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Heroism And The Establishment In U.S. Politics


By Sam Smith Editor
Undernews 4th Feb 2004

We have two military heroes running for the presidency. More correctly, however, we should say that they were heroes once - for heroism, at least as commonly described, is something that is partly defined by time and place. As Joseph Conrad noted, heroes, like cowards, are people who for one brief moment do something out of the ordinary.

It takes nothing away from the honor of that moment to understand that the courage of a critical event may not be a particularly good predictor of future behavior. For one thing, as the Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder points out, "Most war heroes don't feel brave or heroic at the time, but they do their duty, despite often feeling overwhelmed and horrified, in order to protect others." Some pay for their courage with mental anguish the rest of their lives.

But many others become ordinary citizens virtually indistinguishable from their compatriots. Even in positions of power, the magic inner strength with which they were once blessed typically recedes except for campaigns and banquets. Certainly in this election, military heroics did not correlate with courage to oppose three of the worst bills ever passed by Congress: the Iraq War authorization, the Patriot Act, and the absurd Bush education plan.

It is also true that Americans tend to rank military heroism far above all other varieties and so we overlook many heroes, such as firefighters, who routinely display bravery yet are rarely honored to the same extent, let alone get to run for president. Or the grandmother raising her second generation of children amidst crime and drugs, a rotten school system, and a society that cares not one whit about any of them.

It is useless in a time of such mythological fetishism, however, to argue the point. As John Kerry has recently demonstrated, it was only after he reincarnated himself as someone he had been three decades ago that the public - desperate for honor, decency, and bravery - leapt to his side. The myth that grants such tenure to heroism gains ascendancy when a different sort of bravery is stunningly absent from our political life, which is to say bravery marked by public lives of steady, constantly reiterated courage and integrity. With such heroes lacking, it is not surprising that so many give their support to what a candidate once was in the hope that somehow it will happen again.



By Sam Smith Editor
Undernews 3rd Feb 2004

One of the lessons that Greens, apathetics, disgruntled Democrats and others were supposed to be learning this season was the inherent value of working within the system. This virtue is so apparent, one was told, that it requires nothing more than logic. No benefits, no inducements, no reform, not even simple empathy was required on the part of those who now control the Democratic Party. It was enough to declare ex cathedra that if one disliked Bush, the only choice was whatever the Democratic Party wanted to offer.

Well, now the results are in. Not Ralph Nader, not Greens, not Jesse Jackson, but a multi-term, capable, moderate Democratic governor decided to work within the system. And what happened? He was ridiculed, dissed, lied about, and subjected to malicious spin by party insiders, the Washington establishment, and the obese media until eventually the voters believed them and swung to the approved safe, lightweight underachiever, John Kerry.

Of course, for inside the system reformers such as Kucinich or Sharpton it was even worse. The NY Times doesn't even think they should be allowed in debates and the rest of the media regularly insulted, excoriated, and scolded them.

No one can look honestly at the experience of those who tried to work within the system this season and argue that the Democratic Party can be reformed in this manner. Along with its fellow-traveling troglodytes of the media there is nothing the party leadership wants less, or is more revolted by, than even talk of reform.

This is not a matter of whether Dean won or lost, but rather the vicious, inhospitable, insulting manner in which one of the most honest, decent, and interesting political figures of recent years was treated because he dared to run without permission of the party's elite. Now, as Craig Crawford put it, "The House of Lords of the Democratic Party are getting what they want."

This is their decision. It is not Howard Dean's fault, it's not Ralph Nader's fault, it's not the fault of apathetic or angry voters. The party has chosen to go into this election with a weak candidate, no platform, no passion other than distaste for the incumbent, no grassroots party building, and no attempt to reach new constituencies.

It may just work because George Bush is so bad, or because his chickens come home to roost in some dismal fashion, but that's just dumb luck and not good politics.



FEB 3 & 4, 2004
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