3 May 2006: Reclaiming the Commonweal

Reclaiming the public good in November

President Bush’s poll numbers are in the tank, 32 percent according to FOX news, the administration’s propaganda arm. My bet is they will not sink much further. He will always have that hard core support from true believers, that no matter the deleterious effect of his policies, Bush will remain for them St. George, the Arm of the Almighty, Slayer of Dragons (liberals).

What is surprising, though, is how long it has taken for his numbers to plummet, for what you see with Bush is what you’ve had all along. During Bill Clinton’s travails, the Right kept asserting character is everything. Indeed. The Bush of today is the Bush of the 2000 and 2004 elections, ethical behavior not being his life-long modus operandi. Having scrutinized then-candidate Bush’s performance in the Florida fiasco, my thought was we’re in for a world of hurt should he be awarded the presidency. History has borne out that misgiving. Under Bush’s watch, the Republic has become more endangered from within and from without, and his string of losses remains intact: he is now bankrupting the United States as he has every other endeavor that he has undertaken.

My gut feeling suggests, however, behind Bush’s low numbers lies a silver lining. What they may herald is more than a tough time ahead for the old boy and a potential boon for Democrats in November; they may be indicators the Age of Conservatism has finally run its course. Over the past half century, conservatism has morphed from pre-Goldwater social and economic stodginess to the radical individualism of Ronald Reagan’s “Me Generation,” and since then, to the Republican alliance of today: fundamentalists, corporatists, and neo-cons, the reason for Barry’s incessant rolling over in his grave.

What Americans may be coming to realize is that none of them is about promoting their personal interests or values. Christian fundamentalism is about establishing a theocracy, the Christian Republic of America, by supplanting civil laws of the land with its dogma in contradiction to the First Amendment. Corporations are about pledging allegiance not to America, but to their highest value, profit, and conducting de facto political governance, or crony capitalism, through their minions, duly bought through campaign financing. Neo-conservatism is about creating a virtual global American Empire under the guise of spreading democracy, with inevitable and disastrous consequences.

Bush and cohorts drone on about how America was changed on September 11, 2001. In fact, it wasn’t. It is still, leastways for now, a constitutional republic. Our history was one of an imperfect but inexorable drive for a more expansive, more inclusive society. The American experiment was once a fine balance of the rights and needs of the individual and that of the commonweal—the public good. Of late, that is being tested for the first time with a drive to repress the natural rights of a group of people, gays and lesbians, rather than expand them.

Except for the rare Jeremiah Johnson types, most individuals function simultaneously in conjunction with a group. With the fragmentation of our civil, secular society over the past few decades, individuals have related more to sub-groups—churches, corporations, civic organizations—to fulfill the natural need for group cohesiveness. Since President Franklin Roosevelt, conservatives have been champing at the bit to obliterate not only the New Deal but also to deny any use of government to “promote the general welfare”: Social Security, Medicare, and a universal health plan. Reagan’s gospel centered on the evils of government, yet he hypocritically presided over one of the greatest budgetary growths and budget deficits in the history of the federal government. (Of course, Bush now makes Reagan look like a piker.) Reagan intentionally confused the debate of the individual vs. the state by repeating, “Government is the problem.” That remains a mantra for many Republicans today. In fact, the social good is not the same as the state, so there is no conflict between the individual and society. Government is only one means to achieve the social/public good—the commonweal.

Radical individualism results in greed, the antithesis of “liberty and justice for all.” A defunct secular society leaves a void for more invidious group associations that normally would be constructive. We need to reclaim the ideal of the commonweal: the public good. We need to re-establish a harmonious balance between the individual’s natural rights, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and the needs of an effective and just society. The Founding Fathers said it quite well in the Preamble to our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do establish and ordain this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance: each consists of great words. The question before us: Do we really mean them? Unless we do, what good is it?

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