Ask Auntie Pinko
October 22, 2004
By Auntie Pinko
I will be voting (proudly) for John Kerry on November 2nd, and
I truly believe he will start the much-needed (possibly painful)
turn-around that America sorely needs. However, I understand that
this is an incredibly difficult job, and I respect him immensely
for taking on the task. What worries me is that Americans might
see his difficulty in improving situations in Iraq, reducing the
deficit, and improving healthcare as a sign of his incompetence.
I, as a critical thinker (aka liberal) understand that the mess
we are in now (that GWB got us in), will not disappear overnight.
But I am afraid that the rest of the country will blame the Democrats.
How do I handle this?
Thank you for the excellent question! I only wish that I could
give you a magic-bullet answer, in return. But there isn't one.
Just as the GOP blamed Mr. Clinton's Administration for the country's
economic mess, claiming that it started on his watch, and Mr. Clinton's
Administration took all the credit for turning the economy around
and balancing the budget (regardless of economic trends that could
be traced to factors unrelated to their own policies,) whoever loses
this election has a free pass to point the blame finger at whoever
wins, when conditions fail to improve quickly enough to suit them.
That is the nature of politics.
The relationship between policies pursued by any government, and
actual conditions in the world, is tremendously complex. There is
a relationship, certainly, and often an important one. But time
horizons for all of the consequences (intended and unintended) of
policy changes are almost always longer than America's four-year
political cycle. And so many complex variables interact in the real
world, that the establishment of an unambiguous causal relationship
between policies and conditions is dicey, at best.
Often, such relationships can only be perceived in the long run,
sometimes in the very long run. We are only just now, for example,
beginning to appreciate the real value of many of the environmental
protection policies implemented under Mr. Nixon.
In fact, Mr. Nixon's Presidency is a good illustration of just
how complex these things are, and how long are the shadows they
cast. The terrible, perhaps crippling, damage that Mr. Nixon's willingness
to subvert the law and the Constitution for his personal electoral
ambitions, did to America's confidence in our government and its
leaders-how does it weigh in the balance against some of the visionary,
even brilliant, solutions he proposed, encouraged, or permitted
to some of our domestic problems? How does his callous and short-sighted
pragmatism in some foreign policy areas weigh against his truly
inspired leadership in other areas?
Auntie Pinko has formed her own judgment of the value of Mr. Nixon's
Presidency to America, not once but many times. Had you asked me
for my assessment in 1969, 1973, or 1990, you would have gotten
very different answers each time, and all would be different than
the one I would give you today.
On some level, I think, Americans understand this. What we are
really criticizing, when we criticize a President's policies or
actions, is not so much the empirical results of any decision or
initiative, but the quality of his leadership. That is something
that transcends both policy and objective reality. We look at that
leadership through the lens of his values and goals, and how well
he manages to connect them with our own values and goals.
In this sense, the terrible division in our country represents
the greatest challenge for anyone elected to the Presidency. One
measure of his leadership will be how well he manages to transcend
the narrow, self-serving interests of the Washington power structure,
and the lobbyists for moneyed and powerful interests, to reach out
and communicate effectively with all of our own people, and our
neighbors in the world.
It won't be easy, because having half of America at the throats
of the other half creates a tremendous opportunity for the greedy
and powerful, and the greedy would-be powerful, to exploit our differences
for their own benefit. They pour money into media and politics in
order to maintain and increase the conditions that allow them to
prosper. Their goal is to convince all of us that "those other people"
are perfect, two-dimensional bad guys whom we don't have to listen
to, and should work with all our strength to defeat, whether it
is by shutting "the losers" out of the political process altogether;
or by making it impossible for "the winners" to exercise leadership.
In order to succeed in getting us to do this, they have to do two
things: First (and most important,) prevent us from engaging in
any kind of critical thinking. (Making sure children don't learn
critical thinking skills in schools is a great way to start.) Second,
they need to control the flow of information and facts that reach
us, in order to make critical thinking attempts difficult to impossible.
The measure of the success of their efforts, over the past forty
years, is the current polarized and divided state of American public
So Mr. Kerry, if elected, will have to simply endure the consequences
of the cumulative effects of forty years' work, by both conservatives
AND liberals, to unravel the social fabric that enables Americans
to govern ourselves effectively. Auntie Pinko thinks that he'll
do a better job of it than Mr. Bush, but I have no illusions about
how much he can accomplish to halt and reverse it in a mere four
years. Still, from tiny acorns grow mighty oaks, even if our great-grandchildren
are the ones to benefit from the planting.
I'm sorry I couldn't provide a nice, chipper, sound-bite answer
to your excellent and thoughtful question, Anna, but thank you anyway
for asking Auntie Pinko!
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