I haven’t spent much time bloviating about the election this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. Early every morning, just after sitting and reading a few Buddhist texts, the next thing I do is look up the polls and the best political analysis I can find (usually on the Washington Post app or RealClearPolitics. I check them repeatedly during the day whenever I can get away to my local hotspot at work. There’s so much information and opinion out there that it hardly seems worth the time to add more to the mix. I suppose you can say that I’m a bit more emotionally detached, but this is a natural function of paying such close attention for so long. Over the past year I’ve been getting together about once a week to watch old episodes of The West Wing. It’s almost amazing how little the basic issues have changed in the decade since these shows were produced. (We are currently on the seventh and last season, just before the debates, so our timing has been perfect.)
I must say that this election is the most interesting I can remember. Two candidates are running who aren’t idiots and who are able to clearly articulate their positions. Both presidential candidates and both parties have become clear expressions of two polarized views of the world. The ferment among the population has been a long time coming. This election could mark a decisive defeat for forces of right wing bigotry and religious intolerance that have tried over the past 30 years to turn the country into a racist colonialist theocracy. Or not. I look forward to this inevitable defeat, which will mark the passing of an aging population of baby boomers who are caught in the passing remnants of idealistic illusions that have clashed since the advent of television and the long slow decline of the American Empire. In the midst of all this dreaming the Republican Party made a deal with forces that promoted the extreme dreamworld of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning In America.” This gave rise to a frightened community who see their rights of racial privilege threatened at every turn and would deny the validity of virtually every progressive change that’s emerged since the end of the Civil War and the ‘Guilded Age’.
The elements that represent the worst of America flocked to the Republican party when the Democrats embraced civil rights in the sixties. What were once solid “Blue” states in the south turned bright red and have remained so ever since. Racism and evangelicalism accompanied by assumptions of white superiority aided by voter suppression became the backbone and the curse of the new “conservatism.” The migration between parties won them several decades worth of electoral power over Democrats who were trying to redefine themselves as the party of diversity rather than the party exclusively of labor in the north and segregation in the south.
For Republicans the cost of their bargain has come due. Through the globalization of electronic communication and the consequent liberalization of culture the base of their party has become narrowly white and is aging. As populations have become more concentrated in urban centers a cultural war is being waged between rural and urban America. Superimposed on this are the contradictions of a heavily subsidized (and mostly white) rural sector that hates government against a concentrated and diverse urban population that in many ways is compelled to find more creative ways to enter the future.
Two very different sets of values have taken over each party and in every successive presidential election this split has become more pronounced. The configuration of both parties has now become all but set in stone. Although many will disagree, I believe that the old colonial values that we inherited from England have come to dominate the south and are backed up, particularly among the poorest and least educated class of whites, by Christian fear mongering. What sometimes appears to be a war of religious values is really a war about race and class that has been raging since our beginnings as a nation. Religion is used as the self-justification for the worst kinds of behavior. On the other hand, An increasingly secular and increasingly diverse and progressive (and young) population has become the base of the Democratic party.
The victory of Obama in 2008, by breaking through the previously impenetrable barrier of race allowed the true underlying issues of class and culture to emerge as the driving themes of today’s politics. For me this election has been extremely encouraging. We are making progress in articulating our vision of the future after years of sliding back into denial of the present.
To those who are lost in the kind of cynicism caused by over-exposure to the mind numbing critiques of the left, particularly over issues of foreign policy, I can only say that I don’t believe for a minute “both parties are the same.” The difference, even in foreign policy, is clearly put forth in the rhetoric of the presidential candidates. Mitt Romney forthrightly represents the old colonial assumptions of white supremacy and the just rule of financial elites. Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which has been criticized for being too reactive (rather than pro-active) consistently emphasizes themes of cultural diversity and cooperation and are never mired in the rhetoric of religious and racial bigotry. It’s true, I will concede, that both candidates and both parties support the continued strength and overwhelming superiority of the American military. Both will do what it takes to keep the lights on. Both will use drones (or whatever means necessary) in wars against foreign enemies (with consequential collateral damage to civilians). I do believe, however, that the switch from a rhetoric of domination to the rhetoric of cooperation and defense is more than just a change in vocabulary. It indicates an important step toward new approaches in a world that faces enormous changes where cooperation is the only path that can take us beyond disaster.
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Sites of interest:
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“If you want to find pure gold, you must see it through fire.” – Mumonkan