Four More Years (of the Same Damn Thing)

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Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

– Thomas Gradgrind

I’m not gonna lie: I’m a little disappointed with Tuesday’s primary results.

The problem with the American electorate is that it suffers from a remarkable lack of imagination. And it has, once again, scared itself off just short of greatness.

Why are we, in this country, so afraid of big ideas? The Cold War ended 25 years ago; let the bogeyman go, people! In any case, no one is suggesting we go around calling each other “Comrade” and painting things red. And let’s be clear: Joseph Stalin was not a socialist, he was a dictator who used socialist rhetoric to consolidate and validate his rule. Not unlike certain other dictators (like Museveni in Uganda or al-Assad in Syria) who hide behind the rhetoric of democracy. Or xenophobic narcissists who build their movements on a platform of patriotic nationalism. Not that there are any of those around lately.

“Socialism,” as the younger generation of voters has responded to it over the last few months, is not (as has been condescendingly suggested by talking eggheads on news networks) just about “free college.” That’s part of it, but not remotely all of it…or even most of it.

The “New Socialism” is in many ways a restatement of Rawlsian “justice as fairness.” At its most basic, it’s about sharing. This is not a novel idea; most of us were taught to share as children. We just forget as we grow older. We’re not talking proletarian gray, here, either: no one’s calling for a complete leveling, just a little long overdue balancing in an effort to bring social divisions a bit closer to true.

It is not enough simply to preach faith in the American dream because the unpleasant truth is that not everyone is “created equal.” Donald Trump, for instance, did not earn his fortune. There were no bootstraps involved in his ascent; his is not an Alger-esque tale. Being born black is not the social equivalent of being born white; being born female is not the social equivalent of being born male; being born gay is not the social equivalent of being born straight. Not in practice. Doesn’t matter what the eyes of the law see; the eyes of prejudice are blindfolded.

What I advocate is not the abolition of success; it is the democratization of opportunity. Too many of our so-called entitlement programs are step-stools to nowhere. Even if all the unemployed were employed, the pay for “unskilled” labor will never amount to a living (never mind that our daily lives depend on this “unskilled” labor in almost every way). Why? Not because employers cannot afford to pay a living wage, but because doing so would cut into their profit margin. There is no will, so there is no way.

The only way to get past the “unskilled” jobs is to go to college, and increasingly, undertake some form of post-graduate study. But who can afford that? Working one’s way through college isn’t a feasible option anymore. So there’s the student loan. Which defeats its own purpose. These days, it’s a double whammy: not only will a college degree not net you a good job, but your unemployment will be complicated by debt payments people with jobs struggle to make.

This is the socialism of the Bernie Sanders supporter: Make America Fair Again. It’s not about free enterprise; it’s about freedom of movement. Freedom of access. Above all else, recognition of one another as interconnected. “Free college” is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. It creates a ladder out of disadvantage to a career, and a living; it creates an educated electorate that knows the difference between a brain and a hairpiece; and it raises the bar for all of us by raising the level of public discourse in our communities.

The rationale behind reining in the banks and drafting the support of the über-rich is simple: wealth hoarded, in the vicinity of so much disadvantage, is immoral. It is also unsustainable. The idea that affluence is the ultimate expression of the American dream is ludicrous, especially if my dream fuels another man’s nightmare. When we have what we need, we don’t need any more; however, the capitalist impulse creates the impression that we can never have enough. Which makes us blind to all our fellow human beings who actually don’t.

We need leaders who both acknowledge these imbalances, and who are willing to try and rectify them. Even if by way of baby steps. I support Sanders the democratic socialist because at the end of the day, a small step is still a step in the right direction. And if that’s as far as he managed to go, at least the next guy or gal will have one less rung to climb.

Here’s the thing about Hillary Clinton: she could easily run as a moderate Republican. Bernie, on the other hand, represents the true progressives among us. True progressives are, by definition, ahead of the curve; they make change by tugging the narrative forward, not by pushing it from behind. Not that Clinton will do either. If her tack holds, she could win, take a four-year nap, and still deliver as promised.

It’s not enough just to get four more years. We need someone who will actually do something with them.

SooperToosday

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But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me. 

– Vizzini

The day is upon us.

Super Tuesday: the day on which we all get to decide whether it’s more important to win, or whether–perhaps–there is more to our voting choices than that.

At the end of the day, this election isn’t about ideology, it isn’t about conservative versus liberal. This one’s about basic human decency, about respect for one another and our political process. This one says something, profound and revelatory, about us as a nation and a people.

I’m not endorsing one party over another here. There are Republican candidates who have a lot to offer (well, candidate, anyway: Kasich–although I’ll take Rubio in a pinch). There are Democratic candidates who also promise at least some level of progress, and who have talked, not about the “evil Other,” but about the good we can do together as citizens of the United States.

And then there is the One.

The guy whose whole platform is built on putting down pretty much everyone, who has all but endorsed whatever form of torture serves him most conveniently, who has refused to distance himself from the KKK (with which historically inconspicuous organization he claims to be unfamiliar), and who has bullied his way through a series of debates without ever actually talking about anything, really, at all.

The guy whose plan is having one.

I’ve heard of several conservatives who, given a Trump nomination, are planning to abstain. Fine. But you could vote now, instead; vote, thoughtfully, for a more thoughtful option. Which is pretty much ANYBODY ELSE.

To my fellow Democrats, same goes for you: winning isn’t everything. In fact, in some cases, it isn’t anything. “Electability” is for the cynical and cowardly. Our problem, politically speaking, is that we’re not willing to swing for the fences. Everything is “strategery”: how do we get our guy (or gal) in, and then, how do we keep them there?

And we wonder why nothing ever changes.

We have one candidate who has told us what could be accomplished if we try, and we have another who has told us, consistently, that so little can be done that trying is a waste of time. Yoda is great, but I don’t really want him in the White House. Progressivism (real progressivism) is all about the “try.” Anything else is stagnation. And we’re all too familiar with that.

Let’s be clear: Hillary tells us that the root of “progressive” is “progress.” Fair enough. The root of “socialism” is “social.” And that has nothing to do with the Soviet Union, or Karl Marx, or bread lines and sovkhozy.

It’s not about the state at all, really. It’s about how we look at each other, about who our neighbors are, about what kind of neighbors we intend to be. The true socialist society is a reflection of its people. That the USSR got it backwards doesn’t mean it can never work. It just means that it hasn’t worked yet.

So, stop fearing the labels and catchphrases, and listen to what Bernie has to say about the things that are holding us back as a nation. Which is ourselves.

Every generation needs a “moonshot.” But that means embracing the big ideas, remembering that the moon is out there in the first place, waiting to be shot at.

So, two suggestions:

Democrats, let’s vote for the candidate who’s willing to shoot for the moon.

And Republicans…

For the love of Pete, don’t vote for the guy who might accidentally blow it up.

#FeelTheBern
#DumpTrump

Toads for Bernie 2016

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(Image from MotherJones.com)

What we want are unpractical people who see beyond the moment and think beyond the day.

– Oscar Wilde

There is much, much more to being progressive than just “making progress.”

The progressive doesn’t just act progressively, he or she thinks progressively, beyond the merely possible to the possibilities inherent in the impossible. Last night’s debate on MSNBC made it clear which of the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates understands this.

Again and again, parsing the term in a highly simplistic fashion, Hillary Clinton insisted that her ability to “make progress” makes her a “progressive.” And again and again, she dismissed the big ideas (universal healthcare, reinstating Glass-Steagall, taking the price tag off of public higher education) as third-rail politics. They’ll never pass, she insisted, so why bother?

Why bother? The true progressive “bothers” with these issues precisely because they will be hard to sell, and even harder to implement. Precisely because there is a good chance they will never pass.

The true progressive understands that forward movement is often mistaken for progress when it is really just inertia. That sometimes true progress entails no movement at all. That progressive rhetoric must fail often in order finally to succeed.

The true progressive knows that sticking with ideas that fit within the present paradigm is not enough. True progressives deal in ideas so big that the paradigm can no longer contain them, explain them away, or hide them from view–because then, and only then, will the paradigm shift and make way for real, meaningful change to happen.

Clinton has already referenced, repeatedly, the fact that she would be the first female president, and has presented that as a selling point on its own merits. And while that would (and will one day) be a milestone of great importance in American history, it cannot be the sole motivating factor in a voter’s decision.

It is not enough to vote for the first female president simply because of her gender. Were that the case, every feminist in America should have marched to the polls in support of Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. No, the first female president must also be a good choice on policy grounds, and the refusal to contemplate big ideas because they offer a challenge (perhaps even an impossible one) to policymakers makes Clinton a bad choice on those grounds.

The former Secretary of State also claimed, last night, that there are few who would consider her a member of the establishment, based largely on the fact of her gender. Well, I count myself among those few. Again, Palin, Bachmann, and now Fiorina offer a ready counter to the suggestion that women cannot belong to the establishment. And while, on the whole, I prefer Clinton’s approach to those of the aforementioned contradictions, her repeated rejection of the monumental but difficult in favor of the small but doable causes me to question her ability to effect meaningful and lasting change. Not because she couldn’t if she wanted to, but because she seems unwilling to try.

One day, hopefully soon, the United States will meet its first female president, and she will blow the doors off the way we think as a nation, and redefine the parameters of social justice as applied in our society. And that woman will receive my whole-hearted support (not to mention my whole-hearted vote at the polls). But Hillary Clinton is not, to my mind, that woman.

So, we are left once again with a choice between men, and of those men, Bernie Sanders best embodies the imagination and big thinking that are the hallmark of the true progressive. If nothing else, he has shed a more positive light on the idea of socialism, and reminded us of the “social” part of it all: one can embrace communitarianism without surrendering to authoritarianism. It is possible (and more than that, it is necessary if we are to thrive as a nation) to put our neighbors first without ourselves disappearing from view.

Being a toad (being The Toad) is all about rejecting the limits others would place upon my imagination and/or will to change. It’s about insisting on my right to wild, idealistic dreamery. And Sanders’ campaign is built on toads–people who refuse to discard ideas because they are difficult, or because they’ve never worked before, or because they challenge the status quo. After all, we would not as a nation even exist were it not for our willingness to pursue freedom in new and mold-breaking ways.

So this Toad’s for Bernie…even if he doesn’t win. I’d rather back a long shot who dreams big than a sure thing who thinks small. And Sanders’ success to this point proves that, in this, I am not alone.

There is much, much more to being progressive than just “making progress.” It’s about making progress that matters.