Saving America from Ourselves

- the real burdens and tasks of Citizenship -

The future waits for our creation.  What will we do?   Will we be mere creatures of habit, following blindly our appetites and prejudices, or will we be more?  Will we awake enough to see and to rise to the true demands of our Age, or will we sleep and find in fantasy the better world for which we wish?  What will we risk?  What price will we pay?  What sacrifice make?

For about a year, from just after Easter 2002 to just after Easter 2003, I ran for President of the United States of America, aiming for the 2004 election.  It was not a mistake for me to do this, although many thought it foolish. It was really the only way to discover certain matters - including, but not limited to, several concerning myself. In the end, I realized that what I conceived as the most important work to try to achieve, would be better served in another way.

I am basically a writer and a thinker by avocation, not a politician.  The clothes I tried to wear didn't fit too well, and people were frequently confused by my activities.  I had thought I was going to have a certain freedom of expression by running for President - what I found was that people reacted with unanticipated expectations and preconceptions.  As a consequence of this reaction, I found myself less free in a social sense.  It was mostly due to this loss of freedom that I changed my mind about running for president.

Now this might seem an odd way to start an essay, by reporting something about my experience, but the fact is that  these expectations and preconceptions that I experienced are themselves acts of citizenship.  All the candidates not only experience these expectations, but are confined by them.  We, as citizens and as the electorate, impose on the electoral process, and upon the candidates much that limits them, and in turn, what might be achieved.  This is an important matter, so please indulge me while I come at it from another direction.

Our form of government is a kind of very complicated partnership.  On a foundational level, what power the government has comes from us - from the People.  It is a grant of power, and neither a sitting government or any political party holds any power except in the most temporary sense.  We the People say to our goverment - we need someone to do certain tasks, and to accomplish those tasks while keeping within these rules and limits. That's what the Constitution does - it apportions tasks and sets limits on power.

Under these rules, certain people only acquire this temporary grant of power through being elected.  It is a kind of trust.  We retain to ourselves the power of the vote - no one is elected who cannot command our trust through the ballot.  We also retain to ourselves, through the rights of free speech and association, the power to participate beyond just voting, by creating political parties and other associations to put forward our own agendas.  Even so, we also, being human and having flaws, do other acts.

We want and hope and dream.  We tolerate.  We expect.  We sometimes don't listen, or don't care.  We forget that citizenship is not just about rights, but also responsibilities.  Mostly we become creatures of habits, and habits lose their original value and meaning after a time.  Our electoral process is mostly habits now, and as habits go a lot of them are bad.

The money and ambition we know about.  As citizens it is quite clear what failures our politicians have become. But what about us?  Have we failed as well?

Who can doubt it.

They, the ones in power, aren't doing their jobs very well, but then neither are we.

One of the things which we do that is a bad habit is to expect politicians to be of a certain mold.  For example, we expect them to wear suits, and look good on television.  It is really only habit that makes us think this way.  Most of the people in this country don't wear suits and look good on television.  But we expect a certain type, and don't respond well to what is not the type.

We also expect politicians to tell us things we like to hear.  We are more interested in  that, than in the truth.  So we don't read much, or listen much, or work at understanding much.  Here we tend to a great passivity.  We let the politicians, their operatives, and the rich, set the tone of the campaign - that is determine the fundamental nature of the dialog.  We wait for them to bring the dialog to us, as long as it is comforting and doesn't require that we think.

I mean, who would want to watch politicians have a debate on the fundamental theories of government in our time, when we can watch Friends instead?

There is a terrible price that has been paid for our passivity, habits and failures.

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to do that anymore, which is why I ran for president, and why, though I dropped out of the campaign, that I am going to make a profession of being a Citizen.  The good part is that I am not the only one - if you start to pay attention you'll find a lot of us out there.  The times demand it.  The future of our Country is at risk, and the bad guys are winning.