American political discourse today melds the ideals of freedom with the interests of private business. One seems to depend perfectly upon the other. Anything beyond that is suspect, inefficient, and — good grief — totalitarianism. Systematically, and in increasingly larger steps, contributions from public efforts get squeezed out of public discourse. Even our soi disant progressive president gets in on the act.
It isn’t surprising, perhaps, that younger — and dare I say more naive? — political leaders see the world this way because of their age. We began ransacking government services in the 1980s after all.
But people like Glen Beck, Rand Paul and Tim Pawlenty — especially Tim Pawlenty, and for many reasons — shouldn’t have naivete as an “excuse” for being uniformed and ignorant. That generation of selfishly petulant conservatives should see things differently.
I don’t think I am being overly romantic or revealing a hyperreal nostalgia if I say there was a time when civic pride meant…well, civic pride. Today the lines between community pride and business interests are being deliberately blurred.
Civic interests and business success, especially in local economies, do share a common sense of pride in a community. There is no doubt about that. But when government defers and more closely resembles a chamber of commerce than a government of public interests, I think we have a problem with how we view and manage our government.
What has happened to civic pride as pride in things the community does together and for each other? Americans have always respected small business and have celebrated its success. (The chamber of commerce almost always is part of the community’s celebrations, is it not?)
Consider our public facilities and services, for example. Schools, libraries, parks. Civic projects once were pursued with a sense of style and commitment that we lack today. Public space is private space controlled by commerce. Conservativism is turning our public world into a corporate one. Main Street has been replace by the Mall of America. In my great state of Minnesota, you cannot find places to throw your trash at some state parks anymore. Carry it out…it is too expensive to contract for garbage service.
And what do we get for all of this anti-government shifting of our dollars from our public goods to an increasingly shrinking private few? Well…look around. Wealth hasn’t trickled down, it has trickled up.
We have closed public facilities and still get a bad economy. A lose-lose scenario, I would say. We have declines in education at a time when we need well-educated people more than ever before, especially if we want to compete in a smarter world. That’s not very good either. We live in a crumbling, civically disengaged society and that is not a good thing.
Perhaps most significantly, however, we have a dissatisfied public that is being manipulated by distorted rhetoric and even flat out lies. How else do you make anti-middle class policies appealing to the middle class?
America was great when Americans respected their government. Government might not have been perfect, might not have been uniformly fair and respected, and it might have been big and clumsy…but it was our government, a shared investment in our present and our future and it was directly responsible for generations of progress in social programs, civil rights, education, environment, workers’ rights, commerce and banking, and economic innovation and growth occurred with our government was bigger, stronger, and lead by people who respected government’s role in our collective best interests.
That respect for government and the civic pride that supports it from the ground up is what is missing. Demonizing public service and public goods is no way to build a strong future for all. This is where the GOP has proven itself wrong since the 1980s and still insists on the same failed ideology as they press on with an anti-government agenda.
We are missing optimistic leadership that respects the positive role government provides for our future. It is hard to see how our increasingly conservative slant will provide beneficial change in this regard.
- Actor calls on schools to help restore civility through civics studies (cnn.com)
- Mr. Obama, tear down this wall! (thehill.com)
- Jon Stewart To Tim Pawlenty: ‘Why Is The Right So Fearful Of Tyranny?’ (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)