Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Path Forward: Ideology, Philosophy or Revenge?

Taking the philosophy of America to the Revival Tent. 67

It was so nice for your wife’s uncle to offer to look after the kids for the weekend, but the scene on Sunday evening when you return is not quite what you expected. The house has been stripped of everything that could be taken. The family dog, hungry and forlorn, is loose in the alley, staring hopefully at the next door trash can. The children, also hungry and frightened, have locked themselves in the upstairs closet with their empty, terrified faces and a few suspicious bruises. Your horrified neighbors are watching your fence as they finish cleaning their shot guns.

It’s clear that Uncle Harry has already stolen everything that wasn’t bolted down. If our unhappy analogy is about George W. Bush and his government, these last few weeks will see Uncle Harry returning one last time with his wrenches to loot anything he’s missed in his previous larceny.

So, where do we go from here?

Bill Clinton decided soon after his inauguration to let “bygones be bygones” for the good of the nation. The outrages on the dock then were exponentially less then George Bush’s, that is, comfortably survivable. As the new President, Bill Clinton enjoyed many positive alternatives made possible by a damaged but recoverable economy and world image.

Our situation now is a bit different. The outrages of the last eight years have left us dazed, desperate beggars staggering out of a dismal Third World land fill. Of course, fleeting verses from the third act of Les Miserable inhabit the thoughts of those of us old enough to remember when things were not so bad. There is an unsettling appetite for something similar to the uncivilized but highly defining demise of someone such as Romania’s Ceausescu where political grievances were suddenly and violently settled with some grisly, East European style street justice.

So long as the news cameras avoided the details, no one was particularly shocked, given the autocrat’s checkered history of rule. It was an ideological correction cycle. You know, something akin to the “correction cycle” currently afoot in housing prices or something.

What choices do we have?

Ideology has been relegated to a bad definition. Nonetheless, there is an American ideology. For convenience here, let’s call it simply a fluid, cultural pragmatism. Aside from a few embarrassing incidences of Civil War, violent labor suppression and internecine combat to perpetuate the imposition of racial inequality, our national history has been a reassuring stream of “walking away” from our momentarily lapses of civility in favor of some “bright shiny object,” a promise of more prosperous and beneficial new path. Naturally, there have always been those who remained paralyzed, locked in the recently discarded “old ways,” but their numbers always dwindled as the incentives of the “new way” gradually washed clean all the injuries and insults of the “correction.”

Ideology, when expressed as this sort of pragmatic “ism,” is refreshingly less destructive than other styles where pundits are allowed to define more ideatively directed ideas. Ideas such as Stalinism, Communism, Capitalism, and the like. Pragmatism seems to be a glove that, well, fits almost any hand on any given day.

The majority of the American populous sees no particular benefit in the “Ceausescu Treatment” for George and Laura.

That dismissal leaves two further alternatives, the first of which is philosophy. If there is an American philosophy we might categorize it as something such as “The Rule of Law.” Given the historical blessings of both prosperity and our Constitution (they go together...), the “walking away” idea offers itself only as a brief anomaly. Clinton did it.

The question is, “Does pursuing The Rule of Law do more to rehabilitate our social culture than a more compassionate (and, possibly, pragmatic) letting bygones be bygones approach?” Obama has made strong commitment to “bringing us together.” Does that mean adopting the “bygones” approach?

At the counter point, are we, as a nation now divided, going to benefit more by the thorough rectifying of all these corruptions through legal action or by our historical path of simply trying to forget, at least for the moment, everything that isn’t helpful to our recovery. Will it be a domestic judicial version of “scorched earth” or some sort of “Marshall Plan?”

Our philosophy, that is, “The Rule of Law,” implies that we really will have to prosecute all these crimes. Every insult to the Constitution and the Statute of America’s philosophical fabric might have to be illuminated and adjudicated to materially resurrect the essence of our culture. Are we even passively interested in living with such a dangerous example of lawlessness for the sake of national reconciliation? Are we interested in simply embedding such a nasty thing in our history, then bravely turning our ideologically pragmatic faces toward better days?

Are we willing to let these cheap, cowardly hoodlums redefine our nation for all perpetuity? Are we willing to allow the idea that “anything goes so long as you get back to Texas before the blood starts running” become, somehow, acceptable? Will something like this ever be an honorable legacy to leave in place as a possible ambitious temptation for some future American government?

“We can win the election, then loot the treasury just like George W. Bush did in the old days. Only, this time we can do it right. We’ll be rich!”

We don’t put up with car thieves, bank robbers or child abusers running loose in our midst. If we did, we would have to be someone else than who we are if we wanted to make sense out of such a changed cultural philosophy. Simply forgiving criminals such as these and going forward is not consistent with the system we have selected for our society.

Honest, impartial, judicious, judicial, Constitutional American justice has always been the philosophical foundation of our culture. That’s what “The Rule of Law” means. President Obama, among many other things, will reinstate the Justice Department. In January, someone will become the Attorney General, take the oath. Should that person’s first order of business be to “forgive and forget?”

Finally, there is vengeance. Even if neo-con criminals don’t find themselves running cold in the dawn, trying to escape mobs of hungry, bankrupt citizens, this vengeance idea can still find its way into the legislature, military procurement contracts, base closures, new schools and the like.

Believe me, there are liberal equivalents to the outrages of Republican hubris entirely ready to exact every form of “get even” on those swayed to crime by the excesses of the past. Retribution can hardly be considered the herald of the coming good. Our work as good citizens will, indeed include suffering through the reconstruction of what’s left. After all, we will have to pay for all the rebuilding after the looting.

However, Barrack Obama has asked us to give more than money to this repair program. Our patriotism will demand more than placid coexistence with our previous tormentors. They have demonstrated little interest in reconciliation with all their childish tantrums designed to sabotage the new government, but that fact only means that we on the winning side will have to be even more determined to embrace and comfort these now forlorn, defeated fellow citizens.

This means that we will need to find the essential Americanism in ourselves rather than demanding that they find it in themselves. We will need to feed them, comfort their false, hysterical fears and slowly reassure them that we are committed to healing the wounds.

Then, we have to go to work healing them.

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