Why I am a Member of the Permanent OppositionBy D. W. Sabin for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
Washington, CT. Every now and again, my little petal, The Concept catches me leering with sardonic delight at the television while one or another primped and coiffed “television journalist” summarizes the latest human disaster in a 60 second sound bite. Looking at me with undisguised contempt she usually intones: “Why do you enjoy misery so much, you really are sick.” Having answered her own question, she then sweetly swears as she peremptorily retreats but this is not her fault as it is a malady she picked up from over thirty years with me. Contact Tourette’s is the medical term I believe. Her rightful insult generally elicits a giggle on my part but the reverie is always brief because the nightly broadcast of headlong human decline re-grips me in another confirmation of the rather flexible definition of “progress.” Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I do not relish human disaster by any means. What appeals to my sense of satire is the cockeyed notion that we must shoehorn global agony and the machinations of the State into a primary place of importance within our life of immediate concerns.
Rest assured, I always take whatever I see on the telly or within our nervous print media with a grain of salt because after all, it is the madcap bulletin board of that simulacrum of easy existence we have come to take for reality in this noisy information age. Real it ain’t. Reality cannot be transmitted across the airwaves and survive intact. The airwaves and distance refract it. The scenes of political confusion, disaster or debauch are certainly real where they occur but somehow, the process of reporting them from afar has grafted a kind of nervous siege mentality upon the loyal viewing audience. As a “people”, an interestingly loaded term to be sure but for lack of a better term, as a people, we now accept that our sphere of proper influence is somewhere 50 degrees of latitude or longitude distant. Nonetheless, one can either be seduced by the show or view it as an ethnologist might ponder some tribe of oddball primitives painting themselves with bear grease and fox droppings before a brisk jaguar dance at the foot of the cargo shrine. The American Spectator likes to watch. It is to the point now of obsession and obsession is just another avenue of distraction. I’d rather watch the spectators. To inform one’s viewing enjoyment of the national spectator, one must be fully conversant in the kabuki of our silly media rituals, its shibboleths and solemnized half-truths.
Chief among these media presumptions is the idea of an unassailable and permanently ascendant goodness of the American Juggernaut. Despite producing a nightly summary of some of the more preposterous insults to human organization in history, the American Media is dutiful in perpetuating a notion of Eternal Progress, a parade of unremitting growth and prosperity, a movable feast of relentless novelty and all of it open for the citizen’s plucking like a fat juicy pomegranate. Recently, economic travails have required a bit of chastening on the part of our toothy prognosticators. They recite the dim statistics but are prone to champion any meek good news, however fleeting, as a major return to the glory days of our consumer paradise. To make it sporting, the media has taken a page from the Roman Coliseum and divided itself into teams of Reds and Blues so that the reclining viewer can easily resist the formerly American urge to doubt in order to slide into the contoured leather seats of Conventional Wisdom. Buckle up, buy the ticket and as Doc Thompson averred, take the ride.
What a ride it is. Lately, we have been treated to a rather crude fight between forces of that shimmering bon mot of “Change” and their dastardly opponents in the dread “Party of No”. Would that there was a measurable distinction between the current teams of the organized spectator sport called American politics. But there isn’t. The teams go back and forth, up and down the field between commercial breaks and the end result is somewhere around $400,000.00 in debt in unfunded liability for every household in the good old U.S.A.. If you don’t know what “unfunded liability” is, just take out your atlas and locate the page depicting the District of Columbia.
Too glib you say? Well, e glibus unum would seem to be the national motto of a system that thinks nothing of accumulating near half a million dollars in debt for every household in the land simply because it can. I rest my case.
In order to keep the natives distracted while the various City States that have Shanghaied the Republic run their age-old scams, the blessed media is now engaged in a charade of analysis and garment renting. The residents of the Skinner Box smell a rat and it is them. This will not do. Accordingly, we dissemble and re-invent and dream and conjure a cavalcade of improvements to a political system that needs far less improvement than it does a simple and disciplined application. The messy instrument handed us by our forebears was a delicate flower bearing a sturdy and full-bodied fruit until we began to consider ourselves immortal. Worse yet, in our perception of immortality, we decided that our role in human life was a controlling one, rather than a prudently supporting one. The citizen became his mythological government and henceforth, he lost his citizenship.
Reading Daniel Okrent’s latest book entitled Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, one can be excused for thinking that the American Constitution was as much a product of drunken reverie as it was a vessel of divine inspiration. Booze, you see, ran like water in the days of yore because the water ran a little tainted. The Framers were a bibulous lot they were. According to Okrent’s research, the average American in our early days drank the equivalent of nearly two fifths of hooch per week. No wonder they became overly optimistic about the essential goodness of a humanity geared toward the pursuit of happiness. I hoist a dram to thank them for their bleary optimism and general skepticism of the historic abuses of European monarchy. Would that they might have left us with the real news that if everyman was going to be a king then everyman was obligated to be their brother’s serf.
Drunk or not the inspired generation of the Framers, granted an ample playing field and a proper distance from the seat of power, they took stock of the frailties of human progress and devised a system of checks and balances that had the durability of a first class mule. This political beast of burden was specifically designed not for heedless progress but instead, it was devised for the deliberative advancement of a rather presumptuous idea of human liberty. Somehow over the years, we’ve abandoned the hard slog of deliberation for the frilly attractions of heedless and inchoate progress. We’ve come to take ourselves too seriously and to regard ourselves as some kind of empyrean denouement. Meanwhile, the emperor’s new clothes cover a body gone ridiculous, nervous, distracted and unrequited. Life is not enough for we bearers of the banner of happiness, we want to live forever and do so within a utopian society. Heaven is the 51st State.
Funny, but living forever would not seem to be so sweet a sinecure if all it meant was more debt. That, and of course a little more war to project the idea that we still knew what the American Way really was.
There is an old hardscrabble anthem of Yankee self-reliance that is still remembered in my land of homely, if now vestigial Town Meetings: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, this idea might have sprung from an end of day discussion over a few draughts of Apple Jack but there is a certain sturdy clarity to it.
“IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON”T FIX IT”.
We’ve been fixing this hobbled Republic for so long we’ve really gone and broke it. We’ve confused the idea of progress with unconstrained and debt-financed change. We’ve surrendered our native skepticism and hardy self-reliance for an idea that Fiat by Washington Decree is different than Fiat by Oriental or Occidental Despot.
All the solutions to a renewal of the American Dream lay quietly and cast-off asleep before us. A bountiful continent, an agreeable if bumptious people, a love of that marvelous thing called life and above all, a remarkable political vehicle to carry it out….. not in perfection but in optimistic and deliberative imperfection. The key to it all is to stop our foolish notion of legislating better laws to be executed by a benevolent bureaucracy and get back to the original notion of less is more. The checks and balances of the Framer’s creation gave us the vehicle to insure that our idle notions of heedless improvement were delayed and debated long enough to insure that we recognized the good fortune we already possessed. The checks and balances of our original system further required that if we were to have the big citizens of a free Republic then we needed the small government of a properly chastened political system. A civil society was to be a society that knew the best government was the least government. Life, after all, is not a checklist of universal standards, why make it so? A bureaucracy, in the end is only really good for extending the impoverishments of the few to the remorse of the many.
Our originally productive and durable system is now missing in action. We are no less top-down than any of the most voracious Oriental Despotisms. Instead of “change,” we need to simply recall….. we need to remember what really works, recall so that we might move forward instead of plunging more deeply backward.
Washington D.C., paranoid by a toxic War on Terror, in a fit of Imperial dishabille over its WikiLeak travails, preoccupied by the blandishments of our age of Global City States, addicted to Military exploit, it has become the World’s biggest unfunded liability and loves to run a non-stop five card Monte game of change as progress. Meanwhile, the only thing that changes is the rising sum on the national debt clock or the death toll abroad. Gutted of jobs and meaningful employment by the City State embrace of globalism, we are all now wards of the missionary-state and so uniquely primed to fall for the seductions of a perceived noble monarch or some other malignant personality. We are now happy to be told what to think.
Recent research points to the unsettling fact that the youngest generation of Americans of voting age is firmly in the camp of an activist and increasingly dominant government. This, despite their coming assumption of one of the most staggering debts passed on to future generations in our history. Small government partisans will soon be gone and buried. Debt is the authoritarian’s sturdy insurance policy.
This cockeyed homily is not a populist call for a return to national greatness via mass political crusade. The maladroit failures of the Politics of Prohibition remain a clear demonstration of the deleterious effects of unintended consequences championed by populist crusaders. What this is, in the end, is a call for a return to that most conservative thing called a national memory. This memory, to be productive, must celebrate the good and the bad while we roll our sleeves up and begin the hard task of rebuilding something we have too easily forsaken. However, we do not so much need to build as we need to demolish, demolish all the presumptions that have released the obligations of the citizen and replaced them with a sense of entitlement financed by free-booting debt and its covalent destruction of our diverse countryside. The tools of American success Tocqueville so ably cataloged in our infancy remain today. We need to wrest them from their kidnapping by the hucksters of our current political system and recognize that their utopia is a classic dystopia of enervating bureaucracy.
Big Citizens and Small Government, it works and at least the various cheerful hustlers of our media still see that truth when they tell us that what America needs most is jobs. The difference between their prescriptions and the hard reality of life is that durable jobs are never given from on high, they spring from an immediate necessity, the kinds of necessity that only occur between neighbors living within a community of common purpose that is spiced piquantly with diverse sensibilities. America, at its best is a nation of people at work, a dynamic and freely interacting nation of jobs whose sovereign is self-determination. Washington D.C. is nutty enough to think that the local can be forsaken on the road to a glorious global techno-utopian glee. Somehow, divorced from reality as they are, they think modernity will make the global something approximate to the local. The people seem to be leaning in this direction too given their blithe indifference to an accelerating national deterioration for all but a select and rarefied few. Though the formidable attributes of this age of electronic intercourse are many, one can only find fresh air in the open ground of our hand-shaking encounters. This internet venue is powerful but we have not yet fully discovered its limitations and these limitations are being steadily assaulted by our crass commercial impulses and deracinating nation state impositions. At present, conventional wisdom favors the elite and this favor is extended to the fields of our electronic intercourse.
When Ben Franklin wryly quipped “you have a Republic, if you can keep it,” he was giving vent to the all-important skepticism that has prudently checked our human impulses toward excess. Neither fully democratic nor monarchic, the Framers set our sights upon the polestar of liberty and gave us a set of messy checks and balances that would, if followed properly, insure that we would not lose sight of the abiding limitations of self-government. Liberty was the reward for widespread free agency. Liberty was an economic generator of unparalleled productivity. Liberty required a robust blend of self-reliance and common purpose. Simply put, Liberty required a commitment to deliberative inquiry. The fact that we are now living in a society that increasingly thinks self-reliance and intellectual deliberation are a quirky pejorative means that common purpose is something we will take for granted while surrendering its malleable definition to a governmental elite.
A more enlightened and benevolent monarch will not improve the unfunded liability on the banks of the muddy Potomac. Making this bloated government function better is a vain hope. But then, a people who have surrendered their local sovereignty and vitality for a disingenuous promise of National Greatness will always find it difficult to recognize their own complicity in their reduced circumstances. They will wait, dutifully for word from on high to tell them what to do and think. They will begin to elevate the office of the Presidency until it is a de-facto Monarch. They will surrender their civil liberties and then wonder why they no longer have a country worthy of or conducive to liberty. Needless to say, without liberty, even your own front porch is little more than a prison farm of steadily declining fortunes on the back of increasing debt. The local ain’t worth a plug nickel without liberty.
We can re-engineer the idea of a monarch in our time of peril and look for the best and the brightest to relocate our boot straps for us or we can start reclaiming the original forms of the Republic and applying them to the evolving challenges of the times we inhabit. Our Government, isolated from the true welfare of the great majority of towns and counties supporting it, the Foggy Bottom Imperium is caught in a kind of perpetually westering imperialism . It has only long distance vision and has become short-sighted as a result. It favors a preoccupation with the fate of the Hindu Kush over the welfare of citizens in Butte or Beaufort. It tells us that our main streets will not be safe unless we are bombing main streets somewhere on the other side of the world. It thinks prosperity can come by exporting jobs and minting credit cards backed up by Federal Printing Presses.
I am a member of the permanent opposition because I believe the abandonment of monarchy was a damned fine idea. I believe it is prudent to reach for your knife when some sharp-dressing member of the Neo-Nomenklatura tells me they want to tax me more for my own good but distract me with impenetrable laws when an accounting comes due. I oppose these nitwits in charge because they seem to think cutting taxes and increasing spending is a prudent course of action. I think it is fighting words when somebody who tells me they are my leader imprisons and tortures someone without due process. Anyone, dammit. I think those who accuse me of isolationism are isolationists themselves because I am impertinent enough to suggest that a town on the banks of the Ohio River might be just as important as Baghdad. I am a member of the permanent opposition because I both hate and love my country and am always searching for ways to make me love it ever more. She is sturdier than I am after all and if one thing is certain, this American Beauty is best when handled roughly. Most importantly, I find myself loving this North American benediction most for its very human imperfections. Perhaps imperfections are hard to manage and take a lot of work to overcome but in the end, they would seem to be a nobler challenge than crusading for perfection on the counterfeit promises of debt. Indeed, there are times when one’s imperfections are one’s best features.
Long live the King, somewhere damned else.