Monday, November 30, 2009

Common Sense, Common Views, Common Purpose

On this day where the negative news about the War in Afghanistan, fresh doubts about President Obama, and a lack of Democratic unity in the Senate regarding Health Care drives a sourly pessimistic news cycle, now is as good a time as any to push back against the doom and gloom brigade. It may be time for the Democratic party to begin to reform itself first before it can ever make a solid effort to reform the country. As much as Republicans have provided a more or less solid base of opposition and obstruction, Democrats have only appeared marginally united and only then for brief periods of time. While I am aware that this is hardly anything new, disorganization will prove to be our own undoing unless we look inward and take stock of our shortcomings. Everyone talks about this, of course, but as Mark Twain put it regarding discussions concerning weather, nobody does anything about it.

The most current gloomy AP story of yesterday was predictably dire,

WASHINGTON - The 60 votes aren't there any more.

With the Senate set to begin debate Monday on health care overhaul, the all-hands-on-deck Democratic coalition that allowed the bill to advance is fracturing already. Yet majority Democrats will need 60 votes again to finish.

Some Democratic senators say they'll jump ship from the bill without tighter restrictions on abortion coverage. Others say they'll go unless a government plan to compete with private insurance companies gets tossed overboard. Such concessions would enrage liberals, the heart and soul of the party.

The first stirrings of a concept known as Intersectionality began to develop in the 1960's and 1970's in opposition to the exclusivity, post-modernism influenced arguments of a prior generation of activists and thinkers. In brief, Intersectionality rightly assumes that taking into account a variety of lenses and perspectives, as well as how they interact with each other is a much better means of attacking a problem. Instead of taking one or two issues in isolation, viewing the similarities and acknowledging the spot at which all points meet would, as it is proposed, facilitate common purpose much more easily. In that spirit, seeking to address interrelated issues that comprise a complex matter rather than focusing too heavily on quibbling details would do our Senators and Representatives well.

As the media has presented it, one would assume that the reservations brought up by individual members of Congress while in hot debate over health care have been matters of profound heft. Certainly the political football of both Stupak and the Public Option are not issues to be taken lightly, but having read many of the published reports regarding day to day conduct in committee, the substantive concerns have often taken a back seat to needless minutia or pointless hair-splitting. Threats and counter-threats in this laughably extended proceeding have ceased being coercive and might as well be duly noted in the Congressional Record without objection. The mystical filibuster, for example, once was feared and sparsely used, and now has become part of process wallpaper to such a degree that even the threat of the procedural measure when invoked produces shrugged shoulders more than abject terror. True filibusters are rare in any case.

The Democratic party might at least consider the idea of Intersectionality if it is to prevent more than nominal GOP gains in 2010 and if it deigns to rule for an extended period of time. Having won, it must now find a way to not overstay its welcome in the good graces of the American people. Democrats know very well what they do not want to be and aren't so versed on what they think they ought to be. Many activists believe that a new way of looking at established rules would push every Democratic figure forward rather than being mired in conventional modes of thought that are long past their expiration date. Many would argue that several of the long term legislators with seniority are long past their expiration date as well. It is an unfortunate fact that we have been rather frequently and alarmingly prone to factionalism in recent history, which is partially a result of a disturbing lack of more or less uniform direction. It should be noted that I do not see this as some greater trend along the same lines as peering at an ant farm, whereby what seems from a distance to be chaotic is upon closer inspection merely a method to the madness.

Seeking to find mutual purpose between individuals and individual organizations alike, rather than pointing out differences and highlighting distinctions could well be our salvation. What complicates this process, however, are the multitude of non-profits and PACs that dot the landscape, many of which are devoted to a single issue. Each was founded out of a desire to make sure that the unique concerns of a particular group or cause was not neglected in the legislative process. They were created based on an inequality or need that cried for alleviation, but with time, however, these groups began to resemble government agencies, whereby bureaus that could have been consolidated with others for the sake of efficiency were allowed to exist alongside similar departments which did more or less identical work. Networking is still a fairly foreign concept to many of the myriad of entities that compromise the Democratic party and help set its agenda. How we think influences how we govern and how we seek to influence that which governs. Though the current model may have had its place once, the time has come to modify our thinking and with it our strategy. Focusing too heavily on where we are not alike rather than how we are alike is, arguably, what led to the decline of the party post-Carter and contributed to the 1994 election debacle.

I wrote a post over the weekend which touched some nerves. In it, I discussed the way our that own fundamental structure as liberals makes getting us on the same page an exercise akin to herding cats. One of the comments left was something to the effect of "I'm a Progressive and no one tells me what to do." Fair enough, except that I wasn't suggesting that the person in question (or anyone, really) follow blindly behind any cause or personality. What I was, however, arguing is that we can't always isolate ourselves in our own identity group and assume that its concerns are of paramount concern to the whole. Until we identify as Democrats first and other identities later, we'll always have unintentionally split allegiances. Any group established for originally altruistic means quickly becomes obsessed with justifying its own existence and in so doing losing sight of the original intent. A common thread runs through so many organizations and it goes well beyond a simple label of "Progressivism". The most successful educational strategies link together a variety of subjects and show students how each is interconnected. This is where true learning begins and this might also be the point at which true unity is allowed to thrive.

I don't believe in groupthink and I certainly don't believe in playing follow-the-leader, but I do know that it is certainly easier when waste and superfluity is trimmed away. I do also know that if everyone had been on the same wavelength before Stupak, then women's rights wouldn't have been so easily bartered away for the sake of a narrow victory. If we truly lived our gospel of multiculturalism and plurality, then human rights would mean more than just the latest atrocity perpetrated in a nation far, far away. If we practiced what we preached, there wouldn't be a need for the Gay District, since LGBTs would live boringly normal lives right next door to us. If we took up the cause of intersectionality, there would be no others who are not like us in some way, shape, or fashion. While I am writing on this particular topic, I am reminded of a woman who is a contributing editor to a Feminist site I regularly visit; she uses this quote as her e-mail signature:

"Engrave this upon your heart: there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you heard their story." --Mary Lou Kownacki

Decry it as naïve optimism if you wish, but post-partisanship, if we have not thrown it upon the dungheap of history quite yet, begins with this simple statement. That which separates us is often artifice, over-reaching, or over-compensation. One President micromanages the Health Care debate, which fails miserably. Another President puts Congress in control, failing to understand that he is capable of keeping bickering legislators in line without seeming dictatorial. We are our own worst enemy, far too often. Arguably we regained both chambers of Congress due to a GOP that had been remarkably good at shooting itself in the foot, if not other members. One wonders what will be our strategy in 2010 besides praying that the economic data and unemployment numbers improve drastically and that the Health Care reform bill passes. How will we learn from four years of mixed results? I can guarantee that the existing framework and system is no viable solution. We know what we are not, now it's time to determine that which we are.

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