Tag Archive | "Conservatism"

Think for Yourself

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Think for Yourself

Among the ways that we as humans define ourselves and each other is by attaching labels and identifying with groups.  Once labeled or identified, however, are we then forever defined by these self-proclaimed descriptions or the groups with which we have chosen to affiliate?  Must we then perpetually fall in lockstep with the thinking or ideology of our label or group?


The question is not merely one of semantics, but is among the most fundamental and serious issues facing our country.  On Election night 2008, then President-Elect Barack Obama proclaimed that “change has come to America.”  But, with deference to the President, change is no stranger to America or, for that matter, life.  Often incremental, sometimes cataclysmic, change does not need to be ushered in like guests at a wedding.  It is, rather, a constant in our nation’s and our own life experiences; perhaps, the one constant in a seemingly chaotic world.


Yet, if one views the American political landscape over the course of the last several Presidential election cycles, it appears that nothing ever changes.  Our “two-party system” is alive, well, and a formidable impediment to any meaningful compromise between the more conservative Republican Party and the more liberal Democrat Party.  The United States has become nothing more than a collection of “red states” and “blue states” with policy and legislation dictated by the party in power at the particular time and place.


And, as one would expect, our citizenry mirrors the polarization of our political parties.  Fueled, in part, by the plethora of cable news sources, talk radio programs, publications, and Websites espousing particular political ideologies, individuals ally themselves with particular points of view and read, listen, or watch only those publications, sites, programs, or networks with which they are in agreement ideologically.  By excluding consideration of points of view with which they disagree, they become more entrenched in their own beliefs and less likely to consider other points of view, no matter how meritorious or innovative.


Why we as Americans continue, in most elections, to limit ourselves to serious consideration of only two candidates is a matter steeped in history, tradition, and exclusionary election laws.  Yet, in democratic countries where multiple political parties exist and are viable, those parties, of necessity, must form coalitions in order to effectively govern – dictating that ideas out of the political mainstream are brought to the public awareness and receive some level of consideration.


Of course, given the nature of the labels with which most of our electorate have branded themselves, the likelihood of new political parties gaining viability in the near future seems extremely unlikely.  With more than half of the general electorate and a considerably larger percentage of likely voters identifying themselves as either Conservative or Liberal/Progressive, the polarization of American political culture appears deeply-rooted.


But, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Are there Conservatives out there who are “pro-choice” or Liberals who are “pro-life?”  Are there other people like myself who are conservative economically, yet believe that universal healthcare is not simply a moral decision but also a national security imperative?  Must Progressives believe in not merely the factual authenticity of global climate change, but also that it is a man-created problem?  In short, can’t we all, regardless of how we label ourselves, think independently and seriously consider alternatives without regard to the labels attached to particular proposals?


In the early and middle nineteenth century, our country was viewed as a “grand experiment,” a “laboratory” in which the then radical ideas of freedom and democracy could be tested.  Visitors like Alexis de Tocqueville and Charles Dickens came to witness firsthand and chronicle its growth.  In his classic text, Democracy in America, de Tocqueville analyzes the reasons for the success of republican representative democracy in America, contrasting it with failures in other countries.  He also discusses threats to democracy, one of which he terms the “tyranny of the majority.”


In the polarized America of today, partisanship and de Tocqueville’s “tyranny” are alive and well.  With most votes in both houses of Congress falling along party lines, our nation is being driven by ideology run amok.  What we need are more truly independent thinkers among our legislators, citizenry, and leaders, people motivated by the common good rather than self-interest who can tackle the problems facing us and innovate uniquely American solutions.


In the 1983 movie, War Games, a young computer whiz hacks into a Defense Department computer system and begins a simulation game that could ultimately trigger a global thermonuclear war.  Once begun, the computer attempts to win the game and start World War III by producing false enemy missile launch images.  In a scene near the film’s conclusion, the designer of the system attempts to dissuade the general in charge of the facility from believing the images he is viewing are real.  Begging him to use his own reasoning and intelligence rather than letting a machine dictate his actions, the designer states “do the world a favor and stop acting like one [a machine].”


Similarly, I believe that it is time that all Americans cease blindly responding to labels and party affiliations.  Renounce your partisanship, consider many different viewpoints, and, most importantly, think for yourself.  If you do so, we will all benefit. 

Tea, Anyone?

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Boston Tea Party

On July 4, 1776, patriots from the 13 British colonies in North America declared their independence from England and formed the United States of America.  Decrying “taxation without representation,” colonists demonstrated their displeasure with British rule via acts of civil disobedience, the most famous of which was the Boston Tea Party.  233 years later, a new group of self-proclaimed patriots is again expressing its displeasure with the direction of government.  Alarmed by high rates of taxation and plans to further expand the scope of government at all levels, a loose affiliation of groups from around the country have dubbed themselves “Tea Party Patriots.”  This weekend, in concert with Fourth of July festivities, they will conduct 1300 events across the country and anticipate more than 1 million participants.


On July 3rd at the “Green” in Summit, New Jersey, several hundred citizens from the general area rallied in support of this nascent movement.  They came to listen to speeches, sign petitions, and voice their general disapproval of the direction of government at all levels.  Many carried flags and signs critical of universal healthcare, pending cap and trade legislation, and current political figures including President Obama and Governor Corzine. One man wore a shirt bearing phrases from the Declaration of Independence.  Many people bore hats or accessories indicating affiliation with military and other organizations.


Political candidates consonant with the viewpoint of attendees circulated among those gathered.  Tents and tables were setup to facilitate collection of signatures.  On one end of the “Green” was placed a wall of posterboard and a table with post-it notepads.  Participants wrote and posted messages.  Among the messages were “Legalize Liberty,” “Get Rid of Incumbent Politicians,” “Just Say No to Socialism,” and “Send Illegals Home Now and Save Trillions on Healthcare and Education.”


From a podium, a number of speakers shared points of view, among them a self-avowed Presidential candidate, Warren Mosler, who explained monetary policy in some detail and the Libertarian Party Gubernatorial candidate in the upcoming election, Ken Kaplan, who beseeched the audience to consider the possibility that a third-party candidate might actually win this year’s election.


The real stars of the show, however, were those ordinary citizens who, without expectation of personal gain, expressed their opinions clearly and persuasively.  One such individual who inspired those in attendance was Barbara Summers of Plainfield, New Jersey.  One of only two minority members in attendance, Barbara, an African-American mother of three, grandmother of four, and a lifelong Democrat, electrified the audience with her personal experiences with public healthcare and her recounting of the failures of government in general.  When asked what motivated her to appear and speak, she stated that she was witnessing “her country fall apart before her eyes” and that “half the country doesn’t know what’s going on.”  In response, she vowed to “keep knocking on doors” and to “stand up for America.”  When asked to what she attributed the lack of African-Americans and other minorities in attendance, Barbara indicated that many people were uninformed.  She further indicated that she was the only member of her family who did not vote for Barack Obama, indicating that she stands with the philosophy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and judges candidates “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”


Another such ordinary citizen was Joe Schilp, a video producer and State employee.  Joe gave an impassioned speech detailing the large tax burden endured by the citizens of New Jersey, quoting “53%” as the combined tax rate (federal, state, municipal) paid by the average New Jersey family.  A father of three and lifelong resident, he indicated that the birth of his children motivated him to become more active politically.  He is concerned about the direction of government and doesn’t want to leave his children with a “socialist state where the government controls everything.”  Stressing that he is not a professional politician, he expressed his concern about the growth of government and established goals of “getting liberty back, getting tax money back, and…stopping government from growing so fast.”


Regaining liberty and control over government were themes common to both speakers and those in attendance.  Among those in attendance were a young couple John and Nora Brower and their adorable young daughter Angelina.  With a sign saying “You Bankrupted My Future,” the Brower’s message was clearly in tune with that of the speakers and others in the audience.  Tim Adriance, an organizer for NewJerseyTeaPartyCoalition.org from Bergen County, historical restorationist, and historian with no less than fifteen ancestors in the American Revolution, believes it essential that the message “preserve your liberty” be impressed upon every citizen.  He further indicated the Federal government has overstepped its Constitutional bounds, infringing upon the rights of the individual states.  On the Fourth, he and his group will march as a contingent in the Ridgewood, New Jersey Fourth of July Parade to increase public awareness of the current threats to liberty.  Brian Arnesman of Morris County attended because he “felt it was time to stop just speaking with [his] vote and…to do something more”  Travelling by motorcycle with a group of other bikers, Brian relished the opportunity to meet and speak with other like-minded individuals.


A common theme among speakers and attendees alike was dissatisfaction with both Democrat and Republican parties.  While no surprise that the more liberal Democrat party would receive low marks from the Tea Party Patriots, the loudest boos were reserved for Republicans considered turncoats by virtue of their abandonment of conservative principles.  New Jersey Congressmen Leonard Lance, Chris Smith, and Frank LoBiondo were pilloried for their alignment with the Democrats in recent House passage of cap and trade legislation.  Even a local Republican candidate criticized Congressman Smith as an example of Republicans who had “compromised their ideology” to gain reelection.  Richard Piatkowski, Republican State Assembly candidate for the 19th Legislative District, shared this and other views while circulating among the event’s attendees.  Pointing to a public works project in Perth Amboy, he tied cost overruns to campaign contributions to the Mayor and his 19th District opponent, flagrant examples of “pay to play” in New Jersey..


Perhaps the most unique political perspective was that of Neil McGettigan, President of the Objectivist Party of New Jersey.   Convinced that the upcoming Corzine-Christie race does not provide New Jerseyans with a real choice, McGettigan and his group are promoting a write-in candidate, John Galt, as a protest vote.  Now, if you are wondering who John Galt is, he is not a person at all, but a character from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”  In the dystopian novel, Rand depicts a United States that has fallen into socialism.  Tired of the dictates of the government, society’s innovators and producers, led by the mysterious John Galt, progressively disappear from society and start their own, one of absolute freedom.  The Objectivist Party, according to McGettigan, wants to “go back to the Jeffersonian ideal.”  And, by writing in John Galt for governor, you can send that message.


Will the Tea Party movement, with well-known supporters including Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, succeed in reversing the course of big government and returning power to “we the people?”  Only time will tell.  But, if the enthusiasm of those attending the Summit Tea Party is any indication, one of their own will be sipping tea in the Oval Office in January 2013.

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