For some reason, I enjoyed this column from Lou Dobbs, Dobbs: I’m a populist, deal with it. And now, random selections and random thoughts.
But now the name-calling and labeling is reaching a new level, and from all quarters. The political, business and media elites have called me a “table-thumping protectionist” because I want balanced and mutual trade, because I want this country to export as much as it imports. They’ve called me a racist, nativist xenophobe because, in order to win the war on terror, the war on drugs and to stop illegal immigration, I want our borders and ports secured.
Why is current political debate so poisoned? Has it always been this way? Can anything be changed?
I blame us for forgetting that the United States is first a nation, and secondly a marketplace or an economy, and I blame us for being taken as fools by both political parties for far too long. It is not nationalism by any stretch of the imagination for me to remind those in power that our political system, our great democracy, makes possible our free-enterprise economy, and not vice versa as the elites continually propagandize.
Actually, it seems as if some of them would claim that a free-enterprise economy makes possible democracy. After all, look at the democratically-elected Hamas government. For a while, I was inclined to agree that capitalism was a necessary prerequisite for liberal democracy (but by no means did a capitalist system create democracy), but I’m starting to change my mind. I do agree with Dobbs that economic demands take a backseat to nationalistic demands. Yet, if some type of capitalistic system is a pre-req for liberal democracy, it makes a case for economic demands being first to consider. Both systems, though, require the rule of law. It looks rather silly to let all this illegal immigration occur. Perhaps liberal democracy and capitalism are inseparable and should develop hand in hand. Or maybe it’s more complicated. Or maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. I don’t think it’s so easy to tell the difference between democracy, authoritarianism, and chaos — or rather, it’s not so easy to split them into easily definable categories. Capitalism, socialism, chaos…
Zakaria refers to “CNN’s Lou Dobbs and his angry band of xenophobes” and Jonathan Alter describes those who agree with me as “nativist Lou Dobbsians.” But Alter and Zakaria are far too bright to not know better. I’ve never once called for a restriction on legal immigration — in fact, I’ve called for an increase, if it can be demonstrated that as a matter of public policy the nation requires more than the one million people we bring into this country legally each year.
The world is more complicated than the false dichotomies we try to set up. Maybe a new political paradigm requires seeing that issues don’t only have two opposing sides. Furthermore, when we set up this false dichotomy, we tend to think that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, because both sides are wrong. Well, maybe in between them is wrong too. Maybe there’s a completely different answer.
And what does it mean to be a nativist in the United States in the 21st century when ours is the most ethnically and racially diverse society on the face of the earth? Both Alter and Zakaria are smart enough to know the answer to that question, and they know better than to write such drivel. Neither Zakaria or Alter can substantiate their disappointing attempts at labels with a single thing I’ve ever said or written. I say what I mean and I mean what I say.
I’ve never actually pondered this before. I don’t know why, but it reminds me of the recent racial controversy on campus. They characterized the fraternity as a “white” fraternity when in fact it was very racially diverse. What an interesting “reverse” stereotype that played out. Anyway, the “nativist” of today is not the same nativist as yesterday. Just like how the racist of today isn’t the same as the racist of yesterday.
In fact, let me articulate something I’ve been pondering within the confines of my mind: Maybe what politics needs is to declare the old battles over. I’m not saying that somehow we become more happy and just get along. Instead, we move on to new and more relevant battles. Like, instead of debating “cut and run” versus “stay the course,” we could have a healthy debate over what the hell we should do in Iraq. But I will go further than that. Destroy the “liberal vs. conservative” paradigm. Note that I’m not saying we’ll all become one. Maybe it’ll involve finding common ground first, and then fighting on that new ground. Maybe it’ll involve some group saying, “This is what I stand for. Call it liberal, conservative, whatever you want. We’ll fight over labels later.” I’m not proposing an overthrow of a two-party system. I’m just letting my thoughts wander. I’ll try to articulate this vision better at a later date.