A New Party for America?
Lawrence R. Velvel
Editor's Note: The following is the first part of a long article from Dean Velvel on why we need to begin the laborious process of creating a new political party.
This blog will be one of the longer ones ever posted here. For it deals with a subject that this writer has been ruminating about for a while, and about which some people have asked me of late. It deals with the question of what should now be done if, like so many Americans, one is unhappy with the warmongering, the extreme rightward thrust in both foreign and domestic affairs, and the rampant dishonesty which have come to extensively characterize much of American policies and politics, especially since the days of Nixon but also since the days of Johnson with regard to war and dishonesty.
In certain respects, with regard to certain principles and ideas, extensive autodidactic reading of history and more than forty-five years of observation seem to have yielded some answers as to what should be done. In other respects one is substantively at sea but feels it possible to set forth the process that should be followed to develop answers. And, as one bottom line, it seems to this writer that, as in the 1850s, when the Republican Party was created, it is now necessary to create a new political party. For the prevailing two parties suffer from a disease that could be called corrupt sclerosis of the intellectual and financial arteries. They are played out.
In trying to create a new party, one can use the already existing, and the soon-to-be-existing, features of the internet in ways that may as yet be undreamed, that are certainly not yet the subject of discussion, and that in some respects would likely be anathema to current pols and officials because of their oft prevalent mania for as much secrecy as possible, not just in governmental policies, but also in regard to what they do to advance themselves, i.e., in regard to the unseemly, often immoral and sometimes illegal actions they take for personal advancement.
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Lincoln once said that the battle of today is not for today alone, but also for a vast future. Those of us who take issue with much of what has occurred in this nation for many years confront a similar situation. Whether left wingers, liberals, or even sometimes middle of the roaders, those who are unhappy about American politics and policies face a battle whose outcome will affect generations yet unborn, generations that perhaps will not even be born for the better part of a century or longer.
And just as Lincoln said of his own generation, we cannot escape history. Indeed, history has worked on us longer than it had on Lincoln's generation. The history they faced began in 1787 and ran to 1861. As will be discussed here, the history we face began in 1787, ran to 1861, then resumed in 1876 and has run until the present day.
But this is not all. To change American politics and policies, to disenthrall the nation from elements of its history that have led to terrible policies in the present, we must exercise idealism and pursue the moral. Use of the very word idealism, or being tagged with its variant (idealist), causes one to be derided, scoffed at, treated as not a serious person and certainly not a person fit for politics. Likewise, to say that one pursues the moral causes one to be derided as impractical, as heedless of realities. America, a land that knows little or no history -- most Americans seem to know virtually none -- forgets that the abolitionists and the civil righters were idealistic and pursued the moral, forgets that Martin Luther King pursued the moral though he understood realities, forgets that Eugene McCarthy, the dethroner of Lyndon Johnson, said that sometimes morality is the only practical politics.
Nor is this all. For to turn around this aircraft carrier of a nation will likely take years, decades, maybe scores of years. It took the abolitionists 30 years to win the day. It took the civil righters somewhere between 20 years and 85 years, depending on how one dates the beginning of the movement and why. It took the women's righters about 75 years. It took the old labor movement anywhere from 40 years to 120 years, again depending on how one dates the beginning of the movement and why. So great speed, though a boon to be wished, cannot be expected.
It is a plain fact that those who seek fundamental reform must be long term thinkers, whether the long term be considered ten years or twenty or fifty. They cannot be, as our current politicians always are, seekers of the quick fix, the kind of fix that fails, is even counterproductive, in the long run.
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What, then, are we to do? Well, let me first state some of the things we must stand for. Some of them are not in and of themselves substantive policies. They are, rather, basic principles, long flouted in this country, without which no substantive policies are likely to work, except perhaps as short term fixes doomed to long run failure.
The fundamental principles in mind are ones elaborated here many times (as well as in books I've written). Therefore they will only be quickly cited now, not lengthily elaborated yet again.
The principles predominantly include honesty -- the most important of all principles because nothing good, nothing competent, can come from dishonesty and associated misinformation, at least not in the long run. Viet Nam, Iraq, and economic disasters aplenty are macrocosmic proof enough of that.
None of us being perfect, none of us is completely honest all the time even though we should strive for the maximum amount of honesty -- and, at minimum, should eschew deliberate dishonesty (and should say nothing rather than lie or mislead when telling the complete truth is foreclosed for one reason or another).
In our current society it will in many people induce skepticism and rolled eyes, not to mention charges of naivete, to say that honesty must always be sought. (Although one does think that people increasingly are coming to realize what its absence is costing us in many ways.) So be it. Let the supposed sophisticates scorn if they wish. Their sophistication will not alter the fact that, unless we are to be further and further mired in disaster, this society must change from a significantly dishonest one to one where honesty is sought in fact, and is not just the subject of empty, hortatory oratory. Those who want to change the society must understand this.
They must also understand a related point. If one is to be honest, one must be willing to lose, no matter how desperately he wants to win. In the short run, it is often, even usually, easier to succeed by dishonesty and lying than by the truth, to succeed by saying what sounds good and what people want to hear rather than the unconventional. But in the long run dishonesty and lies are seen for the disaster they are and cause. Again, do we really need examples aside from macrocosmic ones like Viet Nam, the inflation occurring because of policies based on the lies associated with that war, the war in Iraq, and the economic disasters which have occurred because of dishonest statements of earnings by corporations?
There are other basic principles to which reformers need be committed. Fundamentally, they include competence; its closely associated handmaidens -- hard work and diligence; concern for others as well as oneself; and modesty. That competence is needed should be obvious, and not less so after the Bush administration. Hard work and diligence are verities -- though increasingly disrespected. The increasing disparity between rich and poor, the fact that CEOs of large corporations make about 450 times the amounts made by their average workers, and the increasing squeeze on the middle class are in major part the result of a lack of concern for others arising from greed spurred ever higher by the tax policies of Reagan and Bush II. "Greed is good" is a horridly selfish, devil-take-all-but-me idea that turns capitalism from a desirable economic structure into an engine of oppression. We need capitalism because socialism, Communism, and related systems and entities are incompetent, but it must be tempered by at least some concern for others a well as oneself.
As for modesty, well, it simply is an old fashioned idea that people grew up with for perhaps the first 150 or 160 years of the country's existence, and which prevailed in the Midwest when I was a kid, but which has become a farce because in this self-horn-blowing, celebrification worshiping society the modest inherent not the earth, but nothing, while the self promoters forge ahead. This is a recipe for an obnoxious society from show business to politics, to business, to the professions. No surprise, then, that such an obnoxious society is pretty much what we have and that, as part of blowing their own horns, people learn to lie on a regular basis from lying on resumes to lying about almost anything you can think of. Even people who believe modesty is desirable, who grew up where modesty was practiced and had it inculcated into them, find that survival sometimes -- even often -- requires immodesty. This is terrible. The society needs to change.
That the society needs to change with respect to the principles just discussed is, one notes, only the more true because of a matter becoming clearer after scores of years of active, and activist, government. Government activism has, to be sure, improved this country greatly. But not because government is competent. Government is largely incompetent at almost everything it does. Even our military, which regularly speaks of principles that one wishes all would follow -- honesty, duty, honor, concern for one's men, etc. -- has shown itself to mainly not be competent in war after war; we do win conventional wars like World War II, Gulf I and the beginning of Gulf II, but only by virtue of overwhelming resources, and when it comes to non-conventional wars -- Viet Nam, subsequent phases of Gulf II -- we do badly. One writer's view is that it is simply symptomatic of massive governmental incompetence at every level if even our military is inept, particularly since the military, unlike most of government, at least talks the talk of desirable principles -- although, on the other side, it is unhappily true that the military, while talking the talk, often does not walk the walk.
Exactly why government is massively inept is not something that is immediately obvious. Perhaps it is because, as conservatives think with much merit, there is no profit motive to gauge competence. Perhaps it is because of government's bureaucratic mindset, or because people in government get no benefit from taking risks and can be greatly harmed by taking them. Perhaps it is because the principle of unified command is rarely followed. Perhaps it is all of these things. Who knows? All that one does know is that for whatever reason or combination of reasons, government usually is not competent. (One notes, incidentally, that a reasonable number of business leaders who attended the most recent World Economic Forum at Davos agreed that politicians are not competent.)
So, if government is not competent, if it is usually incompetent and grossly wasteful at almost every level, as this writer believes, why is it that activist government has improved the country greatly? -- has helped avoid post depression economic disasters, has been instrumental for civil rights and women's rights, at one time was a great aid to education, and so on. Well, one of the fundamental reasons for this, in this writer's judgment, is that government, bad as it is, was a counterweight to an often overly greedy, corrupt, humanly insensitive private side, was an antidote to a capitalistic system and human hatred run amok. And why had the capitalist system and human hatred run amok? Because too many people, including ones in positions of economic power, followed lousy values. They ignored, or cared little for, honesty, a reasonable concern for others, a brake on personal greed, or even competence and diligence if they could succeed without them (as CEOs personally have in spades in the last ten or fifteen years).
There is, in all of this, a lesson for those who seek reform. It is one that some writers on economics have drawn -- but that far too many reject -- when discussing why one country advances and prospers but another does not. It is the lesson that culture is all. If a nation's culture is one of striving for competence, honesty, hard work, concern for others, etc, you are going to have one kind of country. If a nation's culture is the opposite, as seems to be extensively true throughout most of what is called the third world, throughout much of the mideast, major parts of Asia, much of Africa and elsewhere, you are going to have a different kind of country.
That culture is all cannot be stressed enough. It likely is the single most important idea in this posting. It is an idea that is race-free, ethnicity-free, gender-free, and economic-class-free. It applies to everyone. It is its culture that mainly or even exclusively determines a nation's fate, and that certainly does so far more than any other single element.
This all has great importance for those of us who wish to see a better America. Especially because of government's incompetence, it is crucial that those on the private side do the right thing if we are to have a better, reformed society. And for a better, improved society it is therefore key that bad cultural values and practices, and those who follow them, come to be looked down upon, reviled, anathematized, be seen as bad ideas and people. It is likewise key that good values and practices, and those who follow them, be looked on as exemplars. Psychological pressure, in the form of how people view practices and persons, will be all important, because how people view practices and persons is the key to how individuals and nations act. Those who seek reform must commit to pushing desirable values and reviling bad ones, and to doing this even though it will not bring quick victory because the triumph of better values is necessarily a long term business.
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