(I've had a few more thoughts on the previous Post. I put them in an Addendum to it, but since it's been a few days, I'll put them up here as a free-standing Post. What I'm saying presumes that you've taken a look at the previous Post.)
I don’t really know what to make of the Dems at this point (and this is most certainly not a plug for the Republicans or to equate that Party and its ‘bases’ with genuine ‘conservatives’).
It seems that the vision and goal – and hardly a Liberal one, in any historical sense of the word – for the past four decades have been a) to give everybody (defined as their Identities) enough ‘space’ to be totally autonomous in their private lives, while there would be no mediating public or political common life (where ‘deliberation’ might lead to an awful lot of objections to their radical and extreme impositions).
The ‘government’ would simply attend to its assorted separated Identities, providing for them and expanding downward to fill all the empty space left by the now-gone mediating institutions and by the abandonment of any public expectations of genuine common political participation and a common public political life.
This was a recipe for the Regulatory-Preventive Nanny State – and so it is coming to pass.
The government – under the Dems but later on the Republicans as well – even expanded to somehow include in its list of things to do the provision of “happiness”. Although in Jefferson’s vision, the “pursuit of happiness” would be the task of the people themselves, and the government’s job was to provide minimal services and stay out of the way.
Yes, it became necessary for government to become more involved as the 19th and early 20th centuries saw an increasingly complicated economy, and since – though even classical Liberals didn’t like to mention it – the human capacity for Sin (which almost always involves making one’s own life ‘better’ at the expense of others or with non-bettering consequences for others) could easily take up residence in any human undertaking.
But individual adults – and citizens were expected to be adults, in the sense of conducting and sustaining a responsible self and life rather than in the more youthy point of view that adulthood merely meant you could do lots of stuff you couldn’t do before and nobody could tell you not to – were still seen as the vessels for pursuing happiness.
And for that matter, ‘happiness’ – when looked at with those pre-assumptions, when ‘framed’ like that – is still a pretty serious adult undertaking, that requires a lot of work ... mature work. Which again, is not the youthy take on the thing.
But in the late Sixties and with the 1970s erection of the Identities and their revolutions the government, claiming it was ‘liberal’, stepped in to be the great provider. And as I said before, it also had to ‘deconstruct’ the deliberative public political life of the nation, and literally assault the most profound ‘framing presumptions’ of American society – a ‘cultural’ campaign which had, though it was not Correct to notice it, hugely Political (and destructive) consequences for the American polity.
The Dems robustly and rabidly presided over the whole thing.
Now, as evidenced in Massachusetts’ recent Senate election, the Dems have seen the blowback (can you say Iraq and Af-Pak wars?).
The Party consensus seems to be that it should fall back on its bases – on black and Hispanic and women's turn-out – and keep on keeping on.
I hold no brief for keeping genuine minorities in subordinate status.
But I am rather greatly attached to a deliberative public political process as utterly essential to a democratic politics and the health of the American polity.
And if at this stage the objection were raised that an awful lot of ‘stuff’ that has gone on for the past 40 Biblical years would therefore be brought into question, well – that’s what happens when you try to impose a huge and wide and deep series of “shocks” on the nation in the interests of improving your demographics quickly and on the assumption that you can do it without adverse consequences (precisely the mistake then made in the military mis-adventures in the Middle East and the Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere).
To ‘fall back on their bases’ – now characterizable as almost purely ‘minority’ and still revolutionary (in the not-so-good sense of that term) - will reduce the Dems to a Party of Minorities. (And that started when the Dems declared themselves the "Party of Women" in 1972, and then - questing for even more demographics - added in a whole bunch of other Identities to boot.)
And, as I have said, not merely in the sense that the Populist Farmers of the 1890s had less ‘power’ than the corporate industrialists. And I still take it as far more significant than has been widely discussed that ‘women’ (with all respect to the members of that numerous gender) got the vote in 1919 (or 1920 when the States finished ratifying it).
Since then – almost immediately thereafter – We got Prohibition (an unhappy mistake based on the pre-Gilligan assumptions that Mommy knows best and that what would be a good approach in a therapeutic setting can and must therefore be easily translated into a public policy setting). Which appears to be not necessarily so.
Nor can it be denied that ‘women’ (and by this I don’t mean all the females in the country, but rather the queasily amorphous sense used by certain advocacies – to whom the Dems indentured themselves in the Sixties and Seventies) had the vote for 50 full years before those late Sixties. And it had all been precisely to give them a larger voice in national political affairs and debate back in 1919.
Yet somehow in those late Sixties it became gospel – you should pardon the expression – that ‘women’ had been ‘oppressed’ so long and frakkulously that clearly democratic process was grossly insufficient – if not indeed antithetical – to their urgent demands.
And that the problem was – neatly but ominously – soooooo deeeeeeep in the American ethos that the whole thing would have to be ‘deconstructed’ in mid-air. And the government – led by the Dems at the outset, questing for useful demographics – had to get into the business of ‘deconstructing’ the fundamental ‘framing paradigms’ of the entire Citizenry, which meant a full-scale government-led campaign against the most profound constitutive elements of what makes not only a people a people (let alone a People) but also what makes people people. If you get my meaning.
This was more than "a shock" to be therapeutically administered to a patient who was not, arguably, having a heart attack; this was a blitzkrieg, shock-and-awe campaign mounted by a democratic and Constitutionally limited government not only against its own people (and People) but against the very foundations of its national ethos of a deliberative, democratic political process.
And it still seems to me that Gustav LeBon’s 1896 insight that ‘crowds’ are ‘feminine’ – in the sense of emotional, irrational, and prone to exaggerated and thus ‘violent’ swings - seems to have been borne out since the 1960s and 1970s as the burgeoning Nanny State (more formally the Regulatory-Preventive State) began to embrace what Judith Shklar called in the late 1950s and early 1960s “the liberalism of fear”: that ‘fear’ is a useful motivator to get ‘good things’ passed into law (and imposed upon the polity quickly and efficiently).
We are now a Nanny State where Mommy rules by a mixture of promises-of-happiness-provided and of fear, requiring Mommy-Nanny’s deeeeeep and ever-increasing involvement in the most intimate personal and even intrapersonal lives of the Citizenry. Let’s face it: to forcibly change how a Citizenry ‘frames’ life and life’s meaning is a pretty violent thing for a government to do – as anybody watching Mao’s Cultural Revolution with its cadres of Red Guards, essentially Brown Shirts with Little Red Books, could see.
So to run their same old game-plan, More of the Same, seems to me a non-starter for Dems (and certainly not good for the country). But that seems to be where they're headed.
But this raises an even more serious problem: if the Dems are going to shrink (in vision as well as demographics) into a ‘minority happiness’ Party, then what’s left of a broadly-based two-Party system?
Especially when the Republicans too have become infected with the ‘radical base’ approach to politics.
What happens then? What Party will speak for and represent ‘Americans’ (as opposed to Identities and ‘bases’)?
This country is beginning to remind me of France in the 1930s, in the stunningly impotent last years of the Third Republic.
That can’t be good.
We are not faced with 'invasion' by the 'Germans' - that trope so beloved of neocons and the Bush-Cheney banditti.
We are faced with the consequences of a decades-long, government-sponsored 'deconstruction' of The People, and of individuals as mature. deliberative and deliberate political agents - upon which the entire American Framing vision and its Constitution depends.
And what has usually 'protected' the country from the consequences of its less-wise decisions - that seemingly infinite strength of natural resources and industrial and productive pre-eminence - is gone now.
Which, when added to the 'deconstruction' of The People and of Americans as mature, productive, serious and responsible agents of their own lives and selves as well as of their own politics, simply undermines huge swaths of the nation's ability to face reality around it - and within itself.
Destiny is not knocking; it has the place surrounded and is waiting for an answer.