On Native Ground
AMERICAN VOTERS TAKE HEED: SPAIN SPEAKS TO YOU
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The March 11 terrorist bombing in Madrid and the outcome of the Spanish parliamentary elections three days later showed a fundamental difference between the American political system and that of other industrialized democracies.
In Spain, more than 90 percent of the public was opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and opposed the Spanish government's support of President Bush's war. Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar ignored the Spanish people and became one of Bush's staunchest supporters of the Iraq invasion.
When the March 11 attack occurred, Aznar's government immediately tried to pin the blame on ETA, the Basque separatist group. It soon became clear that the bombing that killed more than 200 people and wounded 1,500 others was not the work of ETA, but of terrorists aligned with al-Qaida.
The Spanish people reacted accordingly. They recognized that Aznar had lied to them and it was this fact - not the bombings - that resulted in Aznar's party getting voted out of office. Aznar now has the dubious distinction of being the first leader who backed the Iraq invasion to get turned out of office.
I can't help to think if a massive terrorist attack occurred in the U.S. three days before the Nov. 2 presidential election, the exact opposite would happen. President Bush would win by a landslide. Why? Because Spain has a functioning democracy, and the United States doesn't.
That statement may seem a bit broad, but how else can you explain why Americans always seem to vote against their own best interests?
Considering the record of the Republican Party over the last two decades on the economy, foreign policy, education, the environment and just about any other public policy issue, one would wonder why anyone would vote for a Republican running for any office.
But the reality is that people - or at least a majority of the people who bother to vote at all - vote for Republicans.
Is it because the Democrats are lousy salesmen when it comes to articulating a coherent vision that people would respond to? Somewhat.
But the blame can just as equally be laid at the feet of all the various institutions that - in a functioning democracy - are supposed to provide the means for voters to make intelligent decisions. The three important institutions in the democratic process - the press, the schools and the political parties - are falling down on the job.
We know the press isn't doing its job. Even if it was, we are still dealing with a population that gets most of its information from television. President Bush may have raised an eyebrow or two last year when he said that he doesn't read newspapers, save for glancing at the headlines and looking at the pictures. But he was stating something that is true for many Americans. Most people don't closely follow the news, which may be a good thing in a way when you consider how much misinformation and crap masquerades as news these days.
Even though it doesn't want the responsibility of selecting candidates for national media campaigns, the press has become the de facto organizer. It's a role the press was not meant to fill. News is a highly subjective view of reality, and the press emphasizes certain issues that make for compelling stories and downplays other issues that often central to governing. Since it is in the news business and not the governing business, the values of journalism are always at odds with the values of politics.
While the voters still have the final choice, the press selects the candidates by virtue of the amount of coverage they are given. It is impossible to be considered a serious candidate for public office unless the press deems you serious by giving you a substantial amount of coverage.
Just ask Dennis Kucinich.
Then there is the American public education system, which has long been designed to turn out docile, unquestioning drones.
The ruling class doesn't want to encourage the natural creativity, inquisitiveness and love of learning that almost every child enters their school years with. They certainly don't want people to make connections and think for themselves. That's why nearly all American schools have operated under this blueprint, issued by the General Education Board in 1906 (and exhumed by John Taylor Gatto, author of "The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling"):
"In our dreams ... people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions (intellectual and character education) fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of which we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way."
Think of your experience in the public schools, and suddenly this statement of purpose doesn't seem far fetched - especially when you consider that the board that produced those words was funded by John D. Rockefeller. It's telling that Rockefeller and fellow robber baron Andrew Carnegie were spending more on public education than the federal government at the start of the last century.
Gatto's book, which can be found at his Web site, johntaylorgatto.com, goes along way toward explaining why schools are instruments of social control rather than places where children learn.
Then there are the political parties themselves. They have all but discouraged people from active involvement in politics, save for writing big checks and appearing as extras in the photo-op of the day.
Think back to how politics was in the pre-television age. In the rural areas, organizations such as the Grange and town and county party committees mobilized the voters. In the cities, politicians formed their own organizations to get out the vote and made liberal use of patronage to ensure support.
"Pressing the flesh" was a critical element of the pre-television era. Torchlight parades, outdoor rallies, door-to-door campaigning, speeches to any fraternal or community organization willing to host the candidate - all of this had to be done if a politician wanted to reach potential voters.
If a citizen was disengaged from politics, it wasn't due to a lack of information or a lack of opportunities to be involved. In the country, politics was another way to socialize with your neighbor. In the city, it was not only a way to socialize, but a way to get a job or make some connections.
All this is gone now. Television encourages a passive, disengaged population. Our education system ensures that the majority of students never develop skills such as creativity and critical thinking. And the press now serves as an entertainment medium, instead of an information medium.
Spain is only three decades removed from the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Yet Spain, as well as virtually every other nation in the world, opposed a unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq. The press in Europe reported extensively on the holes in the Bush administration's arguments for war and the people there are educated enough to see through President Bush's lies.
In this country, most people automatically rallied around President Bush. There was little critical thinking. The few who dissented were drowned out by the many who believed what they were told by their president and believed a press that mostly parroted the White House line.
A year later, we can see that the Iraq invasion was a mistake. We know that the mess this nation finds itself in is mostly due to the shortcomings of our democracy. Spain got its chance to turn out its corrupt and deceitful leader. In a few months, we will have the same opportunity, but only if there are enough Americans wise enough not to get fooled again.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.