Ask not what your country can do for you ...

A colleague on the left side talked about the inevitability of an Obama victory based on demographics. But it wasn’t really demographics he was talking about; it was identity politics. He referred to people by their group identity - i.e. the blacks, the Latinos, the women, the gays etc. The operative voting assumption was that members of these groups moved more or less like Pavlov’s dog, responding to political stimulus. Is this what we believe?

We all belong to lots of groups, but the only group that really should count on Election Day is American. All other groups are ephemeral association. Our responsibility in the voting booth is to think beyond our personal gain or loss and think about the good of our country. OUR country.

How did we get to this sad case where we have people thinking first of their peculiar group and how much they will get and only secondly, maybe not really at all, of their country? Let me assert that I don't believe most people really do this. People like me don't accept these kinds of analysis and we still make up a big group of Americans. But let's take it at face value and dig in a little. Let's assume, as politicians do, that people tend to vote in blocks based on factors such as race, gender, religion or national origin.

The division of society into conflicting groups is a very old concept. In fact, it is only recently in human development that almost everybody did not think in those sorts of terms. Each group had its attributed characteristics. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus always assured his readers that all Cretans were liars. He also knew that some nationalities were natural slaves, others natural masters. Of course, the ancient Greeks were thought they understand the behavior of women. We Americans can take credit for championing the idea of citizens being one group and people choosing our destinies beyond the group into which we were born. This is one reason most Americans knew intuitively that Marx was so full of shit with his class struggle.

Unfortunately, we are sometimes forgetting the American truth. Some of this is the fault of Marx. Marxism infected intellectual life all over the world. America was less affected by the disease, but it seeped into our academia too and besides it is convenient for social scientists to break us up into groups. But the biggest push came from politics. Politicians learned how to slice and dice Americans and put them at odds with each other.

They could talk to "community leaders" who could deliver votes. This was nothing new. But they also got much better at finding smaller and more defined group. They appeal to them in crass ways, i.e. how much money the group will get from government, what advantages they will get over competing groups.

President John Kennedy told Americans that they should ask not what their country could do for them, but ask what they could do for their country. How different it is today. Today politicians tell people what the government will do for them w/o asking anything in return except for their votes. Except their votes - sort of like selling your soul. The process has become transactional. There is no appeal to what is good for all American. It is more just how much the politician can deliver to one's group or one self.

Martin Luther King looked forward to a time when we would judge people by the content of their characters, not the color of their skins. Today doing that might be considered un-PC and certainly not good politics.

Maybe it is time again to just be Americans. That doesn't mean we are all the alike. It means that we are different in so many ways that the differences really don't much matter in how they define us.

I have lots of "demographic characteristics." I was born with some, but most others I have chosen or achieved. Of course, they influence all my decisions. But I try hard not to let them determine my responses. I assume that in general what is good for America is good for me, but if it turns out that in some cases the two do not coincide, my duty it to choose my country. I hope this has not become an old - out of fashion - idea.

Posted by Christine & John at April 27, 2012 9:30 PM
Comment #343001


“How did we get to this sad case where we have people thinking first of their peculiar group and how much they will get and only secondly, maybe not really at all, of their country?”

How did we get here?

How about when we Americans forced disparate communities of people that we branded inferior to group together for their own safety?
The Irish were looked down on when they arrived in droves. How long did it take for them to assimilate?
The Chinese of the late 19th century also come to mind.
How about the Native Americans being forced onto reservations?
Mexicans are thought inferior even by the other cultures of Latin America.

Cultures have long memories Jack.

And speaking of cultures, the Koreans believe theirs is superior to ours. Hell, they believe their culture is superior to every-body’s.

Prejudice has a way of pulling disparate people together whether it is those that discriminate, or those that are discriminated against.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at April 28, 2012 9:16 AM
Comment #343007


Over our entire history, the “in” group has expanded. It was the goal of progressive (using the word correctly and not politically here) that we would integrate more and more people into the mainstream. It was the desire of the regressive parts of society to maintain separate group identities and segregation.

I understand that all of human history has been plagued by group division. We Americans tried to overcome this, at least in our official documents and pronouncements. That our reach exceeded our grasp is not a valid criticism of the ideal.

We have now achieved more than any other large society in the history of the world. Our president is not only the son an immigrant but also of African heritage. There really is no significant impediment for someone of any heritage to be successful in America today. This is proven by the fact that many do.

Yet as we finally read a better place, we segregate and recreate the old hateful ideas of separatism.

Our so-called intellectual leaders too often say something like, “since we cannot achieve perfection, we will resort to the old group identities”

We should recognize that we have made mistakes in the past and continue to make them today. But the situation today is fantastically promising compared to most other places and to any time in the past. We should indeed value diversity, but it should be that diversity of choice, ephemeral, protean and not limiting. Some choices are superior to others. We can choose them or not.

We should reject politicians who try to set us against each other. Appealing to us based on immutable characteristics such as race or gender is sexist and racist. We should try to move beyond that as a people and a civilization.

Posted by: C&J at April 28, 2012 9:57 AM
Comment #343014


“Our president is not only the son an immigrant but also of African heritage.”

Yet he is still seen as merely an “African American” by those of your own party.

I would submit that your thinking Jack, is far more progressive than your compatriots on the right. We all can see wrongs that need to be made right, but some folks remain to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the present.
The future has always been brighter for those that are forward thinkers, just as the past has never actually been better than the present, though some of us still wallow in our percieved notions of times past. We always remember the theoretical “good” times of the past, and conveniently ignore the parts that truly sucked.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at April 28, 2012 10:29 AM
Comment #343016

Centrists might be labeled as a group but the idea is that most things aren’t all good or bad, moderation in all things.

We need some immigration but we don’t need millions on the taxpayer dole in the middle of a deep recession/depresssion.

We need some gov’t to regulate/legislate, but we don’t need federal taxpayer dollars being spewed out through a myriad of gov’t agencies to build city parks and so on.

We need a strong defense force, but we don’t need to be in such places a N. Korea trying to force them to eat, etc.

We need to remember our history, culture but we don’t need to hinge every issue on race, religion, etc. I see no purpose or reason for race/religion to even be mentioned in the left/right columns.

We need a strong, centrist party to save us from ourselves, IMO.

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at April 28, 2012 11:17 AM
Comment #343018

I’ve noticed that those who agree with my politics do so because they are good Americans (like me), who are only concerned with the good of OUR country. But, those who disagree with my politics do so because of identity politics. They vote by demographic identity for selfish reasons of personal gain.

Posted by: RUSerious at April 28, 2012 12:04 PM
Comment #343019


The man is president. It doesn’t get any better than that. The fact that some people still don’t like him is not really a big deal.

If we demand 100% of something, we will always be disappointed. I just think of how fantastic and unexpected this is. Imagine if someone in 1961 told you that the child born that year to a black Kenyan student and a “free spirited” American woman would grow up to be president of the United States.

My thinking is more progressive than most people in my party and more progressive than most progressives. In fact in this case, I am against the “conservatism” of both groups.

IMO - we were making good progress as long as we kept to the goal of non-racism. In the 1970s, many in the civil rights establishment and many “progressives” betrayed this goal by become consciously group oriented,i.e. racist in the idea that they would overcome racism with racism. They were playing with fire and released demons that were on the way to being vanquished.

Things are better today than they were in 1961. Of course they could be even better. One reason they are not is the resistance of traditional racial “conservatives. Another reason is the misplaced enthusiasm of “progressives.” They really both believe the same thing - that the group is more important than the individual.


By liberal standards, I vote against my economic interests.

I am not saying that people do not make decisions based on their own situation. But I do criticize the idea that it is a good thing.

Posted by: C&J at April 28, 2012 12:39 PM
Comment #343021

The document said, We The People, not we the individuals.

“One reason they are not is the resistance of traditional racial “conservatives. Another reason is the misplaced enthusiasm of “progressives.” They really both believe the same thing - that the group is more important than the individual.”

Back in the day, many progressives were racial conservatives. They promoted group rights, but only for one group, whites.

The Civil Rights movement was a progressive movement aimed at incorporating minorities into the group as a whole.

Today, most progressives believe in the concept of the greatest good for the greatest number. They have chosen to work towards that goal within the context of capitalism rather than socialism or communism, and within the context of democracy rather than aristocracy. They believe in the rights of the individual within the context of the greater good for the greatest number, a context which is alien to some individuals. Individuals are capable of doing both great and terrible things for the group as a whole.

Necessity is the mother of progressivism.

Posted by: jlw at April 28, 2012 2:31 PM
Comment #343022


Back in the day - many of us were not born, fewer of us remember and almost none of us were voting adults.

The 1960s are history. We should learn from history, but never let ourselves be made its prisoners.

Re your talk of progressiveness, this pretty much describes what I and many others think should be the goal. Unfortunately, it does not describe the reality of the group identity that I am deploring.

re civil rights movement - there was never a time when I did not fully support the idea of integration. And when MLK said that he dreamed of an America where people were judged by the content of their characters, I agreed 100%. My believe is that many in the civil rights establishment and many progressives betrayed these ideals by embracing group rights in practice.

Re socialism, communism and aristocracy - these are old fashioned and discredited concepts. Americans wisely rejected them and none of them ever got much traction in our country.

Re the greatest good - the Jeremy Bentham idea, later so eloquently repeated by Mr. Spock in “Wrath of Khan” is a good general principle, but requires modification.

Posted by: C&J at April 28, 2012 3:13 PM
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