Friday, November 7, 2008


(Week 13 - Friday, Nov. 7)

The only time one can affect what type of tree will grow is when one selects and plants the seedling. So it is in the political process.

A critical lesson I learned from my years of political activism is that once the campaigning starts, even in its pre-public stages, the chance for fundamentally affecting its direction has effectively passed. By then the decision about why a candidate is running is set, the early money attached to expectations has started to flow, and the themes and aspirations of the candidacy have been virtually cast in cement. The only things left to work out are how they will be reflected in the talking points and campaign strategies.

Once a candidate has made the plunge into the frenzied pace of running for office, he or she will have precious little time for input or reflection. To expect that any major change in direction can be effected is unrealistic. The deliberative pretense of the electoral process, with its glad-handing photo-ops and staged "town meetings", is a charade. If one would be so uncouth as to pose a question, however cogent, that is not within acceptable bounds, he or she will be made to feel as the intruder who released flatulence into the room. Candidates on the trail are not interested in going out into the public to discover what the people think. Rather, they have already determined what the public ought to think, and the formidable machinery of campaigning is geared to effecting that end.

The problem is not so much the venality of the candidates themselves. How could they do otherwise given the ordeal we put them through so that they might demonstrate their mettle to our satisfaction? This is not a process that supports earnest exchange or conversation, so it is futile to expect it.

If there is any real deliberative process that does go on, it happens well before the campaigning starts. At that point politicians contemplating a run for the prize may well be involved in a discovery process. They may even be seeking inspiration. At the very least they are looking for those initial elements of support that can start the "momentum" ball rolling in their favor. In my experience it is at this very nascent stage that they are accessible, and looking for ideas. This phenomenon varies, of course, and career pols tend to be in a more-or-less campaigning mode virtually all of the time, but if there is any openness and flexibility possible in the situation, it will be in the formative pre-campaign stages.

If one would hope to plant the seeds of a monetary dialogue in particular, this early open-endedness is crucial. If the candidate is indeed a seeker of truth (I believe that there are a few, but we tend not to recognize them because we treat them badly) there will at best be a narrow window of opportunity to gain a deep hearing. If it is not seized upon, then virtually every word, thought and position that comes after will be rooted in a socio/political/economic culture that springs from the private-bank-loan transaction upon which the social order is founded. The usual, but spurious, intellectual cornerstones related to "balancing the budget", "running the government like a business", "paying down the 'debt' so our children won't have to", creating "economic growth" (a euphemism under the current system for "borrowing" more money), the "un-affordability" of human services, and so forth, will be immediately set, and the argumentative structure of the candidates' appeal will be built on top of them. After that, they are almost helpless to fundamentally change their direction even if they "see the light" and reach a different conviction in some greater or lesser degree.

This immediate post-election period, then, is the season for planting the seed of the tree. After such a long and tedious election cycle, the People will almost universally be inclined to turn to the more personal business of celebrating the upcoming holiday season. Who could blame them?

But, the power of money never sleeps, the demand for "interest" payments is unrelenting, and whatever potential the age of Obama represents is being undermined even now. Despite our undeniably momentous achievement, we can be sure that we as a nation are being set up by the seductive allure of lucre (as after the War of Independence) for yet another "feeble sequel". If we cannot stay conscious, determined and vigilant throughout this transition, then it has, in critical ways, all been for naught.

Richard Kotlarz

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.