Hilary Clinton made an impressive comeback Tuesday in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary, after her defeat in Iowa to Barack Obama. It now appears likely that either she or Obama will be the Democratic nominee when votes are all counted by Feb. 5’s Super Primary.
Both candidates are running a marathon of hope, with a vision of national unity and a promise of change. We’re hoping, of course, they mean real change. Yet their proposals for change skirt major right-wing roadblocks that obstinately block our progress.
Time for change has come, they both agree. If so, the process of change should start with reform of lobbying and political fund-raising practices. Such reform would be a blow to that right-wing orthodoxy that sanctifies property and capital. A little common sense tells us we’re not going to be united as one nation when managers are making 400 times more than workers, the poor are paying 36 percent interest on credit cards, and the nation’s safety-net hospitals are closing.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau laid down property’s golden rule when he wrote in 1755: “It should be remembered that the foundation of the social compact is property; and its first condition, that every one should be maintained in the peaceful possession of what belongs to him.” America must love Rousseau because, as Gore Vidal noted, we have only one political party and that’s the Property Party.
Let’s rephrase Rousseau’s statement, replacing just three words: “It should be remembered that the foundation of the social compact is the commons; and its first condition, that every one should be maintained in the common possession of what belongs to us all.” That would include our airwaves, national lands, clean air and water, public health, the internet, quality education—and our right to economic justice and to leaders who are free of corruption.
Such a revising of Rousseau would certainly threaten the right-wing establishment, as well as all those people who are eager to use their property to embellish their sense of superiority. What chances have we for national unity when we’re addicted to a grow-or-die economy of big winners and big losers?
The acceptance of a national security state is another right-wing folly blocking real progress. The safety-and-security argument for secretive government is a cover-up of what is mostly an oligarchic money-making operation. Of course, we want to be safe and secure. Yet as we have labored over the last 60 years to become safer, the world has become more dangerous. We have produced an enemy within—the licensed-to-kill, rogue, incompetent CIA. As fear was promoted and greed justified, we created an economy critically dependent on war spending. How can the garden of unity be cultivated in the barren ground of secrecy and militarism?
Our investment in the military pays little in dividends, and the write-offs and write-downs from armament obsolescence and the wear and tear of war explain the homeland’s collapsing social fabric and infrastructure. This wear and tear of war also frays our spiritedness, makes our losses less bearable, and preserves in us the shame of our folly. We don’t want our unity to be the coming together of emotional cripples in a national support group.
We also have to begin to clamber out of the carnivorous jaws of the hyper-individualistic mentality. National unity requires civility, graciousness, and mutual support. What we have instead is mass individualism—as reflected by so many of us starving for fame, fortune, recognition, validation, possessions, salvation, and acceptance—and the accompanying mass suffering.
The mercantile establishment uses the media to promote consumerism, which feeds the individualistic viruses of self-gratification and self-preoccupation. Conveniently for anti-democrats, this perverse social engineering institutes its own divide-and-conquer formula. We’re too scattered in our hunt for validation and bargains to form a collective will or a sense of common interest.
The availability of affordable health-care for all Americans, much higher taxes on the affluent, and stringent environmental protections would represent not just good social policy, but a shift in that me-first mentality. Ideological right-wingers fear that shift because it will expose their small-mindedness and isolate them in it.
If we want to be more united and live more harmoniously, we all have some responsibility to become better people. We say we want national reform, but why shouldn’t personal reform be a prerequisite? How could either Obama or Clinton lead this reformation without millions of us first becoming the embodiment of it? Maybe that’s the true foundation of the social contract, an understanding that it all depends on the quality of our humanity.
We don’t realize (and don’t necessarily want to see) how negative we can be. Apathy and passivity, for instance, are negative. They produce painful feelings of helplessness, indifference, or cynicism. The inability to be satisfied with less materialism is also a negative condition.
To various degrees, most people struggle daily with feelings of being victimized, deprived, rejected, or worthless. People frequently extract all the negative implications from something they see or hear. The consequences affect national policy, such as hostility toward immigration that borders on xenophobia or the conviction that paying more in taxes is a personal loss instead of a collective gain.Chances are better that either Obama or Clinton will be able to achieve real change and real unity if there’s a whirlwind of evolving people behind the one we choose.