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Morning Feature: Owning Our Seed Corn, Part III – A More Perfect Union (Non-Cynical Saturday)

March 12, 2011

Morning Feature

Morning Feature: Owning Our Seed Corn, Part III – A More Perfect Union (Non-Cynical Saturday)

We’ve talked together about privatization this week. Now we need to talk to Fred about whether it moves us toward “a more perfect Union.” (More)

Owning Our Seed Corn, Part III – A More Perfect Union (Non-Cynical Saturday)

The BPI faculty and guests debated privatization in Evening Focus on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we continued that topic all week at BPI. Thursday in Morning Feature we examined some reasons behind the push to privatize government services, and in HEMMED In JanF showed privatization reaching to public libraries. Friday in Morning Feature we discussed risks of privatizing core services such as military logistics, law enforcement, and public education, and in Evening Focus Roby NJ summarized the background and issues. Today explore how to talk about privatization with Fred, our archetypal median voter.

A Revolutionary Idea

Back in 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote down a revolutionary idea: “all men are created equal.” Today we usually hear those words without thinking much about them. If we do reflect on them, it’s often to note that Jefferson owned slaves. He did, and that’s not a trivial quibble. Still, Jefferson looked at his world – where most people believed kings ruled by divine right and wealthy nobles were a superior breed of human beings – and saw something extraordinary.

He saw those beliefs were wrong, and wrote “all men are created equal.”

That idea was so revolutionary that Jefferson himself couldn’t fully wrap his mind around it. He couldn’t see that idea also included women and non-whites. He probably didn’t even consider if it included LGBTs and people with disabilities. But he recognized there was no inherent difference between a king or a wealthy noble and an ordinary human being. There’s an old saying: “Fish don’t realize they swim in water.” Jefferson did, even if he couldn’t fully see the air and the land beyond.

An Idea to Build On

Jefferson’s idea didn’t create the revolution that gave birth to our nation. That revolution was already underway. He wrote those words to justify it: literally, to declare it just. A revolution that gave those words life would indeed be just. Ours didn’t. Not fully. Not at first.

Eleven years later, having succeeded in independence but failing in confederation, 55 Americans met in Philadelphia to design a government that could work. They did not all agree. They debated the issues for four long months. They never did agree on every detail. Only 39 of the 55 signed the final document. Probably none of those 39 was entirely happy with it. As Benjamin Franklin wrote:

There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution.

The drafters of the Constitution admitted its imperfections right up front:

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union….

Like Jefferson’s five words, those eleven are extraordinary. The first three declare who form our government, and the next eight introduce why we form it.

A Present Day Hero

And We the People do still form our government. When Fred discusses the news with his friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors, when he decides whether and what to say to an elected official in a letter or phone call or at a town meeting, when he decides whether to attend a rally on a local or national issue, when he decides whether and how to vote in the next election … Fred takes part in that ongoing struggle to form “a more perfect Union,” born of a revolution that was justified by the idea “all men are created equal.”

When Fred talks about whether to privatize our public schools or libraries, whether to sell public resources, whether to protect or dismantle labor unions, whether to cut or charge fees for public services, or whether to raise taxes and for whom and how much … those conversations are not simply about budget projections, deficits, and revenues.

Those conversations are part of our ongoing struggle to form “a more perfect Union,” justified by the revolutionary idea that “all men are created equal.”

If hiring private contractors to perform a specific service will help make us “a more perfect Union” where “all men are created equal,” we should support that and encourage Fred to support it.

But if hiring private contractors will create Government, Inc. – where profit margins come from fewer Freds earning enough to support their families, fewer Freds able to afford ‘public’ services, more Freds living in a toxic environment, and perhaps ultimately fewer Freds allowed to vote – that is not “a more perfect Union” where “all men are created equal.”

Government, Inc. is a world where corporate kings rule by divine right and wealthy investors are deemed a superior breed of human beings. That’s the world Thomas Jefferson was born into, the world he realized was wrong and against which he wrote that idea to justify our revolution: “all men are created equal.”

“We the People” includes ordinary working people. People like Fred … present day heroes in a story that began over 200 years ago … the struggle to form “a more perfect Union.”


Happy Saturday!

  • winterbanyan

    Beautiful piece, Crissie. Right to the heart. We are indeed engaged in an ongoing struggle to preserve the notion that “all men are created equal.” And to do that we need to ensure that We the People have a voice in everything that affects us and our nation.

    Sometimes we go through periods where we let things run on automatic. We lose interest, or things seem “okay” and we just pretty much ignore it.

    Then we hit times like these where we have a very real sense that We the People are not being heard. These are the times that can, as long as we believe in our democracy, and that the poorest vote matters as much as the wealthiest vote, give birth to movements that move us closer to that “more perfect union.”

    This week’s discussion have led me to draw a line in my personal sand about where privatization should end: It should end at government function.

    It’s one thing to procure actual items from private industry. I don’t want my government to be involved in the business of making things. That rightfully belongs to businesses and we can usually safely buy these things.

    But government functions should never be privatized because those functions are exactly what our government is about. They provide the framework in which democracy can function, and ensure that even the poorest vote is recorded. It is the place where we truly, under rule of law, become equal.

    That part of government can never be about profits or cost-cutting. That part of government is the purpose of a nation. Any nation.

    • NCrissieB

      Thank you, winterbanyan. And this part is very true:

      That part of government can never be about profits or cost-cutting. That part of government is the purpose of a nation. Any nation.

      As I wrote yesterday, I understand why my county hires private contractors to build and maintain our roads. But the county should not hire contractors to decide whether and where to build roads, or whether a new road is built safely. Those decisions and others like them must remain with We the People, working together to form “a more perfect Union.”

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

    • Roby NJ

      Beautiful response, winterbanyan.

      Thank yourself, too, for our collective accomplishments of the week. I never had a chance to really think through these issues deeply and with so much focus; and I emerge from this week with much better understanding of the relevance and significance of privatization.

      Thanks to you and everyone who participated in content, debates, and conversation.

      • winterbanyan

        Thank you, Roby, you and everyone else who worked so hard this week. For me, this week crystallized exactly what was most troubling to me in privatization. Now I can go forth an preach a coherent gospel, not just rummage around for vague feelings of uneasiness.

        Privatization is the very antithesis of democracy.

        Once kings owned everything. It would be a damn shame to turn it all back over to an oligarchy or plutocracy.

  • JanF

    This piece brought me to tears. It so clearly lays out what we are about as a nation it should be printed out and framed and put on the walls next to the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution and called “Here is Why These are Important to Us”.

    It is so critical that we pursue the conversations you mention:

    Those conversations are part of our ongoing struggle to form “a more perfect Union,” justified by the revolutionary idea that “all men are created equal.”

    Those conversations are how we remind each other and Fred and Frederika about why it is worth preserving our union.

    • NCrissieB

      We progressives and Democrats are often criticized for being too wonky, while conservatives and Republicans tell stories.

      Privatization is a topic that usually turns wonky – at least as progressives and Democrats tell it – drowning Fred in jargon, facts, and numbers to show why privatizing this or that won’t actually save money and may even cost more. Or maybe some hope Fred will hear all the jargon, facts, and numbers and think, “I don’t understand a word of that, so he must know what he’s talking about.” I don’t think baffling Fred is the best way to win his support.

      I think we should tell Fred stories like the one I told here today. Sweeping epics where Fred is the present day hero, taking up the mantle of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless others who worked and struggled and sometimes bled and died to help form “a more perfect Union,” where “all men are created equal.”

      We must invite Fred to be the hero of that story, and explain how the discussions he has and the decisions he makes are part of that sweeping epic. I think, and polls from and about Wisconsin show, that Fred will join us if we invite him into that story.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • addisnana

    I am so impressed and so moved. I feel like my progressive soul has been stretched and challenged and enriched and called to action.

    The words “to form a more perfect union” have taken on a whole new meaning. Not only are they part of our founding documents, but they have been transformed through these writings as a way to ask people to join the progressive movement.

    Bravo Crissie!

    • NCrissieB

      Thank you, addisnana. We progressives have an amazing story to tell, a story where Fred is the present day hero. We need to tell that story. If we’re only about budget projections, revenues, and expenses, we lose … even if we win a given vote.

      Fred needs to know it’s bigger than that.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • Jim W

    This is one battle in the class war. A war to eliminate “one man-one vote” and transfer authority to the rich.

    As described by Dano at Rockridge:

    The righties are still objecting to the “demonization of rich people creating a class war” (heard it again this morning from a Heritage Foundation troll).

    The class war is being propagated from the top down in policies that are targeted to increase the wealth gap. It is being conducted as a “stealth war” because conservatives use rhetoric that denies this is happening (or if acknowledging it is happening, that it is anything but “the natural state of the world”).

    When progressives call them out on it, they claim “class war” but the war is the *action*, not the *rhetoric*. Sticks and stones will break my bones. *That’s* a war.

    The divide-inducing policies are the war, and the rhetoric is just calling it what it is. If conservatives don’t want a class war, all they have to do is stop bringing it. But they want to have it and then point the finger at others for it.

    • Jim W

      winterbanyan and JanF have excellent replies in Campus chatter where this was first posted.

      the wealthy classes are now making war on Fred’s most reasonable expectations: that he can hold a job that will feed, house and clothe his family.

      Tips to winterbanyan and JanF

    • NCrissieB

      Thank you for this, Jim, and I apologize for not replying earlier. I had to leave for my county Democratic Party meeting.

      Yes, the ideological basis for privatization is all about class warfare: creating a plutocracy where the wealthy get a cut from everything that happens, at the expense of working Americans. And if they convince enough people that our government should be Government, Inc. … they’ll start seriously pushing the currently-fringe-only thought that voting should be for ‘shareholders’ only.

      Good afternoon! ::hugggggs::

  • Roby NJ

    What an extraordinary essay, Crissie. Thank you so much for this. I wanted to keep reading it — but it ended!

    We struggle here. The news from places like Wisconsin and Washington D.C. gets me frustrated and angry. I want to help change our country, help fix what’s wrong.

    This essay is remarkable — it simultaneously reminds me WHY this matters, INSPIRES me to keep pushing, and TELLS the message and story we can spread.

    Thank you again! big ::::HUGGGGGS::: !!!!

    • JanF

      Ha! That was my problem also, Roby NJ:

      I wanted to keep reading it — but it ended!

      Remarkable indeed.

    • NCrissieB

      Thank you for the incredibly kind words, Roby. I apologize for not replying sooner. I had to leave for my county Democratic Party meeting.

      Watching and reading the news can be very frustrating. At the meeting today we got a breakdown of the horrific bills now working their way through the Florida legislature. That includes an immigration bill much like that in AZ, and an education and public employee bill much like that in WI. Governor Scott is even pushing a repeal of the “pill mill” database, which helped prevent prescription-hopping and street resale. The Florida Senate version of that bill would no longer let most doctors prescribe pain medication. Instead, patients will only be able to get pain medication at “pill mills” like Solantic Urgent Care … a franchise owned by Gov. Scott.

      Stories like those can depress us. To counter those, we need to have and tell stories of hope, and stories that place our week-to-week, year-to-year political challenges in a deeper context.

      Fred, a moderate independent, has no overarching political ideology. He takes issues one at a time. For Fred to become progressive, we must offer a larger story that he can be part of and believe in.

      Good evening! ::hugggggs::

  • Roby NJ

    The writing teacher in me would like to point out that this paper delivers an A++ message in just 743 words — counting from it’s content starting headline “A Revolutionary Idea” to the final chorus of “…a more perfect Union.”

    There is real rhetorical power to be gained from elegant and concise writing.