There is a decided wisdom in allowing some time between the heat of an election and the assumption of duty by those elected. It gives us time to shift from the clamor of politicking to doing the serious business of governing. It is in that interspace that we are allowed, in fact required, to retreat from our political prejudices and reflect about our ideals, about who we are and who we want to be and what we should be doing to take ourselves in the direction we desire. That reflection rests upon a hope. best captured by Franklin Roosevelt in his last inaugural address. He said there that the trend of civilization is always upward, and that, if one draws a line through the peaks and valleys of human history, the line will point up. Our hope is that that is true, that, however chaotic and discouraging the current atmosphere may be, we are, in the long run, making a better world.

That hope, however, rests on an assumption, namely that we can identify just what our direction is, what a “better world” consists of, what our true ideals, our long-term goals, really are. Answering these questions is fairly impossible in the midst of the daily struggle to earn a living, feed a family, do all the mundane tasks that take us from morning to night. We have, first, to set aside a time away from all that, a time to think, and a time to talk, to discourse honestly and calmly and rationally and cooperatively.

Assuming that we can find such time, we need, secondly, to figure out just who we are, what that direction is toward which we aspire, and what we think are the best means to achieve those aspirations. A good friend recently likened it to laying out what he called a storyboard. At the top you set forth what it is you want to achieve. Below that you lay out a list of various proposals for the best means to attain those achievements. In all of it, you agree that what is important is the goal, and, if the means you choose fail, you admit your failure and choose others.

Following this pattern on the question of how we wish to govern is made immensely easier by the fact that our founding fathers did the first step for us. They laid out, quite directly, the ideals that define the American way of governance. “We hold these truths,” they stated, “to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”

These words, read honestly, are breathtaking, earthshaking. They are a declaration that we recognize the right of every human being — not every person of a certain color or a certain sex or a certain religious persuasion or a certain national origin, but absolutely every human being — to be treated even as we see ourselves as deserving of being treated. The American ideal is of the very essence of morality. To be an American is to have as one’s ideal not power, not wealth, not status, but a world in which every human being is honored.

If we agree with this ideal — and one cannot claim to be an American without agreeing to it — then the next point is critical. Everything else is a discussion about means. If we are Americans, we are all working toward the same goal. If we disagree, we do not do so as enemies, but as members of a team trying to find the best way to achieve our ideals. If we are Americans, then those who oppose our proposals are not enemies but friends, co-workers, fellow strivers toward that upward trend to a world of universal recognition of human rights.

Let me be the first to admit that I have not treated my political opponents in this fashion. Both sides of the recent political debates have failed miserably to honor their opponents as fellow strivers toward the American ideal. Each side has, in effect, denounced the other as precisely unAmerican. Each has decried the other as working against the American ideal, as being fascist or communist, as replacing the American ideal with an ideal of power or wealth. That, fundamentally, is not so. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell — all of these are Americans, because all of these adhere to the American ideal of universal human rights. They have, at enormous cost to themselves and their families, dedicated their lives to public service. They can only have done so because of an abiding commitment to the American ideal. No amount of honor or power or wealth could, by itself, have justified the sacrifices that each of these public servants have made.

Herein lies a key to the appropriate structure of political debate, a key to determining whether a particular political argument is sincere, and the basis for a promise I am making to my reader. All political debate, if it is appropriately structured, must be a debate about means, a debate that honors all proponents and opponents as members of one team, all seeking the same goal. Any political debate, if it is sincere, will be reasoned discourse about the best means to attain universal human rights.

Third, and finally, I renew a promise the founders of this blog made when it was first created. I promise to concentrate my efforts on insights and proposals meant only in the service of the American ideals. I promise to honor the right of the those who oppose my thoughts as honestly striving for those same ideals, and I promise to roundly criticize those, including those with whom I agree, who unfairly treat their political opponents as anything but sincere Americans.

Happy Thanksgiving.


The world is a mess. Regional wars are devastating several countries, and there is a serious threat of escalation, involving the major powers of the world. The wealth of the world is being concentrated in the hands of a very few, and those few are using the power of that wealth to gather yet more to themselves. The rights of the average citizen are threatened by limiting, or even eliminating, the right to vote and the right to organize. The stock market, having sustained a crushing blow from the misconduct of the financiers, is booming, and jobs are increasing, but wages are stagnant or even falliing. Funds for education and health care are being slashed. The middle class is disappearing, and the window of opportunity for youth is growing smaller and smaller. Bigotry is on the rise, and there is a demand to close American borders to essentially all foreigners, particularly those of another color or religious persuasion. Politics consists mostly of vicious attacks by each side on the other, and government, including both the legislatures and the courts, are almost completely controlled by the rich and powerful. More and more, the voices of dissent are being silenced or excoriated in the media as communists and terrorists.
Do you recognize this picture? It is America, and the world, but it is that world in 1900. The regional conflicts, and the various interwoven web of alliances caused by those conflicts, would draw the world into global war. The robber barons — Rockefeller and Morgan and Hill and the rest — were reaping millions on watered stock and other flimflams. Unions were being restricted by legislation, and even the right to peaceably assemble was under attack.
The comparison of that time to our own is, thankfully, not quite as close as it might appear. We have, since that awful time, passed laws and installed policies that have increased opportunities for the less advantaged and decreased the effects of bigotry. We have created programs that make education and health care more readily available. We have increased the rights and opportunities of women and people of color. The comparison, while uncomfortable, is not by any means complete.
Not yet. The disturbing thought here is that the recent political landscape makes one feel that we are moving backward, giving up the gains we made in human rights, limiting opportunities, restricting the vote, allowing wealth, and therefore power, to be once agains concentrated in the hands of a few.
Why? Why would we move back to a time and a set of policies that we know will end in injustice and perhaps even violence? The answer is, I suggest, far deeper and far more personal than the far too easy answer that it is the damned rich people, the damned Koch brothers, the damned capitalists. I suggest that the answer is in each of us. The answer is that the prime, the natural, the instinctive motive for our actions is self-interest. Graham Greene, in his masterpiece The Heart of the Matter, observed that each of has inside a little dictator who would wish serious damage to others just for our own convenience. We each, deep down and at base, want the world to operate in our favor. In a sense, we are each little Koch brothers, wanting to feather our own nests more and more, no matter how big that nest is at the moment. And since, as Plato so brilliantly observed in the Republic, politics is nothing but the individual “writ large”, we are constantly tempted to follow political policies that further our own interests. In sum, we have met the enemy, and it is us.
What makes us, humans, great, what gives us a hope, is that we are also the beings that recognize a calling beyond ourselves. That call is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. We recognize, we hold without any doubt, that all humans are created equal, that all humans have inalienable rights. As long as those ideals are preserved, we will inevitably be drawn back away from self-interest, both individually and politically.
Want proof? List for yourself your real, honest to God heroes. Find any Koch brothers on your list?


Everything has a logic, even illogic. Logic, after all, is only the art of laying out the consequences of any given set of first principles. It might make no sense to you that a person with a wonderful family and a great job would lose that job and family by drinking himself homeless. If, however, you assume the first principle of alcoholism — I want to do whatever it takes to get drunk — then losing your job and family is perfectly logical, i.e., it necessarily follows from that first principle. Likewise, getting up at five every morning and running twenty miles is my idea of utter insanity, but it is perfectly logical for someone who wants to win the Boston Marathon. It follows, then (quite logically, I might add), that, if you wish to understand the arguments or conduct of someone, you need first to identify that person’s first principle, and that will make sense of what follows.

Therein lies a huge problem for Republicans. Why is it, I ask myself, that Republicans rise to power and then almost immediately set to antagonizing the electorate by making life miserable for the average person? And how is it possible to make sense of arguments made by Republicans on behalf of programs that are clearly antithetical to the common interest? How make sense of vigorous arguments against protecting the environment, providing health care to all at a reasonable price, providing a living wage to the lowest earnings levels? How is it possible to argue that the correct policy in good times and bad is to lower taxes on the wealthy? What sense is there to demanding cuts to education for those unable to afford private schooling and increasing subsidies to those who can? How can you logically decry our treatment of disabled veterans and at the same time cut funding for their treatment? And how, in the name of all that is reasonable, can you argue on every imaginable plane that we should deny the factual findings of the sciences?

All of this makes perfect sense only if you identify the first principle of those who control the Republican party. Nobody said it better than Al Capp: what’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the country. What serves the interests of the wealthy serves the interests of the entire country. You may assign whatever motives you wish to the adoption of that particular first principle. Maybe the Republican power brokers genuinely feel that concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few is the best way to govern a nation. They would not be the first to think so. The list of historical oligarchies is far longer than that of genuine democracies. On the other hand, you may feel that the Republican power brokers are simply paying back those who provide them with the funds to stay in office. Whatever the motivation, the principle is quite clear, and, once you set that principle in place, all the rest makes perfect sense. For instance, why would you argue that running an oil pipeline down the middle of the country the provides scant jobs and that does nothing for energy conservation in America is good for the American people? Let’s say it together: BECAUSE IT’S GOOD FOR GENERAL BULLMOOSE, AND WHAT IS GOOD FOR GENERAL BULLMOOSE IS GOOD FOR THE COUNTRY.

That analysis will help you understand all the rest. You challenge science because the findings of science conflict with the interests of the wealthy. You reduce health care, education, veterans’ benefits, increases in the minimum wage because these things conflict with the interests of the wealthy. This, of course, assumes that the interests of the wealthy may comfortably be reduced to wanting more wealth, and those with wealth cannot fairly all be tarred with the same brush. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have both decried the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and they have both dedicated a massive percentage of their wealth to the improvement of the lot of the less advantaged among us. The Koch brothers, on the other hand, sadly personify a far-too-substantial portion of the wealthy for which the only value lies in increasing their financial holdings.

To answer, then, the question with which I started. The Republican reliance on Bullmoose logic requires them to get creative in convincing the people that Republican politicians will serve the interests of the people. Once in power, however, they must serve those who put them there, and inevitably that must end in damaging the interests of the general public. You cannot promote policies that increase poverty and igorance, decrease a healthy environment and access to medical care, etc., and continue to enjoy the adulation of the masses. Absent restricting the voice of those masses, you will, having revealed your true colors by your actions, be summarily thrown out.

I am not saying here that the Republicans will be routed in 2016. They may succeed in somehow silencing the disadvantaged majority. They may succeed in restricting the vote or starting another war or some other tactic. What I am saying is that a program of action built on advantaging only a few is intrinsically doomed to fail. Eventually the people catch on, and eventually the people overthrow that oligarchy. They did it in Russia. They are doing it in China. Soon or late, they will do it to the Republicans.

General Bullmoose, take heed.


The Republican election victory was complete, and the reasons why they were so successful are officially irrelevant. The Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, and Republicans have majorities in both houses of the majority of states, along with Republican governors.
What is also irrelevant is the list of issues on which they ran. All the talk about getting tough on crime and being committed to family and even creating more jobs was just talk. Legislatures and governors either do not or cannot do anything about these issues anyway.
So the hot question is: what are all these Republican administrations going to do? The things they can do are fairly limited. They could try, as they had often claimed they would, to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If they do, millions of people will lose health care coverage, and we will return to the ever-spiraling health care costs, and they will likely all get tossed out of office in 2016. They could also try, as they also claimed they would, to throw every undocumented alien out of the country and seal our borders up tight. If they do that, they will also be summarily dismissed in ’16.
They will, of course, do neither, and even if they try they won’t succeed because the president will veto their efforts, and the democratic senators will use the Republicans’ favorite tactic of one-person filibuster (Republicans have used that a mind-boggling 458 times in the first six years of the Obama administration) to stop them.
They could also work to balance the budget, reduce the deficit, use federal funds to create significant employment for those at the lower levels of the economic ladder, and design a program of health care that will provide health care to all at a reasonable cost. If they do all these things, I, and presumably everyone I know, will join the Republican party, and the Democrats will be left to represent burnt out hippies and utopian socialists.
Or, they could carry on with politics as usual and pay off the moneyed interests who made their sweeping victory possible by passing a tax bill that will provide those monied interests with even less taxation than the historically low tax burden they now have. The Koch brothers did not shell out three hundred million dollars to close the borders. They expect, and will demand, a handsome return on their investment.
The problem is that they cannot actually tell the electorate what they are up to. Indeed, they have already begun to develop a plausible cover story. The otherwise lightweight Paul Ryan of Wisconsin spent his virtually unopposed election effort telling the people of Wisconsin that the IRS are a bunch of thugs and that they tax code is is outrageously unfair. He gives no specifics, and that is because, I would guess, he has been instructed to be very careful not to. If the victorious Republicans are to pull this legerdemain off, they are going to have to pull off the misdirection play of the century. They will have to convince an electorate already suffering from an income inequality not seen in America since the 19th century that making it even worse is a good idea. Or, more likely, they are going to have to disguise that outcome in some package filled with righteous rage at the damage being done to that same electorate by a present system already egregiously imbalanced in favor of the moneyed interests.
They have the reins, and they have the options. The campaign rhetoric is over, and the post-election rhetoric has already begun. My recommendation: buy earplugs. By their deeds we will know them. I have a feeling I won’t be joining the GOP anytime soon.


In his book, A Theory of Justice, John Rawls asks the question: what do people want? His answer was: more. I have, over the past several years, come to a deeper appreciation of this observation. It may profitably be used as a standard by which to measure what is going on at the moment in American politics.
A few days ago, Americans across the country overwhelmingly voted in the Republican candidates for federal, state and local offices. Republican political leaders immediately and vocally concluded that the people have identified themselves with the goals of Republican politicians. At the same time, however, those same Americans voted in various referenda — raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, etc. — in a direction that Republicans traditionally oppose.
This apparent schizophrenia has happened repeatedly in the past. Voters have overwhelmingly leaned in one or the other political direction, only to completely reverse themselves in the very next election. The only possible explanation for that seemingly fickle behavior is that the defining interests of the electorate are only coincidentally aligned with one party or the other. Rather than any monolithic orientation, what is going on is that there is an amalgam of groups, each with their own interests, and they align only if one group sees its own interests more likely achieved by promoting some other group.
It strikes me that one may untangle these fleeting alliances by using Rawls’ observtion to correctly identifying why the alliances take place. So, start with politicians. What is the more that they want? More years in office. They want to get re-elected. Why? Damned if I know, but the pay is good, the adulation is enjoyable, and it’s an exciting game. I don’t discount the altruistic motive of wanting to help one’s fellow citizens, but I suspect that motive is not the one that adequately defines politicians as a group.
What, then, do the moneyed interests that, particularly since Citizens United, feeds the politicans’ drive for re-elections, what do they want? Well, more money. Yes, the conservative money promotes specific conservative causes — banning abortion, promoting religion in schools, etc. But do you really think that the Koch brothers spent three hundred million dollars for prayer in school. No, it was a sound investment. So long as the moneyed interests can keep taxes on the wealth at their current all-time low, they will support anyone and anything that doesn’t tip over that apple cart. When they tell you it’s not about the money, …
That leaves us with the real mystery. What is the more that the electorate wants? Clearly there is no such thing as a singly-directed electorate. The people are, themselves, an amalgam of interests. I think it safe to say, however, that there are some common strains among them. The American people want more ease in making it through life. They want more jobs, more net income, more access to health care, more safety and security and more opportunities for their families and children.
How, then, does it happen that the interests of the electorate aligned with those of Republican politicians? I don’t know how, but I’ll take one guess. It was a negative vote. The electorate looked at the deadlock in national politics, and it decided that the fault lay with the Democrats. That is, in my opinion, an amazingly inaccurate conclusion. The Republican flagbearer in the past six years, Mitch McConnell, made it his single focus to obstruct absolutely everything and anything President Obama tried to propose, which fully justified characterizing the Republican party as the party of no. In this realm, however, as in so many others, appearance is reality, and, however they did it, the Republicans sold that package to the people.
To those, then, who would interpret Tuesday’s landslide Republicn victory as a watershed change in the direction of the country, I recommend that they read a bit of history. The people want more, and it isn’t your more, and, if you don’t give them their more, 2016 is going to be a very interesting time.

Where Are We Going?

Today, November 4, 2014, is election day. We are voting for senators and governors and representatives. We are voting on referenda and constitutional amendments. Woven into all that, we are voting for future policies on wealth distribution and education and health care and abortion and gay rights, and, deeper, on help for the poor and disabled and on improving the environment and on how we use our military might.
In all of that, though, we are doing something far more significant. We are, slowly and by the most circuitour of paths, moving ourselves in an overall direction. We are, almost subconsciously, expressing where it is that we want to go as a society, how it is that we want to shape our world for those who follow after. This is no product of any grand cabal, of any secret society consciously directing us in one direction or another. It is simply the play of various forces, pushing us in one direction or another, the combination of which ends up, almost against our will, in defining who we really are. It is the play of a variety of values taking us, regardless of any one individual intention or even of the announced intention of the vast majority, toward a set of characteristics that will define our society for history.
We think that, because we in the United States have defined ourselves as a democracy, we will ultimately be seen as that. There are two fairly significant problems with that assumption. First of all, remarkably few of us understand exactly what we mean by “democracy.” Do you, for instance, know precisely what the American ideal is, and where it is precisely expressed? In this writer’s experience as a lecturer and teacher, not many of us do. For the record, our form of democracy, which Plato decried as the worst form of government, is laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Be honest now: can you quote those words precisely? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness;…” If you were honest, you probably didn’t know that. If we are honest with ourselves, we will probably need to admit that we do not review these ideals in making our political decisions.
The second problem with the assumption is that, in a way, the structure of democracy carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. Jefferson is rumored to have said that the price of liberty is license, and in practical fact that is precisely the argument made by those who, oddly enough, want to curtail liberty. Those who successfuly argued to remove all caps on spending on elections argued for that precisely in the name of one of the most basic freedoms of our constitution, the freedom of speech. Having won, they exercised their new-found freedom to gain control of the government so that they could preserve, and presumably, increase their power in our society, not least of all by curtailing many of those same rights, such as the right to vote. In sum, liberty frees up even those who want to curtail liberty. This finds its parallel in the terrorists preying on freedom of movement in America to get on a plane and use it to attack us. The problem with liberty is that, unless it is defined always in reference ot Jefferson’s brilliant statment of our ideal, it can actually become a tool of its own destruction.
So, my great fear, on this election day before which more money has been spent than ever before and more invective and just plain mud has been slung and lies told as truth and hate and bigotry appealed to more than true concern for our fellow humans, my great fear is that we are moving, slowly, imperceptibly, to the acceptance of a national fascism, toward a de facto dictatorship. I feel a movement being driven, not by the recognition of human rights, but by the interplay of various powers all operating solely on self-interest. And, if what I fear is true, what we need now, more than any time in our history, is a revolution, a re-volt, that is, a return back to the ideals that formed the basis for our democracy in the first place. We need to recommit ourselves to an ideal, not of self-interest, but of commitment to the recognition of every human’s rights.
The price of liberty, as Jefferson defined it, is not license. The price of liberty is the sacrifice of self-interest in the constant effort to serve and protect the interests of every human being.
Will we do that? Will we pay that price? I hope we will. I fear we will not.