The character of much
of what passes for debate in the United States signals that the
nation has become the moral equivalent of Tobacco Road, a backwater
has traveled a long journey since the time when some folks
walked out of Africa,
and others decided to stay. Yet at the American center of the
Earth’s material wealth and military power, human progress has
been short-circuited – smothered – by a ruling group bent on
dragging the rest of the species down a social and moral dead
hyper-aggressive group maintains an iron grip on both the mechanisms
and the terms
of civil discussion, retarding the rest of the citizenry’s ability
to think and speak like other humans privileged to live in the
developed countries. American political conversation is becoming
nonsensical, divorced from the very purposes of life.
Measured by the most
minimal standards of the modern, industrial world, only two of
ten Democratic candidates for President passed civilized muster
at the September 25 debate in New York City: Rep. Dennis Kucinich
and Rev. Al Sharpton. The rest of the field, to varying degrees,
fail to even comprehend modern assumptions of what it is to be
human, living among other humans.
do we work? What is the purpose of industry and commerce?
Do other peoples have
rights that stronger nations are bound to respect? Only Dennis
Kucinich and Al Sharpton appear prepared to take part in
the evolving global discussion on the central issues facing
Americans included. Other nations have begun fashioning answers
to these questions, to the moral, material and physical betterment
of their inhabitants. They are reaping the benefits of a
long and sometimes bloody debate over humans’ obligations to
one another, and the proper uses of wealth and power.
the U.S., Sharpton and Kucinich must shout to even broach these
is labeled a kook when he argues for “health care for people,
not for profit” – although this is the premise on which all the
other wealthy societies begin their discussions of health
matters. Rev. Sharpton’s platform calls for a constitutional
amendment guaranteeing quality health care as a right,
and seeks universal, single-payer coverage in the interim. “I
would rather have no bill and fight for something real,” he told
the Pace University crowd.
mind-shrinking corporate media snicker and sneer, focusing
instead on the other candidates’ partial
schemes based on the concept of “affordability” – barbaric constructions
in which the lives of fellow citizens are endlessly devalued.
(Candidate Carol Moseley-Braun favors single-payer national health
care, but reveals her barbaric side in other matters – casting
doubt on the moral grounding of all her positions, as we will
The “top tier” is oblivious
to the obscenity of their Social Security retirement age debate.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is in trouble for having
once suggested that the age be raised to 70, to ensure the continued “solvency” of
the system. However, Dean’s sin is worse than the rest of the
media-favored pack only in degree – they all discuss
Social Security retirement in insurance company actuarial
calculations that fail entirely to address the basic questions:
why are people expected to work hard for much of their
lives, and what is the value of life after one’s time in
the workforce is over? These are the logical, natural and civilized questions
with which societies grapple once there is enough wealth to provide
acceptable standards of food, clothing, education and shelter
for all. It is at this point that human populations can envision
the larger possibilities of existence, as individuals, as nations,
and as a species.
Europeans treat time not spent on the job very seriously – and have arranged
a social contract that finds many of them in the Caribbean for
long stretches of the summer. They debate ways to implement national
goals for progressively shorter work weeks and earlier retirement
ages, so that the collective nation can enjoy its wealth and
become – more interesting! The United States is even richer than
Western Europe, but the debate over Social Security is confined
to formulas that leave concentrated wealth untouched. In this
sense, U.S. Social security is not a “national” program, at all,
since the futures of citizens who have outlived their usefulness
to employers is not financed as if it were a key component of
the common, national mission. Longer life spans, the greatest
benefit that society can convey to its members – and the reason humans
band together to create societies – becomes a “problem,” or so
it is treated by the leading voices of the two American mass
Dennis Kucinich promises
to restore the retirement age to 65. He is, at least, peeking
through the window at civilization.
have been trained to cheer when the stock market goes up. They
why. Nowadays, the closing bell on Wall Street is likely to be
tolling for their jobs. No matter – the Pavlovian conditioning
is general: up is good. “Trade” has also become a positive mantra
to be chanted rather than debated, even when what is being traded
away is millions of jobs and the industrial capacity of the nation.
None of the top tier Democrats can find the words to directly
address the vast dislocations and suffering that other, corporate Americans are
inflicting on their fellow citizens and the world. Better to
bash China, instead.
is made to seem hallucinatory, when he points out that
U.S. government policy
is facilitating the impoverishment of America. “We need to cancel
NAFTA, cancel the WTO, which makes any changes in NAFTA…illegal.” But
even “staunchly” pro-union Rep. Dick Gephardt cannot bring himself
to “challenge the underlying structure of our trade,” as
Kucinich puts it. Dean and Kerry make just enough noises
rights and such to convince wishful thinkers that they
are really listening.
Sharpton also opposes NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. “I disagreed with NAFTA
when Clinton was in, and I think that we have come to see that
that disagreement was correct,” said Sharpton, following up on
Kucinich’s broadside. “I think that we cannot have trade policy
that overlooks labor, overlooks workers' rights, overlooks environmental
concerns. We can't act like just because something is trade,
that also that makes it right. African-Americans are here on
a bad trade policy.”
it down in civilized language. The slave trade was
fantastically lucrative, a centuries-long commerce that shaped
every society in the Americas south of Canada and allowed Europe
to assume its unnatural position of dominance in the world. “I'm
here on a bad trade policy,” said Rev. Al. “So just because
it's trade, doesn't mean that it is good and it is something
that we should support.”
largely conservative audience and the Wall Street Journal and
CNBC hosts got a good
laugh out of that one. No doubt they considered Rev. Sharpton’s
remarks gritty and homespun, a kind of comic relief. In fact,
he is by far their superior in both intelligence and civilization.
in what, and on what terms? Business and commerce for whose
benefit? These are
the burning questions, the stuff of national and global debate – except
in the United States, where substantive discussion is confined
to the bottom tier of the out-of-power party. (Were conservative
Democrats in power, as in the Clinton years, we would likely
hear even fewer challenges to “underlying structures.”)
“No choice” candidates
and war profiteers, require money. No funding, no war. Occupations
can be even more
expensive. The entire cast of characters running for the Democratic
nomination – including Lieberman – now claims to be opposed
in some fashion to Bush’s Iraq policy. But only two propose
that Bush’s policy be de-funded.
though I did not support the war in the beginning, I think
we have to support our troops.”
have no choice.”
Bob Graham: “…whatever
is required for the troops in Iraq.”
Edwards: “I will
vote for, what's necessary to support the troops.”
"We have no choice” is
also the Kerry and Clark position. Thus, the entire top tier
sees no alternative to funding a policy that they so loudly oppose.
They denounce the madness – and then hand the madman a check.
Kucinich: “I will not
vote for the $87 billion… I say bring the troops home unequivocally."
Sharpton: “I would unequivocally
vote no… Real patriots don't put troops in harm's way.”
It is eminently logical
to withhold funding from adventures that one opposes. In a sane
society, Kucinich and Sharpton would be thought neither courageous
nor kooky for following the logic of their stated positions.
However, voices of reason and logic are forced to the margins
of American discourse.
hoping to somehow escape from marginality, Carol Mosley-Braun
revealed that in
the final analysis she, too, is a creature of barbarism. Moseley-Braun
has opposed the war for nearly as long and as fervently as
Kucinich and Sharpton but, like Lot’s wife, at the critical moment she
looks back – and is lost.
Braun: “…it is absolutely,
I think, critical that we not cut and run…” In the end, the former
U.S. Senator cannot escape the imperatives of Manifest Destiny.
By her moral compass, demonstrations of U.S. resolve are more
important than other people’s national sovereignty. The Black
woman from Chicago cannot imagine that she is talking like a
barbarian, that such patterns of thought are the principal threats
to the survival of the human race – in short, that she is warring
later, Moseley-Braun waged war against English as a coherent
language: “…it's going
to be important for us to come up with the money to make certain
that our young men and women and our reputation as leaders in
the world is not permanently destroyed by the folly of preemptive
war.” It’s not so much Moseley-Braun’s fault that this sentence
makes no sense. The logic of barbarism does not mesh with the
realities of an inter-dependent globe. It becomes difficult to
communicate in civilized company – the essence of George Bush’s
problem at the UN, last month.
think they are guardians of civilization. In reality, they
don’t even live
there. The proof is plain for all to see in the statistics on
wealth and public service disparities, infant mortality rates
and, most damning, incarceration levels that certify the U.S.
as the world’s gulag (25 percent of the planet’s prisoners).
This is barbarism writ large, since these conditions exist
as the direct result of public policy, rather than as a consequence
of general deprivation or factors external to the nation.
U.S. evolved as a nation without a real “social contract” – merely an agreement
that white males could pursue riches without too much interference
from the state. The contract for Indians and Blacks took the
form of bounties for scalps and bills of sale for slaves. Now
a relatively small elite comprised of a few million millionaire
households and led by piratical corporate politicians, have seized
the state. The people – the whole people – face a multitude
of disasters, and desperately need to forge the beginnings
of a real social contract, but they have few national historical
references to draw upon. The dramatic exception is Black America,
which has been compelled by history to value justice above
Sharpton and Kucinich
bring social justice to the national political conversation,
for which they deserve our deepest gratitude. The Black activist
preacher and the white leftist congressman speak to civilized
values, without which the United States will become a failed
nation. At a pace that corporate media cannot comprehend and,
therefore, cannot convey, the world recoils from the backward
model that the U.S. presents in domestic as well as foreign policy.
There is nothing surer than that the U.S. will in coming years
be shrunk to normal size in the community of nations. When that
day arrives, Americans will only prosper if they have learned
to speak to a world of equals, in civilized language.