Bay-area folks watching yesterday's Falcons/49'ers post-game show doubtless noticed what visiting fans everywhere do: the disappointed home crowd clears out quick. Inasmuch as today is also the MLK holiday (putting a disproportionate number of butts in front of TV sets on a Monday), expect FoxNews ratings to reach new highs. Why, simply because all the other networks will be reveling through their all-day/night victory lap. Why do we even have 2nd-term inaugurals anyway? We don't re-swear-in witnesses returning for a 2nd-day of testimony. Isn't it just to give the the incumbent another bite at a national audience apple (another shot at preping us all for the always spell-binding State-of-the Union address coming up next month;-)?
Sour grapes? Maybe a little. But Washington and Obama aren't really what's on my mind this morning. Rather, as I anticipate what the finest orator (sadly, IMHO not so much the finest leader of our time) is likely to say, I wonder whether we all blame (and credit) him and DC as whole, too much anyway? I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut that what we're going to get at noon is another heapin' helpin' of, "If only Congress could find reasonable compromise during the next months and years, most of our problems would fade" [presumably into the rebirth of his hope and change legacy]. In other words, the perennial party line holds that the country isn't moving "forward" as it should mainly because Washington is broken.
But, is that the real reason? Or, could it be that Washington is doing nothing more nor less than reflecting a bitterly divided electorate? Could it be that what's derided as intransigent extremism are, in actuality, our pervasive and deeply held beliefs: posiitons that are fundamentally at odds with one another? Could it be that Progressives' moral convictions about our natural obligations to care for one another are as genuine (arguably ingenuous) as Conservatives' (hyper-pragmatic?) faith in personal liberty and individual initiative? If so, the outlook for American stability (let alone leadership) may not be so bright as mainstream TV commentators would have us all believe.
Here's why. Throughout history, every flavor of Democracy has been tried. And, they never endure! More often than not, governments that really are "by the people" quickly devolve into various collectivist and then devisive patterns (e.g. bankrupt dystopian socialism and/or more centralized communist forms). Our own Founding Fathers, of course, fully realized this and designed a Republic veiled in thin democratic clothes. They had no intention whatsoever of trusting policy (nor even the selection of our most important leaders) to the whims of the masses. What they could not, an did not, anticipate is a mass media that, in effect, has reverted key policy making to referendum: e.g., Republican congressmen that, in the past, could act in more compromising fashion are today fully aware of the primary-season beheading they'd shortly face in the face of a vote unpopular in their home districts!
Some counter that more progressive (a.k.a., socialist-leaning) policies work fine in Canada and certain Northern European countries. Perhaps. But, social scientists also note that the endurance of Common (a much longer discussion of its own) laws and public policies invariably vary in proportion to the commonly held principles, earning power, culture, ethnicity, etc, of the governed. In other words, a significant majority adhere to a common government only so long as they all more-or-less share the same values.
Think of the world's nations as large condominium complexes. Anyone that's ever lived in a condo knows how exercised the home-owners associations can get when it comes to selecting leaders, changing rules, adjusting regular dues and special assessments, etc. Typically, the income levels if the owners vary significantly, but not too much: i.e., penthouse and larger units pay more than lower-level efficiencies, but not so widely disproportionate that anyone feels that they're being exploited. However, when this balance gets out of whack--e.g., too many disagreements over who should pay how much for what--everyone begins to lose interest. In extremes cases, alienated owners with adequate economic mobility simply move out and an even worse degenerative syndrome settles in.
IMHO America is teetering tenuously close to a dysfunctional condominium: and no amount of association board (governing body) reconciliation is going to make individual owners compromise their more deeply-felt aspirations and interests. So, as President Obama begins his 2nd term, it's my most sincere and fervent hope that he'll eschew the more strident voices on both sides and that he'll find a way to build upon our more natural (but fading) common vision of what America should actually expect from its government. Instead of vacuous programs on gun control (that won't have any real impact upon our serious problem with violent crime and mental illness), instead of continuing to plummet the nation (if not the world) headlong into ruinous debt that robs future generations of any opportunity to form their visions and priorities, let's all hope that Obama looks to the dwindling democracy that can be sustained. So, let's give him a shot at doing it!