Monday, January 14, 2008

Steve Olsen and Ralph Nader On Family Values

A long time ago I was given a copy of Steve Olsen's Why Utahns are Democrats, and Just Don't Know It Yet by a friend. It was a small pamphlet of a book, but it struck a cord with me, and served as a key element in an increased hope for Utah, and a reinvigorated drive for local political activism. Today Mr. Olsen, channeling Nader, added to what I hope will one day become a larger body of published work that will reach many voters through it's simplistic reality.

If you have ever listened to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, you know their shtick consists of constantly harping on just a few (mostly negative) issues. As one wag put it, even if you agree with Hannity, tuning into his radio show is a waste of time, since after 30 minutes you have heard everything he has to say; the rest is just ad nauseam repetition. One of these themes is: Liberals are out to destroy the American family.
Open discussion and encouragement of independent thinking around the dinner table led to a life of not being afraid to challenge the status quo. Observing parents deeply involved in the civic affairs of a community led to a lifetime of community service. Living with a father and mother who were unafraid to speak their minds led to political involvement. Being raised by parents who taught the habits of self-reliance and frugality led to insights how the expanding American consumer culture was weakening families and usurping the authority of parents. Teachings about fairness and justice and a love of reading led to a lifetime as a muckraker in the true American tradition, defending average Americans against the powerful and the privileged.
Those of you who can recall the ugliness of the Religious Right politicking for various candidates throughout the 1990's may, like me, bristle at the phrase "Family Values," flashing back to images of Pat Robertson and Newt Gingrich, debate over gays in the military and a woman's right to choose, and -- of course -- Bill Clinton and "the cigar," which conservatives used as vindication of their claim to represent the American family against a liberal assault.

What Mr. Olsen illuminates in his discussion of his own upbringing and the thesis of Nader's book is a challenge to that preconception that few can (intelligently) argue with. The traditional conservative movement that won Utah over in the 1960's is gone, replaced by a Republican Party that protects corporate greed and empirical government far more than the interests of a work-a-day family in Cache Valley or Happy Valley. There may have been a day when the Utah GOP stood for "defending average Americans against the powerful and the privileged," but that torch has been passed now, as the Republican Party has succumbed to privilege, elitism, and the hubris of power. Need example? Simply scan the headlines. You won't find perfection on either side of the isle, but it is fairly easy to spot the cancer of unchecked power. We have been sold the idea that gay marriage and a lack of flags in classrooms are destroying our families, when in fact, as Olsen and Nader argue, it is the loss of protection for the "little guy." Tax breaks for the wealthy, nation building over-seas, wire-tapping, immunity for telecommunications companies, corruption, and an assault on individual liberty, corporate welfare. Those issues belong, wholly, to today's Republican Party. Is this what we stand for as a state? Is this how we want to define ourselves? If so, we are well on the way. Just sit back and enjoy the ride (fall?). If we want a better future, we should be electing better representatives. Perhaps it is too soon to expect Utahns to come out in droves to turn our state blue (one can hope, still) but we should at least be shooting for better Republicans (Chris Cannon people! Seriously! How many times now?!) as a progressive "baby-step" to protecting our true interests.

Respect is due for Mr. Olsen in his consistency of message on this. He is waking us up, one reader at a time. The more quickly we return to a class of representation in state and national houses that better reflects who we are, the sooner we will see real protection of our values.

Family values.

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