Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

6 Thoughts on 7/3.

With Independence Day this week, I’m thinking about America and about freedoms of various kinds. And I’ve taken in the past year’s worth of discussion, debate, and research involved in maintaining this stupid blog and let it stew into a few things I think Americans absolutely must do. So between bites of your hot dogs and sips of your American microbrewed beer (I have a fridgeful of Saranac Adirondack Trail Mix), feel free to take a moment to read, comment, amend, and add to the list.

1. Examine our leaders and their methods. I think I’ve decided that I’m finished with leaders who divide for the sake of dividing. Ask yourself: How does this person benefit from raising the level of animus? How much money and power is there to be had by inciting hatred, anger, resentment, and mistrust? Is it possible that the rabble-rousing is an end of its own rather than actual righteous indignation? More and more I believe it is.

I’m pretty sure I’m finished with Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, and Ann Coulter. Done. There’s too much “hate who I hate” happening on both sides of the aisle. I’m sick of so-called “dialogue” that really only consists of two sides who are waiting for their turn to vilify instead of listening to each other. The more I listen to and read Glenn Beck, the more I want to focus on uniters I don’t agree with above dividers I do, and independent thinkers I doubt rather than party-liners I believe.

Stop giving power and money to people who chose a career in leadership to get power and money.

2. Have all elections 100% publicly funded. Scotto mentioned this, and the more I think about it the more ills I see it solving. Give every candidate for every office the same moderate amount of campaign funds and disallow private contributions of any kind. This removes a lot of the influence of corporations and special interests. Eligibility would be based on grassroots volunteers’ ability to gather signatures by a certain date. This would most likely result in a number of candidates in the party primaries numbering in the dozens, instead of a chosen few with enough corporate connections to raise the cash. Lincoln, for example, would never have made it above local government on today's system.

With the internet (a series of tubes invented by Al Gore) as prevalent as it is, it would be very cheap and cost-effective for every candidate to build a website with massive amounts of multimedia content. And every candidate gets the same exact amount of dollars to spend in each media market for radio, print, and television.

Obviously, the sharks would find ways around this. But I think it would change our electoral process in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Money is not free speech. Cashing in favors is not representative democracy.

3. Register as an Independent. This is Lou Dobbs’ idea, and it’s BRILLIANT. Get yourself out of the “win” column for both parties. Make them state an argument and back it up. Make them earn every vote. Let them know they can’t take you for granted.

4. Refuse to respond to opinion polls. Make our elected officials pick a stance they believe in instead of licking a finger and sticking it in the air. This is a republic, not a democracy; we elect people to represent us, we don’t drop ostrakons in a jar for every decision. I want my elected leaders to gather information that I don’t have access to and make decisions based on their intelligence and integrity.

5. Seek out people who take unpopular stances. Think John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two men who have crossed swords with their parties and refused to back down. Both have taken positions that their bases abhor, and both have been consistent. It is the mark of a person of integrity that they stick to what they believe even in the face of popular opinion. I want leaders who stick to real beliefs in good conscience rather than Clinton-esque (either one) testing of the wind vane every two weeks.

And test your beliefs by checking out the opposition with an open mind. Michael Moore fans, check out Dubya fans, peruse occasionally. Try, really try, to read with an open mind. Talk to each other and listen. Listen more than you talk. Aaron Sorkin wrote: “If you feel that strongly about something, you have a moral responsibility to try and change my mind.”

6. Question political correctness. You know where the term “politically correct” comes from? It comes from early Soviet Russia. If your opinions were out of line with Lenin, you were taken away to gulags and other lovely vacation spots until you were made “correct.”

Yes, there is a certain level of genteel sensitivity that modern political correctness has brought to America, and it’s good. Racial, homophobic, and sexist slurs are indeed unacceptable. But we’ve crossed a line at this point, and genuinely edgy, independent thought is being squelched. Provocative questions and statements are being suppressed because they might “offend” someone. Satire is close to career suicide. All it takes is for someone to call you the dreaded R-word, racist, and your career is DONE. There are few appeals in the court of public opinion.

We're dangerously close to legislating thought, and we've long since crossed the line into genuine programming. No one should get to tell you what to think, feel, or believe. That's kind of the whole point of this country.

When people ask me how I define myself politically, it’s a hard question. I’m far right on some issues (abortion, national defense) and equally far left on others (death penalty, gun control). I’m a registered Independent who tends to vote for Republicans, but I’m nearly as pissed at those knuckleheads as I am at the Democrats on any given day. I have to say that I’m (to quote Robert Guillaume on Saturday Night Live) a “Radical Moderate.” I believe what I believe hard, but I really want to hear the other side as well.

So happy Independence Day. You’re free. You’re independent. You have choices to make. Make them good ones.

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