Are we coming to the logical end of this "American experiment?" I think so. I ran for mayor of a very small town of sixteen hundred and fifty citizens this past spring and have been trying to write something about it for the last six months. I kept composing little poignant vignettes about my walks up and down the streets of Lyndon Johnson's hometown, expounding for votes, pressin' the flesh (this phrase has always sounded slightly erotic or sensual to me; it certainly would have been more fun if it were so, many days it was above 95 degrees). My crisp little campaign vignettes, ripe with hyperbole, dramatic pathos and self-righteous personal introspection, bored and disturbed me. They didn't capture the true essence of what I had gleaned from my experience.
Small towns and cities are where it's at. Countries by their very nature ultimately become dysfunctional. In our case, when you couple large government with unhinged Capitalism and self-interested political parties the outcome is varying degrees of collapse. We are watching the dream and the reality come tumbling down all around us. Without true, powerful commonality of purpose it is not surprising that countries should fail: countries serve too many masters; cities must have enthusiastic firemen and drivable roads. Mayors can claim party and ideological allegiance, however in practice they are apolitical -- as one of my constituents summed it up: "the sh*t must flow." Like it or not -- Mayors are all Liberal to varying degree.
I watched very political, local ideologues blather and spit about this or that during the campaign. They inevitably became marginalized and irrelevant as the election wore on. These interesting and well-spoken conceptualists were very popular and vocal in the beginning because they reflected the larger, National political whirligig. However, once their views concerning local government and its function became widely known, their luster faded -- folks around here want a police force, garbage collection and safe sidewalks, no matter what party they claim.
During my two-month outing I was only confronted once concerning my party affiliation. Early in the process, walking in the more affluent local neighborhood, I was accosted by the owner of, probably, the most expensive home. Upon answering my knock on his door, he immediately barked at me, "What are ya?" I very calmly replied, "Am I what?" He then went into full rant mode about Republicans and Democrats and Commies and Texas. I calmly replied that, at the local level, party affiliation really was irrelevant. He then went on to say that if I wasn't a Republican here in Texas then I was a "Commie." I politely excused myself and went on to the next house. On Election Day I spent the entire day at our local polling place and he never showed up. He obviously didn't feel the need to vote.
It is interesting that the only local citizen that seemed genuinely interested in my party affiliation didn't consider voting important -- but not really. I have spent considerable time down in Mexico over the last forty years, living and traveling. I love the country and its people. The natural environment and the average Mexican are enchanting and lovely. Unfortunately, Mexico is virtually a failed state. Why, because of attitudes similar to my non-voting neighbor's.
Many, many of Mexico's elite live behind high walls topped with broken glass in incredibly opulent homes. They drive their Mercedes and Land Rovers out of enclosed compounds, past destitute beggars, piles of all manner of human waste and through ubiquitous filth laden potholes; all just outside of their beautiful, grand doorways. We are headed in this direction. Wealth and a self absorbed economic worldview, coupled with an almost spiritually selfish social consciousness, destroy the common underpinnings of a workable civil society. Folks in this group will howl over their egocentric view of the condition of things but will not vote or spend to improve the lot of the common man -- however, they will pay him to put more broken glass atop the wall.
Fortunately my neighbor afflicted with Commie paranoia does not reflect the reality of small town politics and administration. People like him, at least from my experience, appear to be small town anomalies. Don't get me wrong -- the vast majority of my neighbors are Conservative and Republican -- this is still Texas. And, if I had declared my true colors I most likely would've been beaten even worse than I was. However, my views on growth and city infrastructure and our City Administrator were more important than my views on abortion, guns or Ayn Rand.
Local voters can, with relative speed, see and feel the results of the votes they cast. They can have a direct, perceptible, influence on the quality of their lives. It is against a small town voter's self interest to vote with ideologues that promote agendas that are attractive and fun at the national level but diminish or limit quality of life locally. Although we do eventually feel the effects of our votes and consequent national policy making, it has become so encumbered, dishonest and complex that it is failing the average American in manifold ways. In my opinion, with a big salute to Rob, the answer to our present, fatally flawed, situation is reinventing our Democracy from the bottom up. We already have the models, forms and paradigms -- American small towns and cities. After all, Democracy was born in a very small city in Greece and survives, intact, in little places like Johnson City, Texas.