I spend my days developing technology solutions. That leaves precious little time for my passions in the evening – my family, friends, politics, and of course, more technology.
But I am constantly amazed to the extent to which lessons that I learn during my daytime activities translate into my understanding of the larger world. For example, one of my mantras in product development is that ‘all design is an exercise in the lowest common denominator.’ That basically means that when you build a widget or a gizmo, your product specification has to anticipate the lowest common denominator. This can evidence itself in many ways. Perhaps a more practical example is in order – if you are cutting your own hair, and you mistakenly cut down to the scalp, there is a pretty good chance you are going to end up shaving your head!
As we slouch our way towards the nomination of a GOP candidate for the 2012 election, I am seeing a wealth of examples of the lowest common denominator rule. In politics, it often translates as ‘you will never go broke pandering to the lowest common denominator.’ On a side note, I have lost the etymological source of that phrase – if you know please drop me a line!
Politics in America is no longer about debating ideas. It is no longer an effort to find solutions. Politics is about getting elected, period. And to get elected, you have to find what makes people angry, and channel that anger.
Politics is the art of convincing a slave that their chains are jewelry
Sure, the best among our political class (and make no mistake, it has become a class) try to convince themselves that the election is a means to an end. They tell themselves that they have to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate in order to attain office, and then they will change the tenor of the debate.
And then of course when they are in office, they quickly realize that the intractable bureaucracy cannot be changed quickly.
So they promise themselves that in their second term they will finally start to reshape the landscape. By the time they win a second term, if they win a second term, of course they are hopelessly beholden to special interests and frustrated beyond recognition by the way the little things, the stupid things, get in the way of actually governing.
In short, the ballot box has become pandoras box. To get it open, politicians are incited to say things that can only be described as inane but provocative. ‘9-9-9’ leaps to mind. A tax code that had no hopes of working in the real world, but catches the nations attention because of its simplicity. But hey, the simple word ‘change’ worked just 4 years ago.
We need bigger ideas that this. And we need specifics. Without them… well, we as a nation are already far down the path charted in Paul F. Kennedy’s “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.”
America, for a time, was the melting pot of the world not just for immigrants, but for ideas. There is no god given right for this concept of American Exceptionalism. It was simply good timing and good fortune (which are basically the same thing viewed from different directions). Please do not misinterpret me. America has played an immense role in the definition of the modern concept of freedom. But it did so because of an abundance of a different sort of freedom, the freedom to define a nation without existing entanglements on so many levels.
Consider this. Who was it that coined the term “American Exceptionalism?” You might be surprised to learn that it was Joseph Stalin. He did so by way of deriding the concept, pointing out that never in the written history of humanity has one nation had such a wealth of windfalls as had America.
Today, in 2012, we can look around and clearly see that there is nothing exceptional about America. Its resources have been staked out, its bureaucracy has burgeoned beyond belief. It’s promise of opportunity has become a dream as a landed class of wealthy individuals and corporations fight to win the game and then say no one else can play. In short, we are all grown up now, and have all the inherent challenges to ‘Change’ as any other nation. You need to look no further than immigration – once the lifeblood of a nation melting together the best, and worst, that every nation had to offer; now a curse word designed to insulate and protect my cheese. Please don’t move my cheese.
And so we come to Algernon, that loveable, tragic mouse. America is in a race to the bottom, driven by people whose sole desire is to keep our eyes on the cheese. We cannot raise the level of our debate, because we have become increasingly content, reactionary, and, well, stupid. There, I said it. Think I am wrong? Ask ten people who Kim Kardashian is – then ask the same ten people who Kim Jong Il is. Try it, I dare you.