Deciding on The Decider

High office teaches decision making, not substance. It consumes intellectual capital; it does not create it. Most high officials leave office with the perceptions and insights with which they entered; they learn how to make decisions but not what decisions to make.  — Henry A. Kissinger

I have a love/hate relationship with politics.  It’s like a drug I can successfully abstain from for awhile, and then suddenly it’s as if I’ve gone to a party where everyone is passing around the pipe.  I hesitate (almost imperceptibly) and then say, “What the hell.”

And now the silly season is looming over us yet again.  I opened my Comcast home page to be met with the news that Sarah Palin thinks she could beat President Obama.
In checkers, maybe.  She promises to make an announcement in August or September.  I can hardly wait.  (Please, do it, Sarah.)

See?  I’m pulled in yet again.  If personal history is the least bit accurate, I will slide down the long and slippery slope of political interest until splashing into the pool of election frenzy about 16 months from now.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  There was one thing I actually admired about George W. Bush (and, yes, a small puff of smoke arose from my keyboard as I wrote that sentence).  I actually appreciated the fact that he was “the decider.”

A friend of mine always says, “Let’s do something, even if it’s wrong.”  I thought of that saying often during the Bush II Era.  I rarely liked his decisions, but I had to give him credit for simply making them.  Washington has such an incredible tendency to become a stagnant cesspool of indecision that it isn’t really that difficult for a confident “decider” to rise above the crowd.

Because that’s really what we are voting for on election day — a decision maker.  Our entire democratic republic is based on that concept.  With rare exceptions in the form of ballot initiatives, we rarely vote for ideas; we vote for people.  We don’t make decisions; we vote for decision makers.  And then we hold our breath for the next four years as we watch them do exactly what we gave them the power to do.

President Obama’s ability to hold the Republican hopefuls at bay in 2012 may well depend solely on his ability to appear decisive.  Americans have their pet issues and political perspectives, but mostly they just want to know someone is in charge.  Someone who is not afraid to make a decision.

I contend that the President’s 2012 hopes will rise and fall not so much with the decisions he makes, but with his ability to appear decisive as he makes them.  That theory, of course, is dependent upon the assumption that the decisions won’t be too outlandish.  I suppose if he decided to invade France, I would have to return my Amateur Political Scientist merit badge.

Four Score and Seven Years . . . From Now

The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.… Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?

                                               — Henry David Thoreau

You can blame my college history professor for this post.  During a lecture years ago he let slip an aside that I’m not sure anyone else in the class caught.  He said, “In America, in 50 years — assuming of course that there IS an America in 50 years — we will . . . ” and the rest of it doesn’t matter.  I stopped listening at that point, shocked into a mental paralysis by the previously unconsidered possibility that landthatilove might someday cease to exist.   Over the years, I have come to see the statement as not  just a possibility, but a probability.

I have a core belief in evolution.  Not just the Darwinian variety, though I give it all the proper credit due a proven scientific theory.   I believe in a more blanket kind of evolution, as in — Everything Evolves.  Species and systems.  Plants and people.  Conch shells and countries.  Gorillas and governments.   If it exists on this planet (or on any other planet, for that matter) than it is subject to evolution.  Quite simply, the first of the 10 Commandments in the Church of Deb is “Change or Die.”

I have tried to explore this idea with my students, with not much success, I’m afraid.  They seem absolutely convinced that Democracy, Capitolism, Nationalism, Patriotism, and every other ideology associated with being a good Amurican have existed since before the dinosaurs and will outlive even the planet we seem hellbent on destroying.  When I try to suggest that perhaps extreme forms of patriotism run the risk of becoming “borderism,” a specific brand of prejudice based solely on geographic boundaries, they slit their eyes and look at me suspiciously.  It would not shock me at all if one of them shot back with, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

When I went so far as to ask them for a short paper answering the question Thoreau poses in the above quote, I received some of the poorest essays of my teaching career.  They simply couldn’t wrap their minds around a post-Democratic world.   And that saddened me.  We will not evolve until a generation is capable of envisioning the next level.

To be honest, I don’t have the answer either, but I do have a few ideas.  I believe a future stage of group evolution will have to include a de-emphasizing of national differences, a form of free-market capitolism that puts money into its proper place (pretty low) on the priority list, and an understanding that win-lose simply doesn’t exist.   True evolution will involve an understanding that all boats rise or fall together and that military defense is immensely less important than developing a sort of world consciousness, a kind of extrasensory understanding of what most efficaciously serves everyone.

Our experiment with this democratic republic has been a glorious and admirable endeavor.  I value living in a nation that has been the leader in so many ways in evolving our governmental consciousness worldwide.   But as much as I appreciate our brilliant founders, not attempting to improve on their work would be akin to driving Model T Fords for the last 100 years.

Perhaps the next time I ask a class Thoreau’s question, I should have them meditate on the words of another great American before beginning to write:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
— John Lennon

The United States of the World

I watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics last night.  I could write for an entire day about the artistry, precision, and beauty of the spectacle and still not even come within spitting distance of describing it.  How can you not love China?  Tea, calligraphy, tai chi.  Okay, so there’s smog, human rights abuses, and communisim, too, but they still get high marks for the tea.

I love the Olympics.  I enjoy the athletic competition, but that’s really secondary.  I love the Olympics because for that one brief fortnght every two years, governmentsare not the most important players on the international scene.  Presidents take a backseat to pole vaulters.  Dictators are knocked off the front page by diskus throwers.  Sultans don’t have as much gold around their neck as a few really incredible swimmers.

I appreciate the feelings of national pride people can experience around the Olympics.  The Chinese were sure strutting their stuff last night.  And I suppose if I was there I might even chant a few “USA”s myself.  But national pride has a dark side.  It’s an “official” form of bigotry.  We’re from Iraq, so we get to hate Iran.  We’re from Japan, so we get to despise China.  We’re from the U.S., so we get to glare suspiciously at North Korea.  As if people are really different once a national border is crossed. 

The Olympics present a wonderful opportunity to put political ideologies aside and root for the human spirit.   I don’t really care if the American girls win the gymnastics medal or the Romanian girls.  I would absolutely love to see the Island nation of Samoa or the Democratic Republic of the Congo go home with a medal.  ANd some of the best Olympic stories are about the non-medal winners.  I applaud them all. 

I am a citizen of the world and my race is human.  So when the Russians win or the Chinese or the French or the Americans, I swell with pride and sometimes even cry a little during the anthem.