Monthly Archives: September 2015

To Be or Not to Be

So much of our public debate has been about the role of government; how big is too big, how small is too ineffective.

Constitutionalists define the responsibility of central government to maintaining our basic infrastructure and to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.”

Pretty loose guidelines, actually, and allows for all sorts of elastic interpretation, but it can be seen as a fairly limited realm of responsibility, as well.  The debate will rage on as to what “general welfare” means in the first place, how broad is “defense” and where does infrastructure begin and end?  Can we, as laborers, be considered part of the infrastructure?  When does defense become invasive and when has it grown past relevant costs?

The founding fathers left many concepts vague on purpose (the 2nd Amendment); they were visionaries and realized that the world will evolve and change and that any charter, if it is to remain relevant and serve the people, must be interpreted as society changes and must have the ability to grow along with us.

They did not imagine nuclear weapons, airplanes, paved superhighways, skyscrapers or even electrification. With all of these technologies come new responsibilities and necessary safeguards and regulations to contain the unforeseen complications and weight of conflicting interests.

Maybe we’re having the wrong debate.  Or maybe there is another part of this debate that we need to have in order to reach a better understanding of what is at stake.

I posit this: The scope of government is not going to resolve until we decide what kind of society we want to be and what it means to be civilized.  Government is a somewhat amorphous construct and it cannot serve effectively unless there is an idea of what it is that government is serving.

I’ll offer a couple of definitions to illustrate my premise:

A “society” is an organized group of persons associated together for religious, cultural, scientific, political or patriotic purposes.

A “civilization” is an advanced state of intellectual, cultural and material development in society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences and the appearance of complex political and social institutions.

What, therefore, is America if not a “civilized society”?  Isn’t that something that we can all agree on?  America is a diverse group of people who share many purposes and common goals in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, and we do so with a moral standard that is humane and ethical.  Sounds pretty irrefutable to me.

The problem is…we haven’t come to a mutual understanding that the government of this community must also value and promote these concepts of civilization; the intellectual, cultural, scientific, artistic and material progress that binds, protects and advances us.

This is where the left begins to separate from the right, but it is also where we could find some common ground so long as we understand what it means to be civilized.

How can a civilized society, for example, deny hungry school children, whose families cannot afford school lunches, more meal programs?  How can we say, as American children show increasing signs of poor health, that we should not communally improve nutritional standards?

Shouldn’t this be within the domain of a representative government?  Wouldn’t a civilized society demand that everything be done to enrich the health and education of all children?

In my view, the definition of marriage in a civilized society would be the legal recognition of a loving union between consenting adults regardless of their sexual orientation.

In my view, a civilized society recognizes the importance of their workers by demanding living wages, extend benefits and offset the unemployment caused by economic failures.

A civilized society, while maintaining a free market, will understand that profit is not a moral directive and that sometimes doing the “right thing” is not always the most “profitable thing.”

Shouldn’t we, if civilized, proudly embrace the progress of science and take ethical responsibility on the world stage to lead in green technologies and initiatives that will create a cleaner environment?

While some may not agree on the few issues I presented here, I would at least ask that everyone start defining these concepts:  What does it mean to be civilized?  What is a fair and just society?  And what is our measure for the success of these ideas?

Let’s ask those questions first.  Let’s determine what we want to be and what we don’t want to be; then we can start the conversation about the role of government and what is too big or too ineffective.

A Cannonball Running

rs_1024x759-150916173506-1024_Donald-Trump-Republican-Debate_ms_091615Let’s see…Republican front runner, Donald Trump, gives another weak debate performance, but continues to inspire the conservative base of his party, while Marco Rubio gives a strong performance and poll numbers drop in his own state.

Meanwhile in the undercard debate Rick Santorum rambles, but shows up onstage for the 11 candidate group shot (until they shooed him away) where a 2% popularity result would have qualified him to play with the big boys….and woman.

Who else is thinking of “The Cannonball Run”?

All that’s missing are Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. dressed as Catholic priests.

What’s that you say? Walker and Santorum are already playing sanctimonious hucksters?

Who then is Trump?

Burt Reynolds, of course, who convinces local authorities that the priests are actually perverts and has them arrested!

For those of you who need Chris Christie to make an appearance in this high concept farce, he can be Dom Deluise as the funny mechanic who intermittently becomes Captain Chaos.

And Carly Fiorina?  Farrah Fawcett!  Except to Donald Trump who would undoubtedly disagree.

Cannonball+RunAre conservatives confused as they look for a candidate who is a true conservative who embraces their core values of family, faith and tax breaks for the wealthy?

Jeb Bush appears to them as a liberal in a cheap suit, and even those who say, “I’ll support him as the nominee” will acknowledge that he is vulnerable in a debate…since…well…he’s not good at them.

And now there is Trump who keeps getting a popularity bounce every time it is revealed that as The Emperor With No Clothes he is wearing designer suits.  But, Donald Trump is after all…Donald Trump…whose economic plan might be to make America one giant Trump Hotel and Casino.

Rounding out the last car are Jindal/Cruz/Huckabee who believe that 10% of America is made of confused hedonists who should rightfully be denied pizza and wedding cakes.

Believe it or not, I believe the Republican Party deserves a serious candidate and I believe they will come to their senses eventually.

Meanwhile….pop some corn, sit back and let’s see if this sequel is as entertaining as the original.CannonballRun2-DVDFilm-0048210

Tabula Rasa

The father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes (“I think, therefore, I am”) believed in “Innatism”; he believed that the human mind is born already containing certain knowledge, specifically the difference between right and wrong, and at our core was an innate knowledge of God.

His theory was countered by the Empiricists, John Locke in particular, who expanded on “Tabula Rasa”; the mind is a blank slate when born and it obtains knowledge only through experience, and therefore we essentially choose what we believe by the empirical evidence before us.

Locke, it should be noted, can be credited as the father of “Liberalism” in the American political context and he believed in the autonomy of the individual; that government is ruled by the consent of the governed; favoring civil liberties.

What is somewhat ironic, however, is that his philosophy included a natural (innate) goodness in people and his political theories were founded on that premise.

I stand in the middle.  I believe in the innate goodness of people and I believe that genetic codes are handed down that inform us of certain dangers and safe havens. Fight or Flight is encoded in our psyche at birth and so is the divine touch of our mother’s hands. From both we know at the moment of our arrival that we have some tools to navigate this world.  I also believe that most of what appears as instinctual knowledge is derived from our experiences.

Without a doubt, whether we have innate wisdom to judge right and wrong or not, we are inundated with reams of information designed to trigger our emotions and disposed toward moving us in one direction or another.  We often, therefore, use our political affiliations to filter that noise and give us a shortcut toward what we should believe.

How we research the information we are given is the relevant discipline and today “research” has been replaced by shortcuts  like “Google” (which has gone from a noun to a verb).Google-Wallpaper-  But, herein lies a problem:  While there may be numerous sites that present a particular position, that does not confirm that it is valid information.

For example, a new CNN/ORC poll has found that nearly 30 percent of all Americans do not believe the president is a Christian, including 43 percent of Republicans who say he is a Muslim.  20 percent of all adults believe he was born outside the United States.  Because those myths continue to circulate through conservative media, they give enough people all the verification they need.

I used to call this the “National Enquirer Effect.”  If you activate people’s minds to receive certain information by hearing it often enough, you will trigger a response that can consider anything as possible.th

How else can we explain the enduring mystery of “Bat Boy”?

This principle of information dissemination and propagation is used without restraint in advertising and politics; it sells products and it sells ideas.  And while we can never allow government to control media content, we also cannot let media content control government. It is a paradox to be sure.

The need to evaluate information became clearer to me recently when I read a result from a Gallup Poll and I, too, assumed that the conclusion drawn from the data must be accurate. Something kept bothering me about it, however; it seemed too simple.

I read this from a Gallup Poll: “Democrats are even more likely than Republicans (51% vs. 43%) to offer this criticism of the Democratic Party.”

Gallup then concluded that this is “clearly an expression of frustration with their (Democrats) party’s leadership.”

Maybe, that’s true…but, as I thought about it, I considered a different conclusion.

I posit this: That the high percentage of critical Democrats polled indicates that people who evaluate progress more critically are more likely to question even their own party’s initiatives.  The Gallup Poll did not ask a relevant question to the participants that would have calibrated this dilemma: “Are you critical by nature when evaluating politics?”

Rather, the criteria was simply, “Are you a Democrat or Republican and what do you think of your party today?”

The fact that there could be consistent traits among people who join one party or another was not considered.

Now, let me stir the pot…a tendency to be more critical is more consistent with liberals and Democrats.

It never surprises me, on the other hand, when poll numbers are high among Republicans who favor their party’s positions because they rarely deviate from broad strokes that are easy to rally behind:  “Family values, smaller government, and lower taxes!”

Ith’ve always contended that its harder to be a Democrat because when the political palette from which your core ideology is drawn contains all walks of life; financial, cultural, religious or gender, there are no blanket solutions.  Progress comes from constant evaluation and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances or unexpected results.

The Democrat’s political agenda looks for solutions from experience and it becomes much harder to find big, fat, platitudes to rally behind.  What are Democratic bumper stickers going to say?

“We want taxes that are commensurate with the operation of a fair and just society!”?

How about “Family values derived from the acceptance of cultural diversity!”?

I often see bumper stickers that say, “Support Our Troops” and while I, of course, agree, this would make a nice liberal companion sticker: “We Support Our Troops and That’s Why We Want Exit Strategies to End Wars and Better Benefits When They Come Home!”

Not as pithy, is it?

When the Democrats let me down it’s when they posture as Republicans who rarely admit to failures.  Liberalism is based on experience and not an amorphous condition of values, innately stored by God in the back of our brain.  It is, rather, a critical evaluation of our frailties, our failures and even our successes, and it runs counter to the natural forces that nurture our fears (which, I believe, serve the core of conservatism).

This is where the argument between Tabula Rasa (which, by the way, is fun to sing to “La Cucuracha”) and Innatism can join, however, in order to create new and better ideas.  We need to have access to (and seek) accurate, empirical information that our innate measure of justice can process.

Even beyond the obvious protection of the First Amendment, the cornerstone of our freedom, it is the most viable tool by which to make the necessary decisions as an electorate to maintain a just and fair society.

If we want this system of government to work and for the freedom it provides to remain strong, we must participate by doing the homework a Representative Democracy demands; check the facts and the data, keep the press honest, question not only the opposition, but our own conclusions, as well.

In the words of the great Irish orator, John Philpot Curran, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.”

Anger Management

A very disturbing video has been in the news:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNCrs63JeuM.

High-School-Football-Ref-Hit-From-BehindIt shows two high school defensive backs targeting a referee because they were unhappy with a call he had made.  My assumption is that the call put the offending team out of reach to win the game.

It must be pointed out the two young men were ejected, suspended from the team, denounced by their coach and could be facing criminal charges.  The consequences for this inexcusable behavior could be very high (as it should be).  What my concern is here, is that such behavior does not come out of nowhere.  Even though there are rules for sportsmanship, making actions this severe somewhat of an anomaly, we cannot be terribly surprised that it happens, given the nature of our sports culture.

Last year a former Major League pitcher was ejected from a baseball game for 10-year-cdxu6gxmsvmr2wm0gox4olds after he launched into a profanity laced tirade in front of the children because he didn’t like a call.  This started a conversation about winning and motivation.  While no one thought it was okay to swear in front of kids, some adults conceded that they admired his passion to win.

One friend admitted that he was less concerned about the former player’s loud and foul mouth than about how children today are no longer taught to win but are instead led to believe that “everyone is a winner” no matter what the outcome of a contest.  He was agitated by what he saw as a growing trend to make children less competitive everyones_a_winner_thumband more willing to accept failure.

“We are not instilling the values and motivations required to become successful and are creating an America that can no longer call itself exceptional,” were his words.

On a certain level, I agreed.  I don’t believe we are consistently instilling the values and motivations required to become successful. Where I disagree is with the kind of values and motivations that create success.  I believe that the “Winning is Everything” mentality is taking over not only sports, but education and politics, as well, and my observation is that it is actually corroding our once productive culture.

NFL Player, James Harrison, recently sparked controversy for returning trophies that were given to his children for participation in a sport’s camp. His post to Instagram read:  “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!  While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy…”

I understand his statement and his words received a lot of praise in circles in which I participate.  My own sons have been involved in organized sports and I have heard this said many times before.  Many parents are opposed to the idea that competition doesn’t have to be a “winner takes all” endeavor and they don’t accept that mere participation can be an experience to build character, self-esteem and a willingness to try.

I contend that Harrison’s position is not an accurate assessment of achievement.  There is evidence that the fierce mentality of sport-like competition is devaluing compassion, sensitivitcoach-yelling1y and creativity.  We are too often replacing the education model that understood that children are different and learn at their own pace, with a constant monitoring of progress and an endless cycle of comparison that impatiently demands winning results.

This winning-is-everything culture is raising blood pressure, making us less patient, creating anger and dissatisfaction and is demoralizing capable children by comparing them to those who are the strongest or the most resilient.

That intensity may be what is required to play in the NFL, but most of us don’t run into 300 pound linemen and pull 60 G’s with 1600 pounds of tackle force.

gma_kubiak_131104_wgMore compelling to me is the fact that three NFL coaches collapsed from heart conditions in the past two seasons and it isn’t hard to surmise that the stress surrounding the expectation to win, and the intensity that follows that directive, is putting cardio vascular systems through the wringer.

Recently, I witnessed a boy, probably 8 years old, fall during an athletic activity at his school.  Not a serious fall or injury, but he cried like it hurt.  The coach’s response was, “Man up!  We play through pain!”

The young man perked right up and went back to the game.  Admittedly, gender stereotyping aside, I wasn’t up in arms at that moment, but it contributed to my growing awareness of the message we are sending to our children:  Pain is for losers.

I work with a number of creative and highly intelligent people and they don’t respond to sports analogies, competiveness and constant challenges to be tougher and  more resilient.  Many of them have the temperament of scientists or artists with calmer dispositions and resist competition to leave room for the discoveries that come from patience and even failures.  They are not encouraged by motivation-to-win techniques, but by acceptance of their gentler idiosyncrasies.

They may not exceed sales goals and increase margins but they may be the ones who will move the needle of invention that a company, or a school, or a nation will prosper from.

A parent called his son a “whiny, little brat” for complaining tooqq1sgyellingatkids often and too loudly about one of those things that teenagers complain about too often and too loudly.  The words echoed the mentality that success is determined by toughness and that feelings are just so much whining.

The boy was hurt, but was not allowed to be, and that could leave an imprint that causes him to cauterize his feelings in the future, resulting in having less patience for others.  It could be what stops his heart in the middle of a game because he was so RIB05stressed over what he could not control.

The social psychophysiological truth is that it’s also “okay” to hurt, and unless we make that an option and not an evaluation of how manly or tough our children are, we are going to instill more dissatisfaction, more anger and see more violent behavior.

The kid at camp that came in 5th in the Bean Bag Race probably deserved his ribbon simply for finishing the race.  His accomplishment may even be as rewarding to him as it was to the kid who came in first.  And maybe he will come to the realization that bean bag racing is not where his future lies.  Maybe he’ll, instead, go into science and maybe he’ll find the cure for cancer.

Or maybe not…maybe he will toil for the rest of his life trying to improve his hopping2531408884_ddd63b6136_z skills.  But, I assure you, his chances for success will not have been diminished because a compassionate society once rewarded an effort where he lost, but tried.

And we can be sure that he’s not being programmed for the anger that spears a referee after a bad call.

For the times they are a-changin’

 

It is interesting to look back to our fairly recent history to analyze how our political parties have changed.  My father called himself an “Eisenhower Republican” which confused me as a boy because he never liked the Republicans.

My earliest memory of his politics was seeing him mourn the assassination of President Kennedy, although, he explained to me years later that he didn’t think Kennedy had the time to become a great president.

He turned his back completely on the Republicans during the Nixon administration as the party reflected Nixon’s paranoia and with the emergence of a Machiavellian operating system.

After my father died 14 years ago I wanted to better understand what he meant by being an Eisenhower Republican and so I researched Ike.  History has painted him as a prosperity period President and somewhat laissez faire but what I discovered startled me.

He was anything but and an interesting question arose-  Would Ike be considered a Republican today by conservatism’s new standards?

As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Eisenhower led millions of troops to take back Europe from the Nazis.  He was President at the beginning of the Cold War, where our opponent had actual weapons of mass destruction pointed at us, yet here are some of things that Ike had to say about war and the military.

On the military in general:  “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.”

On war (think Iraq): “All of us have heard this term ‘preventative war’ since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time, I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”

Ike on the Labor Movement: “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.”

” . . . Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers, and . . . a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.”

Entitlements:  “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

On the subject of “socialized” medicine, in 1960 Eisenhower signed into law the Kerr-Mills Bill, generally considered to be the forerunner of Medicare. For the first time, Kerr-Mills provided for government payment of medical bills of 70% of citizens aged 65 and older.

On Unilateralism:  Eisenhower knew the value of working closely with allies, and of working out problems peacefully through the UN.  While some on the right would have us believe that the UN is some sort of liberal alliance to displace US military strength, the reality is that the UN grew out of the alliance of 26 nations forged to fight the axis powers in WWII.

Here are Eisenhower’s own words:  “The world must learn to work together, or finally it will not work at all.”

“If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the foundation of the organization and our best hope of establishing a world order.”

“The people of the world genuinely want peace. Some day the leaders of the world are going to have to give in and give it to them.”

Does Eisenhower’s perspective resemble the Republican Party of today?  No, it doesn’t and the contrast is sharp.  Ike may have been at odds with many of the rank and file of his party even then in terms of these positions and his social conscience, but once upon a time, it was possible to be a Republican and be progressive.

I am a proud liberal and a Democrat because I stand for many of the principles my father stood for. And he was once an Eisenhower Republican…imagine what could be done today…if only they still existed.

House of Cards

The Republican economic plan has been the same since 1980.  It is derived from neoliberal (not to be confused with social liberalism) economics, once called laissez-faire economic liberalism, and has evolved from supply-side to “trickle-down” (inspired by the Laffer Curve) or Reaganomics.  Convoluted by titles, perhaps, but the common threads have always followed these principles:

1) Lower income taxes for the highest earners because they will expand their businesses and investments.

2) Cut federal spending by eliminating federal agencies.

3) Reduce government regulations on banks and Wall Street, and lowering barriers to produce (supply) goods and services.

6334869991_b601178b49_zLogic follows that consumers will benefit from a greater supply of goods and services at lower prices and the investment and expansion of businesses will increase the demand for employees.

This macroeconomic theory is as old as Merchant Capitalism itself, but it has been the exclusive, adopted economic model in the United States for the past 35 years. Unfortunately, the result has been far from extended prosperity, except for the wealthiest Americans who have seen their holdings increase by nearly 250% (the richest 1% now controlling over 40% of America’s wealth).

Working class wages have remained essentially flat during this time, and as the cost of living has inevitably risen, most Americans have, in effect, received an annual pay cut.

Wealth, it turns out, does not trickle down; it becomes concentrated at the top and the rest of America cannot keep up.  The bottom falls out from decreased spending, and more Americans fall into poverty from a systematic inequity of distribution.

It should be noted, however, that this concept was not the sole domain of Republicans; Democrats jumped onto thetrain-i-think-i-can Trickle Down Train, as well.  President Clinton, for one, spent time at the Altar of Alan Greenspan who opposed any regulation on derivatives and preached that the market will always correct itself.  Even Greenspan had to admit he was wrong as worthless bundles of trades collapsed Wall Street like a house of cards.

It is clear from history that the market will expand and contract somewhat cyclically, but deep recessions and depressions are the result of errors.  The Great Depression was the result of a fall in the quantity of money being distributed throughout the system that led to a downfall in production and employment.

chartFrom October 1929 to April 1933, the liquidity of money in our system dropped nearly 40%. When bank deposits dropped by almost half, the wealthy suddenly had too little in their portfolios and a stock sell off began to straighten their positions.

The prices of shares crashed, so did real estate, and demand for goods and production fell off. Corporations, because of an unregulated market (pre-SEC) cooked their books and made, in today’s money, billions. There was a feeding frenzy and the working American was the fare.

It wasn’t that different in 2008.  Wall Street and investors were getting rich beyond measure on sub-prime loans.  Bankers knew that the bubble would burst when the housing market leveled and loans would begin to default, but no one stopped it until it was too late because too much money was being made.

The assets became so toxic from bundles of derivatives being tied into better loans, and when the insurers of these loans no longer had the capital to pay on the defaults, well….again, a house of cards.

So…the multi-trillion dollar question is:  How do we recover?

If you make online searches for answers, conservative websites will blame President Obama for all of it (even the collapse that occurred before he came into office) and will accuse his administration of making things worse.

Liberal websites will blame President Bush for every misfire, including mini-skirts with 606f20046eab72be7c35d70a570b5bb0leggings, but objective analysis can put the acetate of economic growth and contraction up to the light of history to reveal what is closer to the truth.  Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, calls it “The Big Lie.”

That “lie” is that our economic problems are due to a government that’s too large, and that the solution, therefore, is to shrink it.

“The truth,” he says, “is that our economic problems stem from the biggest concentration of income and wealth at the top since 1928, combined with stagnant incomes for most of the rest of us. The result: Americans no longer have the purchasing power to keep the economy going at full capacity. Since the debt bubble burst, most Americans have had to reduce their spending; they need to repay their debts, can’t borrow as before, and must save for retirement.”

The long term solution is to reorganize the economy so the benefits of growth are more widely shared.  Reich offers specifics:

1) Make higher education free to families that now can’t afford it.

2) Rehire teachers.

3) Repair and rebuild our infrastructure.

4) Create a new Work Progress Administration to put the unemployed back to work.

5) And rather than marginalize unions, support them, because all workers benefit from collective bargaining for better wages.

So, how do we pay for this?  That is a relevant question no matter what side of the aisle you are standing.  “Taxes” are the part of the solution-equation that have become political suicide, even as they are applied to those who have benefitted the most from our current oligarchic financial structure, but, it is within that symbiotic relationship between wealth and Wall Street where the answer lies.

Bernie Sander’s proposal for a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) could generate 1.5 trillion dollars over the next decade.  FTTs are a small fee on stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent, and trades of most derivative instruments at 0.01%.  Speculators would pay a tax on their trades, just like we do when we make purchases.  It is an equitable solution

The truth is that taxes go back into our system when they are spent on services, infrastructure, and education and they create liquidity immediately.  By spending on roads, schools, hospitals, bridges, programs and agencies that put people to work, subsidies that help farmers, and new technologies (clean energy, for example) that, in turn, create new businesses, we create jobs.

We have to have serious people in Washington who are willing to be honest, grownup, and take the hits that come with telling the truth.

I suggest we put a consortium of policy wonks, representatives and economists into a room, order pizza, and let them out only when they have come up with a plan for a more stable and prosperous economy for all Americans.

I’m really not kidding.  Hey…it took “Gamers” only a few days to unlock the puzzle of HIV DNA that had baffled researchers for decades and all they required was the Complete Collection of Dr. Who as incentive.

We can do this and stay on budget!

Who’s with me?

Once Upon a Time in America

This morning on CNN, Liz Cheney (daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney) remarked, when asked why Donald Trump is so popular in the polls, “…people are frustrated with a president that doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism…”

I immediately recalled a statement former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani made last year that he didn’t believe President Obama loved America.  His assumption was based on the fact that the President has, at times, been critical of “American Exceptionalism.”

Not long before that I had just read an article by Senator Rand Paul who stated:  “America is indeed exceptional.  Our history has proved it so.”

newt-gingrich1-600x345Paul’s statement had reminded me of Newt Gingrich’s book “A Nation Like No Other” in which he extolls the virtue of “Recognizing and honoring the history-making, world-changing ideals our Founding Fathers enshrined.”

And that narrative continues back to Mitt Romney who ran on that same premise two years ago; a return to the principles that stirred the dreams of millions of immigrants to journey to a land where “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

“Almost all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants,” Romney iterated, “who came here for opportunity.”

Rudy, Rand, Mitt, Newt, Donald, and many Americans are passionate about the historical promise of opportunity in America and how we have fallen from our exceptional directives.  Particularly throughout Obama’s presidency they’ve talked about American “Exceptionalism” and a need to recapture the values upon which our prosperity was built.  Books have been written and stirring speeches have been made.

There is a problem, however, with their embrace of that ideal.  The story of America they espouse is selective.  It is culled from the exceptional events in our history, but is a narrative taking artistic license.

The true story has many shades of grey.

immigrants2Once upon a time…during great periods of immigration to America, when immigrants left poverty, famine or threats of tyranny and war, the possibility of a better life was enough to take great risks.  From that fortitude many created new enterprises and their relentless pursuit of success fueled an Industrial Revolution.

This did, indeed, create the economy that made the American dollar the currency of the world, and it is a part of our history from which to draw inspiration.  What this history fails to record as dramatically, however, is that this story of great determination also created failures.  The once agrarian culture of colonial America was replaced by urban blight, conflicts and prejudices, and a new class of poverty became as much a part of the landscape as newly drawn success.

The ideal that many Americans want to return to overlooks such realities.  Realities like Industrial Barons who destroyed their competition and exploited workers.  The decimation of indigenous cultures and the unconscionable continuation of slavery in a nation proclaiming freedom is stepped over in this fairytale because we did, after all, have a war to end it.

What doesn’t end, however, are tentacles of human nature that can reach toward greed, fear and selfishness; that hold onto bigotry and deny rights when they feel threatened.

This is the paradox of freedom that compelled our founding fathers to create representative government and why government has changed along with the growth of our nation.  America has seen what happens when monopolies inhibit new businesses and what a stock market will do without regulations to keep it fair.

We’ve seen what can happen to workers, minorities, and to our resources, without the aggregate force of the people to keep special interests in check.

The America of Rudy, Rand, Newt, Mitt and Donald doesn’t exist in the perfect incarnation of their fantasy.  There’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration in the highlights of our journey, but when we form policy based on returning to values based on a semi-fictional history…well, there are going to be problems when dealing with issues that are 100% real.

Our moral purpose is not found in the absence of light, but rather in the illumination of our resolve to improve.

We all want greatness, we all want a better life and more secure future, but we aren’t going to get there by creating policies based on antiquated or selective triumphs in American history.  We get there by learning from history and by examining our frailties and shortcomings as well as our achievements and strengths.

It will be a more cognitive and honest reflection on the principles of freedom, humanity, compassion and generosity that will lead America into a greater future.

fairytale-bookWe won’t get there by believing in fairytales.