut was right. The developers got their TIF, thanks to a 4-1 vote in favor of the project. It was, in my opinion, featherbedding at its finest. The low fives and the knowing nods the developers gave the commissioners as they left the room said it all.

Reading the report in the Gazette about the project prior to the vote only added insult to injury. Assistant city manager Jim Witt all but said it was going to be one big freebie.

I’m not sure where our leaders think the money will be coming from. They made it seem like it wouldn’t be coming from us. You don’t suppose they’ll be firing up the presses and printing it themselves, do you? 

Now, I’m not na├»ve enough to believe this is going to cost us nothing. I’ve watched the three card monte  and shell games on 42nd Street  too many times to believe someone when they tell me I’ve won the lottery right after they’ve picked my pocket. 

But, the votes are in and we’re moving on. As the historian Suetonius wrote in his description of Julius Caesar leading the Roman legions across the Rubicon: “the die is cast.”

How do these things happen? Charles Murray is right. Too many of our leaders live in a bubble.
I want to believe better of them, but there’s too much evidence for me to blindly accept the idea that they’re acting on our behalf.

At the end of the meeting, outgoing Mayor Danny Giefer presented his “state of the city” address, which was proof-positive that these bubbles really do exist.

I’ve read the goals he outlined so many times I’ve developed a nasty headache from the eye strain. Take goal number 2, for example, which was gobbledygook at a level one usually sees only in national politics. This is how it read:

“Maximize economic development recourse to broaden opportunities and strengthen positive synergies for related city commission funded organizations.”

The third wasn’t a lot better – “Enhance inter/intra government cooperation by maximizing facility and human resources.”

Mr. Giefer must have thought he was trying to win a national prize for using more buzz words per sentence than any small-town mayor in America
.
I can see what his thought process must have been like. “Lesseee now…Gotta’ fill up the space and baffle ‘em with my brilliance…I’ve got it. ‘Maximize economic development recourse.’ Buzz, buzz. ‘Positive synergies.’ Buzz, buzz. ‘Related city commission funded organizations.’ Buzz, buzz. ‘Maximizing facility and human resources.’ Buzz, buzz.”

Talk about being out of touch. It was absolutely brilliant.

Incoming mayor Rob Gilligan has his work cut out if he wants to top that.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

WINDS OF REVOLUTION





“In tattered tuxedos they faced the new heroes
and crawled about in confusion.
And they sheepishly grinned for their memoroes were dim
of the decades of dark execution.
Hollow hands were raised; they stood there amazed
in the shattering of their illusions.
As the windows were smashed by the ringing of revolution.”

-          Phil Ochs – “Ringing of Revolution” (1966)




I’ve seen it coming for over a year. This is how I put it in May, 2015: “Something must change. Our leaders were elected to serve the people, not oppress them.   They must re-embrace our founding principles. If they fail in that, revolution will come.” Well, a year has passed and nothing’s changed. Now, unfortunately, the nation’s mood is even uglier than it was a year ago. As Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs put it in the 60’s, “There’s revolution in the air.”

Those of us who came of age in the sixties have been down this road before. Everywhere we turned it seemed that upheaval was the order of the day. Radical groups were formed in response to almost every societal issue. There was the Weather Underground and Students for Democratic Society. There were radical feminists; there were Yippies.  It became so omnipresent that author Tom Wolfe coined a term for it. He called it “radical chic.”

It was fun for a while, but it ended when they killed the priests and prophets of our generation. The revolution ground to a halt and our reward was Richard Nixon and Watergate followed by Jimmy Carter and the great malaise. About 10 years after that, Lee Iacocca and Chrysler got a billion and half from the American taxpayers to stave off bankruptcy. Tom Paxton, a folk relic of the sixties, saw the injustice of it and decided he would change his name to Chrysler and go to Washington to get his free money.

But, what about 21st century America? Shouldn’t we Middle-Americans all change our names to Goldman-Sachs, Citibank, or General Motors and then get our bailouts?
 
There’s no doubt that the contemporary stage has been set for revolution. Liberals know it. Conservatives know it. Libertarians know it. Democratic voters know it; Republican voters know it. Men know it, as do women. America’s poor know it. So does the American middle class. In fact, almost everyone knows it except for the politicians, who seem more interested in staying in power than fixing Middle America’s problems.

It’s no wonder, then, that we’re on the cusp of revolution.  It’s the kind of thing that almost always happens when government turns a blind eye to the very people who make a country’s wheels turn. America’s politicians, of all people, should know this, but they can’t seem to remember that our founding revolution came because King George and the British parliament refused to listen to our forefathers’ grievances.

The wheels of revolution seem once again to be spinning, but are we going to see a real revolution this time or is it going to become more like Abbie Hoffman’s “revolution for the hell of it?”  Will we find a peaceful way to solve our problems or have they metastasized to the point that we’re facing the prospect of flinging tear gas canisters and Molotov cocktails back and forth in the streets or heaving bricks through some innocent shopkeeper’s windows to get our point across?

Which way will we go? That depends on our leaders. Our founding revolution, for example, was crafted by men like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams, and Hamilton. They were the revolutionaries who gave us our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and ordered liberty.

So, who are the 21st century revolutionaries who will help us re-form a “more perfect union?” Who will “promote the general welfare?” Who is waiting in the wings to “establish justice?” Who’s going to secure the “Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?
I’m coming up empty. How about you?

The sad truth is, we have no Washingtons or Jerffersons or Franklins or Madisons. We have nothing but self-serving political hacks.

On the Republican side, we’ve got Trump and Cruz. The world hasn’t seen megalomaniacs like them since Machiavelli or the Marquis de Sade. Then, if megalomania isn’t your cup of tea, there’s John Kasich, who’s trying to hug his way to the Oval Office.

On the Democratic side, there’s Clinton and Sanders.  Hillary claims she’s a woman of the people, but Goldman-Sachs, who purchased her at $200,000 per speech, would dispute that. Bernie says he’s going to break up the big banks, but when he was recently asked by the N.Y. Daily News editorial board how he was going to do it, told them didn’t have a clue.

What’s next for America? Having sown the wind, will we now reap the whirlwind? Will the center hold? Will we enter that dark time foreseen by William Butler Yeats, when “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world and the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned?”

How will this all play out? As the old folk tune goes, the answers to the questions are, as they always have been, “blowing in the wind.”
 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

PRINCIPLES BEFORE POLITICS


My previous op-ed generated quite a few comments, 16 as of this moment. Of those, 10 came from one reader. The others were brief, focused on the person who generated the 10.

The comment thread got started when the major contributor asked with an incredulous tone, “How can you compare Trump with Hitler?”

The best response I can now offer is the short one. “It was easy because it was valid.”

He also called me a “sore loser” because my candidate, Marco Rubio, lost the primary in his home state to Donald Trump.

He was wrong. I’ve never really gotten too lathered up about losing. I learned a lot about defeat in my pre- teenage years, especially whenever I lost a game of stickball to my older brother, which was well over 50% of the time. I also grew up as a Boston Red Sox Fan, which amounted to earning a masters’ degree in the art of losing. I voted for George McGovern who won a paltry 17 electoral votes in ‘72. Here in Emporia, I’ve pleaded with and cajoled our local leaders about economic development and tax issues, mostly to no avail. Statistically, I think I’ve won one battle and lost at least four. I’m currently getting revved up for the coming battle over the 24th Avenue project and the developers who are trying to sell our leaders what I believe to be a bill of goods. If the developers win, I’ll move on to the next issue.

My critic was right about one thing, however. I was/am a Marco Rubio supporter. Like the rest of Senator Rubio’s supporters, I was disappointed when he lost Florida and dropped out of the presidential race.

But, that’s the nature of politics. You sometimes bask in the glow of victory; you sometimes lick your wounds. Win or lose; the best course is to be gracious.

I think Marco Rubio was as gracious in defeat as he could be. About the only thing he’s said about Donald Trump since Florida is “I believe Donald Trump as our nominee is going to shatter and fracture the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I think it’s already having that function.”

I agree with Senator Rubio. So, where does that leave me? Am I now a man without a dog in this political hunt?

I know this much. I will not vote for Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee. I will not vote for Ted Cruz. John Kasich? Possibly, but he’s got the proverbial snowball’s chances in hell of being nominated. Hillary or Bernie? No!

That about does it, other than sitting the election, writing someone in, or finding a third party candidate to support.

While some Republican friends understand my point about John Kasich, they often ask me why I couldn’t support Ted Cruz if he were the nominee. My reasons are philosophical. Ted Cruz is not a conservative as I have come to understand and embrace conservatism (his strategy to carpet bomb ISIS, for example). As I see it, Ted Cruz is more an ideologue than a Conservative. There’s not an ounce of compromise in his political soul (his solution for illegal immigration is more strident than Donald Trump’s, for example). I find that very troubling.

The reason I supported Marco Rubio was that I believe he is what is commonly termed a “classic” or “movement” conservative, which has been defined by Conservapedia on-line as “seeking to help others, and the nation, by explaining, advocating and defending the logical and beneficial conservative approach. A movement conservative is not primarily seeking political gain for him or herself, but advocates the insights and values of conservatism for the benefit of others.”

Marco Rubio was cut from the same political cloth as a man like Jack Kemp, who was recently described by the National review’s Rich Lowry as follows:  Kemp believed “the purpose of politics is not to defeat your opponent as much as it is to provide superior leadership and better ideas.’ He wanted the GOP to be a ‘natural home of African-Americans.’ He favored openhandedness on immigration. He cared deeply about the plight of the urban poor, and about what he called ‘the right to rise.’ In foreign policy, he was a friend of freedom and stalwart advocate of human rights.”

I believe Marco Rubio embodied the best of movement conservatism. Unfortunately, in the end his willingness to compromise (the Gang of Eight bill on immigration, for example), his solutions for eliminating poverty, his sensible approach to defeating ISIS, and the angry mood of the nation did him in.

But, that’s alright. Good, solid conservatives like Jack Kemp, Bill Buckley, or James Madison still would have been proud of him.

Marco Rubio’s been defeated politically, but, the conservative principles he represented will outlive the sting of the defeat. Of that, I have no doubt!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

'RESIST THE BEGINNINGS; CONSIDER THE END'



With each passing day, Donald Trump becomes more dangerous. Things have gotten so bad that people in the media, entertainment industry, politics, the clergy, and academia have begun to compare the rise of Donald Trump with the rise of Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini in the 1920’s and 30’s.

The comparisons are valid.

Some have to do with the physical characteristics of the three men. If you were to look at photos of the three men side by side you could see the eerie similarities – the tightly pursed lips, the jut-jaws, the squinting, anger-filled eyes, and the menacing scowls. There’s also the poisonous, hate-filled rhetoric we’ve become all too familiar with. Then, there are the outrageous ideas, the banning of all Muslims from entering the United States, the notion that Mexicans are rapists and criminals, the ten foot wall, etc.
  
How would he accomplish such outrageous things? Would he be like the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and just tell congress, the courts, and the nation, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.”?

The notion seems insane, but if his most recent statements are any indicator, Mr. Trump is as close to being certifiable as any presidential candidate in our history. 

At the last Republican debate, he was asked if he stood by his statement, made early in the campaign, that he would order American soldiers to use “worse than torture” on America’s enemies or to kill the wives, mothers, fathers, and children of terrorists. When Moderator Bret Baier reminded him that the acts mentioned were illegal under U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions, Trump blathered, “They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna’ refuse me. Believe me.” When Baier pressed him, he insisted, “I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

There you have it – from Donald Trump’s lips to America’s, and God’s, ears. They’ll do it because he says they’ll do it.

A day or so after he made the statement, he modified it and said he wouldn’t ask America’s fighting men and women to do things that are illegal. But, Trump being Trump, a day or so after that he said he would just change the laws, including articles 93, 118, and 128 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which holds any military member, at any level of service or command, liable for their actions, including torture, murder, or assault.

Simple, isn’t it? It’s amazing what can happen if you give a lunatic a pen and a phone.

Could he actually get people to do these evil things? Most of us wouldn’t, even if ordered to do so, but even when there are laws in force to prevent such evil, men sometimes cross the line, at My Lai in 1968, for example.

Would Donald Trump’s supporters be willing to commit My Lai’s on an industrial scale? They seem to adore him and they seem to be willing to follow him wherever he leads.

Recently, Trump had his Florida faithful raise their right hands and take the following loyalty oath: “I do solemnly swear that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there are hurricanes or whatever, will vote on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for President.”

Trump said his followers were just having fun. Does fun mean acting like Hitler’s Brownshirts or Mussolini’s Blackshirts?

Would they, if ordered by Donald Trump, kill the wives and children of terrorists? Would they do “more than torture?”  I fear they would, especially if their loyalty was to Donald Trump rather than the Constitution or sound morality.

It would all be bad enough Donald Trump’s “army” was small, but, as we have learned, he has millions of Americans willing to follow him wherever he goes.

In 1955, a German academic named Milton Mayer wrote in retrospect about the rise of Adolph Hitler and the failure of the German people and world leaders to stop him before it was too late.

His words, written in the aftermath of the Third Reich, serve as a warning to us of what could happen if we ignore the cancer of hate that’s growing in our midst today:

“I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’”

A frightening possibility looms on the horizon. In all likelihood, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. If that happens, we must find a way to stop him. As Mayer said, we must “Resist the beginnings” and “Consider the ends.”

I’m not sure how that would work its way out in practical terms. All I know is that we must try…all of us!