Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Don't Like the Democrats Either

"Then why," you may ask, "do you seem to always pick on the Republicans?"

That's a valid question, and I think the reason is simple and obvious. If you want to skip down to the bottom and see what it is without bothering with all of my blathering on and self-justification, go ahead. But, if you really want to know why, I will tell you what I know.

I know that the Democratic party is, as a rule, a loosely related raggle-taggle group of frustrated progressives, corporate glad-handers, smarmy con artists, deluded ex-hippies, and (occasionally) well-meaning people who are trying to fix problems using the government as a tool to do so. The most visible and successful of them tend to become vaguely (but not provably) corrupt and disconnected from whatever movement launched their career in the first place. It is this, and the smug condescension that they exude when they contrast themselves with challengers, that annoys me, and that is the most often cited criticism of Democrats that I hear from their opponents.

In fact, the one thing I most often hear as criticism of any given Democrat is that they "are smug elitists who think they are better and smarter than anyone else." The other favorite old trope to drag out is that the "love to spend money", or to put it into modern mis-speech, "they're socialists". (They're not, for the most part... but that's not to say that there isn't a separate and distinct socialist movement out there.)

When I think about individual Democrats - like John Kerry, Howard Dean, the Clintons - I see those traits that I don't like: unprincipled, pandering, unreliable, and generally... well, "political", in the sense that they are more interested in manipulating the vote count than in making sensible policy (a whole essay in itself, and a very boring one). In fact, until Barack Obama came along and began saying the things about our government that I have been thinking for years and years, there wasn't a single visible Democrat that I could point to and identify with.

Now, I have spoken before about my background as a fundamentalist conservative kid, growing up in the Reagan era, and how I outgrew a lot of the ideas that many people today are embracing and plastering on Tea Party posters at astro-turfed rallies. There were a lot of stupid ideas out there 20+ years ago, and as I grew older and became a voter, I realized that I didn't want to simply flip-flop out of a frying pan of stupid ideas and into a sterno can full of other stupid ideas. What I began looking for was Something Better, and it's really hard to figure out what that is, especially when the only two parties with any realistic shot at winning elections are furiously spinning every fact, report, or incident to their favor.

So why do I seem to pick on the Republicans? I suppose you could call it disappointment. The Democrats are easy to paint as awful people - many of them ARE awful people - and it should be easy to "be better" than any given Democrat candidate. What I see from the Republican party (and many of their supposedly "independent" supporters) is not "better" by any stretch.

Where it is so easy to point out the "mote in the eye" of the Democrats, the GOP has had a seriously difficult time removing the "log" in their own. They have labored to appeal to the worst in us to achieve their goals, taking the cruelest, stupidest, most self-destructive positions on every issue they can find, and they've almost made it a part of their brand to take positions that go against their own stated principles.

My own pet issues of energy independence from oil and reducing defense spending through reform of our horribly broken contract/acquisition system would seem to be easy conservative Wins. Conservative voices could completely disarm their Democrat opponents by taking up against the behemoth Military Industrial Complex, as Republican President Eisenhower cautioned; instead they have focused on attacking "entitlement" spending (while at the same time defending Medicare from any cuts) and defending nation building as if it were a national sport. And conservatism is all about "sustainability", and yet it is rare to find a Republican willing to suggest that the world's supply of oil is something we are far too addicted to (or to recognize that the billions of dollars in oil subsidies we pay should be rethought).

But rather than face any real issues, or take on any real governing tasks, the GOP strategy has been to throw mud - not just at Democrats, but at anyone who isn't "Republican enough". It wouldn't be so easy to pick on them all the time if there weren't always another over-hyped, pathos-laden slander scandal blowing up somewhere. Stuff that wouldn't have been news if reputable reporting were a standard any more is spewed out on one side, and carefully picked through by the other while the rest of us scratch our heads and wonder "why does it feel like the Government doesn't get anything getting done?"

And that's the beauty of the GOP strategy; they want to prove the point that Government is "bad" - ineffective, inefficient, and onerous. All they have to do is constantly. Slow. It. Down. And they win.

That's also what makes me angry. Because as crappy and flaccid as Democrat-led government seems to be, it is better than the alternative that the GOP offers. I don't like anarchy, and I outgrew the stark, nihilistic objectivism of Libertarianism not too long after I outgrew the sour, acidic version of Christianity that ties itself to the conservative agenda. The party that claims the patriotism title ought not to be seeking to destroy the nation; the party that claims to fight for fiscal responsibility ought not slave itself to the broken defense system or whore itself to oil and coal industries. The party that claims to be on God's side in the trumped up Culture Wars ought not to be selling out the two things that Jesus taught (love thy neighbor and thy God) for political clout.

Most vexing to me is that people I know - my friends and family; people I love - buy into all of this, and come to the conclusion that because I disagree with them, or because I criticize their mistaken beliefs that I somehow "hate" them. The GOP has loaded their rhetoric with so much fear, loathing, bile, and ignorance that it has tainted everyone with this general feeling of weary suspicion. And so it is usually their crap that I see floating through my Facebook feed or RSS reader that I feel I need to address. I can't let it go and imply that I approve or agree with it; and either no one wants to talk about it (which fosters more suspicion) or they jump to a heated defense.

So that's why: the Democrats may be annoying and uninspired, but they don't claim to be much more than that in the first place. The Republicans claim to be a sensible alternative, but behave like spoiled, crazy children and poison the whole environment - literally and figuratively. I want something better, and they keep digging up the worst.

Now, will you please stop calling me a "liberal" and wasting my time by crying about how offended you are that I criticized your stupid, bigoted Tea Party opinions, and start finding some third party alternatives with actual sense?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Duty to Each Other

Major Paul Carron has died in Afghanistan.

I did not know him, but his letter to the editor of the Washington Times (published March, 2006) spoke of the bravery and courage of the young men and women who serve in our military, and it has made him something of a celebrity among veterans. It was written in response to criticisms of our troops, characterizing them as young people without the skills or talent to do anything else; his defense of the sacrifices that these people make is an eloquent statement of a Great Truth about our military.

The context which prompted him to write that letter was a disconnect between what he saw on the battlefield and what people back in the States see in our schools and on our streets. He writes of that Great Truth of our military, which is that our all-volunteer force is made up of people who have offered up their lives in order to do whatever the rest of us have asked them to do - through our duly elected government, of course - forfeiting much of their claim to the everyday conveniences that we take for granted.

I would go farther and say that our military members give up far more than that - they give up more than their own lives. They give up "normal" family life, or any hope of great financial reward, and they submit themselves and their loved ones to exactly the kind of top-down social bureaucracy that many of them believe they are fighting against. The Great Truth that Major Carron wrote about is that the act of joining and serving our military is a transformative act; everyone who decides to serve, no matter what their skills or opportunities were on the outside, must give up the same things and accept the same responsibility to the country, and that means that we all owe them a measure of respect regardless of what they were before they made that choice.

There is something else that we owe them, as well. While not everyone is able to make that same sacrifice, everyone one of us has a duty to ensure that our military is not asked to do things that betray our values. If we are going to separate them from their families and send them into places where the people they are trying to help want to kill them, we need to be absolutely certain that we understand what their mission is, and that our representatives in government are making the decision to use our forces to accomplish that mission only after everything else has been tried.

I don't believe we have done that.

This is not about whether war is right or wrong; this is about whether we have done everything we can do to honor the sacrifices of our veterans. This is about whether you, as a voter, have bothered to find out whether the bills our Congress passes pay for armor or to treat those injured in our adventures. This is about whether you bother to seek out the news of the wars we are in, or simply switch over to a "reality" show and complain the next day about the lack of coverage.

This is about whether you are fulfilling YOUR duty to our servicemembers. That may mean disagreeing with some of them; many of them gain a lot of wisdom in their service, but none of them are perfect. But what makes them heroic and honorable is that they fulfill their commitments. You have commitments, too, and one of them is to stay informed and use your voice to keep this country on track.

I have seen a lot of polls and a lot of articles lately, decrying America's "direction". I have seen a lot of anger directed at our elected officials. Some of them deserve it, others are doing the best they can. But they are all a reflection of us. When I look at how messed up Congress is, and how ignorant many of our representatives are, I am looking into a mirror; and so are you.

Major Carron has died in Afghanistan. He was doing what he thought was right, and carrying out our orders. What orders did you give him? And what will you decide to do next?

And who will your decision honor?