What does America want to be?

Life has intruded the past couple of weeks, so my essays have been scant. But that doesn't mean that I've been ignoring the news. The political war of the past few weeks has done nothing but strengthen the argument I made in this essay a few weeks ago. Besides being a forceful Commander-in-Chief, President Obama and his team in Chicago have organized a pummeling of Mitt Romney and the GOP not usually seen coming from Democrats. They've allowed the Republicans to commit their forces in one desperate attack after another, and then moved in for the kill. November is a long way away, but the evidence of the past month shows that the Obama campaign has the GOP's number, and is fighting political battles on the fields of its choice, to its advantage, while not allowing Romney and the Republicans to gain any firm footing.

What's hit me especially hard these past couple of weeks, though, is just how existential is the choice we face this November. Maybe 40 years ago, when there was a general consensus between the two parties on the role of government, brought about by the New Deal, people were merely voting as to which of the parties could better manage that consensus at any given time. That started to change with Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy", where the GOP threw its lot in with the ghosts of racism and white anger at black civil rights. It proceeded apace with Ronald Reagan, adding the Christian right wing into the mix, as well as a no-longer-disguised fealty to anything demanded by multinational corporations. And then with George W. Bush neo-imperialism became part of the GOP manifesto, with the maintenance of the American Empire paramount over any other governmental concern.

The thing which is infuriating to most people who read blogs such as The People's View is just how effective this political strategy has been. Even taking into account Bill Clinton's two terms, the years from 1968 to 2008 were, quite frankly, Republican years. And they weren't the Republicans who crossed the aisle to support things like civil rights and environmental protection. Those Republicans were slowly but inexorably booted from the party, as it swung from a typically broad coalition, which US parties have normally been throughout the Republic's history, into a doctrinaire, authoritarian party, where any deviation from the official line is met with excommunication in the form of primary challenges from the even further right fringe. (For example, Richard Lugar in Indiana. Not exactly a liberal, but too "accommodating" for the likes of the fringe base.) The Republican Party which won the House in 2010 bears almost no resemblance to the Republican Party of, say, Dwight Eisenhower. It has taken the racist rump of the Dixiecrats and mixed it with the millenarian fervor of the born-agains, all greased by corporate cash. It's a right-wing party which would be more at home in 1930's Europe, not 21st century America with its rapidly changing demographics.

And for too long, the Democratic Party—the architects of every social advancement from the 1930s through the present day—have acted all too often like cowed dogs, too afraid of the Republican media arms and "grassroots" organizations to forcefully state the values for which the party stands. I remember a "Saturday Night Live" skit from the 1980s in which one of the troupe played "The Liberal": he was the last liberal in America, and had to keep going on the run from one conservative town to another. That's been the Democratic Party for most of the past 40 years, as an electorate stunned by the events of the 60s and 70s retrenched and found comfort in a Republican Party that promised a "return to greatness", however amorphous that promise was.

What the Obama campaign of 2008 and his subsequent Presidency have done is to expose the hollow core of Republican ideology and governance. Step by step—because you have to attack 40 years of a particular mindset one bit at a time, and not try to undo it wholesale, much to the consternation of some on the Left—he has exposed GOP promises as nothing but lies to win votes and acquiescence for the increase in the power of corporations and the wealthy, the constricting of rights at home and the expansion of empire abroad. He took a healthcare plan put forth by the Heritage Foundation in the 90s, and modeled closely on Mitt Romney's healthcare law in Massachusetts, and made it his own. Of course, as it was his, it was opposed by the GOP and the Right. In Libya he secured the fall of a dictator with a modicum of force, and was castigated by the GOP-led House for not seeking permission—a permission that GOP legislators never felt a Republican President needed. He showed that the Republicans were willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States turn to ashes in order to preserve tax breaks for the wealthy. Slice by slice he's been hacking away at Republican boilerplate to expose it for the lie that it is. And he has thus presented the electorate with a stark choice.

The Obama vision is Bruce Springsteen on stage preaching this:
We’re here with a mighty purpose in mind! We’re gonna rock the house! But we’re not only going to rock the house, we’re going to build a house. We’re going to take fear and build a house of love; we’re going to take sadness and build a house of joy; we’re going to take doubt and build a house of faith; we’re going to take despair and build a house of hope.
The Republican vision is Ted Nugent, on stage with an assault rifle, telling Barack Obama—and by extension anyone who disagrees with him—to "suck on my machine gun".

One vision is that of a commonwealth, where we all rise or fall together, as one people, one nation, in spite of the surface differences which seem so important but which in the end are as chaff in the wind. It's a vision where we take care of our own.

The other is a vision where you're on your own with your AR-15, hunting knife, and whatever resources you can cobble together. Oh, unless you're one of the wealthy; then the government will work to make sure that your life is as pleasant as possible.

Fear has a short shelf life. It's why those on the Right have to ratchet it up every few years, find a new bogeyman to keep people distracted and anxious. Eventually it stops working, and like heroin, can only work again at a higher dose. 

Hope is eternal. It's what makes human life possible. Without hope, civilization would wither, as there'd be no hope for the future. With it, the stars are within reach.

The battle Obama—and all of us—are fighting is one between hope and fear. The increasing desperation of the GOP indicates that perhaps the fever of our addiction to fear has finally broken. The drugs no longer work, and are no longer necessary for the majority of us, and the pusher sees his business about to collapse. Let's make sure we break the habit decisively in November.

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