Frederick Douglass was damn smart... he understood the essential dilemma of politics. As long as people are willing to tolerate (not like, simply tolerate) the status quo, then nothing will change.
As much as politics is manipulated by the rich and powerful, we are ultimately the ones who control who runs things. At the heart of that choice though is our willingness to tolerate the people we put into power. Unfortunately, most candidates today have their own agenda, often decided on by the people who financially support them. Rather than running on the issues that they believe in, the candidates often veil their true agendas by falsely claiming positions that will increase their chance of getting elected. They knowingly manipulate us, view us as statistics and not human beings, and we vote them into power. Is it any wonder that politicians have so little respect for those they represent and will lie to us whenever it is convenient? ...and if a candidate lies to the people, how can you trust them to do what the people want as opposed to what some multinational wants?
Did you know that Hitler was elected democratically into power? He received 30% of the vote for President, losing narrowly to Hindenburg... but in order for Hindenburg to form a majority government, he needed the political support of the Nazi party. Hitler was given the position of Chancellor in exchange for that support... and when Hindenburg died the next year, Hitler was the natural successor. Why? Well, the economy was doing a lot better and the Nazis didn't seem as if they were that bad for most people, even though they did hate Jews, intellectuals and Communists. Who knows... maybe Hitler had a point. Perhaps by taking power away from the Jewish, intellectuals, and the communists, society would be more orderly, strikes and social agitation would be reduced, and Germany would be better off. What really happened when Hitler took power away from these groups was that there was no one left to oppose him. Hitler became a dictator because the people felt comfortable enough about their own lives to tolerate where Hitler was taking them in the short term... the German people failed to notice where Hitler was taking them in the long run, however, which was to war and genocide.
The truth of the matter is that the great majority of the German people were willing to submit and even contribute to larger and larger amounts of fascism. Rather than controlling their political environment, they incrementally let their political environment control them. I hate to say it, but the truth is that most of us growing up in the same environment of that time period would have tolerated Hitler's rise to power too. And those who didn't? Well, I would bet they would be Jews, intellectuals, or Communists... and we know what the Nazis did with Jews, intellectuals, and Communists, right?!
It is common to talk with pride about the founders of the United States, but what were the qualities that set them apart from others of their time? I think it comes down to three main things... they had incredible respect for the rights of the individual, they were unwilling to compromise their beliefs, and they were willing to pay a high price for them.
For example, take a look at The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights... all three documents are incredibly supportive of the rights of the individual. The individual had rights granted to them "by the creator". It's worth noting that the rights of the individual were seen as sacred and absolute... as if you and I were a mirror of the creator itself. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, I can't tell you how important this concept is... It is all too easy to dehumanize and ignore the suffering of people if they aren't viewed as inherently sacred and special. Today, in much the same way as the Nazis turned husbands, wives, and children into soap, big businesses often turn us into statistics, determining things like just how bad your health care can be or deciding what are "acceptable losses" for unsafe products. Who determines what those acceptable losses are? We do... our willingness as a society to tolerate injustice perpetuates the injustice. Today, most of the world's injustice is institutionalized in our society... we allow big business to kill, destroy, and pollute as much we are willing to tolerate, which unfortunately tends to be until we feel the pain personally. As such, we are all complicit in the statistically acceptable murder of our fellow human beings and in the destruction of the world.
As I mentioned previously, the founders of the United States were uncompromising in their beliefs. One great example was their opposition to the tea tax that led to the Boston Tea Party. It's not an easy thing to ship a cargo of tea on the dangerous high seas from India to England and then to the colonies. A three pence tax on a brick-sized block of tea is a paltry sum, and certainly not something worth starting a revolution over, regardless of the fact that the colonists had no say on the tax... but that tax led to the Boston Tea Party and the revolution. Were the founders petty for fighting over such a small tax? By today's standards, you could only say yes... but I would argue that they were right. Maybe the problem is that this is a world with low standards and no ideals... as a result, we put up with an endless stream of petty indignities while people "vote their pocketbooks."
For those tempted to vote their pocketbooks in this election, I can only say that I hope you are in the upper 20% of society. According to data gathered in federal surveys, the richest one percent picked up 62 percent of the new wealth that was created from 1983-1989 and the wealthiest 20 percent in the U.S. received 99 percent of the total gains in the economy. Note that these are old figures... from 1989 to 1992, the richest one percent got 68 percent of all the new income created, and the statistics point the balance of income between the rich and the poor increasing. George Bush Jr. likes to argue that the richest one percent of America should get a tax break because they pay 40% of the taxes, but he fails to point out that they own more than 40% of the wealth of the nation and that this percentage has been increasing. In fact, they pay a lower percentage of their income as tax than all but the poorest of Americans. As for the rest of America, we are working longer hours and producing more than at any time since World War II, but the average real (or inflation adjusted) income for private sector workers has declined 16 percent over the last 20 years.
As for the price that the founders of the United States paid... well, many of them fought and several of them died in the course of the war, which is as high a price as you can be reasonably expected to pay for your convictions.
So, basically, the point of my diatribe is this... if you want to have the world be a better place, you should strive to protect the rights of the individual... you should aspire to high ideals and be intolerant of tyranny, which establishes itself through a thousand tiny compromises that are easy to take for granted... and you should be willing to fight for your ideals every day for the rest of your life. If enough people believed this, the world wouldn't be in the mess that it is in today. Democracy requires a certain degree of compromise, but if there are compromises to be made, let them be made by people whose ideals are not for sale.
So, are you voting Tuesday... and what will you do when Wednesday rolls around?