Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming of Age: "Growing Up" With Barack

MeanMesa knows that every Inauguration Day includes some form of the promise made in January 2008.  On that wintry day in Washington, the President told us that "I will be President for all Americans -- including the 48% who didn't vote for me."

Of course, our first thought was that the special interests so dear to the hearts of the less-than-loyal opposition would be spared, a few, select oxen would go un-gored and a few ear-marked "Bridges to Nowhere" would still see the concrete dribbling into their foundation forms.  Such ideas arose in us -- that is, in the expectations of voters from both parties -- because our fundamental understanding of a New President pictured, ultimately, a man in charge of where the money would be spent.

It turns out that Barack Obama's ambitions ran a bit deeper, in fact, a few furlongs beyond that overly simplified assessment. Obama very conscientiously embraced some rather more difficult necessities which he correctly surmised as a unavoidable appendages to his chair in the Oval Office.  In addition to all the highly visible challenges with the economy and the disastrous wars in the Middle East, the new President was firmly convinced that the American electorate had grown far too lax to effectively meet what was now facing us.

Obama's new job included a painful rehabilitation of what the Founders had optimistically assumed would be an "educated electorate."  To further complicate matters, the "uneducated electorate" who would comprise the class in this re-development project were fully empowered with ballots.  Whatever tact he might take as he pursued this necessary correction would require a "soft touch" indeed if the preoccupied and distracted "students" were not to simply replace their teacher out of hand for some less demanding choice.

Those "students" had grown quite accustomed and comfortable with being manipulated by those with the ambition to replace the President.  Obama found himself responsible for a nation driven by fear.  Everything from "godless Communists" to the ossified, tedious "death fear franchise" of the religionists now chimed the tune which had replaced the old, more elevated, more legitimate song of national idealism.

Reduced to a faux desperation, the voters would run like lemmings at the latest construction of easily digested threats.  Only the outrages of the autocracy had been a strong enough shock to even consider electing someone like our new "teacher."  Nothing else, it seemed, could have penetrated the hazy cloud of terror so meticulously crafted by those with the dream of riding national division to the seats of power.

Barack would need to reconfigure the electorate in a way which might still serve to save the country.  The "ship of state" can hardly be expected to "weather the storm" with crew and passengers who are driven exclusively by an endless series of false fears, each one designed to exploit another one previously exploited.

Among this repertoire of "newly discovered nightmares," the only faux-nightmare to be avoided, it seems, is that the "storm" the ship is "weathering" originated from precisely the same process and not from the rain and wind of unpredictable squalls, but rather from the ambitions of the least developed among the ship's inhabitants themselves.

A Little History

The story of people on the planet includes plenty of instances where some ancient state was "suddenly" confronted with an adversary from which it had no defense.  The Zulu faced Lord Kitchener's colonial army with spears.  The Eskimos faced the influenza of the Russian sailors without anti-bodies.

In some cases, those so challenged rose to the "terror of the moment," reconfigured themselves and prevailed.  In other instances, the rout was complete, a pogrom not the result of a lack of bravery or commitment, but more conveniently defined as an "unfortunate clash" between two worlds.

Barack Obama encountered his own, contemporary version of such a challenge.  Many see his election as, in fact, an effort at such a reconfiguration.  However, although it may have been the beginning of such a process, it was little more than a beginning.

Our nation's literacy peaked around the 1950's.  Those times introduced a nuclear threat so grave that even the slightly less interested were compelled to be at least somewhat interested.  Books and newspapers were routinely consumed by truck drivers and plumbers.  High school civics classes were very directly dedicated to establishing a fundamental understanding of "why it was worth it" to remain in such a fearsome "fight to the death" with the Soviets.

Being placidly uninformed, uninterested or simply detached from the information of the moment amounted to something conceptually similar to being suicidal.

However, as the world softened a bit, that is, as the "other side" faltered ever so slightly, a new, detached kind of indulgence became a respectable new alternative.  The previous horror subsided a little, making the previous infatuation with the nuances of foreign policy more comfortably distant.  Good times -- at least better times -- once again reintroduced the subtle narcotic of effortless oblivion, that is, once again, "the livin' was easy."

And it wasn't just the "war business" which enjoyed this growing complacency. A dutiful attention to other matters -- especially domestic ones -- soon joined the optional "reading" list.  By the mid-1960's a new metric for literacy had been devised.  It was "voluntary illiteracy," and the definition was based squarely on the premise that, although a survey subject could read, he was choosing not to.

This phenomenon signalled the start of a serious dilution of our traditional reliance on the good decisions of an "informed electorate."

The Nature of the "Oblivion"

What exactly were all these domestic areas of information which grew to be so dangerously neglected and precisely how did that happen?

These developments were not without sponsors.  In every case, fear became the refinery of new public opinions advantageous to those in charge of the redefinition.  Ideology had served well during the era of "mutual assured destruction," but it had required a preparatory education.  The new "products" required nothing more than a popular presence of unexamined certainties, relics of religion, tradition and a poorly understood national history which could be wonderfully exploited by just the right "triggers."

It turns out that newly stupefied Americans could be manipulated by race fears, an incomprehensible economy, the vagaries of religionist prophecies, family values and so on.  The new "currency of the day" consisted of vast, threatening , ever darker clouds of "attacks" on each solitary thread in the fabric of previously "never questioned" societal norms.

As the electorate painfully realized that it was unprepared to consider such matters based on a rational, educational data base, the fear level increased.  After all, when confronted with a challenge to one's certainties in a vacuum of factual information or understanding, even an opinion presents a better possible basis than nothing.

When we find ourselves "flying blind" information-wise, we may as well start lending credence to how we feel.  And, if we are feeling constantly fearful, who does that leave "at the wheel?"

There is little refuge beyond the "fear response" for the citizen allergic to facts. This reality, not missed by those who intended to exploit it to its fullest, began to produce results which were more and more grotesque and less and less understandable in the context of our national history.  The information starved descent into the panic of "survival mode" set the stage for a cultural , economic and spiritual exploitation previously beyond the dreams of even the worst among us.

Obama's Challenge

Compared to the case of the British arsenal of Martini-Henry's of the Zulu War against natives with spears, Obama's America was facing a slightly more serious imbalance.  The challenge facing Obama's new charge evolved from reality itself.  However, unlike the technological disadvantage which had suddenly faced Kitchener's Zulu opponents, our own nation had not been suddenly disadvantaged by any unforeseen consequences.  Instead, Americans had disadvantaged themselves with decades of neglect with respect to staying educated and informed -- or even particularly interested -- in the affairs of the nation.

The priority previously given to education and involvement was forsaken.  The self-destructive phenomenon had now risen to such a serious level that Americans simply no longer chose to be involved at all with the fate of the nation if it involved keeping track of trends and events.  Inebriated by everything from "super power" status to poorly understood nationalistic "exceptionalism," they had become gloriously irresponsible, that is, happy-go-lucky, uninvolved, "voluntary illiterates" with respect to the most basic duties of their citizenship.

Some "Not Too Tasty" First Results of the New National Kindergarten

To save the nation, the President had to reinvigorate this lagging interest in what the country was facing and what could be done about it.  The electorate would have to become re-involved.

Given our recent "track record" on such an involvement, hardly anyone could expect that the "first fruits" of Teacher Obama's efforts would be "roses, simply roses."  That very limited expectation has been robustly realized in the preliminary results of the effort.  A very predictable freak show of "Senate Witches" and other denizens of medieval politics emerged in full force.

However, on the brighter side, even the lumberjacks and football fans now enjoyed a growing understanding of terms such as "deficits," "national debt," "unemployment rates," and "trade agreements."  And, not only had the understanding been increased, the policy interest in such matters had begun a period of reinvigoration, too.

Granted, much of what has been accomplished so far amounts to little more than a wide spread, sinister attraction to the ramblings of the likes of Beck and Limbaugh, but it is a start.  Positively, there seems to be a growing appetite for fact and information and a waning infatuation with sheer, inflammatory opinion.

No parent could lovingly expect his second grader be overly eager to devour Schopenhaur after only a week in school.

The education of this electorate seems to still depend too often on violent incentives.  However, this new thirst for knowledge sprouted under the boot of the autocracy for some.  For others among us, it has not yet emerged from the dubious region of self-suffocation and remains a "garden of horrors," a relentless exploration and exploitation of simply more fears and threats.

A "happy ending" for President Obama will be a return to our traditional two party system with educated voters, a media determined to educate not persuade, and citizens caring enough to labor over good decisions for our country.

No comments:

Post a Comment