COPY RIGHTS NOTICE

STEAL THIS BLOG!

This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

Feel free to reproduce any blogs by Dr Staggenborg without prior permission, as long as they are unedited and posted or printed with attribution and a link to the website.

For other blogs, please contact the author for permission.


Follow by Email

Thursday, January 27, 2011

THE AMERICAN STORY




Today's blog is reprinted from Tomgrams with the permission of the author. It is a great way to look at why both conservatives and liberals have difficulty understanding the other's point of view. We must find a way to common ground if we as a nation are going to Take Back America for the People.



The President Trapped in a Myth and a War


No politician who aspires to real influence on the national level can afford to reject that myth or even express real doubts about it, at least in public, as Barack Obama surely knows. Not surprisingly, President Obama has embraced the myth in his most important speeches: The bad guys are always out there. (“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world.”) The good guys have no choice but to fight against the evildoers. (“Force may sometimes be necessary.”)
 
Because every myth has variants, though, politicians can still make choices. In Obama’s version of the myth, the federal government can be a force for good. So he has a domestic fight on his hands every day against right-wingers who cast the government as an agent of darkness.

He’s not likely to stand a chance of winning that battle if he tries to take on the myth of national security as well.  Bill Clinton once put it all-too-accurately: "When people are insecure” -- which is exactly when they rely most on their myths -- “they'd rather have somebody [in the White House] who is strong and wrong than someone who's weak and right."

That’s a truth everyone in the room undoubtedly had in mind back in the fall of 2009 when the top military field commanders came to the White House to talk about Afghanistan. Where else, after all, could our military act out the drama of civilized America staving off the savages? And what better-cast candidates for the role of savages could there be than the Taliban and al-Qaeda?

The generals who run the war also had to confront another vital question: Could they still act out some contemporary version of the myth of good against evil? They’ve given up on the possibility of victory in Afghanistan.  So there’s no real chance to go for the classic version of the myth in which the good guys totally vanquish the bad guys.

But since the Cold War era, the myth has demanded only that the good guys don’t lose -- that they merely “contain” the evildoers who “hate our freedoms” (especially our freedom to make and keep money) and will swoop down to destroy us if we give them the chance.

These days the generals must sense that even the containment version of the myth is in trouble. Their predecessors failed to enact it in Vietnam, and though the judgment of history is still out on the Iraq War, it's looking ever more dim, too. If the U.S. loses in Afghanistan, the American public might abandon the myth that justifies the military establishment and its gargantuan budget.  As a result, the generals prefer to fight on eternally.

President Obama is trapped at this point. He risks losing both a war and a presidency. Yet if he tries to ease up on the war accelerator, he knows he’ll be pilloried by an alliance of military and right-wing forces as a “cut-and-run” weakling.

If he’s ever tempted to forget that domestic political reality, the mass media are always ready to remind him. Just glance at the 145,000 Google hits on “Obama wimp.” Even his liberal friends at the New York Times asked in a prominent headline, “Is Obama a Wimp or a Warrior?” have

Within the confines of the national insecurity myth, of course, those are the only two options. If pressure is ever going to develop to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, progressives will have to offer a new option that actually speaks to Americans.

To Myth or Not to Myth

And there’s the problem.  Myths are like scientific theories. No mountain of facts and logic, however convincing, can change believers’ minds -- until a more convincing myth comes along.

A handful of progressive political thinkers are trying to persuade the American left to understand this truth and start offering new political myths (their technical term is “framing narratives”). George Lakoff is probably the best known. His books are bestsellers. His articles on websites invariably go to the top of “most read” and “most emailed” lists. Yet he can’t seem to make much of a dent in the actual policies and practices he’d like to change.

Progressives still shower the public with facts and arguments that are hard to refute, as (in the case of the Afghan War) the American people know.  After all, more than 60% of them now tell pollsters that the war was a “mistake.” Yet the war goes on and progressives remain the most marginal of players in the American political game because they don’t have a great myth to offer. In fact, they’ve hardly got any good ones.
Political scientist David Ricci claims there’s not much progressives can do about it, precisely because they already have one very successful myth that prevents them -- oh, the irony! -- from taking the power of myths seriously.  The progressive heritage, as he tells it, goes back to the eighteenth century Enlightenment, when the radicals of the day decided that fact and logic were the source of all truth and the only path to peace and freedom.

The Bible and all the other ancient tales bind us to the past, they argued.  As a result, humanity was letting dead people lock us into the injustices that bred endless war and suffering. It was time to let human reason open up a better future.

If progressives believe they are myth-less, though, they’re blind to the one mythic plot they share with the rest of America: good against evil. Progressives act out that myth on the political battlefield every day, passionately fighting to defeat right-wing evildoers.

The problem is (and forgive me for repeating an old anti-left cliché of the 1960s, but it’s true here): the progressives’ political myth tells only what they’re against, not what they’re for.

In fact, deep down, most progressives do have a dim sense of their deepest principles: the Enlightenment ideals of peace, freedom, and equality based on the Romantic ideal of what Lakoff calls empathy, extended to all humanity and the biosphere as well.

But progressives don’t wrap their policy prescriptions in mythic language that says clearly, simply, and patriotically what they’re for. As a result, they can’t compete with the myth of national insecurity.  They’ve got nothing to offer in its place, which is at least one reason why, despite growing opposition to the Afghan War, they can’t build a strong enough constituency to help -- or force -- Obama to end it.

All they can do is demand that he sacrifice his domestic agenda, and -- no small matter for any politician -- his second-term chances, on the altar of principle. As a result, they end up in a political never-never-land, which might feel good but isn’t going to save a single Afghan life.

No individual, much less a committee, can sit down and create a new myth. Myths grow organically from the life of a community.  Progressives would find their myth emerging spontaneously if they just spent a lot more time thinking and talking about their most basic worldview and values, the underlying premises that lead them to hold their political positions with such passion.

A strong progressive myth could make it safer for a president to change course and perhaps save his presidency. Failure to stave off the bad guys destroyed Lyndon Johnson and gravely wounded George W. Bush. I suspect Obama would love to have a great progressive myth keep him from a similar fate. He won’t create it, but he’d probably be delighted to see it appear on the horizon.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin

To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest superb TomCast audio interview in which Chernus discusses “us versus them” and “us with them” myths, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.  He can be reached at Chernus@colorado.edu.


Copyright 2011 Ira Chernus

If you like this blog, please share it, with proper attribution.


To read another version of the roots of the American vision of democracy, here is a short essay from Stop the Madness: The Diary of a Soldier For Peace in the War to Take Back America: 
THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES

No comments:

Post a Comment

There was an error in this gadget