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Kingston, NY, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010

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WE Shall Overcome
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

Jupiter went into Pisces this week, and if you've felt the news hit your heart like unwelcome aftershocks I wouldn't be surprised. We were caught between hope and despair as we watched Haitians rescued, a week trapped beneath rubble, while others that might have been saved by sanitation or antibiotics perish. We've stood by helplessly as the Democratic Senate super-majority collapsed. We've been bitterly disappointed as the Right-leaning U.S. Supreme Court backtracked on new sentencing for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Californians are being evacuated as the sky drops buckets of unaccustomed rain, and in beleaguered Virginia, a man with a rifle killed eight and forced down a police helicopter before being captured. Not all of us appear entirely sane. Total eclipse of the heart? Or grist for the mill of the Gods?

Politics is personal. It's also local. What we saw in Massachusetts -- Ted Kennedy's iconic Senate seat, dedicated to progressive concerns for almost 47 years, going to a Cosmo centerfold and Tea Bagger -- is local politics gone viral and hard-headed. My own brain is about to explode from the buzz-saw clamor of Republicans chirping the good news that the nation is headed back into their cold embrace, as gleeful as locusts rubbing their legs together, ready to descend. Nonsense. The echo chamber of political thought in these last days is about as relevant as re-runs of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Regressive politics won't work this time, if it ever did; I doubt regressiveness has ever achieved anything other than to delay the inevitable. We can't go backwards and hope to address what's ahead of us. Bill Moyers, politico for LBJ before he moved to journalism, has told us that Republicans consider government a “perversion;” the entirety of their policy is obstruction to governance, and that's not what we need now. As old timer Sam Rayburn, a Democrat from Texas and longtime speaker of the House of Representatives, said, "A jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a carpenter to build one."

John McCain has declared this a "... shot heard round the world, the people have declared no more 'business as usual.'" Joe Lieberman has taken the opportunity to tell us how we must now march straight back to center, where all sensible folks can be found. Oh my, where to begin? For starters, center IS where business is done as usual. How do you like it so far? Been good for you? Bill Clinton interpreted a similar clamor on the Right as a need to go centrist and gave us an explosive decade built on bubble after bubble after "good times" bubble that eventually burst to send us down the Rabbit Hole. This time it appears that the inevitable will get where it's going before the public does. Perhaps that's the kind of hard life lesson that will help some of us grow up. Politics is about to get even more personal, and if this is, indeed, a time that forces us to stare down the ugly truth about ourselves, then we've given ourselves a fine opportunity.

As regards the Democrats, this is definitely a wake-up call; more theirs than Obama's. The President, mindful of the traditional pillars of government, allowed them a great deal of latitude in putting together the legislation he's called for. Perhaps it's PTSD, but the Dems behave as if they haven't won anything since FDR, capitulating to the Congressional game of money and power and backroom deals, hat in hand and almost apologetic as they make lackluster plays to move the ball forward. Now they find themselves no longer filibuster-proof, but they still hold the majority. Will they recognize that or fritter it away? As usual, Jon Stewart made the case in just a few moments of clarity. Unfortunately, the traditional Dem machine is as cranky and corrupt as Dick Cheney on a good day. In Massachusetts, their insistence that an unappealing, disinterested and -- gasp -- female candidate could take the day against the equivalent of Sarah Palin in pants -- or without them, as the case may be -- was hubristic and disastrous.

The Massachusetts vote was less referendum on Obama than anger at joblessness and financial meltdown, a fact not lost on this White House. The disenchantment that elected Brown is the same disenchantment that swept Obama into power. Brown is an empty suit, but like so many of those on the Right, he's tapped into the misinformation of decades of conservative thought and fear-mongering. One would think that those horrific Republican years that brought us here would be the focus of public ire, but -- think again. We've got short-term memory loss. Where is the wisdom in throwing our cards into the 'unfettered capitalism' pot that Brown represents, I wonder? There would be jobs produced but they'd go to prospective employees in Indonesia, and most of the profits would float straight to the top. It's better to vote for the guy that would deny us unemployment extensions and vote down a fee for the Big Banks to pay back the TARP money? It's wiser to hogtie government at the same time we demand that it fix our problems? Reject its protection and assistance just when we need it most? The cognitive dissonance of declaring government just too damned big, insisting it get smaller immediately AND demanding it create jobs so we can go back to the way we were, makes my eyes roll back in my head.

One of my favorite bloggers, Digby, tickled me when she said, "Yes, the Democrats are corrupt and inept. But the other side is batshit insane." Her frustration is showing. I don't want to label my fellow citizens, but not much of what Pubs put forth these days is based in reality. It's hard to take them seriously when they offer nothing to take us into a new and perilous century but more of what got us here in the first place. We might get a sense of that in our journalism, hold some feet to the fire and uncover some necessary truth, if St. Ronnie the Reagan hadn't lifted the regulations that kept news reporting a public service and the 4th rail of democracy that the Founders intended. Thirty years later, we're hostage to gasbags and wind machines. So, in case you haven't noticed, dearhearts, let me make this perfectly clear. Those Republicans? They're just not that into you.

An astrologer I appreciate, Bill Herbst, wrote a series of articles about the presidency of Barack Obama over a year ago and mentioned his parental dynamics, juxtaposing them with those of our prior leader, George Bush. He contends that the overriding dynamic of Obama's personality is both parenting and partnering. His natal Saturn, representing the missing father, is in the 12th house, as was GW's. In Bush, we saw the overcompensating ego, in Obama we're witnessing a man stepping into his own authority and adulthood. Herbst postulated that Obama might begin his tenure as the comforter represented by the dominant mother figure, but would quickly work his way into the supportive father presence that urges self-reliance and responsibility. We've seen him step up to that task. On the other hand, IMHO, this president has not partnered well. Rahm Emmanuel's triangulation to get Blue Dog Dems on board has weakened our ability to provide real progressive reform, adding to the angst of the public and making the administration look incompetent. As well, his financial team is comprised of the same cats that swallowed the economic canary; we shouldn't expect them to spit it up anytime soon. He'll need to make some changes, and there are signs that he's aware of hard calls ahead.

With a year under his belt, now, Obama is still not easily defined, nor has the mess he inherited given him much chance to impress us. The Left is as unhappy and impatient with him as the Right, and if that includes you, my progressive friend, then I have a question for you. What did you expect when we put this man in office? What miraculous power did he represent to you, stuck in an almost evenly divided nation and still suffering its old paradigm institutions and fears? With the Republicans in a full-on war with anything Democratic and resting on the laurels of their eight long years of delusional overreach and base of culture-war followers, did you expect this to be easy? Did you think that one man, no matter how well intentioned, could face down the corporate overlords and political hacks and pay-for-play news agencies and make liberal magic overnight?

The litany of fears we're all addressing in this nation seems to enlarge by the day. Even if we, ourselves, are relatively stable, we can look around us and see the fragility of this hour. It's time to take an adult viewpoint and admit we came by it honestly. The government is a reflection of us, the values we've held, the nonsense we've believed and the ethics we've bent. We haven't faced hard truths -- you know the ones I mean. We decided we could justifiably kill the people who objected to our interference in their politics, our corporate plunder of their environment and attacks on their culture. We traded on our arrogance of being a superpower, telling ourselves we knew what was best for the world. We agreed that our consumptive lifestyle, as George Bush the Original told us, was not negotiable. Now, as we discover it can no longer be sustained, we find ourselves in a mess of our own making.

We ignored ethical boundaries in financial maneuvering as long as the windfall favored us. We went out and bought each new thing the corporate PR machine pimped to us; you will now find them available at yard sales across the country. We stood silent while our political discourse became as laughable as a wrestling smack-down and as manipulative, while our news carriers became infotainers and devolved the intelligence of our national conversation. We turned our heads when good people fighting the system were censored, fired, jailed and disgraced. Worse, we took whatever was handed to us, no questions asked. We did all that for decades, too busy trying to get the Good Life we were told we deserved as citizens of this country to object. When George Bush the Decider and his Neo-fascists came to power we decided that was one step too far, but we had already allowed the envelope to be pushed so far it was easy for the Bushies to run across that bottom line like their hair was on fire. They took our moral center with them.

Thomas Jefferson wasn't just whistling Yankee Doodle when he said, "A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society." Citizenship is the price we pay for decent government, and requires an active role, not a passive one. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis understood that truth when he said, "The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen." In order to enjoy the entitlement that citizenship offers us, we must take on the responsibilities of vigilance and participation. In the purest sense, Obama's not the government, WE ARE. In this country, disinterest in who pulls the strings that control our common good results in half of us not even bothering to vote, which elects a lot of bad politicians. That happened in Massachusetts this week. Mr. Brown will add his interests to the continued corporate welfare and unexamined influence of health insurers, who have the power to tell us who will live and who will die; worse, he will celebrate the fact that we pay them outrageous sums of money for this service. Healthcare reform, even as watered down as it had become, is now in the crosshairs.

How do we explain this nonsensical result of populist anger to the mother who must make a decision between getting treatment for herself or for her child? Or the man who will face homelessness in order to continue chemo for his wife? More, what can we tell those who have simply been kicked to the curb to die of neglect and apathy? We can all agree that Wall Street is still being run by those who got us into this mess; ergo, we can expect no real solutions unless they are forced into a Come To Jesus moment. Then why can't we come to terms with insurance companies, sitting in the catbird seat with our lives in their hands and their corporate profit foremost in their minds? If we, The People, don't limit their power to fleece our health delivery and victimize the frail, who will? We look at Haiti and feel helpless; we look at our own national problems and tell ourselves there's nothing we can do, but that isn't true.

The argument that we can't trust government to provide healthcare for us falls to mush as we consider the effective delivery of Medicare to millions of seniors. So let's tell ourselves the truth about this sociopolitical experiment that's giving us fits. Should we pass such a healthcare measure, even one as lackluster as proposed, it would limit corporate profit. It might even prove, in the long run, that government is capable of providing for the common good, which is anathema to the Republican priorities. It would be a bullet to the body of predatory capitalism. All of this surrealistic Kabuki theatre we're watching has to do with protecting the money game for the plutocracy. Obama has told us that unless we get a handle on healtcare costs, any gains we make to stabilize our economy will falter in the near-future. If no one is allowed to police healthcare costs and run interference between insurers and the insured, then no amount of new jobs or limited taxes will save us from what awaits in the next decade and the next. Where can we go from here, citizen? Right to Wall Street to watch them hand out fat bonuses? If we have become victims of our system, it's our duty as citizens to pull the plug.

This is our problem as much as it is Obama's. It's our nation, our wellbeing, our future that get tossed in the air like a beanbag with these crude political manipulations, bought by lobbying money and fostered by corporate think-tanks. Those of us outraged because the bank will not renegotiate our loan may indeed be activists for Wall Street reform. Those who have been victimized by medical insurers are on the bandwagon for healthcare reform. What are you working for, citizen? Where are you investing your attention and resources? Of all the nations of the world, this Republic was created with the little guys in mind, not to take care of their every need but to give them opportunity to be heard and to have choice in their way forward. Billions look to this continuing experiment in democracy, envious of our ability to participate in our government's decisions. That is called citizenship, and that is why a steady stream of foreigners petition to come to America -- not just to have opportunity for personal gain, but to have ownership over their own lives. Roll that in your mouth for a moment: Ownership Over Your Own Life. If that is not our experience, then we are not exercising our precious gift of citizenship.

The time for giving our power over to others is behind us now. We need to find a new way to think about this, stop expecting a mommy or a daddy or any single individual to show up and get everything back under control for us. If we're worth our salt as liberals -- and more than that, if we're aware that there is a leap in consciousness at hand, a Shift that requires us to bring the best to our conversation and thought process -- we should be resonating with Deepak Chopra's advice that, "Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. The past is closed and limited, the future is open and free." If we bring only yesterday's consciousness to this important juncture, we will be of no help to this president, our nation or ourselves.

We're the ones we've waited for. When Obama took office a year ago, I was aware of how much illusion greeted his presidency, how impossibly high our hopes. We'd had a very bad run for a long long time, we needed someone of substance and intelligence to look up to. There were no easy fixes at hand at the beginning of 2009, and there still aren't any. Now that reality has set in, we need to reassess our desire to help the Shift occur under Obama's watch. We need to help him help us. We must make clear our commitment to ethical practices, our demand for moral governance, and be vigilant in continued activism for causes we believe in. We need to gather our fortitude, our intellect, our belief in ourselves as agents of change and do the hard work ahead to renew this Republic. Too many of us have fallen victim, as P.M. Carpenter suggests, to "the supreme political law of hysteria's unintended consequences."

This nation is struggling to grow beyond its adolescent need for instant gratification and self-interest, its collective self-indulgence and short-sighted tantruming. It won't be able to do that unless we -- you and I -- do it first. With only a year of this presidency under Obama's belt, that leaves three more in which we can dedicate ourselves to his success as contributors to the solution, not the problem. The long view of politics tells us that the daily responsibility of a president will go, like a river flows, in the direction of the challenges s/he faces. This is a time in history when every day brings us not only exceptional challenge but extraordinary opportunity. We're in it to win it, not just for the Democrats or the liberals but for a world awaiting the return of American commitment to equality and ethics, progress and justice. As Deepak suggests, the future is open and free. Obama isn't finished, no matter what the chattering class has to say, and neither are we. We're just getting started if we'll think outside the box, remember that those who love freedom guard it vigorously and throw our energy into promoting the change we believe in.

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