There is a lot of talk and a lot of projection about the Founding Fathers. In the eyes of the Tea Party, they were a bunch of gun lovin’ anarchists. In the eyes of many progressives, they were striving toward an egalitarian society. I’ve read a bit about the Founding Fathers. It seems to me that the only things they agreed upon were knee socks and a unanimous hatred of King George.
Not much has changed since the days of the founders. We still don’t agree on much. That’s fine. Disagreement has been part of democracy since the days of Aristotle. In fact, robust debate could be called a necessary part of any participatory electoral system.
It would be nice though, if we could agree on a few rules, so here are my proposed rules for semi-civil disagreement which might even stand a chance of advancing our society:
1. Take a civics class, or if you are having a hard time finding one (not surprising in today’s anti-education climate), buy a School House Rock DVD. Learn the three branches of Government. Learn which one holds the checkbook and is capable of starving even the most progressive of programs. Learn which one holds the power to overturn literally everything the other two branches accomplish. Learn the limits of the Executive Branch. The Constitution might call them “coequal branches of Government,” but soon after the country’s founding, the Supreme Court granted itself superior powers in Marbury v. Madison. Our current corporate political system can be traced directly to the Supreme Court’s decision that money is speech.
2. Vote. Threatening to withhold your vote is both childish and self-defeating. Your vote might be a drop in the bucket, especially in national elections, but all buckets of water are made up of drops. It can be far from a drop in the bucket in local elections.
3. Cynicism isn’t cool. Cynicism is lazy. When you say they are all the same, you are giving them permission to step all over you. Educate yourself. Learn the differences between the candidates. Learn that they do have different agendas. Learn the actual accomplishments. Nothing scares corrupt leaders more than an educated populace.
4. Don’t say you hate politics and in the next breath complain about the economy/roads/schools/immigration, etc. Someone famously said that “Everything is politics.” Politics simply means “of the citizens.” Everything you see, hear, smell, touch and taste involved a political decision somewhere along the line. Saying you don’t like politics is like saying you don’t like breathing.
5. Don’t drop the ball. Okay, you got your guy elected. Do you even know the names of your Congressperson and Senators? Do you know the names of your state and local politicians? You think they don’t matter? The Koch brothers sure seem to think they matter in Wisconsin. When was the last time you decided to bitch somewhere other than your computer? Call and write your Representatives, along with Congress’ leaders. Call and write the President. Call and write your governor. Make some signs and use Facebook to organize rallies.
6. Realize that you aren’t going to get your way all the time. Even in cases where you do get your way, there are bound to be aspects where you disagree. There are 300 million people in this country. Most of them (foolishly, perhaps) consider themselves to be moderate. Moderate voters beget moderate politicians. When multinationals are able to vote with their billions, we are lucky to get anything to the left of Pinochet. If you aren’t familiar with Pinochet, see below.
7. Read something other than blogs. Newspapers still exist, for the moment. Read books. They don’t tend to be as pithy, but you might actually learn something.
8. Choose your debate opponents wisely. Political 180s have the legendary allure of the Loch Ness Monster, and are just as unlikely. Find common ground and debate from there. We all want more, better paying jobs. We just disagree on how we should get there.
9. Stop with the name calling. Calling someone an “Obamabot” or “Teabagger” really doesn’t help you win an argument. It makes you look petulant. If that’s what you are going for, fine. But don’t call yourself a political activist. You are a troll…someone looking for trouble.
10. If you have nothing positive to add to the conversation, such as solutions, STFU! Of course, whiners have a right to whine. We can’t stop you, but those of us who are looking for solutions to a seriously messed up system also have the right to tell you to shut up. In fact, I believe it was in the first draft of the Constitution.
Finally, realize that we are all in the same sinking ship. Some are blaming the gay, Mexican, teacher, poor people. Almost everyone is blaming the guy holding the bucket, even though he’s bailing as fast as he can. Maybe, just maybe, if we all got together, we could steer the ship to land.