I recently had the honor to address some newly-coined U.S. citizens and some of their classmates who will be joining us soon. Asked to differentiate the two parties, I settled on the two different perspectives on the future. Democrats look forward; Republicans look backward.
From Heraclitus pointing out 2,500 years ago that one couldn’t step into the Cayster River twice, through the development of science with its knowledge-expanding discoveries, it has become established that change is the only constant. Don’t get too comfortable; your never-guaranteed tomorrows hold surprises. Deny that at your own peril.
In a short history of Henry II, about the only good king England can show for the last 850 years of royal rule, Richard Barber points out the medieval age’s fear of “innovation.” Those in power were content with the status quo; any threat to that power was a dangerous innovation. We face the same situation today. America’s capitulation to John Dewey’s “religion of prosperity” has created a business aristocracy that revels in its riches and decries any efforts “to promote the general Welfare” as prescribed – and capitalized – by our Constitution.
Democrats look forward. They see our bedrock principles as guides for adapting society to changing circumstances. Republicans turn away from, even deny inevitable change. They mouth the same principles, but look to preserve the old society regardless of the inequities that have necessitated the changing circumstances.
Ninety years ago, Dewey observed, “The spiritual factor of our traditions, equal opportunity and free association and intercommunication, is obscured and crowded out. Instead of the development of individualities which it prophetically set forth, there is a perversion of the whole ideal of individualism to conform to the practices of a pecuniary culture. It has become the source and justification of inequalities and oppressions.”
The old populists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were concerned with economic justice, and their reforms – embraced by both parties – laid the foundations for 20th century prosperity. Today “populism” describes xenophobic racism as often as progressive economic ideals.
If blue-collar Republicans are dupes of their overlords – as in their antipathy to paying union dues short-term in order to better protect their jobs long term – they are often willing dupes. Save a little today; lose it all tomorrow. Bottom-line fever at its most basic level.
The goal of Republicans is to keep the helm of the country’s economic ship in the hands of their wealthiest benefactors, their donation-bought officials content to cling to them as if remoras feeding off the awful offal of a shark.
Turning to Mr. Dewey again, “’conditions’ are always moving; they are always in transition to something else. The important question is whether intelligence, whether observation and reflection, intervenes and becomes a directive factor in the transition.”
Every one of us – not just the oligarchs – should be represented in this “intelligence” by our representative working toward the “general Welfare.” Only the Democrats propose such inclusiveness as the country confronts the inevitable forces of change.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)