Garrison Is Right

In his remarkable essay, We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore, Garrison Keillor says:

“Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy—the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.

The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this.”

He speaks to a point I mentioned briefly and have been thinking a lot about: the very different concepts of democracy and capitalism. Ralph Nader, who is considered to be a radical leftist, is clearly and consistently a small-d democrat. He is unquestionably fighting for democratic ideas. Democratic ideas are now considered to be leftist tactics to redistribute wealth or some such nonsense. This is really important, especially to those people who vote Republican because of their agreement with a certain percentage of the Republican platform: The Republican party is a tool of the rich elite in this country to, probably somewhat unintentionally, destroy democracy in this country. We will be a country, and really are now a country, that is ruled by a military plutocracy. This is contrary to the most basic principles outlined by the founding father of the United States of America — that we are a democracy. Look up the word “democracy” folks. We ain’t it anymore.

The disappearing breed of conservatives that Garrison describes as “the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships” should abandon the Republican party.

Garrison Is Right

Little "D" Democracy

What bothers me most about the political warfare raging between the right and the left these days is that is it undemocratic. A quick gander through the dictionary gives one definition of democratic that seems particularly apt: Befitting the common people; — opposed to aristocratic.

Opposed to aristocratic. This is important. What is aristocratic then? Essentially a ruling class of the nobility.

So when we all talk about how great democracy is what we are saying is that government should not be made of of aristocrats or nobles and that is should be for the benefit of the common person. Under democracy we find something similar but still important: The common people, considered as the primary source of political power. This is something our fore fathers considered very important: that rights were not granted to the people by the state, the rights are first and government is formed second to protect them.

Now I don’t like George W. Bush or the Republicans and chances are somewhere around 50% of you reading this don’t like John Kerry or the Democrats. Fine. No problem. We need that debate, we want that debate and we should all encourage that debate. What we should not do is:

  1. Prevent people from speaking their opinion
  2. Prevent people from voting for the person of their choice
  3. Prevent people’s vote from being counted

These things are undemocratic. They deny the voice of the people to be heard.

But I’d like to go a bit further in two ways. First, tricking people by telling half-truths (i.e. 99% of political advertising) is also undemocratic because it prevents people from speaking their opinion and it prevents people from voting for the person of their choice. We should have very high standards for political ads and require that they not be misleading. We have people making sure that I don’t mislead you about your shampoo, I don’t see why we can’t have people making sure we don’t have blatantly misleading political advertising. I’d love to just let the market decide but the people in question own the market. Thus the role of government.

Which lead nicely into my second additional point: the United States of America, in order to be true to the Constitution of the United States of America, and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and other writings by the architects of this great nation, cannot be and will not be ruled by an ultra-rich elite. It is the duty of our government and the duty of the American people to make sure that our democracy does not become a plutocracy, which is just the capitalist form of an aristocracy.

I’m not talking necessarily about the fact that most politicians are rich. I think it is the natural interest of people from certain professions, especially people who are not scrambling to keep food on the table. I’m talking about the direct influence of money on the political system. From elections to legislation to enforcement the influence of big money is enormous. We are starting to believe that’s just the way things are.

To attempt to conclude, I am a capitalist. I believe in markets. I believe taxes should be as low as possible and still buy us a quality government. But I do not believe for one minute that capitalism and democracy are the same thing. They are not. Democracy is a concept that has a small parcel of socialism in it. Socialism is not a bad word at all — our families are socialist, our military is socialist. The reason democracy has a small helping of socialism in it is because without it the plutocrats can eventually rewrite the rules to be exactly what they want. It takes a very strong state to be able to hold back the onslaught of the wealthy as they attempt to take full control of government.

Don’t be fooled — democracy is hard to achieve and we have not necessarily achieved it.

Little "D" Democracy


So I’m a Dad now. This is my first blog entry on dadhood. I have typically despised the gushing “new Dad” phenomena. All of a sudden otherwise normal men start driving the speed limit, talking in baby talk and losing all sense of spontaneity. I don’t expect non-Dads to understand this post just like I didn’t understand previous new Dads. But I can report that you don’t have to turn into a pussy just because you are a Dad. On the other hand, it is totally weird the emotions that come over you when you have your first child. First of all and most obvious is the immediate and intense love you feel for your child. When Myles was born he was born C-section so when they whisked him out of the operating room I followed him and was with him for his first few minutes out of the womb. He was small and purple and he was crying. Immediately I felt an intense feeling of responsibility for him. He was mine. He was helpless and delicate and he immediately needed love and care. He held on to my finger as they cleaned him and and I rubbed him and spoke to him and welcomed him to Earth. As time goes on (he is 4 months old now) the feeling of love and intimacy grows as you bond together. Right now I am on an airplane and he is hundreds of miles away. If this plane went down I would cry like a baby all the way down, not so much for Myles but for myself and for the love and joy that would be robbed of me when I died. I miss him right now and I know in some way he doesn’t quite understand he misses me. He is my buddy.

I am a busy person and having Myles hasn’t changed that. I travel and go to meetings or go to my observatory. I work a lot and enjoy getting out with the boys for a beer now and then. I’m not going to hover constantly over my son or avoid living my life to be with him. Yet he is undoubtedly the most important thing in my life now. It is funny because I was very much on the fence about having kids. I wasn’t against it but I could easily imagine a life without kids. I still can, and I know it would be a life very much worth living. But somehow this take-it-or-leave-it feeling was replaced by the most-important-thing-in-my-life feeling within minutes of him being born. I love my son deeply and I look forward to every minute that we’ll spend together in the decades to come. Now I am on the fence about another child. I could take it or leave it. I used to say that I don’t see the purpose of my life to raise children. I still don’t. I want to raise my children in the context of my life, but I will never give up the ambitions and adventures that I treasure. I feel sorry for parents who do. I may not make every baseball game as Myles grows up. I may be gone on trips now and then or busy at meetings and such. I think my son will benefit from having a father that is constantly interested in learning things and doing things. None of that changes this wonderful feeling of fatherhood. I am not the most responsible person in the world. I won’t enumerate my vices here, but I am not your stereotypical Dad. I play in a band. I study astrophysics and go SCUBA diving. I enjoy the hell out of life and rather than having my children being something that inhibits that, I intend to live a life where my children enhance it. For you non-parents out there, being a parent is absolutely nothing to fear. It is fun and satisfying and can be an ultra-enjoyable change in context for your life. Whether you have your own children or adopt children, I believe the feeling is really the same. These children need you and love you and without question you will find that you need and love them, too. Being a Dad is cool.