Friday, January 02, 2009

Suggestion #20: Seek ways to end Culture War

Let’s finish this series of “Unusual Suggestions for America and the Obama Administration.”  with the one that is simplest and most basic. Something that seems so easy and wise, you really have got to wonder why it hasn’t already been done.  Or at least tried.

Let me lay it on the line. We have one priority, above all others, because solving it will unleash our native aptitude at fixing every other problem. That priority is to cure the sickness that is eating away at the guts and marrow of the greatest nation in history.  The nation that Jean Francois Revel called the “best hope” for the “best kind of human revolution.”  The kind of revolution that leads us to far higher horizons and to becoming better people, all around the world.

That priority is to put a stop to the treason that is called “culture war” and get us back to talking to one another again, as grownups.

President Obama can only play an important role in this endeavor.  Most of the heavy lifting must be done by us, in shaking off simplistic dogmas, in re learning the arts of negotiation. In rediscovering that skill and ingenuity and goodness are more important than celebrity or cash. Insisting that both we and our neighbors cut out the sick habit of outrageous indignation, an addiction that makes fools of us and strawmen of our opponents.

Nevertheless, President Obama will be the most important single individual.  And so, I want to conclude with a sincere suggestion to him.  It isn’t anything huge, just a gesture. Something simple, easy and cheap, but offering profound resonance, perhaps setting a tone that would ring across the land.  I have proposed this idea before: Honoring the Losing Majority. Here it is one more time.

---Honoring (and winning over) the losing side ---

What does “majority rule” mean? Suppose your candidate wins by close to a 60/40 vote margin. You can call that a solid victory, in modern political terms. But it still means that four in ten voting citizens did not want your guy in office. To that forty percent, the word "mandate" translates as -- drop dead!

Might there be some way to acknowledge the losing minority? One that both lessens their sense of humiliation, and making them more willing to accept that the winners really do mean well?  Imagine our new President making the following pledge:

"I now ask my honorable opponent in the recent election -- Senator McCain -- to help pick a panel of Americans who are well-outside my normal political or social circle.  In this case, I’d like him to help fill it especially with many varied types of “conservatives.”

“This panel will have one power.  Except during periods of crisis, they will get control over my appointment calendar one afternoon per month. On that afternoon, I’ll meet with -- and listen to -- individuals or delegations beyond my regular horizon.  In this small way, I hope Americans of all persuasions will feel just a little more sure that I do not live in a tower of ideological isolation, but that I stand ready to hear diverse -- even dissenting -- points of view."


Such a pledge would cost Barack Obama little to make or to fulfill. There is no obligation to act on what the delegations say, only to be accessible, listening occasionally to more than one ideology. More than one brain trust of cloned advisors. Indeed, the legitimacy of an administration will be enhanced if we see the president receive articulate, passionate emissaries, representing diverse opinions and walks of life.

(In fact, what better way to contrast his administration vs the Bush-Cheney era?)

  --- A return to our traditions ---

During the first era of our republic, private citizens used to knock on the door of the White House and ask to see their nation's leader. As recently as the time of Harry Truman, there was a slim chance of seeing the president somewhere in public, buying socks for real, not as a publicity stunt. Not thronged by photographers and Secret Service agents. There is genuine peril in losing this connection between power and everyday life.

If today's president cannot safely venture among us, representatives of sundry outlooks should have a route to him or her. With this precedent set, not just public figures, but individuals from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed might win a chance to plead their case before the highest official in the land.

Moreover, this would give those tens of millions who lost the election something. A token perhaps.  But far more than they expect. A gesture of respect. A vow to listen.

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And that concludes this series. (See the beginning of Unusual Suggestions to the Obama Administration)

I will post the entire series at: http://www.davidbrin.com/labor.html

I am proud to live in an era and a nation where a fellow like me -- notoriously outspoken and contrarian -- has the means and opportunity to voice proposals that range from mundane to ingenious to outright crackpot.  We all have to offer what we can, in order to keep momentum going, in this, the greatest of all human renaissance eras.

Final note:.... I have vowed to deeply REDUCE blogging, limiting myself to maybe two postings per month.  (Except for quickie news flashes.)  In fact, those who really care or admire me at all will help me keep to this promise!

Of course, this fond hope is based on a fervent wish and prayer that this nation, civilization, species has a good year ahead, a steady climb toward wisdom...

...as I hope and pray for you, in the year and years ahead.


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8 comments:

tacitus2 said...

David
By all means, blog less. You have earned a rest! There are times that call for active debate and times that call for watching, waiting and hoping.
Tacitus2

Arcanedesigns said...

You might want to think about a comment limit, as well... If you're going to restrain said addiction completely, that is.

David Brin said...

You guys are free to continue a community here... it's a special one....

Anonymous said...

The primary thing we non politicians can do is to renounce the use of the victim card. If instead of blaming someone else for my problems, I turn around and solve them myself, that is the single best example of our native aptitude.

ToddR said...

"In fact, those who really care or admire me at all will help me keep to this promise!"

OK, Since the Jan01 and Jan02 posts (suggestions #19 and #20) could with sufficient cognitive contortions be considered the final continuations of the series begun in December ...

... I'll allow you ONE more post this January, David. But no more than ONE! Peferably, wait until February.

;)

rearsh -- to practice your role as a drunkard in a stage play.

Tony Fisk said...

I would agree with Arcane with including comments in the quota, but would relax (or tighten?) the conditions by suggesting no posts *unless* you can report the completion of some milestone on the bread winning front.

If anyone wants to add a couple of David's proposals to the changeGov site, I have set up a page on the predictions wiki listing the proposals and which ones have been submitted. The password to edit is 'david.brin' (I've contributed #7: IGUS, together with a supporting example)

(Having gone through a similar exercise with Rudd's 2020 summit, I'm not expecting much. Then again, I expect nothing to occur if nothing is offered)

pranter: an outspoken reindeer

Jen said...

Do take a rest, and thank you so much for such a thought-provoking series. Even though I'm not American, many of the things that you've written about are also applicable to Canada (especially considering who our leader is at the moment).

There's an interesting blog written by a Canadian M.P. who is trying very hard to remove partisanship from the workings of government (http://glenpearson.wordpress.com/)...although he's pretty frustrated right now, there are people up here who do realize that there's a problem here as well, and are working to change it.

opit said...

May I suggest that the problem is not one that the President cannot himself deal with. Rather, a program of tactics designed to circumvent representative government has been employed by the Republican party for years. Failure in generating the desired effect is the only discouragement available.
Bradblog has a litany of years of election meddling.
Naomi Klein has written a thought-provoking book - Shock Doctrine - outlining how these tactics are classic Nazi strategies.
Despite my initial reluctance to consider these ideas, I have been forced to do so for lack of plausible alternate explanations.
Len Hart has impressed me with scads of research posted on his weblog
http://existentialistcowboy.blogspot.com/
The writer of Last Left Turn Before Hooterville has written a book outlining systemic misrepresentation in politics. The concept is most recently - to my knowledge - outlined as 'Moving the Overton Window' - a technique to slyly use psychology to alter what people consider reasonable. To the end of making information accessible, I have posted a section of related links on my weblog Links page.
You may recall a note I sent you some time past on whistleblowers being disregarded and actually harassed. Same guy.