“The citizen’s job is to be rude – to pierce the comfort of professional intercourse by boorish expressions of doubt.”
John Ralston Saul
I would rather think about other things. Interesting things. Instead, I find myself consumed by an obsession with all things political. This is not an interesting obsession. It’s certainly not compelling, like sex. It belongs to that category I call “housekeeping”–a category I choose because it belongs in the domain of routine and contains things we wouldn’t normally give much thought to.
It’s a nagging, worrisome category–and of interest–only when things that should be done don’t get done. Which describes U. S. politics today. And things aren’t done because everyone at all points on the political spectrum is consumed by ideology and idealism.
In private affairs, ideology and idealism can be tolerated. If I don’t like your beliefs, I can ignore them. In politics, ignoring things only leads to more of the same, which in this case is stagnation that leads to dry rot.
I don’t like politics to be so all-consuming. I want politicians to get down to the business of making the gears turn–perhaps slowly, but turn nevertheless. I don’t really want politics to be interesting. It is, after all, a dull business for largely dull minds. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a “statesman” on call to sort out the mess when politicians screw up. Like Solon of Ancient Athens.
Arband D’Angour, a University of Oxford don, describes what Solon did in a June 6, 2012, article for BBC News (“Ancient Greek solution for debt crisis”).
>>In the early 6th Century BC, the people of Athens were burdened with debt, social division and inequality, with poor farmers prepared to sell themselves into slavery just to feed their families.
>>Revolution was imminent, but the aristocrat Solon emerged as a just mediator between the interests of rich and poor. He abolished debt bondage, limited land ownership, and divided the citizen body into classes with different levels of wealth and corresponding financial obligations.
>>His measures, although attacked on all sides, were adopted and paved the way for the eventual creation of democracy.
>>Solon’s success demonstrates that great statesmen must have the courage to implement unpopular compromises for the sake of justice and stability.<<
So when the Republicans (or President Obama) say that we must lower the debt by further harrowing the middle class (or what’s left of it) and “golden agers,” Solon’s example comes to mind.
The problem seems to be one of imagination, which politicians by their very nature lack. For example, politicians liken the federal budget to the family’s household budget, but the comparison is as short-sighted as it is bogus. Does anyone really imagine that China or England, both nations that own prodigious amounts of American real estate, will send the sheriff to Washington, D. C., to foreclose on the Capitol building and the White House, as well as army, navy, and air force installations–all to make good on our indebtedness to them?
When the fiscal crisis of 2007-8 hit Iceland, the government there decided not to prop up the banks but instead to continue social programs that ensured the people remained solvent. The result? The banks eventually recovered on their own, and the people did not have to suffer for the sake of “too big to fail” institutions..
But as I said, politicians lack imagination. They are also beholden to the banks, to the insurance companies, to Wall Street, to Corporate America in general. So even if some do have imagination, they lack the courage (and who knows, maybe even the ability) to act on it..
Anyway, maybe we shouldn’t expect or even hope for a Solon. As John Ralston Saul wrote, “Democracy is the only system capable of reflecting the humanist premise of equilibrium or balance. The key to its secret is the involvement of the citizen.”
Of course, he wrote that before Citizens United vs. FEC.