by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
September 22, 2004
PROUD TO BE A DEAD ARMADILLO
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- "There's nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow line and dead armadillos," the Texas humorist and political writer Jim Hightower once famously said. In this election cycle, though, he's off by a mile. In the middle of the road today huddle liberals, progressives, old-fashioned conservative Republicans and most Democrats, and they're all scared out of their freaking minds.
Every decent person who values love over hate, truth over lies, security over fear, respect over contempt, peace over war, prosperity for all instead of just a few "chosen" millionaires, who values the spiritual and moral ethos of "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," is trembling with fear at an American government gone reckless and mad.
The rest of the world trembles with us.
While it is easy, in these polarized times and in this polarized election cycle, to say that you have to be either far left, far right or a dead armadillo, I reject that argument.
In my view, government has an important place. I want it to build bridges and repair roads, keep the airplanes flying, maintain a strong defending - but never an invading - army, protect our precious liberties, keep the public schools running smoothly, support the arts and scientific research, make law and provide order, make decisions that keep the job market and the economy flowing, protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, and make sure, to the best of its ability, that no one goes ill, hungry or homeless.
All these things can be lumped together under the title of "for the common good." And the common good is why we pay taxes.
Republicans, Democrats, progressives, independents, liberals and conservatives might differ on how to achieve these goals, but for centuries, making things run smoothly has been the primary function of government. Otherwise, why have government? Why not go back to the caves? In today's climate even Richard Nixon looks liberal - the Environmental Protection Agency, remember, came on his watch.
Everything changed with the coup d'état no one talks about: the theft of the 2000 presidential election by the radical right and its anointing of George W. Bush - a madman who truly believes that God wants him to be president - as king.
Under President Bush and the lunatic right-wing conservatives he works for, we get a whole slew of things we don't want our government to do: lie, for example, or invade other countries on pretexts, or try to rebuild the Middle East according to some cockamamie fantasy of omniscient power, or draw up secret plans for a draft, or bleed the public school system until it withers and dies, or make the health system entirely subject to the whims of the free market and cause sick people die because they cannot afford insurance, or empty Social Security, or turn pristine parts of Alaska into shopping malls, or revoke feminism and repeal affirmative action, or ignore important threats to the environment so corporations can make a quick buck, or put Muslims in jail because they are Muslims, or eavesdrop on our phones and computers, or try to convert us all - Catholics, Jews and Muslims alike - to some radical fundamentalist form of Christianity.
Remember back to 1964, when the conservatives were furious because Democrats labeled their candidate, conservative Barry Goldwater, a war-monger? Well, today the war-mongers have hijacked the party. Even Goldwater, I imagine, would be horrified at what's going on now.
"Sooner or later - and before they can do any further damage, one hopes - the Republicans are headed for a spectacular crack-up," wrote Charles Pierce recently. "You just can't allow your most lunatic adherents to drive the train for this long without one... Which should tell something very important to whatever Republicans of goodwill are left: (The radical right) is not on your team. They are using your team for something that is as far removed from American conservatism as Lenin was from Walter Reuther. They are your enemies within. Deal with them while you still have a chance."
As far back as Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson, right up through the Clinton administration, I was proud to be a progressive and work for social change. Today, I find, my politics place me squarely in the middle of the road.
As usual, it all comes down to Yeats: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
In this case, however, the best do not lack all convictions - they just can't be heard over the hatred and the smears. They must learn to duck around the bobbing turds of Swift boats and Dan Rather mistakes, and demand - with their own passionate intensity - that the American government return to its primary goal: A government of the people and by the people and for the people - all the people.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.