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Government

Language is Destiny

October 21st, 2010 // 4:00 am @

How a New Generation is Taking the Reins of American Leadership

In the twentieth century Richard Weaver famously taught that “ideas have consequences.”

He turned this thought into a book and eventually a philosophy, one which entered the general culture as the idea that “words mean things.”

Together these two concepts informed a society dominated and run by the Baby Boomers–those born between 1946 and 1964.

As we transition to a society run by the Latch-key or X Generation, born between 1964 and 1984, a new dominating viewpoint is gaining control.

As usual, most of media, academia and government have not yet fully caught on or understood the influence of the coming shift.

A powerful way to understand the rise of a new thought-generation is the OSA, or Over-Stated Acquiescent. This occurs where a person communicates agreement with what is being said by overstating the point.

Today’s OSAs include, “I know, right?” “Oh yeah, good point,” and “uber- ” [fill-in-the-blank].

These OSAs are sarcastic and manage to communicate irony and skepticism even as they convey assent.

This is a major shift from the past two generations, whose OSAs were nearly all positive, optimistic, guileless, and straightforward: “Groovy,” “Cool,” “Far Out,” “Rad,” “Awesome,” and so on.

Note that these older-generation OSA’s expressed a positive view of the future, a general sense that the world is good and getting better, and a naïve and infectious happiness of youth.

In contrast, the rising generation’s post-9/11 OSA’s are edgy–waiting for the other shoe to drop on our society, and just trying to get by until it does.

The older OSA’s come from a generation raised by parents, a cohesive high-school community and mostly homogenous values, while the new OSA’s express a society raised by television, factionalized and competing cliques, and conflicting diversity.

The old OSA’s were popularized by older youth (16-19) who wanted to hang on to carefree adolescence into their twenties and even thirties, where the new OSA’s reflect a younger group (10-13) who grew up too fast and were sophisticated before puberty and involved in adult issues and relationships by ages 14-16.

Destiny Lost

If you doubt how much OSA’s can teach us about generational psyches and therefore the future, consider their counterpart: the Under-Stated Denial (USDs).

The new USDs are once again ironic, skeptical, grown-up-too-fast, cosmopolitan, and sarcastic: “Not so much,” “A Little Bit,” “Shut Up!” and “-ish.”

Each is nuanced, meaning that none of these actually mean what they say. In the new language, words still mean things–but not exactly.

“Shut up,” here doesn’t mean to stop talking, but rather “totally!” Likewise, “A little bit” actually means, “Yes, a lot!” The older generation would have said, “duh!” instead of “A little bit.”

And “Not so much” would be translated by older generations as, “Of course not, stupid. How ridiculous! Isn’t this obvious? Come on, use your brain. For heaven’s sakes!”

The old generation of USDs was predictable, straightforward and obvious. “No way!” “No,” “Never,” “Negative,” “Not very much,” and other USD’s left little room for doubt as to their meaning.

In fact, they were more “stated” than “understated.” In contrast, the new USD’s are ripe with non-verbal meanings. The old way was to say what you mean, and even say it more strongly than you mean it.

The new way is to say what you don’t mean in a way that means what you mean–kind of.

If this is confusing, welcome to the future.

A: “So, do you like him?”
“He’s dreamy!”

B: “So, do you like him?”
“A little bit.”

These actually mean the same thing: the responder is smitten! But only “A” says so. In fact, “B” actually seems to say the opposite.

C: “Did you have fun on your date?”
“It was cool.”

D: “Did you have fun on your date?”
“ish.”

Again, C and D mean basically the same thing: “The date was okay, nothing great, but not terrible.”

But “cool” leans positive, just like the Boomer generation as a whole, while “ish” tends negative, glass-half-empty, like Generation X.

“Cool” means “I’m glad I went and I’d go out with him again,” while “ish” communicates the opposite.

Note that it is the expressions a generation uses in its adult years, not its youth, that carry the most weight, since language mirrors (and even, to some extent, defines) internal thoughts.

It is adult generations that wield real — as opposed to symbolic — power in businesses, governments and other major societal institutions.

So, while Gen X may have used older-style OSA’s and USD’s in its youth (“cool,” “awesome,” etc.), in adulthood it is now firmly planted in the new language used by its children (“I know, right?” “not so much,” “a little bit,” etc.). Its future will most likely follow the new model.

Interesting sidebar: it is not an anomaly that some of these phrases come from the growing Latino culture.

Business, Government, & Societal Applications

The ramifications for business, relationships, career and government are numerous.

For one, a society run by Boomers is willing to keep trying the old ways while Generation Xers won’t persist on a path they don’t trust or consider faulty.

Once Xers think something won’t work, they switch to something new. And where Boomers believe in the principles of the past and hesitate to try unproven policies, Xers are quick to try new things even when the risks are high.

The old model valued clarity, optimism and idealism, and supported progress toward the ideal–whether your ideal was Woodstock or Reagan.

In contrast, the new values are multi-layered, complex, nuanced.

They resonate with a cosmopolitan mix of pragmatic and symbolic, like American Idol or Obama. Things must be real and extremely symbolic at the same time.

In this new model, Republicans and Democrats are fake and lacking in symbolic sway, while Tea Parties and Obama are reality television and big-time icons combined.

Rush Limbaugh and Joe Biden are the old–straightforward, pushy, dogmatic, proletarian–while Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow are the new: complex, many-layered, broadly-read, cosmo, iconic. It’s George Strait and The Rolling Stones versus Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.

The old says what it means, the new sparks the imagination.

At first blush, it may appear that the old model is fundamentally conservative–preserving values, honoring the past–while the new is wildly liberal–risking new options, and open to untried possibilities.

But that’s the view from the “words mean things” side of the fence.

On a deeper level, where things (all things, not just words mean things, the new OSA’s and USD’s signal a breath of life into the stagnant and unproductive war of words between the two major political parties and, more importantly, the two warring economic classes in our society.

We are increasingly a class society, split between uber-haves and the rest of us.

While the new “say what you don’t mean” generation may not appear to accept any of the wisdom of past generations, the opposite is actually true.

The older generations emphasized saying what you mean, and in doing so split into two rigid camps roughly understood as conservative and liberal.

These two camps then set out to beat each other in every walk of life, from the pulpit to the campus and from the big screen to the White House.

One major casualty in this battle was many of the best principles and ideas from the past. Indeed, both sides promoted their own version of what the greatest thinkers of history said, so that by the 2000’s both Democrats and Republicans could claim to be promoting Jeffersonian principles of American freedom.

Ultra-conservatives and liberal extremists carry around quotes from Plato, Jefferson, the Federalist, Tocqueville, Lincoln, Churchill and others–many taken largely out of context, each supporting some current pet viewpoint.

Both sides de-emphasized the need to go read Plato, Jefferson, the Federalist or others in depth and in total.

As a result, the great freedom principles and ideals of the past were forgotten, touted by all, and followed by none. This is the actual legacy of much that calls itself conservatism or progressivism.

Do our modern traditions preserve the best principles of the past? Not so much. (Translation for Boomers: “Not at all. And that really stinks!”)

Do they simultaneously claim the authority of the great ideas and patently fail to understand them? A little bit. (Translation for Boomers: “Totally. How ridiculous!”)

Is conservatism even conservative any more, and is progressivism even progressive? -ish. (Translation for Boomers: “A little, but not really. What’s wrong with these people, anyway?”)

Destiny Reconsidered

That said, there is much to be learned from the new destiny of language caused by the rise of Gen X.

While the obvious change is an openness to the new, even if it is untried and risky, there is a simultaneous return to the wisdom of the past.

More and more people, whatever their political or religious views, are returning to the old classics. And they are reading them in full, in depth. They are talking about them, blogging about them, and thinking about them.

As a result, they are getting a dose of quality thinking in a modern setting.

Something very interesting is coming out of this return to the great books and ideas. Conservatives are learning real conservatism and progressives are understanding real liberalism.

The potential of this renaissance is staggering. It turns out the problem of the great ideological divide was less conservatism vs. liberalism and more a reliance on superficiality.

Conservative and also progressive societies can both be greatly free, but shallow-thinking and poorly-educated societies cannot. They always deteriorate into less-than-free countries.

Indeed, when one actually reads Washington or Adams or Jefferson or the Federalist, it becomes clear that the American founders and framers were truly uber-conservative and uber-progressive.

They didn’t pick either side, but rather pulled the best conservative and also the best progressive principles and applied them all.

For example, when I first attended major home school conventions in the early 1990s there was a generally accepted viewpoint–shared by liberal hippies and right-wing evangelicals and seemingly everyone in between–that the American founders were against government-funded public schools and for privatized, parent-run schools.

In my youth, I had been taught a different view: That the founders established government-run public schools as the bastion of American strength.

When I read the collected writings of Jefferson, all twenty volumes, for the first time, I was shocked to read what he actually said about schools.

The first time I read the collected works of Washington and Adams, my surprise deepened and my views changed.

It turns out that both modern perspectives were shallow.

What the founders actually wanted was a flourishing educational environment with numerous public and private options all offering the deepest quality of education.

The founders described mentoring, the vital role of the greatest books and other works of mankind, and numerous educational ideals.

Their grasp of principles was broad, and their suggested innovations numerous. They believed in promoting the best conservative successes of the past and initiating progressive innovations to continually improve learning.

I had a similar experience as I read the original writings of the greats on numerous topics, from the Constitution to international relations to economics, and so on.

Depth always trumps shallow, and indeed many current debates between shallow conservatism and shallow liberalism are simply a problem caused by shallow understanding–when depth is added, many of these debates disappear altogether, and the rest have some actual chance of productive discourse that leads to improvement and change.

Shallow isn’t Education

The job-training focus of schooling since 1941 has, despite its admitted positives, had the negative effect of promoting shallow leadership and citizenship education.

The internet age has continued this downward trend to the extent that people have turned from books to e-surfing as a replacement for deep, quality education.

This applies to both formal youth schooling and informal, on-going adult learning.

A nation of free citizens is always a nation of adults continually learning at a deep level and thinking about new ideas in a continual national debate about the truly important things.

When only a small percentage of the adult population is engaged in this debate, freedom quickly declines, as the views and desires of the dependent masses are at odds with the principles of freedom.

In our day, the spread of the internet has significantly increased the number and percentage of the population that is actively involved in the national dialogue.

What is less obvious, but even more profound, is that we are also witnessing a growth in the number of people reading, studying and thinking about the great classics–not just limited quotes in textbooks, but in the original and complete form.

While the internet age has caused the death of the newspaper and, currently, the looming demise of many book publishers, it has coincided with a resurrection in reading the great classics.

This is a huge victory for freedom, though the consequences won’t likely be fully understood for many decades.

E: “Did Generation X get trained for jobs?
“A little bit.”

(Translation for Boomers: “Absolutely! If anything, it got more than enough. And, at the same time, other types of quality education suffered greatly.”)

F: “Did Generation X get a truly quality education for life and leadership?”
“Not so much.”

(Translation for Boomers: “Not at all. What a tragedy!”)

G: “Is Generation X prepared for the mantle of leadership now falling on its shoulders?”
“-ish.”

(Translation for Boomers: “Not really. But it’s coming anyway, so we’ll do our best. But it sucks that we weren’t educated for leadership in the first place!”)

H: “Look, Gen X isn’t any better than the Boomers and will have just as many problems.”
“I know, right?”

(Translation for Boomers: “Of course it will. In the meantime, let’s smile and make the best of it. In fact, let’s be happy about it. We might as well. Life stinks sometimes, but there is a lot of good too. Stop taking everything so seriously or you’ll die of ulcers.”)

I: “If Gen X doesn’t grow up and get serious, things will get a lot worse.”
“Oh yeah, good point.”

(Translation for Boomers: “No they won’t! Relax. I mean, yes, technically you are right. Real problems require real solutions. But stop over-stating it. Of course we’ll have to get serious. Of course we have to grow up. But in all your serious, grown-up leadership, you still managed to mess up the world a lot. Yes, you did some good things too. Thank you for those. Really, thank you. But our biggest problem with you is that you did everything with a frown on your face. We’ll deal with the real world in serious and grown-up ways, but don’t expect us to scowl our way through life. We prefer to smile, to laugh, to enjoy the journey–however difficult it may be.”)

A Boomer/Gen X Dialogue

I recently had a talk with a Boomer-age mentor who helped me a lot in my youth.

He commented on my latest book, and while he agreed with the conclusions two things baffled him.

First, why did I say, “God, or the Universe, whichever is most comfortable for you…” instead of just “God”?

Second, why did I say, “Whatever your politics, conservative or liberal or moderate or whatever, if you support freedom then we are on the same side…”?

I found myself as baffled as he was. Why wouldn’t I be inclusive instead of divisive?

I asked if my words made it sound like I don’t believe in God.

“Not at all,” he said. “But, it’s…squishy.”

“Squishy?” I asked. “I believe in God. I made that clear in the book, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, do you want me to go a step further and say that everyone who doesn’t believe in God is wrong and shouldn’t work with me on promoting freedom? Do you actually believe that?”

“Well, no,” he said. “But you should just say it like it is.”

“Okay,” I said, “here is how it is. If those who believe in God and freedom keep fighting against those who believe in freedom but not God, then will freedom win or lose?”

He just looked at me

“Or if conservatives, liberals, libertarians, environmentalists, moderates and independents who believe in freedom keep fighting against each other, does freedom gain or lose?”

He was shaking his head, so I tried a different tact.

“Is freedom losing so much ground because we’ve failed to show the evils of the other side or because we’ve failed to get more people to stand up for freedom? Which is more important?”

“Getting more to stand for freedom. That’s the whole point,” he said.

“Does freedom need more allies or less?” I asked.

“More. A lot more.”

“Do your allies have to agree with you on everything, or just on supporting freedom?”

“Well, I guess just on supporting freedom.”

“So why do you want me to argue with them on everything else? I mean, if freedom wins, we can all argue for the rest of our lives about everything from religion to politics to the Lakers. But if freedom loses, none of us will be able to stand for what we believe. I am proud of my friends who stand up for their beliefs that are different than mine. I want my grandchildren to live in a nation where all religions and political views and ideas can still believe what they want and express it openly and argue with each other. Don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, “But it is possible to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

“True. It is also possible to be so closed that you make enemies of real friends.”

He pondered that, and began nodding his head.

“I can see that,” he agreed.

“Let me ask you a question,” I paused. “Is the need to attack different views actually part of your religion? Or part of your political ideals?”

“Actually,” he said after a few seconds, “my religion teaches just the opposite. For that matter, so do my political principles.”

He thought for a minute and I remained quiet. “It’s just that politics has been this way for so long, so much argument, cutting down the other side, getting them before they get you.”

I responded, “I know, right? But I have so many friends, really close friends, people I love and deeply respect, who disagree with me on religion or politics. But I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t really care about freedom. I just want all those who stand for freedom to at least try to work together.”

I later had an almost identical conversation (though the labels were different) with a woman who, by her account, had been raised a socialist in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

She spoke fondly of socialist summer camps as a youth and of being called a “pinko” when she went to college.

In the end, as I listened to her for over an hour, she was no socialist at all. She believed in the principles of freedom, despised government over-reach, and saw Washington D.C.’s excesses, regulations, high taxes and interventions in the economy as the great evil.

Her name for all this big-government domination was “capitalism.”

While many may disagree about the labels, she believed in freedom and deeply yearned to see the end of big-government growth.

I’m so glad I really listened to her instead of jumping to conclusions when she first called herself a “socialist.”

Once I understood what really mattered to her, I really enjoyed sharing what I thought about the current battle for freedom.

After she listened to me for a long time, she agreed that her labels were faulty and that we had a lot more in common than in disagreement.

Destiny Reborn

In the end, part of the Boomer generation’s way of doing things was to divide, label and battle. This system picked a side, gave positive names to its own side and negative labels to the other side, and went to war.

In this model, few people ever crossed the aisle or admitted good in the other side (or bad from its own side).

It put people in one camp or the other. “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us” was the operating motto.

There were many positives in this system, and perhaps coming as it did after the Hitler era it was necessary.

But this generation still runs Washington and much of the media and academia.

A new model is rising, however, with a different language and a different destiny. As the Xers increase their influence, the debate will likely be more sarcastic, ironic and complex.

This may turn off those who want politics and societal debates to be loving and kindly.

Others may be frustrated by the impact of Reality TV-style politics, and its ironic blend of reality with symbolism.

Put simply, presidential politics will likely be more and more like high school elections–too often all about appearance and popularity.

But the dialogues of the future will inject more humor and a relaxed attitude. They won’t take the political parties or candidates so seriously.

Freedom will be the serious issue, and policy, but not so much the candidates and parties.

They’ll elect Presidents like High School Prom Queens, but they’ll watch everyday government policy like Madison or Franklin.

They’ll care less about who is in the office and a lot more about what the officeholders actually do.

In a significant way, that’s a step in the right direction. And more importantly, Gen X politics is increasingly more participative–meaning that more citizens are closely involved in elections and also in everyday governance.

This is a huge step forward. Above all, the citizenry itself is slowly and consistently increasing its depth.

More regular people are reading the old classics in detail, thinking about the greatest ideas of mankind and comparing them to our modern institutions and leaders.

The old model was run by fewer, straightforwardly-involved but shallowly-engaged citizens. The future model appears to be developing toward more citizens involved and also more who are deeply engaged in the classics and great ideas.

The biggest criticism of the Xers–their skepticism–turns to a positive when applied to citizenship. Because they are skeptical they keep a closer eye on politics, stay more involved, and are less swayed by the next politician promising a grand program.

They are still second-in-command to the “Big Program” Boomers, but their day is coming.

If you want a citizenry that simply votes and then leaves everything else to Washington, you will be disappointed. The generation of “Awesome!” is being slowly replaced by a generation of uber-citizens.

If the trend continues, future Americans will be more like the American founding generation than any citizenry in nearly two centuries.

If this continues, the future of freedom is significantly brighter.

Or, to put it succinctly: “America’s future?”

“I know, right?”

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Culture &Generations &Government &Liberty &Politics

Robin Hood, or Prince John: Overcoming a Problem Worse than Socialism

October 20th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

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When the government takes middle-class tax money and bails out big bankers, automobile manufacturers and other big businesses paying out huge multi-million dollar bonuses, that’s not socialism.

Socialism, like Robin Hood, proposes to take money from the middle and upper classes and redistribute it to the poor.

But during the Great Recession, the lower and lower-middle classes found it much harder to make ends meet. Many lost their jobs, and even their homes.

Where is Robin Hood when they need him? Where is their socialist bailout?

Whether or not you subscribe to the socialist ideal (and I decidedly do not), a careful consideration of the social and economic climate of the U.S. is warranted.

What is really happening? Talk radio and conservative television hosts have railed about the “rise of socialism,” but in reality something else is going on here.

When socialistic programs are introduced, the lower classes benefit and the upper-middle and upper classes pay the bill.

But in our time, precisely the opposite has happened.

In addition to increasing woes for the lower and lower-middle classes, the upper classes actually benefited from the economic downturn.

The number of millionaires grew 16 percent during the Great Recession; and those with a net worth over $5 million grew 17 percent.

So why are conservatives and Tea Partyists bantying about the s-word so much?

And after all is said and done, what difference does it make what we call it?

While the “socialism” furor may be linked to the Health Care debate and other left-of-center proposals of the Obama Administration, a deeper look shows that socialism is not the real culprit.

It is critical to understand that this distinction is not just a talking point for politicians and pundits to discuss on Sunday morning talk shows, or for academics and intellectuals to publish in scholarly journals.

By misdiagnosing the problem, we are also applying the wrong remedies and can never hope for improvement.

We are all the day vigilant against the small-time con of Robin Hood, and Prince John plunders us while we sleep.

What is Socialism?

The technical definition of socialism is government ownership of the major means of production in a society.

American Liberalism, in contrast, believes that there should be both a private and a government sector, and that the government should highly tax and regulate the private sector.

While both of these are anti-conservative, they are not one and the same, and the difference is critical.

American Liberalism does believe in limits, checks and balances; it believes in a separate private sector.

Socialism believes in none of these; it believes that the government should run the entire economy.

Obama Administration involvement in bailing out banks and auto companies certainly had liberal and even socialist overtones, but the top banks quickly paid back government loans and went back to private ownership.

In this sense, to label this as socialistic is not accurate.

Again: this is not question of semantics, but speaks to the very heart of the issue and how we should respond. (More on this later.)

In the wake of the economic meltdown, the government drastically increased regulations on large and small businesses. This regulatory activity is a basic value and tool of liberalism.

While liberalism seeks to ever increase regulation on private businesses, socialism seeks to own most and eventually all the companies in a nation.

Polls showed the Obama Administration to be left of the American populace in regard to fiscal and other types of regulations, but all within liberal rather than socialistic definitions.

It may be well argued that this distinction is simply a question of degrees.

But even in that paradigm the differences demand a greater understanding of and tailored responses to the liberal and socialist encroachments on freedom and prosperity.

If It Quacks Like A Duck…

Another reason many called Great Recession policies “socialist” is that government actions caused private businesses to shed employees at the same time that the government was hiring.

When the media shared the numbers showing that average private salaries are less than the average government employees make, the “socialism” name-calling was a natural angry response.

The Economist predicted growing political battles between taxpayers and government employees in nearly all nations.

We need to get serious about incentivizing small and mid-size businesses.

For example, a recent version of the health care bill would have required businesses with twenty employees and a $1 million/year budget would have to add $300,000 to its annual costs or pay $40,000 in fines.

Result: at least two employees would be let go and twenty people would still not have health insurance.

To say nothing of the fact that these individual employees will still have to buy their own insurance or pay additional fines.

It’s anybody’s guess how it will all shake out as the health care law undergoes endless tinkering over the next who-knows-how-long, but it’s worth asking the question: How, exactly, does this help unemployment?

In fact, it dis-incentivizes entrepreneurship and hiring, and encourages people to go on government programs. This certainly feels like socialism.

And big business is facing similar challenges. For example, Intel’s chief executive Paul Otellini said that the U.S. is driving away businesses and employers:

The things that are not conducive to investments here are taxes and capital investment credits. A new semiconductor factory at world scale built from scratch is about $4.5 billion–in the United States. If I build that factory in almost any other country in the world, where they have significant incentive programs, I could save $1 billion.”

How many jobs are we sending to other countries because of our high taxes?

This was clearly not a hypothetical situation; Intel built its latest factory in China. Said Otellini:

And it wasn’t because of the labor costs either. Yeah, the construction costs were a little bit lower, but the cost of operating when you look at it after tax was substantially lower…”

What does it mean when China’s communist business environment is more inviting to U.S. companies, more conducive to their growth, than the United States?

When did regulations and taxes in the U.S. make doing business in China attractive?

The U.S. now ranks #40 out of forty industrialized nations in appeal to business.

It’s almost as if the U.S. government doesn’t want business to succeed or grow, and only thinks that government spending and government jobs are the solutions to economic challenges.

This is easy prey for conspiracy hunters, but I don’t think Washington is capable either of such ubiquitous cleverness or cooperation.

I think it is much more likely when it comes to preserving freedom, they are simply not minding the store.

Other pressing needs have our leaders distracted, and the expedient responses they recur to also happen to militate against our future freedom and prosperity–and specifically, against free enterprise.

No wonder so many people are angry at recent presidential administrations. No wonder so many are crying “socialism.”

How can we defend against the allegation that our government purposely wants private businesses to fail or flee the U.S.?

Instead of promoting incentives that bring more business and jobs, the government is promoting higher taxes and regulations like health care that make business success more difficult.

More government regulation, increased government hiring and increased government social programs demanding ever higher taxes: these are features not only of liberal policies, but of a growing aristocracy.

Socialism Versus Aristocracy

Predictably, most Americans today who actually have an opinion on the matter readily conjure the twentieth-century enemy of free enterprise, socialism, rather than the older, forgotten eighteenth- and nineteenth-century evil of aristocratic rule.

But the fact that lower classes are struggling more than ever while the upper classes are increasing their wealth during economic downturns is a clear sign that aristocracy is the issue.

Consider this: in socialist cultures celebrity and fame are denigrated; in aristocratic societies they are esteemed and celebrated.

We clearly love celebrity at levels far beyond socialistic, conservative or even liberal societies.

Aristocracies and monarchies are the domain of such infatuation with fame, get-rich-quick schemes and the lottery mentality.

Like Shakespeare’s Antonio, we just know our ship is about to come in.

Conservatives traditionally invest in building businesses and like-minded community, liberals in educational degrees, professional excellence and credibility, and socialists in government positions.

Like characters in an Austen novel, in aristocracies like our modern America those in the lower classes fantasize about some punctuated leap in their “prospects”–from marrying rich to the modern equivalent of winning on Survivor, American Idol, The Amazing Race, The Bachelor or some other concocted scenario where the fate of the aspirants largely lies with those in power.

Note that in pyramid schemes there are a few winners at the top but thousands of hopeful and willing enablers the rest of the way down.

Why the Difference Matters

The debate between socialism and aristocracy is more than just semantical.

The technically inaccurate label of socialism allows the educated media and the elite establishment to patronize and condescend to the “uneducated” who push for change.

It allows government officials to dismiss the “uncouth dissenters” while maintaining their conviction that “they” (the “educated,” the most “talented,” most “intelligent” ones) know what the nation needs and those whose opinion really matters (the “educated,” the most “talented,” most “intelligent” ones) are completely in favor of their proposals.

Unfortunately, those citizens who put aside apathy and stand up to make a difference find themselves always frustrated because they fight the wrong battle.

If socialism is our problem, the perpetrator is the political leaders promoting socialist policies, and the philosophical left is to blame.

But if aristocracy is the challenge, then the two parties are both culprits in the promotion of a privileged class.

If aristocracy is the challenge, the citizen is his own worst enemy as he does not pay the price to rise above the mediocre education of our schools or to see beyond a complicit, dumbed-down media designed more for entertainment than positive impact on freedom and prosperity.

If we think socialism is the enemy, we will put our effort into electing different leaders, only to discover that Washington’s problems continue and increase no matter whom we elect.

By misdiagnosing the problem, we are using the wrong treatments and failing to get better.

No matter how active and engaged voters are, from the left or the right or the middle, if we continue to think that socialism or capitalism is our problem then all our efforts will continue to be impotent.

Very little will change in Washington and our problems will continue to grow.

Virile & Viral

If we realize, in contrast, that aristocracy is the real problem and that electing an upper class from either party will only worsen the problem, we can shift focus and consider what is really needed.

And the answer, the real solution, will become clear: As long as we live in a society of upper and lower classes, our freedoms and prosperity will continue to decline.

The solution is not to just elect a different leader, but for all American citizens to once again obtain the kind of education that allowed regular farmers and shopkeepers to study the federalist papers and listen to and consider eight-hour debates during the Lincoln-Douglass era.

If we think the problem is socialism, we will consider great education benign and ineffectual.

But if we know the real problem–that people in both parties and in all social strata are enabling a growing aristocratic power over our society–then we will realize that simply electing a better senator or president is not nearly enough of a solution.

True: Socialism and aristocracy share many symptoms, so electing the best leaders is still vitally important to stem big government.

But the real, unseen, issue is aristocracy. And until the American people realize this and more of us get the same quality of education as the CEOs, judges and presidents, the problems will continue to grow.

Above all, it is education that determines class levels.

Entrepreneurship is another path to leadership. This doesn’t mean that we need all enroll in the Ivy League.

In truth, the greatest classics of history are still the true library of freedom, wealth and leadership.

Virtually every town library has the great texts of liberty and success available.

The question is, do Americans value our freedom enough to end the rise of aristocratic rule by becoming greatly educated ourselves?

Will we step up to our responsibilities as citizens and qualify ourselves for our role as the overseers of government by learning about freedom, leadership, economics, human nature and the other great ideas of mankind?

As our society is on track for disaster from numerous threats (to our food supply, availability of fuel, decaying infrastructure, dependency on programs that have poor prospects for future funding, terrorism, failing economy) we all know that somebody needs to “Do something!”

We have been caught in the binary trap of either expecting someone else to “fix it” or expecting that we can make a difference just by making our voices heard.

But our moral authority and our ability to impact our society’s direction will come not from complaining about the ideas or performance of those who have stepped up to lead, but from actually having the answers to society’s ills.

We can’t just protest that the world simply must turn back the clock two hundred years.

New leadership is needed by today’s American citizens.

If we truly revere the American founders and idealize their accomplishments, we must move beyond hero worship and actually do as the founders did: We must apply a profound understanding of sound principles to the establishment of policies and forms that directly apply to our complex and critical situation today.

This we can do, just as the American founders did in their day.

As I have said elsewhere: Getting a world-class education and running successful businesses is “doing something.”

That is precisely the “something” that is called for today, and that any other solution which does not include a better educated populace has a different outcome than liberty and justice for all.

It is time for an entrepreneurial approach to getting an individualized, superb, great, innovative leadership education in the classics.

Each of us can do it, and the future of our freedoms depends upon it.

If the current growth of American aristocracy is allowed to continue, our future is destined to be less free and more harshly lacking in opportunity than any socialistic society.

The criticism of “socialism” is certainly negative; but unless we change course, the aristocracy that our grandchildren and their children inherit will be something far worse.

Click Here to Download a Printable Version of This Article

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Aristocracy &Economics &Education &Entrepreneurship &Featured &Government &Liberty

Reclaiming Adult Society: The 4 Cultures Corrupting America & What Must Replace Them

October 19th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

Click Here to Download a Printable Version of This Article

Every child looks forward to the freedoms and responsibilities of being an adult.

Liberty is a blessing of maturity, and a free society is only maintained by a culture of adults.

This may be obvious, but it has become a challenge in our day.

The term “adult” has come to be commonly defined as anyone above a certain age–and has largely lost its qualitative nuance; but of course not all people older than twenty-one are free.

True adulthood requires more than maintaining a heartbeat for two or more decades.

To achieve and perpetuate freedom, societies need a culture which accepts and exhibits the responsibilities and leadership of adulthood.

This is more difficult to achieve than first meets the eye.

When the general culture isn’t up to freedom standards, it is easy for people to go along with the norm.

Indeed, one reason freedom is historically so rare is the difficulty of changing cultural norms.

Let’s consider four cultures that have widespread influence today.

Elementary Culture

The culture of grade schools has huge impact beyond the schoolyard.

Elementary Culture values the following:

  • Staying in the good graces of those above you, especially the authorities
  • Reliance on experts
  • Dependence on basic needs and remedies being provided
  • Playing
  • Having good toys
  • Learning and following the rules
  • Getting rewards from the authorities by meeting their expectations

As good as these things may be for classroom and playground management, they are less enchanting as cultural underpinnings for adult neighborhoods, towns, cities, and nations.

Free citizens are not exactly marked by their desire to please government authorities or being dependent on state programs.

Nor is liberty positively promoted when the citizens focus mostly on play, getting the best toys (from cars to computers to vacations) in life, or seeking rewards from upper classes or government officers.

Obviously, order and cooperation are desirable shared values in a society.

But there is a huge difference between free citizens who have a significant say in establishing the rules and dependent citizens who are hardly involved in governance.

One of the great heroic roles in our modern culture is found in elementary teachers who work, serve and sacrifice to help to raise the next generation.

For example, 63% of public grade-school teachers spend their own money buying food for at least one hungry student each month.

This amazing statistic shows much of what is right, and wrong, with modern America.

The individual voluntarism and selfless service by such teachers is a foundation of freedom.

When parents don’t own their responsibility to care for their children (which is the case in at least some, perhaps many, of these cases), our moral imperatives demand that we must.

And when adults act like children, the state steps forward to feed and care for them.

Think of the great freedom cultures of history–from the Hebrew and Greek golden ages to the free Saracens, Swiss, English and early Americans, among others.

These citizens were not dependents and not particularly interested in pleasing the authorities.

In fact, they held the government dependent on the people and required government officials to please the citizens.

They made family and work the center of adult life, as opposed to the “bread and circuses” of Elementary Cultures in Rome and other less-than-free societies.

High School Culture

Some adults live more in a High School Culture which, like Elementary Culture, does not promote free society.

High School Culture generally values the following:

  • Fitting in
  • Popularity
  • Sports
  • Cliques
  • Class systems
  • Disconnection from adult society

Sometimes even teachers side or identify with certain cliques and basically join this culture. The currently popular television series “Glee” typifies this sort of class system.

When applied to adult society, this creates a culture that hardly deserves and never maintains freedom.

In many towns, for example, high school glory days represent all that is right and good, and success in sports is seen as success in life.

There are three major types of life success in High School Culture:

  1. Doing well in school and sports
  2. Raising children who do well in school and sports
  3. Having grandchildren who are succeeding in school and sports.

This is High School Culture indeed. In fact, in many places the activities of the local high school are the actual center and high point of culture and activity.

This happens in many traditionally conservative cultures such as many small and mid-size towns, much of the American West, Texas and the plains states, and also in traditionally liberal populations like in the South, the Appalachians and the Midwest.

Whatever they call themselves politically, the dominant culture in such places often centers on the high school and reflects high school values.

Adults living High School Culture focus on their local and private issues and hope to ignore political society until it forces itself into their lives.

At such times, the typical response is anger and rebellion.

Unfortunately for freedom, seeking to fit in, be popular, join the best clique and thereby win the caste battle, and stay as disconnected from politics as possible, do not tend to promote free society.

Whether or not these things are good for youth is arguable; but they are certainly not foundations of liberty or the ideal goals of free adults.

College-Corporate Culture

Nor is College-Corporate Culture naturally supportive of freedom.

Just as high school usually has more freedoms than elementary, college and work culture sometimes feels free in comparison to high school society.

College-Corporate Culture is usually more dominant in bigger cities than in small towns, though of course there are people from all cultures living almost everywhere.

College-Corporate Culture values the following:

  • Personal success
  • Career preparation and advancement
  • Non-committal relationships
  • Entertainment
  • Status
  • Pursuing individual interests
  • Spending on lifestyle

People and places which adopt College-Corporate values experience more personal freedom than citizens living elementary or high school lifestyles.

But they are unable to establish or maintain freedom on the large scale over time, and they are usually not interested in trying.

“Me” and “I” dominate the perspectives of Elementary, High School and College-Corporate Cultures.\

Official Culture

In elementary and high schools there are principals, administrators, teachers and other officials who take care of the little people.

In the adult lives that mirror grade and high schools, regular citizens see themselves as being taken care of by officials and the officers see themselves as taking care of the people.

Since they value class systems and popularity, the people tend to regularly give in to those they consider in charge.

Many even feel resentment towards those who seem to rebel against the (“adult”) officials.

Woodstockers, John Birchers, the “-ism” extremists and other “rebels” are seen like druggies, gangsters and other unsavory high school cliques.

The “good” kids don’t fight the system.

College, university and corporate officials are often seen as distant, professionally rather than personally interested, upper class, and probably self-serving.

“They ignore us, and we ignore them,” is the operating principle of the regular people.

“We’re too busy pursuing our own success and fun to worry about them anyway–except to impress them.”

The officers, in contrast, see the regular people as functionaries to help them achieve big goals and successes.

Official Culture values the following:

  • Respect of those in authority
  • People following the rules
  • The infallibility of the rules
  • The need to lead significant, bold change
  • Overcoming the roadblocks which the regular people naively call “freedom”
  • Keeping the system strong
  • Promoting support and respect for the system
  • Really helping the people
  • Giving the people what they really need, even if they “think” they don’t want it or understand how much they need it

These have little likelihood of promoting long-term freedom.

Note that the official value of really helping the people is nearly always truly sincere. They really mean it.

While some may consider this patronizing, like the noblesse oblige of upper classes, we can still admire those who genuinely seek to serve and help people.

For freedom to succeed, however, the majority of the people must move beyond being cared for by experts and instead adopt and live in Adult Culture.

Freedom is lost in cultures dominated by Official Culture.

For that matter, freedom cannot survive in a society run by Elementary, High School, College-Corporate and/or Official values and systems.

Adult Culture

As mentioned above, freedom is incredibly rare in history.

It occurs only with an extremely high cost in resources, blood, sacrifice and wisdom, and it is maintained only when the citizenry does its job of truly leading the nation.

Regular people must understand what is going on at the same or a higher level than government leaders, or the leaders become an upper class and the people are relegated to following child-like as submissives and dependents.

To elect and become the right leaders and support the right direction in government, the people must study, watch, analyze and deeply think.

They must study and understand the principles of freedom, and they must get involved to ensure that these principles are applied.

Adult Culture values those things which keep societies free, prosperous and happy. Such values include the following:

  • Being your genuine self and therefore not easily swayed by peers, experts or anyone else
  • Actively and voluntarily contributing to society’s needs
  • Accepting responsibility for society and its future
  • Appropriately and maturely making a positive difference in the world
  • Accepting others for who they are and respecting their contributions
  • Spending wisely and balancing it with proper savings and investment
  • Consistently saving and effectively investing for the future
  • Dedicating yourself to committed relationships
  • Helping the young learn and progress
  • Providing principled and effective assistance to those in need
  • Influencing the rules, policies and laws to be what they should be, changing bad ones, and following the good ones
  • Sacrificing yourself for more important things
  • Taking risks when they are right
  • Respecting those in authority, earning and expecting their respect in return, and holding them accountable to their proper roles and duties
  • Balancing relationships and work with appropriate leisure, entertainments, sports, toys, hobbies and/or relaxation
  • Openly discouraging and, if needed, fighting class systems and unprincipled/unjust inequalities
  • Helping influence positive change while keeping the things which are positively working
  • Never allowing “progress” to trample freedoms
  • Promoting support for and respect of the system as long as it is positive and improving
  • Really, sincerely helping the people while respecting them as adults, individuals and citizens worthy of admiration and esteem

Any move away from these adult values is a step toward less freedom.

And let’s be clear: Most people naturally want to be treated like adults.

For example, there are now more independents than Republicans or Democrats in part because the political parties so often seem to exhibit elementary and high school values.

Populist movements nearly always arise when governments seem to adopt Official Culture.

The anti-Washington populism which swept President Obama into office was largely a response to perceived officiousness by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, just as Tea Party populism arose when many felt that the Obama Administration was treating regular Americans like inferiors.

Any sense of arrogance, superiority, smugness or overwhelming and unresponsive mandate by political leaders quite predictably spurs frustrated reactions.

Both parties routinely fall short in this arena, however, as do many in non-public sectors.

All of us would do well to guard ourselves against pride, which is perhaps the most negative High School value.

When combined with the harmful College-Corporate values of pushy ambition and myopic self-centeredness, pride wreaks havoc on societal leadership, prosperity and freedom.

In contrast, adult societies value relaxed confidence, poise, genuine humility, and authentic strength.

Adult Culture benefits from such values as elementary sharing and playing, high school enthusiasm and idealism, college self-improvement and dedicated learning, corporate hard work and excellence, and official emphasis on the rule of law and authentic caring for others.

However, each of these is optimized and put in context in an adult society–the only culture which can build and retain lasting freedom.

The Hidden War

Sadly, High School and College Culture have created a war brewing between the generations.

This is not a generation gap or a simple matter of the old not understanding the young.

It is an actual financial war between today’s children and their parents and grandparents.

But the youth aren’t engaged–they are simply the victims.

For example, as The Economist wrote of Britain:

“Half the population are under 40 years old but they hold only about 15% of all financial assets. People under 44 own, again, just 15% of owner-occupied housing….If pensions are counted, the situation is even more skewed.”

In the same article, entitled “Clash of Generations,” The Economist cites Member of Parliament David Willetts in his concern about the growing financial abuse of the young by older generations.

After noting the wealth of the baby-boomer generation, the article says:

“Young people have little chance of building up similar wealth. They are struggling to get on the housing ladder, though close to a fifth of the people between 49 and 59 years old own a second home…

“On top of this, older baby-boomers have dodged two speeding bullets, leaving their descendants squarely in the line of fire.

“The first is the bill for bailing out the financial sector; the second, the effect of climate change on the cost of energy, water, flood-prevention and the like.”

Former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

“And there are the moral implications of the debt, which have so roused the tea party movement: The old vote themselves benefits that their children will have to pay for. What kind of people do that?”

Certainly not those with adult values. As The Economist put it:

“There is an unvoiced contract that binds the generations. Parents look after their children, with a view to helping them do at least as well as they themselves have done, and grown-up children look after their parents, in the hope that their children will do the same for them one day.

“But there is now a ‘breakdown in the balance between the generations…’ Mr. Willetts cites, approvingly, the way some American Indian tribal councils used to take decisions in the light of how they would affect the next several generations.In Britain, alas, it is painfully hard to see beyond the next election.”

The same problems are widespread in the United States.

The tribal approach mentioned clearly comes from a society with adult values, unlike the philosophy guiding much of Anglo-American financial policy.

No Chewing Gum!

Besides self-centeredness, another high school value is that the “good” people always follow the officials.

John Dewey taught that the most lasting lessons learned in schools are the non-academic cultural values taught.

While it has been famously said that all one ever needs to know he learns in kindergarten, one lesson which seems to have most taken hold is that the teacher (or president, expert or agent) is always right.

This falsehood has always been the end of freedom.

Consider how recessionary times impacted the current generation of youth (ages 15-29) raised with jobs as the central goals of their life.

They know how to stay in line, not chew gum in class, stick to their social clique, and leave decision-making to the officials.

But not only have innovation and leadership not been highly rewarded in their young lives, they are alien to most of them.

Speaking of the current generation of college graduates, the experts have written:

“You’d think if people are more individualistic, they’d be more independent. But it’s not really true. There’s an element of entitlement–they expect people to figure things out for them.”

[Source: Jean Twenge, quoted in Don Peck, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” The Atlantic, March 2010.]

In the workplace, they

“need almost constant direction….Many flounder without precise guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules.”

[Source: Ron Aslop, quoted in Don Peck, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” The Atlantic, March 2010.}

“This is a group that’s done resume building since middle school. They’ve been told they’ve been preparing to go out and do great things after college. And now they’ve been dealt a 180 [by high unemployment rates].”

[Source: Larry Druckenbrod, quoted in Don Peck, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” The Atlantic, March 2010.]

“Trained through childhood to disconnect performance from reward, and told repeatedly that they are destined for great things, many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will…be sorted out by parents or other helpers.

“All of these characteristics are worrisome, given a harsh economic environment that requires perseverance, adaptability, humility, and entrepreneurialism.”

[Source: Don Peck, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” The Atlantic, March 2010.]

A generation of assembly-line education has failed to prepare today’s youth for the real world.

The simple solution for the generation now between ages 15 and 29, and for a lot of other people, is more jobs.

This requires more entrepreneurial action. As Don Peck wrote in The Atlantic:

“Ultimately, innovation is what allows an economy to grow quickly and create new jobs as old ones obsolesce and disappear.”

Entrepreneurship requires adult values, not people full of high-school risk aversion and dependence.

Calling All Adults

Today we need a drastic return to the adult values in our society.

Insecurely seeking to fit in, searching for popularity, sports and toys as measures of success, dependency on government and officials, class systems, pleasing those in charge, waiting for others to structure your success, feeling entitled, thinking your resume should create success, expecting a lottery or reality TV show to bail you out, and blaming others when things go wrong–these are not things free people cherish.

The question for our generation is: Can we regain our freedoms without putting aside childish things and becoming a society of adults?

Click Here to Download a Printable Version of This Article

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Citizenship &Culture &Economics &Featured &Generations &Government &Liberty

Freedom Leadership: America’s Opportunity

October 15th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

Futurist John Naisbitt wrote in Mindset that success in the 21st Century will go to the opportunity leaders, not the problem solvers.

America hasn’t yet figured this out. The focus of our leaders — political, corporate, media — seems mostly on problems.

As Fareed Zakaria argues, the current debate in the United States is totally out of touch with the global reality.

The news covers Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea, as have weekly talk shows. Americans are “obsessed with issues like terrorism, immigration, homeland security, and economic panics.”

But these all represent a preoccupation with the global losers of the past twenty years. Zakaria argues that the “real challenges that the country faces come from the winners, not the losers, of the new world.” (See his excellent book, The Post-American World.)

Rising — & Falling — Stars

How much are Americans thinking of the real challenges ahead, from China, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India and Russia?

These emerging powers are on the rise economically and politically, yet most Americans are alarmingly unaware. The economic growth of these nations is increasing their clout and “producing political confidence and national pride.”

The American people and the U.S. government are unprepared to deal with these new powers and their demands, choices and might. The central role of the United States in the world is about to drastically shrink, right when Washington sees America as the world’s last super power.

American political, economic and psychological letdown is inevitable.

Many of the rising powers have sectors with free economics, less regulation, lower taxes and more opportunity than the U.S. Entrepreneurs are increasingly courted and rewarded in these nations, while they are increasingly regulated and put down in the U.S. and Western Europe.

America’s Critical Choice

The United States has a great choice ahead: increase taxes to protect jobs and benefits or free up the economy in order to really compete in the decades ahead. The first is socialism, the second is free enterprise.

But here is the great challenge: the first is seen as “fixing the economy” and the second as scary, and probably depressionary.

A scarcity mentality is the cause of socialism; abundance is the foundation of free enterprise. Clearly, America today is caught in the grip of scarcity.

Welcome to our current irony. The story most Americans know is of a powerful but fearful great nation that leads the world against dark and sinister forces of jihadism and dictatorship.

What is left out of the story are the two dozen nations who are growing, prospering, and not affiliated with either side.

Washington will be forced to rethink its domestic and global strategy; forced not by its enemies but by its competitors. They are refusing to allow its meddling, and they are starting to attract those who are seeking free markets, opportunity and freedom.

On top of all this, at the same time that Americans are losing faith in their government, the new powers are experiencing a surge of nationalism; they want to be seen as strong and to spread their ways and power like the U.S. has for so long.

As the U.S. mires itself in the worst problems around the world, the new powers are attracting capital, technology and leadership by offering opportunity and freedom.

The Simple Solution

Of course, the U.S. can solve this all in one simple way — become the most inviting nation on earth. Get rid of massive regulation and simply re-establish freedom, free enterprise, free markets, true opportunity.

To do this, it will have to stop interfering in world conflicts and trying to be more socialist than Russia or Sweden.

If it fails in either change, if it doesn’t deregulate and stop policing the world, it will decline and collapse in power as did Rome, Spain, France and Britain — all of whom followed the same sick path to failure. China, Russia and India will be the new super powers.

But America’s biggest problem is that it has lost its purpose. It became the world’s leader by promoting freedom, and it lost its purpose when its major goal became power.

The freedom purpose had enlivened its domestic and international actions, and this made it great. Power as purpose — both at home and abroad — turned Washington into a place hated around the world and by its own citizens.

The United States is powerful in many ways but not in one critical way — legitimacy. Much of the world sees the U.S. as powerful, yes, but only powerful. Not good, or great, or standing for something.

What Do We Stand For?

For America to maintain a leadership role in the decades ahead, it must stand for something.

Thomas Friedman thinks it should stand for global Green. But I’m convinced that freedom is its only path to success. Without a renewed commitment to freedom, free government, deregulation, free enterprise, America doesn’t deserve to lead the world.

America must stop policing the world, and start standing for its greatest export: freedom. Unless this happens, it won’t solve its own problems or be able to help anyone else.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Economics &Entrepreneurship &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &Leadership &Liberty &Politics

What if Elections Can’t Fix Washington?

October 7th, 2010 // 8:57 am @

“Clearly there was only one escape for them—into stupidity. They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible.” —George Orwell

Orwell was speaking of the national leaders during Britain’s decline, but his words certainly could apply to the United States today.

Independents rose as a powerful force in America along with the Internet, and today they are deeply frustrated with America’s direction.

They voted President Obama into office in huge numbers, only to see him continue to spend their nation into deeper debt.

National politics in America have long been divided between the blue states along the coasts and the red states in the middle, with battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida swinging the votes.

Today independents control the electorate in nearly all states, and they have swung away from Obama –- especially in the swing states.

For example, 65% of independents in the battleground state of Ohio now say President Obama is doing a bad job.

But politics are only the tip of the iceberg. In a national survey fifty-year-old men were asked which country they see as the biggest threat to America in the 21st Century, and the answers were revealing: only 2% said Russia (and this from men raised in the Cold War), 19% said North Korea, 20% said Iran, and 25% said China.

Among twenty-year-old men asked the same question, 6% said Russia, 17% North Korea, 16% Iran and 23% China. Interesting.

But both groups put “Ourselves” as the top answer. A whopping 31% of fifty-year-old males and 33% of twenty-year-olds consider the United States the biggest 21st Century threat to the U.S.!

What are a third of American men so afraid of? Why do we increasingly consider “Ourselves” the biggest threat to America?

In the same survey, asked what worries them the most, the top answers were: 1) unemployment, 2) the size of the federal debt, 3) the possibility of a terrorist attack. And note that survey takers came from across the political spectrum.

Be Very Afraid?

A lot of Americans are concerned that our own government is the problem, not because it isn’t doing enough but because it is doing way too much—especially overspending. However, it is doubtful how much an election can fix this.

Only 19-22 (depending on the specific issues) of the heated Congressional elections across the nation offer winnable candidates who are strongly anti-government-spending. Though these candidates are called “crazy” or “fringe” by much of the media, they have the overwhelming support of both independent voters and Tea Partiers.

Still, even if all 22 win and additional Republican candidates take the House and even the Senate, how much can they actually change things? Unless they take on entitlements, budgets will most likely overspend for many years to come.

When asked directly what they plan to do, few Democrat or Republican candidates are willing to say they’ll reduce social security, Medicare or other entitlements.

Indeed, the American voter seems to passionately want government to stop spending money on everyone else—but to keep helping his own family.

“I want my government program,” the voter says, “but those other people are costing us too much!”

“Yeah,” says another, “I’ll vote in candidates who promise to cut the debt and deficit and stop spending taxpayer money, and I’ll vote out anyone who threatens my favorite government programs.”

If that last sentence didn’t make you laugh or cry, you should read it again.

Some Americans who live or travel abroad a lot are amazed at how much Americans at home are addicted to government programs and want the government to solve every problem and protect them from every accident and danger. Yet many of these same Americans rail against government spending.

As for repealing the 2010 Health Care law, Republicans would have to take the House and the Senate, and then they would have to garner enough votes in Congress to override a Presidential veto. That’s not going to happen any time soon.

In response to this point, Republican leaders say they’ll only need enough House members to deny funding to implement the new Health Care system. The name for this in the media will be “Shutting Down the Government,” and even the Gingrich-led “Contract With America” House of Representatives wasn’t willing to do this.

Real repeal isn’t likely with just one turnaround election—Republicans would probably need to win in both 2010 and 2012 to make this happen.

Big Questions

Maybe this sounds too pessimistic, but my point is to wonder what will happen if independent and Tea Party voters put Republicans back in control of the House or even the entire Congress and nothing much changes in Washington.

Republicans will still blame Democrats, and vice versa, but what will independents do?

Consider: They rise up against the Obama agenda and send new leaders to Washington, but nothing really changes. Government spending even increases.

Barring major world crises, I think this is just what will happen. And then the debate will repeat itself in 2012.

This brings up a number of additional questions. For example:

  • Will the independent dialogue about 2012 be that the Republicans are no better than the Democrats, or that the Republicans need more members in Congress and even the White House?
  • As we move toward 2012, will Republican behavior cause independents to see President Obama as an embattled Clinton-style administrator who just needs more time to make his policies stick, or as a Carter-like politician who is in over his head and should be replaced?
  • Can the economy handle two more years of high government spending and regulating?
  • Is the Obama Administration nimble enough, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, to reinvent itself and swing to the middle? Will it make hard choices that reduce government spending and build the private sector? Is President Obama truly a statist who believes in big government or a left-leaning pragmatist who is willing to tighten the nation’s belt and restore a free enterprise economy? If he chooses the first, he may lose the independents for good.
  • If, for whatever reason, a Republican candidate wins the presidency from Barack Obama in 2012, will the resulting Republican Administration drastically increase government spending, regulation, debts and deficits like Bush did when he took over after Clinton? How would the independents and Tea Parties who elected him react to yet another betrayal?
  • Have we reached a point in American politics that all candidates from both parties promote smaller government during campaigns but drastically increase spending once in power (like Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama)? Is this just the reality of politics now? And if it is, what will independents, Tea Parties and fiscally responsible liberals and conservatives do?
  • Is a major third party inevitable? Is it even realistic? Would it just give more power to the side it disagrees with most?

In short, are elections even capable of fixing our problems any more? And if the American people give up on elections as the real solution to major national problems, what will they do next?

The Future of Independents?

These are big questions. They go to the very heart of what it means to be Americans and what our future holds.

Americans are deeply and passionately concerned about government over-spending, too much regulation of small business, increasing debts and deficits, and high unemployment.

Washington claims the recession is over, but most Americans don’t feel positive changes in their pocketbooks and are still experiencing a significantly decreased economic reality.

They are tired of symbols instead of substance from their leaders. For example, even if the Obama Administration pushed through its tax raise on the top 2% of taxpayers, the resulting $34 billion next year would only cover 9 days of the deficit.

And this, along with more government spending, is the big White House push to help the economy? “Come on, man…”

As independents read the fine print in this and other proposals from the White House and Republican leaders, they are becoming less optimistic that either party is serious about real solutions.

And where symbolism does matter most, the Obama Administration is still portraying itself as hostile to American business (even major 2008 Obama donors are appalled) and many Republicans continue to denigrate minorities.

Government seems entirely out of touch with most Americans, even as it makes individual and family life ever more difficult.

A majority of Americans want things to change, especially in the economy, and many are depending on the voting booth to solve the deepening problem. But what if even this doesn’t work?

Maybe the best we can hope for, as a number of independents now believe, is for a perpetually split government—where neither party ever holds the White House and Congress at the same time.

In this model, if a Democrat wins the White House and the Supreme Court has a conservative majority, independents will vote Republicans into the House and Democrats to the Senate.

If, on the other hand, the President is Republican and the Court is mostly liberal, they will make the House Democratic and the Senate Republican. There are several variations, but the idea is to always pit Democrats against Republicans and give neither a mandate.

Unfortunately, both parties are big spenders. Maybe fighting over what to spend will at least reduce the rate of government’s growth, or so the argument goes.

A New Challenge

But we are about to experience something new and, perhaps, different.

There have been many votes in history that left the American electorate frustrated and disappointed with how its voting-booth “revolution” didn’t seem to change much of anything in Washington.

But the first such event in the Internet Age, and in an era with more independents than either Democrats or Republicans, was the 2006-2008 election cycle.

Independents and the online world turned against President Bush in 2006 and the frustration deepened into the election of 2008.

In a very real sense, the new politics (of independents and the Internet) rejected the old (Bush, Television Era) and brought in the new (Obama, Internet Generation).

But how will the new majority (of independents and the Internet) deal with rejecting itself? Since the beginning of the party system, every loss was followed by a refocus on winning back power for your party.

What happens when the independent majority rejects Republicans, replaces it with Democrats, then rejects Democrats too, only to bring back Republicans, and then decides that Republicans and Democrats are equally bad? What does the majority do then?

What do independents do in such a situation, without party ties to fall back on, when they realize that neither party is going to fix things. Democrats or Republicans would just blame the other party—they’ve done it for decades.

But independents? They actually, seriously, want a solution. They want the nation to work, and they are unlikely to settle for anything less than real change.

And what if unemployment increases during all this, or credit availability tightens again, the recession returns, inflation spikes, another housing bubble bursts, or debts and deficits soar?

One thing seems certain: We are in for a wild ride in the years ahead.

Probably a few independents will give up on politics. Others will go back to the parties.

But the large majority, I think, will do neither. They will likely flirt with the idea of a new third party, but I doubt they’ll make this stick. They just aren’t wired for it. They want common-sense leadership, not more party game-playing.

There will, inevitably, be a few on the fringes (left and right) who wrongly advocate violence—“pitchforks in the street!” But beyond being morally wrong this course would also accomplish nothing positive.

It would, if ever followed by anyone, only serve to decrease our freedoms. And fortunately very few independents would support this anyway.

What if Elections Don’t Work?

What is the majority to do if elections don’t change things and solve our national problems? Maybe we won’t have to find out.

Maybe Democrats in leadership will turn pragmatic and get control of over-spending and over-regulation, or maybe Republicans will gain more power and make these desperately-needed changes.

But I don’t think most independents are holding their breath in anticipation of either of these possibilities.

The Tea Parties have given many on the right hope for the potential of the 2010 election, but it seems to me that most independents are unconvinced.

They have turned their backs on the Obama agenda because it is so clearly against their economically responsible values, and because it’s too late to do much except vote.

But in reality they are simply buying time. A lot of independents right now are studying things out in their minds, hoping but not really believing that the November elections will help things turn around.

The problem is big: Neither party is going to stop spending and regulating, promising frugality and then just spending more anyway. This is American politics now, and it isn’t likely to change easily.

A lot of independents are just now accepting this. And as it sinks in, they are responding with neither anger nor frustration. Instead, they are taking a step back and asking serious questions.

It is unclear now what the answers will eventually be. But they are coming, and they are likely to bring drastic changes to American politics in the next decade.

If (when?) the independents and tea parties win big on election day and then watch the new leaders keep increasing spending and regulations, they will be faced with the challenge every powerful nation in decline confronts:

  • Do they settle for Orwell’s “stupidity,” put their heads in the sand and just try to get by as best they can while the ruling class runs the nation into the ground?
  • Do they quietly prepare for the major crisis which must come unless we change course, organizing their personal affairs to somehow survive, protect their family, and perhaps even profit when it comes?
  • Or do they do something wise and effective that will restore America’s freedoms and prosperity?
  • And if they choose the latter, what precisely should they do to accomplish this?

This is the challenge of independents and all who love freedom in our time. The election of November 2, 2010 will come and go. Americans will vote, the media will report, and winners and losers will celebrate and mourn. But these larger questions will remain.

If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be the first to cheer. But I’m convinced that it’s time (past time, in fact) for those who care about freedom to get to work on coming up with real solutions.

In taking this kind of action, any citizen will only make herself a better leader in our time. Whatever the future holds, more leader-citizens are needed.

And the time may be coming when such leaders are the only real hope of our nation.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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