The man who learned better

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A GOP pundit on NPR the other day was commenting on the new, up-andcoming generation of conservative politicians -- governors, congressmen, senators, et. al. -- and he emphasized that the problem with the current Republican party, as most recently evidenced in the election last Tuesday, was that Romney & Co. were unable to get their message across to the increasingly shifting demographics in our population, by which they meant the Latino and/or the female vote.

To us, this is tantamount to their saying that if someone doesn't like the pile of you-know-what you're trying to feed them, you simply need someone nearer their own age or gender or cultural group to explain to them why it really does taste good, honestly.

Not so. The GOP's repeated attacks on women's rights, immigration reform, health care for the poor, etc., are not issues they can spin so they look good. Not if you are a woman, or an immigrant, or as "poor" as many of us technically are.

The whole thing seems driven in some way by fear based on nostalgia. That is to say, fear of the new age, fear of changing times, fear of people who are different, fear of changes in economies all over the world. That is a natural impulse we all feel occasionally, but in this case it is driven by a nostalgia for an imaginary time in the past when things were better, easier, gentler.

That past isn't necessarily imaginary if you grew up middle class and white; but America has always been built on the hard work and sacrifice of many who were neither, and it will continue to be, sorry to tell you.

Fear is an effective tool of control levied on all of us by our leaders at times when they, like many of us, are themselves frightened of change.

Change is not the end of the world. It doesn't even have to be bad. What is bad is using fear to separate and alienate. This election has offered the GOP a rare thing in modern life: an actual clear mandate from the people to get their ducks in a row, now.

This election is as close to a do-over as we get in American politics: an intelligent leader whose attempts to reach compromise have been repeatedly rebuffed by Congress, re-elected in a landslide (for the second time). If there was ever a "mandate from the people," which politicians are always claiming, this is it.

Robert A. Heinlein said there were three basic story plots in the world:

1. Boy Meets Girl (General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell);

2. The Brave Little Tailor (the Rise of the Tea Party: Joe the Plumber, et. al. The little guy makes good);

3. The Man Who Learned Better.

It is this last Universal Plot that draws one's attention in these days following the recent election.

According to retired attorney, newspaperman and newspaper editor John C. Wright, the gist of "The Man Who Learns Betters" goes as follows: "The Man finds his fixed ideas or his innate character, when played out, leads to ruin, and this leaves him sadder but wiser, or humbler but wiser. He changes because he learns and grows. If learning your lesson carries a heavy price, the drama is greater. What is at stake here is the man's soul."

The Man in this case would be the GOP. We are all given opportunities in life to screw up and learn from our mistakes, if we grab the opportunity. One definition of "insanity" is "doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."

Tragically, many people are unwilling or unable to learn and adapt. It is stubbornness, perhaps, to refuse to admit that one is wrong, or some basic mis-read of what constitutes leadership. It's a common problem.

Whatever the problem, the writing is pretty much on the wall as of now. Darwin speaks. Evolve or become irrelevant.