Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Noble Sacrifices of Others

Tom Friedman calls them Tea Kettlers today: all hot air and no substantive or rational policy ideas. He differentiates them from the 'real' Tea Party, which is basically the Good Guys who have Tom's ear: he says they are looking for 'real leadership' and will respond to calls for sacrifice in order to restore American greatness:

The important Tea Party movement, which stretches from centrist Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats, understands this at a gut level and is looking for a leader with three characteristics. First, a patriot: a leader who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party. Second, a leader who persuades Americans that he or she actually has a plan not just to cut taxes or pump stimulus, but to do something much larger — to make America successful, thriving and respected again. And third, someone with the ability to lead in the face of uncertainty and not simply whine about how tough things are — a leader who believes his job is not to read the polls but to change the polls.

He's not entirely awful, but says, amongst other things, that a leader would inspire folk to sacrifice for the common good. The vast majority, though, especially of the rich and empowered, think it's sufficient and necessary that others, and not themselves, do all the sacrificing, especially those perks and entitlements they don't really deserve anyway. I hear less talk about universal sacrifice than I do about the Schwarzchild solution to the general theory of relativity. Universal sacrifice, involving 'entitlements' of the rich as well as the middle class and the poor, is the genuine political third rail. The systematic destruction of the social contract, overtly beginning with Reagan's legitimization of greed and racism, and more generally since the social changes of the 1960s, in which blacks, women, gays and others asserted their right to participate in the political and economic life of the country as equals, have made it so. Unless the underlying problem is addressed, until the need is as great as it was during World War II and the Depression, and until we have an FD Roosevelt available, it ain't gonna happen. In some places, that's how great the need is already. And Friedman, who goes part of the way, misses this entirely. He's not interested in social contract, either its destruction or its creation. He's interested in leadership. Now, we could use some of that. But yearning for positive leadership without mentioning the forces that'd cut any leader of any stature down is ingenuous. (And I'm not apologizing for Obama here.)

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