Friday, November 23, 2007

Whatever Happened to 'We the People'?

The following is an excerpt from Thom Hartmann's new book, Cracking the Code: How to Win Hearts, Change Minds, and Restore America's Original Vision.

We the people

The traditional American liberal story is the story of We the People.

As Americans, the most important part of our social identity is our role as citizens. To be a citizen means to be part of, and a de- fender of, the commons of our nation. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the streets we drive on, the schools that we use, the departments that protect us -- these are all the physical commons. And there are also the cultural commons -- the stories we tell ourselves, our histories, our religions, and our notions of ourselves. And there are the commons of our power systems (in the majority of American communities), our health-care system (stolen from us and privatized over the past twenty-five years, our hospitals in particular used to be mostly nonprofit or run by mostly city or county governments), and the electronic commons of our radio and TV spectrum and the Internet.

Most important for citizenship is the commons of government -- the creation and the servant of We the People.

Franklin D. Roosevelt understood this commons. In his "Four Freedoms" speech, he said, "Necessitous men are not free men." Hungry people aren't free people, no matter what you want to call them. Hungry people can't be good citizens: they're too busy taking care of the hungry part of themselves to care about the citizen part.

Republicans don't want to fund FDR's social safety net because they fundamentally do not believe in the concept of We the People collectively protecting all of us in anything other than a military/police way. They don't believe that "the rabble" should run the country. They want big corporations to run the commons of our nation, and they think that the most appropriate role for citizens is that of infantilized consumers -- of both commercial products and commercially produced political packaging.

This is the fundamental debate in our society: Are we a nation of citizens or a nation of consumers? Are we a democracy run by citizens, or are we a corporatocracy that holds consumers locked in dependency by virtue of their consumption?

Consumerism appeals to the greedy and selfish child part of us, the infantilized part that just wants someone else to take care of us. The core message of most commercials is that "you are the most important person in the world." Commercial advertising almost never mentions "we" or "us."

What is at stake today is the very future of our democratic republic. If we accept an identity as fearful, infantilized consumers, we will be acting from our baby part and allowing corporate America and an increasingly authoritarian government to fill the role of a parent part.

The story we are told is that we should surrender all of our power to corporations and just let them govern us because a mystical but all-knowing godlike force called "the free market" will eventually solve all of our problems.

That story fits in very well with the conservatives' other story: that we are children who need to be protected from evil humans; and because corporations are amoral and not human, they are intrinsically and morally superior to evil humans.

To save democracy we must crack that code and bring back the code so well understood by the Founders of this nation: that we're a country of barn-builders, of communities, of intrinsically good people who work together for the common good and the common wealth. We begin this process by speaking to the responsible part of us, the part that enjoys being grown up and socially responsible.

The story we have to tell is the story of citizenship derived from our best and most noble parts. It's the story of We the People.

We talk a lot about the features of citizenship, like the right to vote, but we sometimes forget what the benefits are. The main benefit of citizenship is freedom -- not freedom from external or internal dangers (although that is included in the package, it's only one of the six purposes listed in the Preamble to the Constitution) that conservatives obsess on, but freedom to think as we want, to pray as we want, to say what we want, and to live as we want to fulfill our true potential as humans (the other five things listed in the Preamble).

The question, ultimately, is whether our nation will continue to stand for the values on which it was founded.

Early American conservatives suggested that democracy was so ultimately weak it couldn't withstand the assault of newspaper editors and citizens who spoke out against it, leading John Adams (our second president and our first conservative president) to pass America's first Military Commissions Act-like laws: the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. President Thomas Jefferson, who beat Adams in the "Revolution of 1800" election, rebuked those who wanted America ruled by an iron-handed presidency that could -- as Adams had -- throw people in jail for "crimes" such as speaking political opinion, and without constitutional due process.

"I know, indeed," Jefferson said in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1801, "that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong; that this government is not strong enough." But, Jefferson said, our nation was "the world's best hope" precisely because we put our trust in We the People.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is 'We The People: A Call To Take Back America.'


Simply put - Thom Hartmann ROCKS!


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Hajji said...

Barry Crimmins

Snake Eyes
Friday, November 16th, 2007

The presidential election is less than a year away so I'm now catching occasional debates- which is to say every fifteenth or sixteenth of these get-togethers. I watched last night's Las Vegas Democratic dust-up. The media watched, too, and is trumpeting word that Hillary Clinton got tough and put away her opponents. All I saw was Clinton turn on a fog machine whenever things got anywhere near specific and occasionally call anyone who criticized her a de facto Republican. But since the earth didn't crack open and suck her into a flaming abyss as she woodenly delivered gag-inducing lines like "I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm just trying to play the winning card." the corporate media wags are again crowning her as invincible and inevitable.

I'm sorry but I won't be stampeded into believing my country should be run by anyone who would say anything that corny. This remark was planned. Her people decided it was a good idea for her to say it. There was a meeting and her handlers came in and announced-- "Have we got a line for you! It's perfect for Vegas!" And then they unfurled that turgid, completely unfunny vapidity. And then she loosed her patented fake laugh and agreed to use it! After she delivered it with all the verve of a mannequin, we were supposed to believe that she was so quick-witted that she thought it up on the spot. We were supposed to see her as a warm, human and humorous ad-lib artist. My fellow citizens, just how obvious does an insult have to become before you take offense?

A very vocal element of the Vegas crowd began booing whenever any other candidate held Clinton's record up to the light. Just a week after Hillary displayed her green thumb by planting a question at an Iowa rally, are we supposed to believe that these outbursts were spontaneous ? Give me a break, it was Vegas and she's the establishment's candidate out there. You don't suppose things were rigged a bit in the house's favor, do ya?

On a night when her strategy was to call any critic a dirty Republican, the crowd booed and hissed several times when such criticism arose. In post-debate analysis, the talking heads respectfully discussed Hillary's tough rejoinders and then they noted the crowd's vocal disrespect to Clinton criticism. They treated these two things as separate and organic events. Then an ad came on for a fishing pole the size of a pen and we were supposed to buy that, too.

According to a recent poll, many New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats feel Hillary Clinton is their party's "most electable" candidate. Why not just take out ads that say "OK, shit for brains Americans, we've decided that because you are so ridiculously useless, the best we can possibly hope for is this mealy-mouthed, equivocating, bought and paid for, coward whenever political gumption is needed, stiff, legacy candidate."

Voting cynically in a primary is a plan as flawed as skipping youthful idealism so that you can get a jump on your career as a corporate drone. Why practice doing something reprehensible? Why sit in a cubicle before you have to?

I'm sorry, Dems but the Anyone But Bush Days are over because Bush is ending. Needless to state, I will never support or vote for a Republican, but I'm telling you right now--I will not vote for Hillary Clinton. Ever. Don't embarrass yourself by trying to change my mind. There are an awful lot of people like me out here. So if you're supporting Clinton in the primaries or caucuses to be pragmatic, please remember that half the country already says it will not vote for her. And she's the most electable Democratic candidate? Stop insulting your party! If you ignore my warning, don't blame me if the Republicans win a close election in 2008. Don't outsmart yourself by compromising on a candidate that millions of people will never, ever vote for. Examine the candidates and select the one you feel best represents your views. Unless your views are vague and ever-shifting, that candidate will not be Hillary Clinton.

Check This Box For Dennis K. said...

I know an awful lot of people feel Dennis Kucinich is head and shoulders above the other Democrats in the field this year, but for some reason there doesn't seem to be all that much being done to rally support for him.

I just don't get it.

When was the last article posted in support of Kucinich on this blog, for instance?
It's much more heavily weighted towards discussing what's wrong about the soon-to-be-past (Bush/Cheney) than with talking about positive options for the future.

I just don't get it.