News & Politics

How to Break the American Trance

If we Americans are split into two meaningful camps, it is not conservative versus liberal. The two camps are the politically awake and the hypnotized.
The following is a speech given by 92-year-old Doris "Granny D" Haddock, who walked across the U.S. in 1999-2000 for campaign finance reform. She made this speech to Citizens for Participation in Political Action in Boston, on Sept. 27, 2002.

I want to begin by congratulating you for all the work you do. I know it is often frustrating work. You are blessed to be able to see ahead to a world of cooperation and peace -- a world of justice and sustainable economies and meaningful democracies. You wonder why others cannot or will not see these things or reach out for them, and why they in fact oppose the obvious good -- why they take the part of the oppressor, the blindered war horse.

I would like us to take a few moments to consider why this work is so hard, and what we might do to move toward our common dreams more rapidly and with greater joy.

Some of you may be old enough to remember the Reagan Administration. Mr. Reagan and those around him believed in a very new kind of American hero. This new hero was a business hero -- not the fellow who built up a family furniture store on Main Street and supported the Little League and the Scouts; this new hero was not the woman who worked late hours to create a successful travel agency, nor was this new business hero anything like any of the hard-working Americans who built-up our middle class, advanced our standard of living and gave us the resources and leisure for the proper civic life of a democracy, with its leagues and Rotaries and Lions and Elks and VFWs and party conventions and all that glory.

No, the Reagan business hero was the corporate takeover artist.

Any regulations that might get in the way of these ruthless new capitalists were removed -- removed so that reptiles of uncommon greed and brutality might rule the earth, which they now nearly do.

What soon happened was that ALL corporations of medium size or larger had to look over their shoulders. How did a corporation protect itself in this environment from a hostile takeover? It had to close down any factories that were not earning obscene profits. Never mind that a factory had served a town well for a century, or that it provided a healthy and regular profit for its stockholders. If it seemed to be underperfoming by the new hypergreed standards, or if it could be closed in favor of opening a foreign plant that provided a slightly higher rate of return, then, in this new atmosphere, the company was derelict in its duty to its stockholders if it did not ruthlessly act.

Perfectly good and profitable factories were closed. Benefits to employees everywhere were attacked, and staffs were downsized, outsourced, computerized, downsized again, outsourced again to temp agencies that paid no health care or retirement, and on and on until America became a very different place. The gap between rich and poor is now wider than at any time in our history.

It is still a wealthy nation for many people, but poverty is on the rise, and those with jobs find themselves so overworked trying to make ends meet that there is little time for family or for the joy of living. Indeed, there is very little joy left in American life. Workers are not loyal to their companies, because companies treat them like expendable slaves, with no dignity or assurance that hard work will result in advancement or security.

We are living in the harsh world invented by a handful of corporate raiders whose values were completely foreign to the fairness and moderation that had so long served as the proper foundation of American success and the American dream of plenty for all. They were not a new kind of person, for there have always been among us a few reptilian hearts of uncommon greed. What was new was the political permission they received for their rape and rampage, which continues.

And so a new world devolved as if from a virus. The new business hero, a Horatio Alger on crack, did very well. The new model CEO derived from that moment -- the ruthless mercenary who would come in to reorganize a company and render it takeover-proof by rendering it inhumane. This executive was worth millions per year, we were told. In this way, a Darwinian system of corporate survival assured that the most carnivorous, rather than the most responsible, would rise to lead our most powerful commercial organizations. And if you need an explanation for Fox News or Enron, this is the history you need to remember.

These superwealthy predators now, through their political patronage, control both political parties. They control Congress and the White House. They control elements within your state house. They are not particularly smart people, as their current agent in the White House clearly demonstrates.

Here is how the takeover of corporations became the corporate takeover of American democracy: To get along and move up in one of these right wing business organizations, you have to be like the boss. The people working under you will then want to be like you to get along themselves. In Fox News, even reporters in local regions are told how to slant each story hard to the right. There is no pretense of journalism within the organization. And many people stuck in those jobs, who got into journalism with the idea of doing legitimate journalism, are sick to their stomachs every working day.

In this way, the right-wing leanings of a few people have distorted entire industries, including television news. Political leaders are quickly infected in this trickle down reptilism -- trickling down from the people who write the checks for political campaigns and who control political news.

And the reptilism trickles down further, to the weaker minds listening to talk radio or silly enough to spend too much time watching cable television news -- people who buy the lies, who are simply suckered into forking over their own political best interests to the con artists who attempt to pick their pockets at the same moment they are pointing out others who, they say, are the real trouble makers. About 25 percent of our people are susceptible to this kind of con, and they then give us problems by standing against any reasonable reforms. They have been spiritually twisted by the cheap poison of a hundred Rush Limbaughs into the angry, unthinking agents of the superrich.

On my long walk across America, a man driving a garbage truck told me that the biggest problem facing America today was the inheritance tax. I didn't have to ask him if he had a radio in his truck.

I remind you of all this because it is important to know that the reason our reforms are difficult is not because Americans are split into two camps, conservative and liberal. It is not like that at all. There are lots of conservatives and liberals in America, but we are not the two sides of the divide. True conservatives in our country don't have many political leaders to look to with respect. Among the last was Barry Goldwater. He believed that the government had no business in our bedrooms. He believed that a woman and her doctor didn't need the government's help in deciding her important issues. He would have laughed and then, I think, become very, very angry at Ashcroft's attacks on the Bill of Rights and his citizen-against-citizen snitching system. Goldwater believed that the only issue of importance regarding gays in the military was whether or not they could shoot straight.

What we are seeing now from the far right is not conservatism at all. It is fascism: the imposition of a national and worldwide police state to enforce a narrow world view that enriches and empowers the few at the expense of the many, and that gives no respect or honor to other cultures, ways of living, or opinions. To call that conservatism is a crime against the memory of America's great and true conservatives, who might think that government ought to be less involved in life than we old liberals would concur with, but who nevertheless stood for the core American values that today's right-wing leaders undermine at every opportunity.

We Americans are not split into liberals and conservatives. In fact, if you are running for office from the center, or from left of center, just do a better job of demonstrating how far right-wing your opponent is, and you will win more and more votes. You will win them from the vast number of people, most especially urban women and professional men, who identify themselves as Republicans for old time's sake, but who are very uncomfortable when forced to look squarely at the far right positions of many candidates running under the flag of the Grand Old Party. Given moderate alternatives, they will vote for them. That was exactly the truth that Clinton understood and exploited so brilliantly. He understood that Republicans are conservatives but the Republican Party is not. If you want to reflect upon how well he exploited this insight, remember that Hillary was a Republican when he met her.

If we Americans are split into two meaningful camps, it is not conservative versus liberal. The two camps are these: the politically awake and the hypnotized -- hypnotized by television and other mass media, whose overpaid Svengalis dangle the swinging medallions of packaged candidates and oft-told lies. It is all done to politically prolong the open season on us -- open season indeed, as the billionaire takeover artists bag their catch for the day. And in their bags are our freedoms, our leisure, our health care futures, our old age security, our family time, our village life, our family-owned businesses on Main Street, the middle class itself, and our position of honor and peaceful leadership in the world.

Once we understand what we are up against, and where the meaningful dividing lines truly run, our lives as reformers can be easier because we shall know how to proceed.

How to break the hypnosis is then the question. It is easy.

Pull any contractor out of his white pickup truck, turn down the talk radio blaring from it, and ask him, "Government good, or government bad?"

His glazed eyes will widen. "Government bad!" he will say.

Ok, good. You found one to play with.

Now, ask him what the town might do to make it safer for kids to get to and from school, and around town when they're not in school, without getting killed by traffic or getting in trouble. He will have a million ideas. Good ideas. He has no clue that he is being government -- if government is what happens when we get together to solve our common problems and to make life better for our communities.

You have broken his trance.

When a proposition is on the ballot, people talk about the mechanics of the idea, and the hypnosis is largely circumvented. You see quite progressive ballot propositions passing in otherwise quite unprogressive states. Why? Because people are problem-solvers at heart, and they enjoy it. They want to participate and be helpful and accepted as valuable players. It takes a lot of hypnosis to overcome that instinct, and a lot of hypnosis is what we have had. But we can get around it.

Government agencies, of course, have been the communitarian's worst enemies. Anything that smacks of bureaucratic rudeness or pushiness or counterproductive stubbornness does nothing but damage the idea that government is us -- we the people acting together to solve our problems as fellow citizens. That brand of government really needs to be stamped out whenever it shows its pinched, gray face. That is what can be done and must be done to prepare the ground for what must come next, which is a new engagement of citizens with the issues of interest to them in their communities. We should begin in our high schools. During the years from 13 to 19, lifelong civic values are formed.

We should start with our younger people. As community leaders, we should work with the popular history and civics teachers in our high schools to bring the issues of the day and the issues of the town into the classroom -- not to propagandize but to openly invite students to learn, research, and offer advice to the community on a wide range of issues. This is where the hypnosis falls apart. This is where democracy finds its feet again.

This summer I asked America's independent community radio stations to get involved with those same teachers in our high schools, to make students into community reporters and commentators. I reminded these indy news stations that they have the technology and the dramatic missions young people crave. I said young people will never become robots if they are enlisted in the cause of truth at an early age.

What we do in schools, we must also do in colleges and then in the general community. But if we only have the means to focus on the high schools, that is enough. These young people will be voting in only a few years. If we support their increased civic engagement as they move through college and into the community, we will have raised an army of citizens immunized against corporate hypnosis. Our victories for needed reforms will come naturally. With an engaged and informed citizenry, who knows what good we might do, and what great civilization we might yet again move toward?

True conservatives and liberals unite! Bring your issues and your opinions to our young people, and create a new expectation that they will get involved, get informed, and form a view of themselves as problem-solving citizens of a democracy. Our differences from the left or right are nothing compared to the differences between the politically awake and the hypnotized drones of the new colonialism that now stalks and shreds our civilization.

I urge you to think young, to link with moderates on the other side of the fence, and to approach the schools and teachers who can help you connect your young, rising citizens to the issues that will shape their lives.

If you believe that human beings, in addition to all their other instincts, want to help create and live in a happy, creative and cooperative world, then you must believe that people are to be trusted in their politics so long as they are encouraged to study everyone's experience and study the competing points of view -- and so long as they are raised with enough love and security to be capable of empathy. We need not force a liberal agenda on our society, any more than we need force our political opinions on our children. We can enjoy life instead of banging our heads against the old walls. If we encourage an awake thoughtfulness, democracy and justice will have all the victories our hearts can handle.

To read more of Doris Haddock's writings, visit GrannyD.com.
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