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Thoughts Regarding "The Great Decider"

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The political scientist Karl Deutsch defined power as "the ability to talk instead of listen."

The term "Dictator" derives from the Latin for "to say," which connects with the idea that a ruler is a Dictator if he insists on doing all the talking, compelling everyone else to "take dictation."

In America, the Constitution confers powers which allow the holders of office to "talk instead of listen." But as our system is not supposed to be a dictatorship --it being one in which the "just powers" of government derive "from the consent of the governed"-- our rulers are supposed to listen as well as talk.

But we have just witnessed a remarkable moment in American history-- remarkable precisely for the refusal of power to listen. Our president --who has declared himself The Decider-- has chosen to ignore the message delivered by the electorate in November, and reinforced by a blue-ribbon bi-partisan commission a few weeks later. And he he continues to insist on his right to do the talking and to compel all others to listen.

What makes this especially remarkable is that this president has so little legitimate basis for imagining what he has to say to be superior to the input he's ignoring from others. Karl Deutsch also defined power as "the priority of output over input," and it would seem that for this president, one of the chief values of power is the ability to avoid input. One can only imagine what kinds of input he experienced in his formative years to lead to his placing such a huge priority on that avoidance.

This most recent remarkable refusal to listen is only a more dramatic piece in a larger pattern. Throughout this presidency, George W. Bush and his inner circle have been notable for their lack of true consultation or collaboration, i.e. for those processes that involve serious and respectful listening.

America's traditional friends and allies have complained from near the very beginning of this administration that they've been dictated to rather than consulted.

And from the Republicans in Congress it is now coming out more and more that, even as the congressional Republicans rubber-stamped and walked in lock-step with administration policies, the relationship was not a reciprocal one: the administration talked, and insisted that their congressional allies (or perhaps lackeys would be the better word) listen and obey.

For a president to see himself as The Decider implies that he does not seem himself as the one who solicits and evokes and integrates the collective wisdom. It is power as a one-way street: I move you, but I remain unmoved.

And as for the opposition, the approach of this administration has always been more to vanquish and humiliate opponents through the raw exercise of their power than to seek an accommodation through give and talk, through the talk-and-listen of negotiation, through compromise. That's certainly true of the Bushite way of dealing with the Democrats. And of course it has also been true of its dealings with adversaries elsewhere in the world, as the administration had to be dragged reluctantly into any sort of discussion with the North Koreans, and continues to refuse to deal directly with the Syrians or the Iranians.

It is probably a healthy sign for the American body politic, that the president's self-description as The Decider has begun to be noted as a significant indicator of the nature of the spirit with which G.W. Bush wields power. The Decider, after all, means very much the same as Dictator: the one who talks, while others are compelled to listen.

And so it is no coincidence that being the Decider fits into a still larger pattern-- of violation of the rights of others, of violation of the Constitution and of the laws of the United States, of a refusal to listen to the sacred rules of the game of power in the United States.

If we had an artist like Charlie Chaplin at work today, perhaps he could create a comic portrayal like the one that Chaplin made in his film THE GREAT DICTATOR. But for now, we have no comedy, THE GREAT DECIDER, and the the real-life version remains no laughing matter.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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