I was struck several days ago to hear Arizona's Senator Jon Kyl claim that the Democrats' insistence on considering the new START nuclear inspection treaty in the short time before Christmas somehow defiled the holiday.
Perhaps, I thought, Senator Kyl forgot for a moment that Christmas celebrates the birth of the "Prince of Peace" -- that the Christmas story is about "Peace on Earth, good will to men." Could there be a better way to celebrate Christmas than to approve a peace accord that would reduce the risk of nuclear war?
Of course, this particular episode is actually emblematic of the fundamental disconnect between the values held by Senator Kyl and many of his radical conservative colleagues, and the progressive values that have served as the very definition of human morality, freedom and progress.
When you think of the heroes and heroines of American -- and world -- history you think of the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cesar Chavez, Robert Kennedy, Mohandas Gandhi and Franklin Roosevelt.
They are people who expanded the realm of human freedom for everyone. They stood up for everyday people -- not the rich and powerful -- of their times. They are the people who ended wars, not those who began them. They are the people who created mechanisms that help us avoid violence; who enhanced the ability of every child -- no matter her background or income -- to live a fulfilling life; who stood up against ignorance and oppression and greed; who understood that we're all in this together -- not all in this alone.
Most of all, they were people who believed that what is important in life is what you can do for other people -- not simply what you can do for yourself.
The progressive values that have always truly defined human progress are about hope, not fear; unity not division. They are about mutual respect and loving your neighbor as yourself. They are the values that are celebrated in this holiday season.
Let's be clear: "Greed is good" is not being celebrated at Christmas. The values of Ebenezer Scrooge do not define the Christmas spirit -- past, present or future. More tax breaks for the top one percent is not the moral of A Christmas Carol.
The right often characterizes progressive values as "soft," "utopian" and "naïve." But the hard fact is that progressive values have not only defined human progress in the past, they must prevail if human beings are to survive and prosper in the world of the future. Far from being "pie in the sky," "utopian" or "soft-headed," progressive values are the most precious, adaptive possessions of humanity -- and they have provided the moral foundation for the unfolding story of American democracy.
The future of our society and our planet depends on our ability to create a world that reflects those values. And the growing power of our technology -- our new ability to destroy human civilization, or alter our climate -- means that we don't have forever to get ourselves on the right track.
A few years ago a planetary scientist named David Grinspoon wrote a book called Lonely Planets that explores the question of extraterrestrial life -- both basic biological life and intelligent sentient life.
Toward the end of his book, Grinspoon speculates on the chances of survival for intelligent life in the universe. He argues that every civilization of intelligent creatures must pass through a gauntlet that tests whether the values and political structures of the society are capable of keeping pace with the exponentially increasing power of the society's technology. If its values and political structures can keep pace with technological change, the society may pass into a phase of enormous freedom and possibility. If it does not, the power of its own technology will destroy it. Perhaps, he postulates, civilizations are like seahorses. Many are born, but only a few survive.
For the first time, a little more than half a century ago, human society entered that gauntlet. The autocatalytic nature of technological growth reached a point of takeoff that for the first time gave us the power to destroy ourselves and all life on our tiny, fragile planet. From that moment on, the race began.
The next several generations of humans will decide how that race turns out. They won't simply observe it, or describe it; they will decide it. Whatever the future holds will be a result of human decision for which we are all responsible.
We will decide if we pass through that gauntlet or -- like our cousins the Neanderthals -- become evolutionary dead ends. We will decide if humanity passes into a new era of possibility and freedom -- or the human story simply ends.
Progressive values are humanity's most precious possession. We must nurture them, fight for them, stand proudly for them, and celebrate them now during the holidays -- and in all the battles we face in the coming year.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com
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