After two visits to Ohio’s hearings for Senate Bill 5, and writing still as the person who was treated “ugly” by Tea-Party members when I sat down during a health care reform rally near Ohio State University last Spring, I am struck by how little movement the various “sides” seem to have made in the practice of practical democracy in the period between these two events.
As the headline of Columbus Dispatch read, it was a “clash at [the] Statehouse”—as if it were merely another shootout at some OK Corral. “Vociferous throngs” according to the sub-headline, gave rise to what the Dispatch characterized as follows: “the two sides did their best to drown out the other.” Lots of screaming, little listening, no enlightening: as though the various sides had either actively agreed or passively accepted that in this democracy, volume alone should decide policy.
To illustrate: in the face of last year’s healthcare reform efforts, opponents screamed the inherently violent and hardly constructive “Kill the bill”; now, it’s opponents of reducing collective bargaining rights for public employees who are screaming the still inherently violent and hardly constructive “Kill the bill”. It left me feeling even more hopeless and helpless than I did at last year’s rally; actually, even worse.
That’s because there were other sides. The Dispatch reported, with all that is at stake, that Senator Kevin Bacon, chairman of the committee hearing the bill, offered during his opening comments the cheerleader-like, but vacuous, “This is a true test of democracy.” Now I know how Louis Black feels: WAIT A MINUTE! Wasn’t that the US—ALL of us, both those who screamed “Kill the bill” last year and those screaming it now—who spent the last few weeks, holding forth on what Egypt should do to, in effect, pass Senator Bacon’s “true test of democracy”? And, for their part, reporters faithfully report “Talking Point” answers to cream-puff questions, when posing critical questions is so badly needed.
To illustrate: “Senator, you are an elected LEADER; why did you not lead us toward addressing this debt problem sooner, before it got—dare I say it?—unmanageable?!
What to do? Here are five suggestions, along with an alternative, in case we can’t agree to undertake the five-point program.
- Adopt Donald Rumsfeld’s advice: If you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger. [Note: Though Rumsfeld probably meant to pour gasoline on the problem, I intend it to mean “Enlarge the context in which a problem is defined, and its solution sought.”]
- Consider “Consider the Germans”, which advocates for social democracy. The article was written by Thomas Geoghegan, and appeared in Harper’s MARCH 2010.
- Consider Michael Porter’s recent change of heart as recounted in his article, “Creating Share Value: How to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth”, in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review.
- In keeping with Rumsfeld’s advice and Geoghagen’s (perhaps inadvertent) application of that advice, consider some of Karl Marx’s ideas in light of Porter’s reinvention process. Just make sure you cite “Uncle Charlie”.
- Organize a C-C-C-like Civil Conversation Corps (more on this in the near future).
The alternative? We could all bend over and kiss our knees good-bye. (Knees’ll have to do, as I am not as flexible as I used to be.)
Photo by Dave Girves