Democrats & Liberals Archives

Enabling The Politicians

How did it get this bad with the Bush Administration? The simple answer to this can be found in what many Republican voters have been doing, or moreover, failing to do.

It’s not so simple as a failure to hold people accountable, though that’s part of it. Some Democrats, Liberals, and independents resort to demonizing Republican voters, but that misses an important and much more universal point.

This society has a bad habit of abstracting purpose-driven behavior to the point of absurdity. Perfectly reasonable motivations become objects of unreasonable worship, idols of ideology, if you will. The notion that's missed is this complex world, is that few ideas are really that healthy when taken so far.

We didn't evolve these marvellous brains to get stuck in a rut like that, but to respond and adapt to our situation. What makes this tricky is that our brains are also evolved to allow a certain level of perseverance, and belief in unseen order, and that often times this is an utterly necessary thing to do.

The brain, one could say, is like a car. It can be functioning perfectly, even as it takes it's owner over the nearest cliff. The Republican party has functioned fairly well as a political organization for the last twenty or thirty years. Unfortunately, it's driving personalities have been heading for the cliff for the last generation.

You see, they cut the brake lines. They discouraged independent inquiry, encouraged a cloistered kind of groupthink, and encouraged their constituents to think that any trouble on the part of their leaders constituted a liberal political play to be resisted by Republican voters.

What happens when charges are true, like those related to recent events?

I think most Republicans have already been primed to disbelieve the truth of the charges. Most don't set out to deny the truth. Even those who do, often weigh their party's fortunes in the equation, convinced by years of propaganda that America's fate and that of the GOP are one and the same: with it's rise and fall, so go the fortunes of The United States.

This all came to a head with Bush 43's election. Here was a president who had no problem with alienating everybody outside the GOP and its natural constituency. He had no problem with resurrecting the monsters of McCarthyism to unleash on Democrats, no problem with running his policies strictly according to the political whims of consultants and special interests, no problem with using the Right-Wing Media Machine to keep America on message.

What he was not prepared to do was get down to business. There's a reason this guy takes long vacations, even when Category 5 storms are set to barrel down on the Gulf Coast. There's a reason it took Bush several minutes to get up and acknowledge what he had been told by his Chief of Staff. There's a reason that Bush doesn't say "I'll get right to it." and does what needs to be done.

That reason is plain: his idea of leadership is itself an abstract sense of vision and expectation, a deterministic view of the world that does not allow for the notion that one could do what's supposed to be the right thing, or just not obviously wrong, and still end up being wrong and needing to correct one's mistakes. If you do the right thing, know what's right, are guided by what's right (or at least realistic in his view), then things should turn out well.

In short, Bush does not plan with Murphy's law in mind. If I were to venture forth an idea of what kept him dazed in a world of his own those seven minutes after Andy Card told him what had happened, one possibility might be that he was trying to reconcile a national security policy he was told was best for America with results that explicitly demonstrated that policy's failure. How could this happen? I think that's been Bush's question every time something bad happens, and he hasn't learned to deal with it by working the problem. Like many CEOs, he doesn't see himself as integrated with his company, but above it, his purpose being to inspire other people to solve the organization's problems for him. Unfortunately, real world decisions, especially those that are rich in conflicts and problems, require a leader whose knowledge of the world is great enough to where his advisers are there to provide choices, not merely a recommended course of action that may go wrong in part or in whole.

His problem echoes the problems of the Republican party as a whole, and from there the rest of society as whole. Purpose taken to excess. The capability to do what one wants and what feels right worshipped and unquestioned, considered apart from any integrated look at the results, or any forethought of possible means and problems. That and submission from those whose best interest is to question.

I would submit that the central cause of our neglectful supervision of our politicians is this: the complexity of our society has outstripped our understanding of the world it exists in. Because of that, delegation or simplification is understandably welcomed. The simplistic notions of the world that once served us well, though, are now deeply problematic. We need to rework the way we learn and the way we understand. What was once obscure knowledge about the way the world works must now be common understanding. What we once judged ourselves too stupid or unsophisticated to understand, we must now grasp with all the intelligence that our gifts allow.

Confronted by a confusing, changing world, our first response has been nostalgia, the wish to return to the securely understood past. When we do that, though, we commit ourselves to a system of thought out of sync with the world as it now is. We can no longer idolize the past, idolize the images and illusions of things no longer meant to be. We must figure out what to do now, how to deal with the problems that threaten our peace and freedom now. We cannot wait for ideals to resurrect themselves, nor our ideologies to be made flesh.

We cannot continue to make ourselves slaves to dead systems of logic. The price of our freedom is that we not continue to support and enable leaders to simply do as they please, but hold them accountable. We must make the price of our continued support greater than applause lines, party loyalty and ideological correctness. We must make practical men and women of our elected officials, at least as far as having them match practical benefits to their political dreams. To do that, we have to stop underestimating ourselves, and underestimating what we deserve in terms of leadership.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at September 28, 2005 8:10 PM