19 November 2006

A Farewell to Smarms

Well, the silly season is over. The friends of Howard Rich are licking their wounds, spinning their "victories" and generally returning for the nonce under the rock from whence they crawled.

And the Daily Kos crowd has returned to doing whatever it is that they do best, viz. Democrats fighting Democrats. And the Republicans are rationalizing away like mad. The whole unbalanced spin cycle is as furious as it is trivial. No one will remember this in a month. But, that has not stopped the very-little-news networks from flooding the air with talking heads.

So, there are slow news days and sober analyses of caucus votes by our revered screaming and interrupting talking heads as the gladiatorial combat on the 24-hour news channels proceeds. They act like they've never attended a party caucus at any level before -- and since I was a wee lad, I've attended them in both the Republican and Democratic caucasians (sic).

And, without taking a nanosecond to understand this election -- one in which recounts are still proceeding in some spots, by the by -- they're on to the presidential election of 2008, and candidates are declaring.

Jesus. Give it a break, will ya? Let's talk about energy policy, instead if you can spare a minute. But that's for another day. I am as relieved that it is over as I am pleased with the result. I cheerfully admit it.

But while watching Richard Dreyfuss on the last show of the season of Bill Maher's "Real Time" I had to think about something that's been on my mind throughout this surreal, Orwellian political season. That is, Dreyfuss made an articulate plea for our post-Enlightenment democracy: we must return to civics.

And he said what needed to be said about TeeVee discourse -- that this "people yelling nasty things at one another" was a big part of the problem. It was a courageous moment, a moment of crystalline inconvenience, that uncomfortable moment when the audience fidgets and realizes that it's being lectured to, and the speaker is moving ahead, full speed, damn the torpedoes.

And at moments there was a silence, a pin-drop quality that compelled the panel and the host and the anonymous audience to see if they could get behind that.

That our version of representative democracy is a little blip in a very ugly and bloody history of human tyranny. And that requires education in the tools of democracy, in, in essence, rhetoric.

Logical argument. Rational analysis. Civility. Speaking to persuade and not, as is the current fad, to assassinate.

And I thought to myself, WHY is calling for "civics" in maintenance of our democracy controversial? It ought to be a no-brainer, except that the eponymous faction has, in fact, removed civics from the curriculum, lo, these past couple of generations. It was, as Dreyfuss noted, controversial. Democratic parents were afraid that sending their children to civics would return the children as NOT Democrats. Republican parents were afraid that sending their children to civics would return the children as NOT Republicans.

While we were living off the fat of the land, we neglected our democracy, and it is dying. Dreyfuss characterized it as "Just tell us what to do!" And opposed it with taking responsibility.

Nothing here should be controversial. It ought to be a no-brainer. There's a nice little piece on the show over at monstersandcritics.com today:
Richard Dreyfuss urges U.S. back to civics classes
By April MacIntyre Nov 19, 2006, 19:44 GMT

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher's last episode of the season featured Oscar winning actor Richard Dreyfuss pleading to the American people to reintroduce civics classes, once a staple course, back into public school curriculum. (sic)

His appearance on Maher's "Real Time" has sparked national debate and discussion regarding the future of America as we know it, and the precious gift, Dreyfuss referred to it as a miracle, a tiny ray of light, taken for granted by so many of a working democracy, flaws and all. "If you don't teach it, it will go away." He warned. "We'll chuck these liberties the next terrorist horror that happens."

Dreyfuss' comments about the importance of teaching civics not just to our children but to all Americans are percolating within the political and social blogosphere as "outstanding" and "overdue" in a national drive to strengthen core American values and education....
Yes. Outstanding and overdue.

And the clarity of noticing that without the fundamental tools, democracy can't be pursued is stunning in its simplicity. It's the sort of bumper sticker that starts a successful campaign.

We like to act as if words weren't important, after all: sticks and stones can break my bones. But politics, and, therefore government, are ONLY words. Words are very important, and we need to relearn how to use them.

For the past four months, I have been engaged in a campaign of sorts. And I have used this blog as an armor's forge. There has been no doubt as to the effectiveness of those words. But I have attempted to make my arguments with reason and without rancor.

Parties on both the left and right have not followed this principle, and this has neither served democracy well, nor their causes. This is about citizenship, and we agree, as citizens, to live with one another, whether we agree or not, and to submit our views and our arguments to the citizens under the old dictum, vox populi, vox dei: "The voice of the people is the voice of God."

The first act of citizenship following the ballot must be to accept that voice. We accept the will of our fellow citizens and we move forward. That is our strength, and all the yowling and feces-slinging won't change that, if we are willing to stand up and be counted.

Richard Dreyfuss did that on Bill Maher Friday night, and for that I salute him. If you take the time to BE a citizen, then I salute you as well.



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