Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Old Idea in the Midst of New Realities

I read with interest both David Brooks op-ed "The Politics of Solipsism" and Joan Walsh's critique "The Politics of Selfishness."  There is no question that I found Walsh's critique particularly persuasive.  Brooks correctly explains that our country was founded as a republic, not a democracy, and he continues by providing a solid understanding of the Founding Fathers' republican perspective.  However, I agree with Walsh in that by citing Irving Kristol, Brooks gave away his argument. 

I believe that the idea of "public spiritedness," within the context of the Founders, was lost with the rise of conservatism in the middle and late 20th century.  As Walsh explains in her critique, decisions were made to begin a class war against those who were not rich or directly connected with the corporation.  And it was Kristol who was at the forefront of that effort by providing intellectual cover for abandoning "public spiritedness" in its traditional sense.  Few of our leaders today actually think of the "public," when it comes to public policy; most are concerned first and foremost with the maintenance of personal power.  They are next concerned with ensuring public policy meets the needs of their largest donors.  And only when the actual public shows real concern for political overreaches (see the Ryan budget proposal), do we see our leaders back off, or pretend to have the public's interest at heart.

Walsh is correct in noting that Brooks, though I doubt he would ever say it plainly, has supported the very people who have decimated the actual tradition of "public spiritedness."  This discussion reminded me of the post I wrote just yesterday citing Glenn Greenwald's points about how far we are from our old principles.  I wondered, in these post-bin Laden days, what we will become of us as a nation.  My concern was that we had forever abandoned important principles that made our nation the moral leader of the world, and all in the name of a false sense of security.  As with our civil liberties, so too has the idea of "public spiritedness" been corrupted for selfish gain and a concentration of power.

Maybe I can borrow this from the Tea Party set:  I want my country back.

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