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Thursday, June 6, 2013

An Independent Voice

"... swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism." Is that what the promised land of America has become? ...

An independent voice is not charged with engagement in a popularity contest. Since it is not owned, an independent voice has no obligation to maintain neutral positions on important issues for the sake of parity. The charge is to answer the following question: Which is the correct position? Theodore Roosevelt once reflected that
Personally I have not the slightest sympathy with debating contests in which each side is arbitrarily assigned a given proposition and told to maintain it without the least reference to whether those maintaining it believe in it or not.  I know that under our system this is necessary for lawyers, but I emphatically disbelieve in it as regards general discussion of political, social and industrial matters.  What we need is to turn out of our colleges young men with ardent convictions on the side of the right; not young men who can make a good argument for either right or wrong as their interest bids them.  There is no effort to instill sincerity and intensity of conviction.  On the contrary, the net result is to make the contestants feel that their convictions have nothing to do with their arguments. 

Today, many of the positions of one of the two major national political parties are to such an extreme, out of touch with mainstream reality, that moderate voices within the party like Bob Dole and Olympia Snowe say it should “close for repairs.” Can an independent voice be fairly accused of a fatal bias or undue influence in favor of the other party for consistently bringing out the same point?

What does an independent voice sound like? And not sound like?

Take the example of an Exxon executive, dependent upon the company’s fortunes. Would that executive be the optimal source from whom to get an objective handle on the public environmental safety considerations of fracking, absent empirical proof? Or whether Canadian Tar Sands oilfields should be developed for US consumption through the mechanism of the Keystone Pipeline? Take another example of the entrepreneur, who happens to deploy outsourced human labor in far away factories to “make a living” here in the US. Is this the ideal critic of the bottom line performance of the Obama administration's policies on domestic jobs creation? Or the pace of economic recovery, which historically depends upon the mass purchasing power of the ordinary citizen?

Commercial allegiances aside, can a political party influence an independent voice, thus negating it? In answering this question, would it be helpful to know whether the individual behind the voice is employed by or otherwise beholden to party due to considerations of position or patronage?  Would it also be helpful to know whether the party’s influential ideas have been de-commissioned for over a century?

What is the essence of an independent voice? Does it not tow its own direction on the path less traveled? Perhaps the views of a political party which happen to be in alignment merely strengthen the validity of a position taken. And on issue upon issue, if it seems to turn out that way consistently, perhaps it is not an independent voice which is biased but rather the bankruptcy of the other party's views. Do we sometimes mistake the difference?

Where do our beliefs come from? Is the pursuit of happiness genuinely concerned with helping people first? Or does self-government have some other primary calling? Was the ordinary citizen placed upon the earth to collect things and change money? Or to serve?  America cherishes a storied tradition of individual initiative, incentive based. But doesn’t our political creed hold out the promise of such things only in the larger context of a collective social identity - that we are all in this together? How about the psychology of support for the weakest link?

Unbridled selfishness, ambition and greed are necessary ingredients to unlock the fantastic material successes of capitalism.  They also expose the darker side of human nature, personal achievement and private reward notwithstanding. More than a hundred years ago, T.R. understood that the “Material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens.”

But what happens when purely business or political decisions clash with considerations of morality? Does business utilize a moral compass? Are the twin pillars of "continuous responsibility of government for human welfare" and stewardship of the environment, especially "efficient use of finite resources and scientific management of renewable ones," merely expenses on a cold financial balance sheet for private gain?

Notions of rugged individualism pretty much went out with the Great Depression of 1929, until President Reagan resurrected that nostalgic notion in the 1980s. But here we are in the 21st century, our national life, T.R. having forewarned, “bringing nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.” It is here that an independent voice cannot forever remain silent.

Weren't material possessions conceived to serve us? Then why does it appear that we are enslaved to them? Are we both daring and foolish enough to consider a more sanguine approach? If in T.R.’s words the “conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress,” then is it yet time for a new epoch in American history?

-Michael D’Angelo

1 comment:

  1. At the national level, is there even a public space where the question of "what is the right choice" will impact our fellow citizens or elected officials? After the crash of 2008, the discussion of monitoring financial trades and regulating credit default swaps had many independent voices, and even the bankers agreed that tighter controls were the right choice. And then nothing. And no one, except maybe Sen. Warren, cares. We have slipped into a body politic governed by command. It's cyclical, I hope. But citizen movements and decisions based on policy analysis are simply out of vogue. In our time, it is the lot of an independent voice to be one crying in the wilderness.