The Third Estate
What Is The Third Estate?
What Has It Been Until Now In The Political Order?
What Does It Want To Be?


Thursday, June 18, 2009
It's not a lack of knowledge that ruins states, but a lack of determination. Every country faces problems, but what distinguishes a healthy regime from a sick one is whether the political system is capable of implementing reforms. You can see this in the history of many countries, as they pass from an age in which a sense of realism and compromise led to the solution of major challenges to an age in which problems simply grow worse and worse and nothing is done to address them. In the early Roman Republic, the aristocrats in the Senate gave way before popular pressure, granting the general public a share of political power and accepting a dimunition of their social and economic power. But in the late Republic, the very same class refused to accept even the most modest of reforms in the face of manifest dangers. When pressed they did not give in, but resorted to violence and hence destroyed the Republic.

I fear I see the same degeneration in our own country. In the past we were always, however delayed, able to address the daunting challenges before us - independence, the end of slavery, civil rights, industrialization, unionization, the depression, our emergence as a great power in the world - at every juncture we always, however fitfully, seemed to be able to move forward. Until now.

How many problems do we face today that are persistent, beyond rational dispute and yet remain unaddressed? The decline of the middle class, environmental degredation, a corrupt and bloated financial sector, and most especially the problem of health care - none of these problems are new; only our periodic willingness to talk about them is new. And that is all we do - talk. Whenever a political leader makes a concerted effort to solve them, he fails.

It can't be attributed just to personal failures of leadership - as I've said many times, you can't blame an individual for a system problem. The fact is that for a generation the entrenched interests in our society - financiers, insurance companies, agribusiness, the military & defense contractors, energy suppliers - in every case they have managed to block reform. Conservatives have no interest in doing anything because they profit from the status quo (that's why they're conservatives). Liberals get into power and they are still unable to act because of obstruction from the Republicans AND "moderate" members of their own party.

Despite my many sallies on the topic, this is not strictly a question of campaign finance reform. If that were the sole source of our political constipation, I think something might have been done about it years ago. And it's not just the irresponsible and self-serving policies of the conservative movement and their deluded followers. I can't even bring myself to lay the blame with the press, however much I want to. I'm past believing any of those things. No, I think it's worse than any of those things. I think it may be that too many Americans have become too cowardly, too fearful that any change will be worse, to withdrawn from the world and too passive before its tumult to be willing to act in any way to improve the conditions of their society. They focus only on their own garden at the cost of the common good. Perhaps our political "leaders" have fostered this natural human tendency towards civic solipsism, but whatever the ultimate sociological cause, the fact remains that we may no longer be a people not able, but just willing, to govern ourselves.

God help us.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:57 PM
  • I think I'm going to have to disagree with this one. Lately, I've been feeling that our representatives in Congress have noticeably not been reflecting the wishes of their constituents.

    A great example is health care. For the first time ever, a great majority of the American public are in favor of a single payer health care system. Yet, everyone from the President down is refusing to even go in that direction and the public seems willing to settle for a public option. If that public option does not materialize, however, or if it is not up to a standard considered minimally acceptable, I think heads will start rolling.

    Same thing with the current furor in the LGBT community. Obama just barely promised them enough to get their campaign donations, then had to the gall to schedule a fundraiser particularly for that group right after giving them a loud public FU. That wasn't just politically incorrect, it was insane. And it's caught the attention of enough non-gay supporters for its unfairness that some unanticipated developments will likely result from it. Again, the public seems willing to move further than the politicians are.

    It's possible that there will be some fallout regarding Obama's concessions to banks and Wall Street down the line, as well.

    He got us all stirred up, gave us hope and made us believe we could change things if we became involved. Could be he's got a tiger by the tail of his own making and not as much control over it as he'd like.

    We may be ungovernable by the current leadership, but I don't think it's because we're cowards. I think it's because our representatives in Congress are still too afraid of losing their campaign donations and don't realize that their constituents have once more found their power in the voting booth. I believe the American voters are going to be forcing our leaders into even more change than they bargained for.

    It will take time, but disappointment and disillusionment are now turning into resentment instead of hopelessness. We're more motivated to action, and our victories in the last election was enormous validation of our power to effect change. This is the first time since the 60s that the American people have been as politically active as they are now. By the time that turmoil was over, we'd ended a long war and toppled a president. I'm hoping we'll be ending wars again and achieving universal health care this time around. At the very least.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 2:14 PM  
  • But what's bothering is that, even though the public is generally supportive of this or that policy, we don't do anything. There is no massive public campaign demanding real financial reform or real health care reform. We're all just sitting around waiting to see what our leaders do. And when they screw everything up and sell us out (again), most of us are going to vote to re-elect them anyway.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 7:23 AM  
  • Maybe not.

    I think this latest fracas over gay rights is going to shake things up. All of those D.C. sheltered politicians are starting to realize that we're not going to just be satisfied with their explanations and rationalizations. We're going to start withholding our donations until we get what we want.

    I really hope they end up having to cancel that fundraiser. It will be a great example to the rest of the public that we do still have some leverage. That even though we put them in office, they have to answer to us if they want to stay there. Even Obama.

    If they actually try to pass a health care package with no public option, to chase some ideal of bipartisanship at the expense of the taxpayers, then I hope we'll see the same kind of public outrage we've just seen over DOMA...only bigger. But we have to flex some muscle. And if they end up having to cancel that fundraiser, more people will understand that we do still have some muscle to flex. Because they are still trying to raise money for the mid-term elections, which will be here before you know it. And each one of them has to be made aware that we can still withhold those votes. Not necessarily by voting Republican, but just by not showing up to vote Democrat.

    Maybe we'll get some new progressive Dem candidates challenging the old guys in primaries, as well. This ain't your grandfather's Democrat Party anymore. There's still hope. I think.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 9:09 AM  
  • I read the response post first, and then this one, and I have to say that you did a great job in putting my thoughts in writing. Great, great post.

    By Blogger Super Babe, at 9:44 AM  
  • Super Babe: thanks. That's just about the best compliment I can think of for a writer.

    Rebecca: I hope you're right. I wish I was as hopeful as you are. I just think the gay rights issue is so personal that it's easier for those effected to get mobilized.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 12:03 PM  
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