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Gary Hart

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Welcome to the American Republic, Mr. Eastwood

Posted: 08/31/2012 4:09 pm

Tempting as it is to send the iconic movie-maker Clint Eastwood a copy of Plato or even one of my books on the Republic, it would probably not make his day. But the past week, with its attempt to focus on economic issues, despite candidates telling their life stories or auditioning for national office in 2016, totally ignored the very nature of our nation. We are a republic, instituted as such by our Founders using the ancient republican ideal and classical model, and launched with the hope, and even expectation, that future generations down to the present day would live up to that ideal and its principles.

Partisan politics, so wrapped up in creating an antagonism between capitalism and government, misses the point. If we are to maintain ourselves as a republic, certain foundational principles of a republic must be upheld regardless of our economic structures. They are: popular sovereignty (power to the people, not Wall Street or Washington); resistance to corruption (placing special interests ahead of the common good); a sense of the common good (all those things that we own and hold in common); and most of all civic duty, citizen responsibility, and citizen participation.

Mr. Eastwood, being a dramatist, could have made quite a discussion with that chair concerning these qualities and whether we all, not just the president, live up to them. The convention arena would have been even more dumbfounded, doubtless to the point of silence. Any lingering suspicion regarding his sobriety or mental state would have fled. He would have had to revert to Dirty Harry to keep them from storming the stage. For they were there to belabor the president for not fixing the mess he inherited from He Who Shall Not Be Named and to rescue poor, misunderstood bankers from presidential, and public, scorn.

Leaving the quadrennial struggle for power aside for the moment, at risk in the 21st century isn't capitalism. It is republicanism. Though we elect our government, we do not have power because this republic is massively corrupt. Special interests dominate the executive and legislative process, even more so now thanks to the judicial branch. They do so by controlling campaign contributions. And any effort to defend the common good, our public resources and facilities, the systems of education, transportation, and even communications, that make us a national community, are met with Tea Party chants of "socialism".

We are left, then, with what makes a republic a republic -- civic virtue, citizen duty. A number of state officials are hellbent on making voting more difficult. A surprising number of people say that jury duty, which many seek to avoid, is one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences they have ever had. We celebrate our volunteer warriors as we send them off to war, whether necessary or not, but too often forget those who return wounded in body or spirit. But few citizens attend regular community meetings unless their immediate interest is involved. Oscar Wilde said socialism would never work because it involved "too many evenings." That's not socialism; that's republicanism.

I wish Mr. Eastwood's chair had held not a phantom Obama, but a live Jefferson.

 

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