Sunday, September 11, 2005

What is wrong with Our Nation, Part One: Why The Blame Game is Important

On today’s program of “Face the Nation,” Senator Susan Collins (R. from Maine) stated that we needed to fix the problems and not lay Blame. I wanted to take a moment and respond both to Senator Collins’ statement as well as to Deb and Miss Krys’s comments on my last entry. Collins brings up, I wish to suggest, a dangerous comment and both of my women commenters bring up an important point and yet one, also, that I take issue with. By looking at the comments left on my last posts, we will see why Senator Collins suggestion of ignoring blame is dangerous. The idea is, as Miss Kry’s succinctly put it: President Bush is just one man. Yes, Miss Kry, President Bush is just one man and one man did not make all the circumstances we have today. Karl Marx in his essays “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” offers an important insight into what will be my point. And that is: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” When placing blame, and we need to find where the roots of blame belong—make no mistake about this, we must look to the bigger picture. The United States has a bigger problem than President Bush, although I still maintain that he must shoulder much of the current blame. One bigger problem can actually be traced to the start of our country, when our founding fathers worked to create a government that could sustain and put down civil societies that would challenge the status-quo. Madison, in Federalist paper # 10, was looking at this very issue. Quickly brushing aside a pure democracy as being impractical, Madison quickly sings the praises of a representative system of government as well as a divided government between local VS Federal. By dividing the local from the federal, Madison states, we can limit civil society to local concerns, thus, avoiding any real possibility civil societies joining and challenging the federal government in any meaningful way: “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” Of course, one of Madison’s main concerns was that religious sects would work to usurp the government and create another instance of religious control over a people --- which is why many came to the “new world” originally. What he failed to realize, however, was that by instituting any system that would effectively not allow meaningful challenges to the status-quo of a leadership, he was, as was those in his party, reinforcing power in the hands of the few who, most likely, would abuse the power and use such power for personal interests. Of course, he balances this fear through his optimism: those voted into power would want to do what is right for the country and its citizens: “The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” Yet, Madison was wise. He knew that power in the hands of the few could lead to dire circumstances. But for Madison (blinded by Enlightenment values of equality, justice and the power of the individual) only those in factions, civil societies, which work to challenge the status-quo were likely to be corrupt: “On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” Today, we know that Madison was wrong—wrong to think that elected officials only have our best interests at heart—wrong to think that the wellbeing of the all would be upheld over the wellbeing of the few. He was correct, however, in his idea that if we separate factions, we can keep civil societies from uniting and, so, challenging the Status-Quo. This is a dangerous way of thinking. In Madison’s day, several members of society were barred from democratic participation: people of color, women, and white men who did not own land. It was only through and by civil society that such inequalities were rectified. And yet, because of the successful effort to keep civil societies from uniting, it took way too many years for any one of these movements to gain enough momentum to challenge the status-quo. Part of the problem? Not laying blame. Not questioning what went wrong and who helped things to go wrong. As Deb said in her comment on my last post: “the most patriotic thing any American can do is debate the direction our country is moving towards.” In many ways, the idea that civil society is unpatriotic and that voicing our criticism equates to hating America is today’s status-quo. This, my dear readers, is wrong and dangerous. The only way to keep a check on special interests and power relations is to challenge them, and challenge them continuously. The biggest problem our country has, and it has many, is complacency and a short memory span. We forget our history and, when we do remember, we pick those myths that sustain us emotionally. This too is a dangerous path. And so I too do not fall into the pit of forgetfulness: please let's all light a candle in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11. Please join me later for Part Two: Nixon administration on—Bush’s inherited legacy.

1 comment:

  1. You have brought up a very interesting point that I must differ with slightly. While Bush (or any president) is just one man, and while the president is laden with all the consequences of the previous administrations, it is the president’s responsibility to lead the country in a direction that appears to be best for our country in both the short and long terms. And while any president is burdened with these shackles at the beginning of their term, it is generally only a re-elected president, one that is serving their second consecutive term, which may find themselves dealing with the consequences of their own actions. This is what I see today. Bush, a second-term president, is feeling the effects of poor decisions made early in his tenure. I am sure that part of the poor federal response to the Katrina disaster is the lack of manpower, equipment and supplies, which are currently being utilized in other parts of the world to support a bad decision made years ago.

    When the Towers where struck in 2001, the streets of New York where filled with a federal response of people, equipment and supplies within hours. Not because it was New York, but because the people, equipment and supplies were readily available to send. Today, the catastrophic effects of Katrina, and the poor federal response, have shown just how thinly spread our resources are, not just to the American people, but to the world.

    While I agree that Bush is just one man, it was he who has led us to where we find ourselves today.

    I agree with Deb … it is our right, our duty as Americans, to question and challenge what our government is doing. That is the ultimate expression of the freedoms bestowed upon us by our founding fathers.

    If they can’t take the heat, then maybe we should kick them out of the kitchen.


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