What happens to courageous thinkers when they enter politics?
Michael Ignatieff, author of The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, morphed from deep-thinker into some sort of Justin Trudeau Lite as soon as he became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Barack Obama, barely eighteen months in office, and he's already reading most answers directly from The Compendium of Annoying Platitudes for Every Occasion rather than calling us to arms with blunt sincerity.
Each was elected against huge odds when disenchanted voters thought they saw independent men who might speak the truth regardless of the effect on their chances for re-election. They were going to change politics forever simply by speaking their unconventional mind.
Instead, they've settled for superficial compromise with vested interests, avoiding fundamental reform, desperate to claim they have 'moved the yardsticks'. It's called the status quo.
Dangerous stuff. Betrayed promises lead to broken policy and the greater the broken promises, the greater the failed outcome.
Public dialogue through the mass media is so broken right now, it is the issue facing democratic society. Without it, attempts to manage debt, aggression and the environment are doomed ahead of time. We need a couple of world leaders willing to take four years off from partisan politics and to simply tell the truth.
Forget all the posturing intended to garner votes or get legislation passed. Give us four years of openly proving you don't give a damn whether you get elected for a second term. Four years of sheer defiance in the face of normal politics to demonstrate and remind the world what plain-speaking leadership looks and sounds and feels like.
Some time before the last presidential election, Jimmy Carter was interviewed about the catastrophic plunge in trust the rest of the world felt towards the US. The planetary bastion of human integrity and sincerity lay in shambles thanks to The Shrub and Cheney's lies and deceit.
The interviewer asked Carter how long it would take for the world to climb back from such a terrible political deficit.
"About six minutes!" the elder statesman replied. "This travesty of greed and bullying could be stopped and reversed within mere paragraphs of the new President's first speech."
Things looked promising at the University of Cairo. A world yearning for a global 'Mandela' rather than a mere national or continental one, dared to hope.
Then came Health Insurance!
Obama took his eye off the ball and gave in to the temptation of thinking he could actually achieve something in Health Insurance itself. He dove in head first and, predictably, within just a few weeks, he was tied in knots, stuck in the weeds of lobby-logic. He chickened out. Couldn't bring himself to yell "Liars!" when they fibbed about the public option.
Never mind the fundaments of health insurance reform, he didn't change the rules of public debate! He let them get away with bold faced lies. What a blow to all our hopes.
The man had a opportunity to reset the very tenor of Earthian conversation, the human narrative for us all. Not just health insurance. Not terrorism. Not global warming. Not fossil fuels. Not China's currency. Not the Middle East.
It's the platitudes stupid! It's the false presuppositions.
Ironically, plain talk would simultaneously fix the policies. Straight talk restores trust.
Middle East"Hey Hamas. 'Sup y'all? Here's my Twitter address. Chat anytime. Political jurisdictions and borders have come and gone throughout human history. Some justly, some not. Your debate can go on as long as you like about how modern Israel came to be. Fact is, she's there now. We can discuss borders and stuff, but Israel is a fact for as long as I can see ahead at this stage. So, Hamas, here's the deal. If you state publicly and unequivocally that Israel exists, the entire economic, political and military might of these United States will be available to you to intercept and inspect ships on the high seas, ensure they are carrying only non-military goods, and escort them directly into Gazan ports. That's all. Nothing else for now."
Cuba"Hey Fidel. 'Sup man? How about those Lakers, huh? By the way I'm ready to make a few changes around here and could use your help. I don't give a rat's fart what economic system you prefer anymore. Run the whole damn island like a farming co-op if you prefer. Even feel free to block our seditious harassment and pharmaceutical propaganda from your airwaves if you like. Michelle and I do the same to protect our daughters most evenings. Limited TV hours. The foxtrot I like. Intellectual Fox Rot we can do without. So Fidel, here's the deal. How about unrestricted access to the Internet? That's all. Nothing else for now. Continue to block consumerist badgering from pushing TV lies into Cuba if you want, but allow ordinary Cubans to pull alternate information in the other direction by choice. The Internet versions of Al Jazeera, TeleSur, the Open Data and Electronic Frontier foundations, anything they like. The moment you announce that policy, the Helms Burton Embargo goes into the dumpster of historical absurdity. I'll even encourage international donors to help you pay for the fiber optic cable if that helps. That done, your excess sugar, doctors and brilliant generic pharmaceuticals will be welcome in the US. Care to give it a try it for a few years, see how it goes?"
Iran"Hey Mahmoud. 'Sup Dude? You got any kids? Any of them interested in nuclear physics? Vlad Putin and Bob Gates have an absolute sheitload of weapons grade material they'd like to reprofile. Can those facilities you're building to enrich uranium run backwards instead? So Mahmoud, here's the deal. Help me reverse the process so we use and re-use that stuff to generate seven cents per KW electricity and you can power all of Europe and Africa until the spent fuel is sufficiently depleted to store more safely,. That's all. Nothing else for now. Unless you want to help with Cuba's Internet. (see above) Your people seem to have Twitter pretty well figured out. I'll get my girls to suggest Fidel and Raul send you Facebook Friend Requests."
It's called the quip pro quote strategy of bilateral pattern interruption. A fundamental re-rap (paradigm shift) on foreign policy.
Of course the details will get complicated eventually. That's what an improbable second term is for, or even another President if need be. But can you imagine the change in world affairs and in mass media relations if we could manage just four short years of two-point policy statements? A single 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Anything more risks propelling us towards global thermonuclear war and environmental oblivion.
I don't know about those other characters, but Fidel usually welcomes this sort of clarity. Let's poke him before it's too late.