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Moving American Politics Beyond Conservatism and Liberalism

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Most people believe that the now commonly used aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is attributed to former president John F. Kennedy, who used it in a 1963 speech to defend the building of a controversial dam opposed by many of his political opponents as pork.  It was speechwriter Ted Sorenson, the man who Kennedy described as his own “intellectual bloodbank,” however, who actually brought the phrase to prominence, after noticing it as the slogan of a New England chamber of commerce. This was revealed in the former’s 2008 memoir, Counselor: A Life At The Edge Of History, published just over two years before his death. It says something profound about the level of loyalty Sorenson held for his boss, who died almost half a century before he did, that he chose not to take credit for popularizing what has become an essential aspect of modern political jargon. Indeed, it is most difficult to find men of his integrity in the politics of today, whose nature tends to revile those on both ends of its spectrum.

When things tend to get dicey, a daily occurrence, it would seem, in the American political arena, I sometimes conjure images of a strong tide rising above the pettiness and nonsensical antics of the career flamethrowers responsible for this, whether they be pundits or public officeholders. This tide ultimately manages to wash a great deal of the anguish caused by them away and, in the process, lifts the boats of those who actually make our country work; namely the business executive, tradesman, educator, parent, intellectual, public safety officer, entrepreneur, medical worker, armed forces member, decent politician and far too many more to list.

After the daydream has finished, I often wonder about what this tide would consist of, and, beyond that, who exactly would bring it about? Populist movements which try to overthrow the status quo with the intention of bringing about utopian governmental and societal systems always end badly; as a matter of fact, life for the common citizen under the new order is usually far worse than it was beforehand. No, if any positive, truly beneficial change is to be made here in the United States, it must be done through the established system of law. Pseudo-militant and outright terroristic uprisings do nobody any good, and cause an incomparable number of problems in relation those which they alleviate, if any. The saying, “you can’t fight city hall,” I have no clue as to who concocted that one,  is one of the truest ever to have flown from human lips.

So, if city hall, or a more important seat of political power, cannot be fought on brutish terms, then how can things be turned for the better? I mentioned before that it must be done through the establishment, but what about on a more specific level? In order to answer this question, one needs not only a detailed plan of action, but the correct philosophy for dealing with the inevitable trials and tribulations which lie ahead.

Today, most politicos would surely consider themselves to be deeply philosophical on any given issue, but they would be wrong. The harsh reality is that a great deal of them are ideological, meaning that they are singularly concerned with an personal set of ideals and view all which goes on around them in absolutist terms of black and white, with the uncertainty of gray an evil that must either be disregarded, reclassified as black or white, or destroyed in its entirety.

While an ideologue instinctively fears the unknown, a philosopher examines every issue individually, and uses a well organized thought process, always open to change, to find the best solutions. I think it is safe to say that we need more philosophers in both government and the commentariat alike. This new series of articles for my column here at Blogcritics is, in essence, my contribution to the American body politic in the latter regard. Over the next several months, I will outline my unique, patently syncretic political macro-philosophy I have been struggling to devise for several years, and I believe that I have finally fined tuned it to the extent that it is suitable to be shared in a public forum.

Due to professional time constraints, I will no longer be writing articles on a semi-daily basis, but I will try earnestly to keep a weekly, or semi-weekly, schedule. In any case, I am sure that you would agree with me that quality beats quantity, and this series should be a shining example of that principle. As always, I welcome all of your questions and comments, and will respond to as many as I can.

We have much to learn from one another.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Baronius

    The subhead complains about simplistic thinking. But the middle paragraphs on page 2, the descriptions of philosopher and ideologue, are really simplistic. They denounce black-and-white thinking in a black-and-white way. There are two kinds of people, the ones who classify people into two groups and the ones who don’t, you say, and then imply that you’re one of the ones who doesn’t.

    You also ignore the consistent thinker, the one who approaches a problem with *reasonable* principles. He’s midway between the ideologue who can’t look forward and the philosopher who can’t look backward. He’s what most of us think we are, and probably a good number of us really are. By setting up your philosopher as someone who approaches every problem individually, you’re elevating the reinvention of the wheel as the pinnacle of rational thought.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Are Joseph Cotto’s observations truly simplistic? I don’t think so. For instance:

    Today, most politicos would surely consider themselves to be deeply philosophical on any given issue, but they would be wrong. The harsh reality is that a great deal of them are ideological, meaning that they are singularly concerned with an personal set of ideals and view all which goes on around them in absolutist terms of black and white, with the uncertainty of gray an evil that must either be disregarded, reclassified as black or white, or destroyed in its entirety.

    Does this not describe the Obama-must-fail-at-all-costs mindset of the Republicans? Or the we-need-more-tax-cuts-to-save-America mindset even though we’re paying less in taxes under Obama than under any other president in the past fifty years? Or what about global warming, or abortion, or gay marriage?

    Right now, Baronius, ‘pragmatism’ is not a word that can be applied to the Republican party, much less the Tea Party. ‘Zero compromise’ is their mantra, which is why John Boehner can’t get his side to agree to anything the Obama administration proposes, whether it’s ending the taxpayer subsidies of Big Oil or actually having billionaires pay a percentage of their income in taxes EQUAL to that of the normal American middle class!

    Obama’s already agreed to up to 4 trillion dollars in spending cuts, but wants to get rid of a few of the tax breaks and subsidies that ONLY benefit the super-rich at a less-than 4-to-1 ratio against the spending cuts…and what do the Republicans say in return? They refuse to have even ONE dollar in increased tax revenue.

    “Billions in subsidies for Big Oil, but not one cent in decreased subsidies for Big Oil!”

    That’s your Republican party, Baronius.

  • The most effective way of fighting City Hall is to ignore it, leave it to its own navel-gazing, posturing and preening, and get on with what needs to be done.

  • Cannonshop

    #3 Doc…wow. Is there any way you know of to convince City Hall to do the same thing-to go navel-gaze while the rest of us actually try to solve problems?

    I think it would be really nice if the folks who protest at Abortion Clinics (or oppose gay divorce) would just..y’know, not have abortions and not marry folks of their gender, instead of dragging their god into our government.

    It’d be really nice if people like Al Gore would just settle down and fund alternative energy research, instead of spending millions promoting ineffectual ‘remedies’ to an apocalypse they’ve invented-seriously, that’s solving problems instead of politicizing them.

    I don’t see any reason rich Liberals shouldn’t voluntarily pay higher taxes, if they think tax rates are too low. Barring that, maybe some good old fashioned actual philanthropy-picking up some of hte slack instead of insisting that people who can’t afford legions of tax-law-experts end up footing more bills?

    I don’t shoot my guns on your street, how ’bout you stop trying to take them away from the only people who abide the law-that is, people who abide the law. For that matter, how ’bout not spending tax money to supply arms to Mexican Drug Dealers?

    Why don’t we try NOT having “kinetic Actions” when we’re already in the red over a couple of existing, unfinished wars? Would htat be possible, please? Y’know, finish/end the current ones before starting new ones?

    For that matter, how ’bout not going to war at all without the intention of winning, or at least finishing, it?

    Why not try forcing the Authority back into the box marked “law” and forcing compliance with concepts like “Habeas Corpus” in all cases that can result in jail time-including Tax laws, Drug laws, and ‘terrorist’ law? Is it too much to ask that our government and society operate on the principles it claims to value?

    What about actually judging people on the things they DO, rather than who their ancestors, parents, or god is? There was this fella, made a speech, talked about judging people by the content of their character-could we maybe PLEASE try actually BEING a colour-blind society, where your ethnic background doesn’t matter, only what you do matters? is that even POSSIBLE?

    What in the hell happened to the concept of “Innocent until PROVEN guilty”? Casey-Anthony’s Media trial found her publicly guilty before the LEGAL verdict came down-which found her innocent. Lots of talking heads are all stuffed up about that, I don’t understand this-the Jury Acquitted, just like O.J., only this time it can’t be blamed on a superstar Legal team, the Prosecution bungled the case. This is how ’tis SUPPOSED to work-no Kangaroo Courts or Star Chambers, a speedy, public trial and decision by a jury, where the State must prove GUILT. There’s a reason we didn’t go with Napoleonic Code here.

    I have seen allegations from BOTH parties over the last twelve years about Voter manipulation in elections-neither group’s allegations have seen the inside of a criminal court-Not the Diebold Claims, nor the Dead People Voting claims. Is this really what we want in our society-disbelief in the event of a lost election, and endless unproveable accusations of fraud, corruption, and Manipulation by the losers? If you can prove it, you should push it in court, if you can’t, then shut up, or find proof. (and yeah, I’m as guilty as Glenn when it comes to this one, but at least I recognize it’s a problem with ME…)

    Do we really need some animals to be more equal than others-police to be free to kill, even unjustly and without cause, without facing Legal sanctions that mere citizens must face? What does “Dynamic Entry Warrant Service” contribute to the stability of our system and the protection of our liberties, rights, and those portions of our civilization we claim to value?

    Why does the Department of Education have a SWAT team? How is this idea justified, and how is it legitimate that they would raid the FORMER residence of a person whose only ‘crime’ is a loan default?

    How in hell, in a society that claims to treasure the idea of “Free Markets” can you justify the concept of “Too Big to Fail?”


    Or how ‘buout the granting of eternal payments to former Representatives? Serve two to six years, get paid for the rest of your life?

    Whut? Veterans don’t get that, and they got shot at…

    or…”Congressional Gym”-tellin’ me a guy who makes well above the average middle class wage can’t afford a membership at Gold’s Gym? I know Checkout Girls and Bagboys who make a hell of a lot less who have one…