At the center of freedom lies dissent: the capacity to reject the opinion of the majority and/or contemporary orthodoxy. Dissidents who founded the United States also passed a Bill of Rights to protect those who wish to express dissent. Among other things, dissent is what made America what she is. Great American dissidents include people like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. By definition, those who dissent take unpopular positions and risk both their social and political membership and, at times, their lives. Dissidents often say what others are thinking but who are silenced by fear. Dissidents who prevail in their dissent – whose opinion or position succeeds in overcoming the status quo – are the engines of social and political innovation. They allow society to lurch forward toward a better future. Today, we suffer from those who masquerade as dissidents as well as those who chant “Yes We Can _____!” or “No We Can’t!” It is time to replace this noisy charade with affirmative and legitimate dissent.
Tea Partiers (TPs), or, if you prefer, True Patriots (TPs) are those who rail against our government for spending too much money and infringing on our liberties. Several rallied in August in Washington DC with the self-ordained Reverend Beck, and last weekend with Dick Armey’s “FreedomWorks” bunch. Most TPs want all spending cut or eliminated as long as it doesn’t affect their own benefits, entitlements, or patriotic impulses. Medicare, Social Security, and Defense spending are sacred – so much for cutting spending. And, forget about raising taxes, that’s unpatriotic too. As for liberties, those who know God in the same way they do will enjoy their liberties; those who don’t, won’t. For TPs, liberty has prerequisites. In essence, TPs are not dissidents they are conformists. They are the self(ish)-righteous.
The Blanks are the folks who chant “Yes We Can _____!” The blank is where the who, what, where, how, and why go. But, they leave it blank. (Psssst! President Obama … this is your constituency! It’s time to fill in the blank!) Their proposals amount to little more than feel-good platitudes of liberal institutionalism that lack any semblance of specificity. They’re like the dog that finally caught the bumper of the car it’s been chasing down the street for years, and are suddenly faced with the grim reality of answering “Now what?” Moreover, they can’t understand why the driver doesn’t stop to congratulate them … and why their fellow canine packmembers aren’t cheering. While they may have great ideas that might prove helpful, they have yet to realize that dissent is hard and painful work that requires courage, fortitude, and the sacrifice of fame.
The Dolts are the “No We Can’t” crowd – the negative dissenters – who mockingly sit on their uncallused hands at the local Men’s Social Club and practice harrumphing in between declaring “No!” Picture Senator Mitch McConnell here. They wear expensive suits to cover a well-earned paunch and haven’t had an original idea since they introduced Everclear into the punchbowl at a Nixon/Agnew campaign party. The last time they embraced progress was when Viagra hit the market. Before that it was Velcro. To Dolts, smartphones are for people without staff. “Reform” is an inherently socialist concept that will forever justify the concept of filibuster. America is great and will remain so as long as we practice regression. The hope-y change-y bunch is little more than a seasonal nuisance, like having to put one’s seersucker away after Labor Day. Dogmatism is just an appetizer before an entrée of certitude. Dolts are happy to have the old John McCain back. That ‘maverick’ stuff annoyed them.
So, where does that leave us? Fortunately, the TPs, Blanks, and Dolts leave plenty of room for legitimate dissenters (LDs) – for those who dare to face reality and offer substantive solutions. An LD’s campaign speech may sound something like this:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight. I can assure you that once I’m done speaking you will have heard several things you don’t like. Once I’m done speaking you will have many reasons to vote for my opponent. When you go to vote, you may even circle my name on the ballot and write in the margin “Anyone but that guy.”
I’m not here to tell you “yes we can, or no we can’t.” I’m not here to argue with you about the Constitution, or the Bible, or the Quran. What I am here to share with you are five things we must do to secure the future of our children and grandchildren – to preserve their opportunity to pursue their own life, liberty, and happiness.
1. We must terminate Medicare. Only then will those entrenched interests who benefit the most from this unsustainable system be brought to submit to true reform. Only then will we be able to provide access to healthcare for every citizen at a reasonable cost. Let me begin by pledging that I will not accept government provided healthcare if you elect me as your Congressman.
2. We must terminate Social Security. Only then can we have a new conversation about how to deal with our aging population and redress the role of family and community in America. Let me begin by rescinding my own entitlement to Social Security payments in the future.
3. For the foreseeable future, everyone’s taxes must go up. Even if we terminate Medicare and Social Security and replace them with sustainable programs, we must reduce our current liabilities to a much lower percentage of our GDP. I will share that burden with you.
4. We must withdraw all troops, regardless of their designation – ‘combat’, ‘security’, ‘training’, etc. – from both Iraq and Afghanistan, immediately. Iraq and Afghanistan are ventures which have failed and for which there is no reasonable alternative to withdrawal. Furthermore, we must abolish the myth of America as the global policeman, and forever suspend our imperialist impulse to recast the world in our own image. This too is unsustainable.
5. We must immediately launch a Manhattan-project styled program to produce alternative fuels and new distribution systems to eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels. Not reduce our reliance, eliminate it. We must completely reinvent our orientation toward energy.
There are many other things we must do to make America strong in education, immigration, infrastructure projects, etc. But unless we get control of our expenses, our foreign exposure, and our energy needs, we will never be able to address anything else in a reasonable, let alone sustainable manner.
If you want to ‘stay-the-course’ vote for my opponent. There are those who insist if the captain of the Titanic had just rammed the iceberg head-on, rather than turning to take a glancing blow, the Titanic would have stayed afloat. To those who continue to embrace false-choices like that I respectfully, and dare I say, legitimately dissent. I affirm that the iceberg is on the horizon, but I prefer that we chart a new course before it’s too late. If you agree, please vote for me.
Thank you for listening.
We have witnessed many times throughout history that conformity is dangerous; that there is no such thing as the wisdom of crowds. (Remember the tulip bulbs.) As author David Rieff recently wrote in The New Republic, the current political crowds “are studies in the lowest-common-denominator subordination of the individual to the collective and of the thought to the slogan: in short, complexity to simplicity.” Or, as Albert Einstein said, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”
Each of us has a duty to think for ourselves and to reject the comfort of conformance. We must summon the courage to chart a new course and accept the consequences of our prior foolish choices. We must reject the sloganeering and invective of popular noisemakers and wage legitimate dissent. If we do, we will preserve the promise of America.