My dad was born in 1918 and grew up in the depths of Chicago’s slums. He left high school before graduating, enlisted in the Army’s signal corps, married my mom, went to OCS and fought in the Pacific. After the war he worked a variety of corporate jobs. In 1957 he moved us to California and became a career postal employee.
Like most Democrats, he wasn’t a ranting liberal, just a pragmatic dyed-in-the-wool Democratic. In our last conversation in 1983 he lamented knowing he wouldn’t live to see the next Democratic president. His favorite response to insecurity was, “There’s nothing certain in life but death and taxes.” He seldom left it just there, usually adding something like, “Might be another certainty — working families get more of both under Republicans.”
Though short on formal education, Dad was a math wizard and read several newspapers every day and piles of history and political tomes spanning the philosophical spectrum. His politics were simple. He voted to improve the lot of working families, like ours. When I asked why he was a Democrat, he answered, “Democrats fight for the little guy.”
My father flat out didn’t trust Republicans and their “doubletalk.” He deciphered “right-to-work laws” as “no-rights-at-work laws,” and “trickle-down economics” as “welfare for the rich.” He had exceptional disdain for assertions of “government interference in religion,” regarding such claims as mendacious sophistry for “religious meddling in government.” He guffawed at Republican whining about over-regulation of banks and corporations, giving a five-word retort: “I lived through the Depression.” He scorned Republican assertions that government was too big or over-zealously policed corporate GOP donors, while never judging a personal behavior so private that government shouldn’t “stick its nose where it didn’t belong.”
Dad blamed passage of the 1919 Volstead Act (Prohibition) by the Republican-controlled House and Senate over President Wilson’s veto, and the runaway under-regulated banking and speculative investment practices of the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations, for creating the crime-ridden poverty of his Chicago youth. As you’d expect, the progressive interventions that lifted America from that desperate era made FDR and the Democratic Party his collective idols. John Kennedy joined his heroes list because of his progressive vision and policies, his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, and JFK’s service and personal heroism in the same theater of war that Dad served in. He’d memorized a long list of what he called “Republican Chicken-Hawks.”
The electorate’s fascination and romance with Goldwater- and Reagan-conservatism perplexed my father. He prognosticated that they were fraught with serious risks for the middle class. Given the trajectory of America’s circumstances since then, his concerns seem justified.
My addiction to politics began in high school. My brief flirtation with conservative thought during college contributed to Dad’s angst. That exploration, however, ultimately gave me the added perspective to settle solidly within the progressive camp.
Progressivism appeals to most Democrats, many Independents and a few of today’s Republicans. It implies commitment to broad principles of liberty, economic and social justice, and a legitimate role for government in uplifting society’s collective lot — all this while strengthening America’s security and advancing her long-range internal and global prospects as guided by constitutional principles.
Sound like a complex vision? It is, and it should be. The interdependence of life, culture, security, prosperity, health, progress, liberty and justice is nuanced and firmly interwoven. History is littered with the individual and collective victims of simplistic ideas and rash reforms.
Simple ideas are easily turned into slogans and readily appeal to hearts yearning for solutions to their problems. But they can also numb listeners to the painful realities of maintaining or improving the intricate powerful engine of our just, lawful, egalitarian democracy.
Governing requires more than political gamesmanship. Patience, integrity, cooperation, adherence to genuine facts, meticulous research, wisdom, input from all facets of society with standing on an issue, and prioritization of country over party are essential.
The attraction to drastic hasty alterations to cautiously crafted and gradually evolved laws, institutions, policies and programs can prove metaphorically or even literally fatal to a nation and its citizens. Americans should be alert to and deeply concerned about the pace and degree of ongoing radical redesign and, in some cases, wanton dismantling of a wide range of our essential government services and institutions.
In the vast national and international community of scholars, pundits, and government analysts, all but the most cynically polarized partisan allies, appointees and spokespersons of the current administration are alarmed at the imprudent and dangerous fifth-columnist style functional sabotage of our key federal institutions.
Daily they report actions (sometimes incompetent but often intentional) by cabinet officers and agency heads that will likely seriously impede the education, environment, health, housing, consumer protection, justice, disaster recovery, financial, intelligence and diplomatic mandates of our Constitution and standing body of law.
We are witnessing an unparalleled unraveling of our key institutions and functions of government. The safety of our drinking water, air, highways and airways are literally being imperiled with potential deadly consequences. Health care delivery is being actively undermined for partisan political purity, with no real plan to rescue the victims when the ongoing sabotage brings about an implosion.
And frankly, the architects of the implosion to date haven’t shown a shred of genuine concern about the probable victims.
If the administration’s and Congress’ fatal attraction to this tsunami of political pogroms and institutional demolitions continues, the consequences could be dreadful long before the mid-term elections. We are individually far less safe than a year ago. Furthermore, given the ongoing gutting of our State Department and unrestrained bellicosity from North Korea and the White House, the risk of war continues to rise. And this time it won’t be Khrushchev and Kennedy negotiating our fate. Worried? Much?