A Gentle Letter to Mr. Obama Concerning Public Participation
Dear Mr. President: With this letter, you won't mind if I take you up on your final suggestion from your speech on April 20 to the graduating class of the University of Michigan. You told the class that for a democracy to function, it needs public "participation."
Working backward from Point 3 of your speech, you said, "When we don't pay close enough attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day, when we choose not to make our voices heard, that's when democracy breaks down. That's when power is abused."
By August of last year, the American public was paying strict attention to proposed government overhaul of health care. Many were more educated on the bills than those proposing them. They got up off their couches and tried to make their voices heard at town hall meetings. They participated in democracy by saying loudly and clearly on the proposals: No!
Was power abused when Democrats rammed health care through against public wishes? Throughout the debate, these voices were ignored, and name-calling by your party, referred to in Point 2 of your speech, was at its height.
You said, "The second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. ... But we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down." What was civil about being labeled un-American, teabaggers, Nazis, fringe conspiracy theorists, gun-wavers, militiamen, extremists and even one you mention, right-wing nuts?
Your personal concern seems to be being referred to as a socialist. You point out that "throwing around phrases like 'socialist' and 'Soviet-style takeover,' 'fascist' and 'right-wing nut' may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government or our political opponents to authoritarian and even murderous regimes."
Some terms are uncalled for, but when the label "socialist" is used, it is a legitimate attempt by participating members of the public to place your policies within the framework of other commonly existing forms of government.
There is nothing conclusively defamatory about detractors' use of "socialist" or Socialism other than America has hitherto rejected this form of government. "Right-wing nut," on the other hand, is derogatory.
Somehow, these pleas for civility seem a day late and a dollar short in light of the left's unprecedented treatment of your predecessor. For eight years, they hurled insults and slander at the man culminating with a movie depicting his assassination. He took it quietly and stoically without reprimanding the public.
Finally, to your Point 1. "American democracy has thrived because we have recognized the need for a government that, while limited, can still help us to adapt to a changing world."
Americans don't think your government is even remotely limited.
They understand very well that the federal government can do good things. Among those mentioned in your speech: to help build intercontinental railroads, the Interstate highway system and our national parks, and coming up with financial safeguards because of the Depression. Among the types of things Americans don't understand is a massive, unfunded, government-controlled health care entitlement that has, among its tentacles, provisions mandating that American citizens purchase said health care or be fined.
This is why opposition would "argue that government intervention is usually inefficient; that it restricts individual freedom and dampens individual initiative." Government can't seem to manage Medicare or Social Security, so why would it be capable of administering overall health care?
Individual freedom is limited when government attempts to force its citizens to purchase health care. And individual initiative is dampened when someone discovers they can live just as comfortably off social entitlement programs as they could by getting a job.
Mr. President, as you rightly point out, American politics has always been a rough-and-tumble business. There are shrill voices among us, but this speech gives too much credence to those voices and not enough attention to good Americans who find you to be a very likeable person, but disagree with your policies and their tendency to take our country in a direction they have said they do not want to go.
A participating American
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines. He writes for PineStraw magazine under the heading "Thoughts From the Manshed."
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