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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The great ennui and the GOP school bus

While attending the state Democratic Party convention Friday and Saturday, I was struck by a difference that is becoming apparent within the progressive thinking citizens.  The convention was attended by people who still think the political system can be made to work.  They contrast sharply with a growing number of progressive thinkers who think the great American experiment has failed, and that under current circumstances it cannot be made to function.  

I became most acutely aware of this thinking prior to the election of 2010 when I was involved in trying to recruit candidates to run against John Thune. A number of people of leadership talent and accomplishment had been identified.   They all had excellent records of work and achievement which overshadowed Thune's dogged recitation of party-line talking points.  They all shared another common trait, too:  they thought that participating in the kind of campaign that Thune and his manager, Dick Waldhams, conducted was too degrading and damaging to be worth exposing their reputations and their families to it. Their general consensus was that there are issues that need serious, critical examination and solutions, but the personal accusations against the character and integrity of individuals by the likes of John Thune creates divisions within the political constituency that makes it impossible to address the essential issues within it.  The animosities create an impenetrable communication barrier.  It is not possible for voters to suspend hostilities and discuss with any rationality or sound information the problems they perceive in common.  The need to blame and disparage surmounts common interest and informed thought.

Those who we approached as potential candidates all were fully informed about the attack strategy used on Tom Daschle:  citing the focus on his Washington, D.C., home as evidence of choosing an expensive lifestyle and abandoning his South Dakota roots; the attacks on his wife as a trophy beauty queen; citing Daschle's success in Congress as a betrayal of his state; calling into question the patriotism of a veteran by making opposition to war an act of traitorship; in general turning the achievements and integrity of character into insidious betrayals of the people.  

In rejecting the idea of running for office, one of the candidates summarized the situation for all.  It is one thing for political leaders to introduce ideas and engage in debates over issues, but when people have hatefully closed their minds to any substantive considerations in favor of clinging to slanderous hatred, running for public office is an act of suicide.  One does not accomplish so that achievements can be dishonored and wasted; one does so to build a life and contribute to the human community.  The toxic politics of today does not tolerate or permit that.  The idea of serving a public that is predominantly concerned with the character assassination of its perceived opponents more than it is in building a tolerant, supportive community is an absurdity.  The current politics of personal destruction and obstinate obstruction has paralyzed America.  

The campaign of Kristi Noem against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin followed the Thune pattern against Daschle.  Noem harped and pounded on Herseth Sandlin for being a submissive and collusive disciple of Nancy Pelosi's, despite the clearly evident fact that Herseth Sandlin was a leader of the Blue Dog faction which openly opposed Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership on many issues.  

The Republican Party carried on a massive campaign to brand Pelosi as an odious, conniving witch.  Making Pelosi the object of revilement and accusations of evil in taking her on as an opponent is part of the Republican playbook that has become a hallmark of its campaigns throughout the nation.  Noem dutifully recited the hate propaganda provided her, but showed no capability at all in debates for having knowledge of or any ability to address substantive issues.  

One of the candidates we approached about running commented on turning down a possible candidacy said, the voters have spoken and they certainly don't want the likes of me.  He also commented that the toxic attitude makes it  impossible for even the most dynamic leader to change their minds.  Only a catastrophe like the Great Depression or a huge natural disaster can register with the voters at this point. Ultimately, the voters get what they want and they choose. 

At the state convention, I had some conversations about those whose absence was notable.  We noted that a number of people who had been strong supporters of progressive politics had left the state, and some who remained clearly had developed interests centered in other places.   When the electorate can no longer tolerate and find ways to accommodate conflicting beliefs and behaviors, fighting for such things becomes pointless and foolish.  So, people move on and establish their lives around more tolerant or compatible circumstances.  That is why immigrants came to America throughout its history. 

The traditional and social media constantly inform us of what our nation has become, and the dissatisfied get the message.  Most are merely controlled by it.  While we argue about education reform and the many legislative efforts to disenfranchise teachers, labor, women, and immigrants of their rights, Congress, the media, the internet display a culture that is shaping the real culture our children are becoming.  The following video of a school bus monitor being abused and degraded by a bunch of middle school children is the ultimate issue of our culture.  What is displayed by these children on the school bus is not what they are learning from school.  It is what they have absorbed from the culture around them.

A good example of where and what teaches children to behave this way comes from American Family Radio, which purports to be a "christian" network.  It is actually a conservative hate propaganda operation that advocates and foments the kind of behavior displayed by the children on the bus.  Last night one of its hosts, Kevin McCulloch, took up the matter of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee voting to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress.  (Like Stephen Colbert we were surprised that they could find someone who already did not hold Congress in contempt.)  McCulloch gave his listeners a version of the basis for the contempt citation which contained absolutely none of the facts that the mainstream media have reported.  His emphasis was that President Obama and Holder are conniving liars. 

In a pointedly racial listing of names he added ranking committee Rep. Elijah Cummings as part of a black triumvirate bent on imposing nefarious and criminal acts on the American people.  He provided his listeners with Cummings' office telephone number no  less than ten times and urged to them call Cummings and demand answers to questions which have no answer because they are based upon the untrue fabrications McCulloch made up to incense his "christian" listeners.

McCulloch and the middle school kids on that bus  represent what America is becoming.  Most progressives choose simply not to get on that bus.  Rather than fight and and get drawn into the degrading and destructive culture designed by the likes of Romney and McCulloch,  the progressives choose to focus on places where a malice-free life is possible.  That includes other places than conservative South Dakota.  And other places where hatred and repression is not the agenda of a major political party.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States