Enough Political Reality TV: Time to tune in to the planet

I tuned into the Democratic National Convention (DNC), thinking I’d catch a few minutes of the action before going to bed, and I was quickly entranced by the spectacle.

This, of course, is what political conventions are all about.  They’re a great primetime opportunity to dazzle the video-feed audience, and energize the base.

Deval Patrick

I enjoyed watching Deval Patrick, governor of my home state of Massachusetts, give a moving speech focusing on the right of all children to a good education.

I loved meeting a rising political star, Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, Texas, who was winningly introduced by his identical twin brother, state Representative Joachin Castro, currently running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Castro brothers are handsome, talented, and are buoyed by a classic American success story, coming from a poor background, working hard in school, winning scholarships to Stanford and Harvard Law, and moving on and up into politics.

Julian and Joaquin Castro

Who wouldn’t be charmed?

Michelle Obama

And then there was the woman we were all waiting for, First Lady Michelle Obama, looking tall, muscular, vigorous—and very beautiful.

Mrs. Obama was introduced not by a politico, but by an “ordinary woman,” a military mom with four sons serving in four different branches of the U.S. military, and a fifth still in high school, bound for the U.S. Coast Guard.  It was moving to hear her tell of how she had written to Michelle and been invited with her husband to the White House, to receive the Obamas’ thanks for the service their family provides to our country.

And it was moving to hear Michelle roll out the by-now familiar story of her humble family background, and how her parents’ hard work enabled her and her brother to go to college and on to graduate school, where she met Barack—himself a scholarship boy who chose to work as a community organizer in Chicago rather than take a high-paying job as a corporate lawyer in New York right out of law school.

Who wouldn’t enjoy hearing Michelle praise her husband as a father, a partner, and a dedicated professional, who truly cares about his country and ran for office not for the glory but because he believed he could make a positive difference?

I came away from the couple of hours of speeches with just the feel-good sensation the scriptwriters had worked so hard to achieve.

But that’s the problem.  It all felt too scripted.  Too perfect.  Too much like entertainment—maybe some kind of weird political reality TV show.

I didn’t watch the Republican National Convention, so I can’t compare and contrast the two, but from all I’ve read about it, it was more or less the same in form, if not in content.

The DNC emphasized the multicultural, hardworking, can-do ethos of the 99%, while the RNC emphasized the white-skinned, inherited-wealth, party-animal ethos of the 1%.

If those are my choices, I clearly belong with the Democrats.

But I can’t help but wonder what I’d see if the Green Party were able to have a  primetime convention opportunity like this.

Of course, the Greens probably wouldn’t even want to put on a big expensive consumerist circus typical of our American political conventions, so wasteful of energy and resources.

Stein and Honkala

Looking at the Green Party platform of Presidential hopeful Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala, it’s clear that  the Green Party would not just talk about personal rags-to-riches stories of success, but about the structural barriers that keep the 99%–or at least, let’s say, the bottom 50% of our population—locked in generational cycles of poverty and unfulfilled promise.

They would not just repeat the monotonous mantra of jobs creation, but would talk about the most daunting issues facing us today.

The tsunami of climate change that is like the elephant in the room of American politics.

What good will a better K-12 education or the promise of a job be if our climate becomes so compromised that food shortages become rampant?

I want to hear a politician talk candidly about the stranglehold that the chemical companies and the fossil fuel industry currently has on our children’s future on this planet.

I want to hear a politician who is not afraid to talk about the effects we can expect from the rapid melting of the ice packs at the poles.

A politician who is committed to building local resiliency, rather than continuing the death march down the road to globalization, which benefits only the corporate elite and the finance wizards who serve them.

Is Jill Stein that politician?

I wish I knew.  The problem is that I have to work pretty hard to find out what she’s all about.  And that makes me worry that she, and the party behind her, just don’t have the strength to compete in our political gladiators’ ring.

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that we are not going to find a political messiah who can part the seas and lead us to safety.

No one person, or even one party, can do that.

We individuals have to assume responsibility for our collective, interdependent future, and begin working harder in our own spheres, where we can have the most impact.

It matters who sits in the White House.  I believe the Obamas should get another four years, and hopefully a saner Congress to work with as well.

But it matters just as much what we do in our own states, cities and towns, with or without federal aid.

Mayor Castro and the Governor Patrick and Michelle Obama have been remarkable for working hard to make a difference at the local level.

Thanks to Michelle’s efforts, my son now has a mandated healthier lunch, with no sugary drinks or white bread allowed.

Governor Patrick continues to stand by our Massachusetts state health care program, one of the best in the nation (instituted under Mitt Romney, who now, to please his billionaire buddies, disavows it).

Massachusetts is working on alternative energy sources like wind and solar, with incentives for local municipalities and individuals to convert.

We need to continue to build community resilience and mutual support as we move into the brave new world that awaits us.

It is the only way we are going to make it through the coming climate-driven catastrophes.

We’ve got two more nights of DNC speeches ahead.  Is anyone going to acknowledge the climate elephant in the room, move us out of the polished entertainment arena and speak frankly to us about what’s ahead, and how to pull together to get through it?

Swept Away

There are times when I wish I had the skills to be a political cartoonist, and this is one of those times.

I am imagining a huge hurricane bearing down on the huddles of Republicans and Democrats, each hunched in conspiratorial circles around their own little campfires, plotting away about TV ads and televised speeches, while the lightening sears the electrical grid, huge ships get washed up on the streets of coastal cities, and homes are blasted and flattened. Those crazy strategists don’t even look up until the pouring rain puts out their fire, and by then the storm is on them and it’s too late to run and there’s nowhere to hide.

Reading the latest political blog from The New York Times “Caucus” column makes me feel sick.

Here comes a storm that may cost lives and billions in property damage, and all the brightest minds in Washington DC can think about is how best to play it politically?

If that is the way all threats to our wellbeing are treated by our politicians, it is no wonder that we’re in such trouble today.

I expect better from the Democrats, but as so many of my readers have insisted vociferously lately, maybe I need to take off my rose-colored glasses and see my party for what it is.

Just another political party whose main goal and raison d’etre is simply Power.  Politicians who try to play by more humanitarian rules don’t seem to get too far in Washington.  Once they get into the clutches of the political strategists, their lives and minds are not their own.

There must be another way.

I can take off my rose-colored glasses as regards what we have now, the players currently on the ground.  But I refuse to let go of my hope that the system can be better.

True, the Marxist experiment has not worked, and nothing has come along to offer another vision of a more ideal socio-political-economic system.

But there are some interesting ideas brewing on the margins now.  The Living Economies movement, the Green Party agenda, the whole ethos of sustainability as opposed to limitless growth.

Maybe the real end to that cartoon strip I’m imagining is what happens the day after the storm.

The Republicans and Democrats are standing on soapboxes making speeches about how much they care about the damage, but no one is listening to them. People are going about the business of clean-up with determination and good cheer, and it’s quite clear that they have no use at all for the out-of-touch pols.

Yes, those elected officials do control the purse strings of “disaster relief.”   But that’s our money they’re parsing out!  Our tax dollars, far too much of which goes to blowing things up in the military, rather than in constructing a solid, sustainable economy.

The question I am mulling over this morning is, what will it take to achieve fundamental political changes in our country?   Can we do it by reform, or is it going to take all out revolution?

Or will Mother Earth do it for us, sweeping it all away to make way for a new epoch?

Sweet stirrings of a new world: fringe politics overturning the barricades

The venerable social critic Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker contrasts the Tea Party with the Occupy movement in this week’s magazine, and finds the Occupy movement lacking in precisely what has made the Tea Party so strong: a willingness to get involved in (and take money from) the established American political parties.

“Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are both protest movements, not interest groups,” Hertzberg says, “and while both are wary, or claim to be, of established political figures and organizations, each welcomes their praise, if not their direction. Both have already earned places in the long, raucous history of American populism. But only one, so far, has earned a place in the history of American government.”

Are we supposed to be proud that the Tea Party has “earned” an infamous place as the launching pad for the new cadre of rightwing Republican zealots who have spent their time in Congress obstinately shooting down and stampeding every effort by President Obama and the Democrats to steer this nation towards a more compassionate and forward-looking political stance?

In its few years of existence, the Tea Party has happily wormed its way into the main arteries of American political power.  Hertzberg offers an apt metaphor of this tea as a new wonder drug, “injected into the scarred veins” of the GOP, which has quickly become addicted to this mainlined source of entranced, stupified frenzy.

“Now the Democrats are hoping the drug might be available as a generic,” Hertzberg continues, eying the Occupy movement as a way to enliven its own moribund political base.

I firmly hope that the Occupy movement does not allow itself to be used in this way by the political establishment, and I think it’s a reasonable, if remarkable, hope.

Remarkable because for so long Americans have been asleep, indifferent or unaware of what Hertzberg calls “the astounding growth of what can fairly be called plutocracy.”

Why it took so long for the sleeping giant of American popular opinion to wake up is a question for historians of the turn of the 21st century to ponder.

Why is it that Americans have been voting against their own class interests so long?  Why is the persistent myth of American equality, liberty and justice for all so teflon-coated?

We all want to believe that our country represents the moral high ground in the world, and that our leaders in government are as invested in upholding our idealism as we are.

Our public education system, which is responsible for the education of a great portion of the 99%, aids and abets this self-delusion by giving students the most doctrinaire and uncritical version of American history and civics, and teaching docility and proficiency at standardized testing above all.

Our media doesn’t help much; with the exception of a few poorly funded but stalwart independent outlets, the vast social landscape of contemporary media is focused at best on distraction, and very often on outright deception.

Under the pressures of this kind of social conditioning, it’s remarkable that the young idealists in the Occupy movement have had such success in galvanizing the country to wake up, shake ourselves, and stare around us with new eyes.

Hertzberg obviously intends his column as a signpost for the Occupy movement, pointing towards Washington D.C. as a more important battleground than Wall Street.  “Ultimately, inevitably, the route to real change has to run through politics,” he concludes; “the politics of America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system, the only one we have.”

Here is a glaring example of the kind of civics mis-education that has made our country so hard to reform over the years.

Who says our political system is limited to two parties?  Or at least, to the two parties we have now?

The Republicans and the Democrats have shown themselves to be chronically unable to lead this country out of the morass of special interests and ruthless corporate-driven capitalism that has bulldozed right over our cherished ideals of equality, not to mention the sacred ecological web that forms the real foundation of all our wealth and prosperity.

The Occupy movements are showing their intelligence in shying away from engagement with the established political system.  If anything, their political allies are more likely to be found in those perennial political organizations that have always camped out on the fringes of our electoral parks: the Green Parties or the Rainbow Coalitions.

Remember Ralph Nader, for example?  Remember how Big Media colluded with the established parties in denying so-called “outside” candidates a seat at the table at the televised Presidential debates?

This year the Ralph Naders of the political world have suddenly swelled their ranks dramatically, but without the figurehead of a single leader at the head of the crowd.  As Nader knows only too well, one man at the head of a true opposition movement is open to all the slings and arrows that the establishment can muster.  Even Gore and Kerry have felt the force of the muddy vomit pitched their way out of the far-right Republican swampland.

Far better for the Occupy movements to stay plural and collective, strong in the anonymity of the multitudes.  Those of us who are serious about doing more than simply rearranging the deck chairs on the great hulking Titanic of American politics realize that “America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system” is exactly what has to go.

OK, Hendrik, it may be the only one we HAVE HAD, but now the veil has been torn down, the people are awake, and we realize that another world is possible.  As Arundhati Roy famously put it, “on a clear day, I can hear her breathing.”

That clear day has dawned.

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