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Hullabaloo


Sunday, June 28, 2015

 

The best convention speech you'll never hear

by Tom Sullivan

Perhaps America does have a reckoning coming. If so, it will not be the fiery one predicted by conservative ministers and pundits in the wake of last week's Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare and same-sex marriage. But perhaps a reckoning nonetheless.

Popping up now and again since his 1988 presidential campaign collapsed, Gary Hart is not remembered for his speeches. The former Colorado senator's presidential aspirations, like so many others', died in the glare of public scrutiny. In a Time magazine extract from his upcoming "The Republic of Conscience," Hart gives the best convention speech we will never hear.

Hart has had a lot of time to watch what has happened to the republic he hoped to lead. Distanced from the Village bubble, he offers a blistering indictment of systemic corruption in Washington that is now so ubiquitous as to be invisible. The army of lobbyists. The rise of the consultant class. The revolving doors. Campaigns as a billion-dollar industry. Rentier capitalism. "[S]pecial interest stalls in the halls of Congress." The abandonment of "the common good and the interests of the commonwealth." All of it is an outcome, Hart believes, "our founders would not recognize and would deplore." Hart writes:

On a more personal level, how can public service be promoted as an ideal to young people when this sewer corrupts our Republic? At this point in early twenty-first-century America, the greatest service our nation’s young people could provide is to lead an army of outraged young Americans armed with brooms on a crusade to sweep out the rascals and rid our capital of the money changers, rent seekers, revolving door dancers, and special interest deal makers and power brokers and send them back home to make an honest living, that is, if they still remember how to do so.

What angers truly patriotic Americans is that this entire Augean stable is legal. Even worse, recent Supreme Court decisions placing corporations under the First Amendment protection of free speech for political purposes compounds the tragedy of American democracy. For all practical political purposes, the government of the United States is for sale to the highest bidder.

Yet, a Washington media enamored of its own savviness and protective of "access" greets legalized corruption with a shrug and a "So what?" Hart continues:

Restoration of the Republic of Conscience requires reduction and eventual elimination of the integrity deficit. Virtue, the disinterestedness of our elected officials, must replace political careerism and special interests. The national interest, what is best for our country and coming generations, must replace struggles for power, bitter partisanship, and ideological rigidity. This is not dreamy idealism; it is an idealism rooted in the original purpose of this nation.

Don't hold your breath or expect to stay up late to hear this as a convention speech. Hart may be just a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Then again, perhaps we are on the cusp of a different kind of reckoning. Since the Trayvon Martin shooting and all the other deaths of young, black men at the hands of police — recorded in living color — law enforcement in America may finally be emerging from its bunker. Those videos have shown us all, and police themselves, what policing has become. Training police for a "warrior mentality" may be giving way to a new emphasis on de-escalating encounters that too often needlessly became deadly. And what do you know? “If we just started to treat people with dignity and respect, things would go much better.”

A century and a half after the end of the Civil War, reflection following the Charleston church shootings has ripped the false history away from Southern myths surrounding the war and the Confederate battle flag. Again, don't hold your breath, but with Confederate flags coming down from prominent places across the South, perhaps a reckoning with secession, slavery, and a nation's institutional racism is finally beginning.

If we can be honest enough with ourselves to tackle that, perhaps this country can look itself in the mirror and see that, as Hart writes, "today’s American Republic is massively corrupt," and maybe even do something about it.

Gay people can now get married in all 50 states. Who ever thought that would happen?