Lee Drutman on American Experiment
Lee Drutman, Communications Director, Citizen Works
Thank you also for sharing the draft of "Renewing the American Experiment." I couldn't agree more with the underlying premise: that we need a new set of myths for American society, ones that reflect a more shared sense of prosperity and community. Corporations have been distressingly successful at promoting a market-based view of society, where those items that can be commodified and sold and generate profits are held in high esteem while those items that cannot be commodified and sold and will not generate profit, such as love, friendship, community, family have been devalued, or at least valued only as means to sell products that will somehow make you more appealing to others (cosmetics, cars, whatever..). However, my reading of intellectual history is that the elite class has always tried to create a set of myths that justify and enhance its position in society — The divine right of kings, social Darwinism, etc. But at times, these myths have been exposed as frauds, and when they have, revolutions in society have taken place.
There was one point you made that really struck me for some reason, which is your description of the way that George W. Bush deliberately misrepresented his policies as "a compassionate conservative who would work for ordinary people" because that is what people wanted. And this is something that Republicans do all the time. They co-opt the values of the left, which are really the mainstream values, and then attach them to policies that have nothing to do with them. Bush is the master of this — a new level of cynicism in politics of directly misleading people about the effects of the policies without any sort of compunction, sometimes bald-faced lies.
It is truly unbelievable. But the simple fact that the values espoused are those of progressives is good news for us in theory. However, exposing Bush has been surprising difficult. It is worth examining why, I think...
Is there some way to pull back the curtain, to reveal Bush as more or less the puppet of the wealthy special interests who have propped him up all along, pouring millions of dollars into his campaign, which translates into this distorted image of our President as an everyman and champion of the everyman? Meanwhile, since people don't pay much attention to politics (for a number of reasons including but not limited to:
- The fact that pro-business conservatives have disparaged government for 25 years as inherently useless and corrupt;
- The fact that media coverage of politics is limited and degraded because it interferes with profit;
- That the brains of many people are addled by the nonstop dumbed-down action of television and other entertainment) they've lost the ability to seriously engage or even want to seriously engage in politics. Hence, they either don't care the Bush is lying because that's what politicians do or they believe him because they're too lazy to investigate.
To me, I think the whole direction of our political economy is not so much the result of a handful of corporatist conservatives taking a power grab, but really the result of corporate interests taking control of our government and the electoral process to the point where can largely choose who runs and who wins based on where they put their money. To me, this is a story that should resonate.
Still, these are provocative questions that you pose in this piece and I hope we will continue to discuss these ideas more in the future.