Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 9-24-05
Jeff Gill

Politicians May Not Like Labels, But…

Civics in high school has a reputation for being a less than interesting class, but I’ve been lucky to have some great teachers. Mr. Ciciora was one of them, with a vivid taste for examples that, whether they were his own or borrowed, were told with such flair that they stuck with this student, at least, for 25 years and more.
He was explaining one day the political spectrum to us, from reactionary to conservative to liberal to radical, and told us this story I pass along to you.
Four people were walking through the desert, survivors of a plane crash, one each of the four ideologies I just mentioned. They are hot, tired, thirsty, and uncertain of where they are. Upon cresting a dune, they see before them a spring in an oasis, with a dam creating a small pond.
The radical runs down the slope, and dives straight into the water, paddling about with delight. The liberal is a bit more cautious, walking to the water’s edge, removing shoes and rolling up pants to wade about in the shallows, looking for hazards.
The conservative sits on the bank, and after a bit takes off shoes and socks to place one foot at a time in the water, commenting that no one knows what the water quality or inhabitants of the pond really are, and that caution is in order.
And the reactionary? The reactionary is over by the dam, trying to figure out how to tear it down and restore things to how they were.
Does that make political groups more understandable? I’ve long found myself thinking about the oasis and four walkers in trying to make sense of what political leaders are getting at on particular issues.
One stance more popular than sensible these days is the disavowal of all party labels, claiming that one is an "independent," which covers a multitude of sins.
With all due respect to true independents, Greens, Socialists, and the like, there is a current debate that shows how useful the two major party "labels" can be in understanding political assumptions.
The county commissioners are split right now over the sales tax issue. Some have expressed surprise that the two Republicans, Tim Bubb and Doug Smith, would support the direct application of the increase versus the Democrat plea from Marcia Phelps to let the voters decide directly.
Tax policy aside, this all makes sense to me. Republican is a term derived from the Latin, "res publica," or "things pertaining to the public good." A republican form of government is one where the voters select representatives to handle the "public matters" for them, as trustees, and if they do not like the handling (tax increases or what have you) they vote them out, but don’t vote on specific public things themselves.
Democrats derive from the Greek "demos," or "the people." A democrat wants the people to vote on just about everything they reasonably can – while good people can disagree as fellow democrats on what is reasonable (should we vote on whether or not there’s fire protection, for instance).
As Americans, we live in a democratic republic, combining the best (we trust) of Greece and Rome. For the Republicans to take responsibility for handling a complex question of the public good, and run the risk of losing the next election, they are acting in line with their core principles; for the Democrats to want a plebiscite (Greek, "plebs," or everyday folks like youse and meese) makes equal sense.
Now, I’d like the Dems to explain just what they’d cut if they don’t get to increase revenue for the county, but that’s moving from etymology to hardball, and I’ll leave that to the front pages!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your civics class experience at disciple@voyager.net.

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