This in an article that I wrote around the time of the election. If anyone knows how to change the order of posts, I’d like to file this one under ‘October’ so that the more recent ones will come first. Thanks. 


Laurel Harig

October 2008


America’s Moral Gridlock: We Can Believe In Change But Can We Actually Do It?


In speaking of inertia in America, I’d like to begin with a metaphor. As anyone who has ever tried to kick a habit knows, change is a jump- start process, you connect the wires (also known as connecting the dots), start the engine and then wait for the momentum to kick in. We are still waiting for that reassuring hum here in America, in these final weeks before the election. Besides its implications for war and ever more punitive measures against journalists and citizens detained, it was the language of the recent Bush proposal that set my teeth on edge. Those “gosh darn” terrorists, according to John McCain and Sarah Palin, are “jealous of our freedom.” In the words of rap artist Immortal Technique, “I can’t believe you bought that excuse.” 

Hawkish secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson recently echoed Bush’s call for broader executive powers in light of the economic crisis. Deja vu anyone? Will we keep following the marching bootsteps all the way to the cliff’s edge? Meanwhile, the public continues to be swept along on this carnival ride of electoral politics. The gilded imagery of the princess and the rascal, (The Lady and The Tramp) the underdog with big, floppy ears (Dumbo) and his champion are the things that capture our imagination, regardless of the generally bland and uniform rhetoric of both candidates. 

I have long been interested in political speech, even if my attempts to understand vary mostly between despair and satire (although idealism does make an appearance every now and then). Metaphor and rhetoric manipulated well are the best tools of any political candidate. By adopting the speech of the people, by telling them what they want to hear, the politician has the potential to lead but most often ends up only selling him(her)self and thereby the people whom they purport to represent to the media machine. Ergo, they become victims and champions of the populace’s desire to be uninvolved yet informed. 

A few blocks from where I live, two mega churches loom over the landscape like giant shopping malls. I do not live in Kansas or Missouri, rather very close to Philadelphia. Perhaps the French are right to disdain our politics, as Bill Maher recently remarked on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, America is “a small progressive European minority threatened by hordes of bible- waving creationists.” In taking matters into our own hands, is it also necessary that we join hands with others? Should we take ourselves seriously? Is seriousness necessary and can any real joy be salvaged from this pragmatism and worry? 

In her book The End of America, Naomi Wolf argues that only by reviving a civilian democracy (footsoldiers) can America reverse its slide towards totalitarianism. Her argument is lucid as she exhorts ordinary people, doctors and lawyers, sales clerks and homemakers, to read the news and to create it. Writing op-eds, canvassing, bringing politics to the dinner table, all of these things are needed if we hope to take our government out of the hands of experts and into our own. 

I do not know if America should strive again to be the envy of the world. We must prepare for the unseen. The promise of a better day. “We cannot turn back.” A real concerned citizen could be the next president. “Hold on firmly to that hope.” – Senator Barack Obama. Shifts in society always happen slowly, gradually, and there are many points along the course where we can step in and modify the direction. “The day we stop believing democracy works is the day we lose it.” That bit of wisdom is from Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones. May we heed George Lucas’ advice in order to avoid deepening our catastrophe.