"A Republic, If You Can Keep It"

"[W]hen the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers press upon them so fast, that there is no resisting afterwards. The nature of the encroachment upon the American Constitution is such as to grow every day more and more encroaching. ... The people grow less steady, spirited, and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependents and expectants, until virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, and frugality become the objects of ridicule and Johnadams scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality swallow up the whole society," - John Adams, as cited by Jim Sleeper.

"Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation.

But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago or 100 years ago or 200 years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard, to do what was needed even when success was uncertain, to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren," - Barack Obama, last night.

My foreboding sense is that America may have already passed the point of no return in terms of civil, constitutional governance. I do not believe that in the Bush administration, the United States was effectively governed by its Constitution. The forms were still there, but the reality wasn't. Beneath it all, the desire for despotism ran, fueled by the despot's greatest ally, fear. Fear of foreigners, fear of terrorists, fear of gays, fear of immigrants, fear of the inevitable uncertainties of real reform.

It was entrenched by the military's own embrace of the role of imperial adventure, by the CIA's embrace of torture, by the president's assertion of total, extra-legal power in a never-ending war that now encompassed the US as well as abroad and citizens alongside non-citizens, and by a resurgent, right-wing partisan media that saw its job as fomenting propaganda rather than seeking any kind of truth, and liberal mainstream media so afraid of its own shadow and so intimidated by accusations of elitism that it became the equivalent of Harry Reid.

And I share Sleeper's deep dismay at the myopic, callow crowd in this capital city, more obsessed with passing instant phony judgments on political fortunes than with addressing with seriousness the vast challenges this struggling and ailing and now fast-declining republic faces.

I've lived in Washington for twenty years. I saw in Obama the real hope that something constructive could emerge from the corruption and decline of the recent past. I saw last night the civil tone that marks a responsible politics, rather than the glib cynicism and mock heroism that has marked us in much of the new millennium.

I saw in the civic spirit - especially among the young - a means of renewal for the republic. And I remain convinced that those who want to "reset" Obama's agenda to the old forms with which they are comfortable have waged a take-no-prisoners war on real change and real reform.

So this fever feels to me like either the kind that precedes the final death of this republic into a carnival of FNC-directed war and debt and drama led by charismatic media-emperors or empresses - or the fever that finally ends the sickness, and restores some sense of civic responsibility and republican virtue. Last night, I saw one of the few men left able to see the depth of the crisis and not lose faith in this country's ability to overcome it. My faith in this country - so strong in the past - is not as strong as Obama's now.

But I sure as hell believe in fighting for it, and for him, against the forces at home and abroad that would truly end this experiment in self-government while pretending, of course, that everything is exactly the same. I believe our crisis is deeper than many now believe - because it is not just a crisis of economics, of debt, of over-reach, of an empire now running on its own steam and unstoppable by any political force,  but because it is a crisis of civic virtue, a collapse of the good faith and serious, reasoned attention to problems that marks the distinction between a republic and a bread-and-circuses Ailes-Rove imperium.

Those, in my view, are the stakes. Are you ready to get back into the arena and fight? And if you don't, who will?

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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