Fire, Hijacking and Teaching Moments

“We’re living in an extraordinary teaching moment,” said Thom Hartmann to a Tenth Dems crowd Friday evening, “ .  .  .  [with] the issues of the commons writ large.”  That’s “commons” as in what is common to all of us, like our humanity.

Case in point: Have you heard the names of the 11 men who were killed when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded?  That you likely have not is significant.  Next case in point:  In a criminal prosecution, Pfizer Pharmaceutical was penalized $1.7 billion for drugs they marketed that killed people, and no one at Pfizer was held accountable for their criminal assault on humanity.  That’s significant, too, as we publicly ignore human suffering.

There are countless examples of what is at stake – in common – and the lessons they submit to everyone are what make this a teaching moment.  They offer the possibility of drawing all of us toward what Hartmann calls the Radical Middle.

One practical outcome of the Gulf oil spill crisis is that we are going to be paying a lot more for shrimp and fish, if we can get them at all.  Another practical piece is that the beaches where we like to vacation may be paved with tar.

The more important and immediate common piece is that people all along the Gulf coast are scared out of their skins as they envision their way of life disappearing under BP’s oil slime.  These are our family members, our friends, our neighbors and our fellow Americans.  At stake, too, is the American eco-structure.  Do we care?  Our brains are wired to care.  That’s what makes us human and makes this a teaching moment.

We’re in this – all of this – together.  That’s why Rand Paul does such harm to all of us when he verbally dances around his opposition to the piece of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits private companies from discrimination based on race, gender and the rest.  Taking him at his word that he abhors bigotry, his idealistic notions miss the most important part.  He thinks that everyone should be able to do whatever they think is in their best interests without interference from government.  That is blind to the fact that people acting solely out of selfishness sometimes act cruelly and for the most hateful of reasons and they do harm to others.  Worse, it seems that Rand Paul is the best that the Republicans can offer.

Mainstream Republicans  – remember them? – seem to have run out of new and good ideas for America when they embarked on their southern strategy following Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.  First, they appealed to people’s basest instincts around race and class and they have continued to offer just two things.

The first is yelling really scary stuff, which often prove to be complete fabrications.  In the world of sales this is called the “scare ‘em and save ‘em” tactic.  They yell “fire,” tell you who’s to blame and then sell you an empty fire extinguisher.

The second is to say no.  To everything.  All the time.  And they do it with a tone of indignation and self-righteousness.  There really is a certain satisfaction that comes from braying absolutes and labeling anyone who disagrees as being both wrong and unpatriotic.  Unfortunately, that’s just crass manipulation and it isn’t useful for solving our very real national challenges.

That’s it.  Division based on prejudice, phony fear mongering and having “no” temper tantrums.  Mainstream Republicans are bankrupt of ideas.

Which is one of the reasons the Tea Bagger far right has been able to steal the show from the Republican Party.  What that says is that Republicans have been bankrupt of useful ideas for so long that their party has been hijacked by radicals.

The message – the teaching moment – for us is that sitting on our Democratic hands will produce more of exactly the same result – crazy people taking power.

It is critical that we get beyond yelling at one another and start to find common solutions.  That can only happen if we keep radical, crazy people’s hands off the reins of power.

So, use this teaching moment to wake people from their apolitical slumber.  Start the conversations right now.  Go ahead and teach them in this moment about the truth that will affect them personally.  Urge them to vote on November 2.  Our decisions today will affect our shrimp prices, our civil rights and our very humanity and it’s up to us to ensure our future.  Don’t let the crazies take over.  Do it for our common good.

Copyright 2024 by Jack Altschuler
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