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[Politics] The Death of Idealism

I killed my last 'politics' tagged post. Really, I hate arguments. And I hate that every time I open my mouth to comment on current events, it seems to turn into an argument instead of the debates I used to value. To begin with, this whole wiretapping thing really sets me on edge, so I'm a bit more confrontational than usual. But really, the core of it is that talking about politics is much like touching a raw nerve with me. There's a pain there, in terms of my perceptions of politics, that still hasn't healed and -- at this rate -- may well never heal.

What do I mean? I'll try to explain. Now, keep in mind this is all subjective; it is merely how I feel about present-day politics.

I mean, the court released papers showing they were turning down Bush's wiretap requests because the requests were being based on demonstrably false evidence. And so rather than improving the intelligence gathering, ensuring that the requests brought to the court were, like, actually based on reality, Bush did an end-run around the court entirely, removing any check on this. Given that, what's to stop him from, say, deciding to bug the offices of political opponents in hopes of getting blackmail material? (After all, we all know that a blow-job is an impeaching-worthy offense!)

Maybe this one thing alone wouldn't bother me as much, but I happen to believe a lot of what made America special was that, for all its flaws (and believe me, there are plenty, regardless of the party leading the administration), there was a document that we all, on both sides of the aisle, believed in. Or more accurately, there was an ideal we could all agree on: the belief that everyone had certain inalienable rights.

Those ideals, and the document that codified them, were the envy of many other nations. And now, in the name of 'protecting us,' those ideals are being forgotten and the document in question spat upon.

And maybe I'm naive for ever believing that any politician actually honored that document or those ideals. Maybe I'm naive for still wanting to believe, or for looking for signs that people /do/ still believe in those ideals. But it is blatantly obvious that this administration and many of their supporters do not -- hence talk-show hosts referring to liberals as 'constitution huggers,' or referring to the thing as 'just a god-damned piece of paper' -- and that makes me both incredibly depressed and incredibly angry.

And I could talk about my own ideals and political beliefs. I don't vote the party line; I vote individual candidates, and my ballots tend to be scattered among Democrat, Republican and even Libertarian, depending on who I think is best for the job. This past election, I will admit I voted for the Republican candidate for Attorney General in our state, because I felt the Democratic incumbent was completely out of control.

But that doesn't matter. The party affiliations never used to be important to me, really, because in the end the uniting factor of all the candidates was those ideals we all shared. They might disagree on how best to preserve and uphold those ideals, but the ideals themselves were shared among all.

Or at least, I had faith that they were.

And that faith has been taken from me. I no longer have that belief in politicians in general. And while I feel I cannot trust this administration because they do not believe in those ideals or rights, I admit that I am particularly angry -- even venomously so -- because they are the ones who killed that idealism and that belief in our political system, with the Patriot Act and lying and using facist 'crowd-control' methods (yes, I really do mean it -- the whole "if you question us, you help the terrorists win" thing). I hate that this whole thing has turned into an 'us versus them,' where I'm under pressure to vote the party rather than the candidate, because political contests have turned into an either-or situation like playground contests: either you're with us, or you're against us.

And that's not the way it should be. Maybe it's the way it always was, and my idealistic belief in a greater whole was misplaced. But it doesn't feel that way. It feels like, despite the scuffs and dents, the system worked the way I wanted to believe it did... and now it doesn't.

Hopefully that helps put down more clearly where I stand, and why I hurt. And hopefully it does so less confrontationally than my previous political posts have been taken.

That's really all I have to say on the topic: it's all I CAN say on the topic.


As the saying goes, "You can please all of the people some of the time, or you can please some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." There's nothing like politics to ignite a fervent passion among people - and usually those same people are the most vocal about their feelings. It's why I don't bother to talk politics, and in fact forbid it in my house - it's one thing for people to voice their opinion and discuss, but it's entirely another for people to take on a heated, argumentive "My opinion/way is the only right way". Which, unfortunately, is the course my family seems to take. And if someone can't discuss their opinions with me in a respectful way, I'm not interested in them shoving them in my face with an attitude.

As far as the current situation goes.. it'll blow over. Some things will change, some things will remain the same, and a lot of lessons will be learned. Life will continue to go on as will the judicial and government systems. We simply come out the better for it most of the time, thankfully.
I didn't see what your previous post's comments section devolved into but my goodness, the post itself certainly didn't seem confrontational to me. I wouldn't worry. And I wouldn't let such things stop you from making such posts. If people disagree with something you say they will use all kinds of means to shut you up. If you can find it, I recommend a book called "Avoiding Politics" by Nina Eliasoph that examines some of the ways we do and don't talk about politics in our country. One thing you'll learn is to recognize some of the ways people try to shut off political debate... and while the book doesn't go into this it also provides food for thought as to the reasons for that.

I have talked to a /lot/ of people in a very similar situation to you, who for various reasons have lost all faith and confidence in politicians and in our government. I will say this. To tar all politicians with the same brush is as unfair a generalization as any; there are decent men and women out there who serve us honorably in this role. And then there are asses who are basically just full of themselves. I've known both types.

There is one thing that you can do to counter this hurt and to help take control of your own destiny... and your country's. And that is to become an activist. What this requires is, first and foremost, a belief in your own power to change your world. If you don't believe in this just think about the last time you had a conversation with someone who made a point you hadn't thought of or gave you information you hadn't known before, that changed your view about something. If it was a good and interesting point you probably repeated it to someone else later. And then they passed it on. These things really do matter, and having a friend or relative or neighbor who makes a good case for voting a certain way has a much more powerful effect on any voter than a TV commercial or a phone call from a stranger. Your action will give you AND your neighbors renewed courage.

Now there are choices as to what kind of activist you might be. You could be an issue activist: civil liberties? women's rights? Or you could be a party activist. Don't let anyone tell you that the one choice is more moral or right than the other. They each have a very important role. The party activists have a role in choosing candidates, so they shape what the leadership picture looks like. And then they do the bulk of the work to get them elected.

The reality is that once elected officials are in office, their prime motivator is to stay in office. This is logical; if they don't operate that way, then they will get voted out and lose their power to make a difference for what they believe in. Nevertheless sometimes they are inclined to make compromises their constituents don't want them to. That is where the issue activists come in. They push and fight and scream and make sure that the elected official knows he better deliver on this issue because it's important, people care about it, and it could well hurt him, if he doesn't.

So I hope you will consider this and consider finding the place where your energies can best be put to use... to get back the sort of country and government we always believed in. I feel the same pain you do and for me the choice has been to fight for my country or flee it. My pride will not let me flee. I hope you'll fight with us.
The system can be made to work again. In fact, it is even as we speak. The 2005 elections, in which two major governorships changed hands and a third was made to look the fool, were a harbinger of things to come. The PATRIOT act is on life support (alas, it's not quite dead yet), and there is rebellion afoot amongst the GOP in Congress.

The system is far from dead. We've survived far worse: five years of civil war in which Lincoln made a mockery of the Constitution and freedom of the press was near-nonexistent. I will admit, the Democrats are just as bad as the GOP in fuelling the "us vs. them" fires and refusing to field a candidate that's worth a damn... that's part of why I have no love for either of them. But there are at least a few honorable men and women still out there. And a few is all it takes, really.... to start with.

That and you and I and folks like us pushing from the bottom.

Yes, the current occupant of the Oval Office (doesn't deserve the title) is a right royal bastard and he and his ilk are extremely dangerous to freedom the world over. But we still speak freely, elections can still be made to work, and we will prevail. Folks have prevailed from worse; just ask Vaclav Havel.

As to your immediate problem: Publicly insist on polite debate in whatever fora you participate. When folks cross the line, including ad hominem, kill the post and warn them, and if they continue, they're out, for keeps. It's what I do, and the signal to noise ratio stays pretty high...

The nature of government...

...leads to the state of affairs we have today.

You see, the whole point of government is to intercede when the natural rights of individuals come into conflict. The only way that this intercession can be accomplished, though, is to limit the exercise of those rights for one or both parties involved in the conflict.

Our constitution reflects this point of view: The first ten amendments, aka the Bill of Rights, are a set of specific limitations how just how far the government can go in interfering with individuals' exercise of their inherent rights.

It is the nature of government, though, to attract those who wish for the authority to control a given situation. Power does not corrupt; but as Frank Herbert said, power attracts the corruptible. In the effort to manage and solve what they see as societal problems, their tendency is to try to expand their authority into the realm of the perceived problem, and exert control. Eventually, this tendency brings them into conflict with the limits placed on them by the Constitution. So, they either seek to amend it (prohibition, income tax) or try to go around it. When the judiciary is doing its job, and not marching in ideological lockstep with those seeking to expand their powers beyond their proscribed limits, these attempts to go around the limits are met with decisions comparing such attempts to the limits imposed by the supreme law of the land and found wanting, and thus rendered null and void.

But when the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches are all controlled by those sharing a similar ideology, all of the governmental limitations of the Constitution are for naught. The risk is great that the powerful will entrench themselves against attempts to remove them, because any legal avenues of removal must pass through their own influence.

And the risk of revolution is low, if certain tactics are used: make the population just comfortable enough to not be willing to take violent action; take the steps of entrenchment slowly, and subtly; erode the confidence in the constitutional limitations by creating emergencies that call for "extraordinary measures;" and as you've already noted, make sure that all dissent is cast as a threat to national security. For more about this, see the following book excerpt: They Thought They Were Free: Germany 1933-45.
In all things, there is balance. Raging against the temporary will only drain you and leave you without hope. The wiretapping issue is utter bullshit and I hope the fallout deals a blow to the parties responsible for it. But don't be discouraged. The pendulum swings back and forth. Work to maximize the time it spends in the 'good' areas, but don't let the time it spends in the 'bad' crush your faith. That's the only way you let the people responsible for the terror win.