The showdown over the federal budget is not a debate about money, it is a over our national character, a debate about how we see ourselves. I like the scene from “The Lion King” when the voice booms down the great advice, “Remember Who You Are.”
The right wing urges us to return to original values. At their rallies, usually, a few of their members are dressed up in colonial costumes. The right wing points out that the founding fathers wanted a limited democracy, a small government, a society that favored the wealthy and calls for Americans to agree with this 200 year old point of view.
The right wing urges us to remember who we are. Progressives should embrace that challenge and claim the founding fathers as their own. Progressives, too, could have rallies where they dress up in colonial outfits. After all, the founding fathers, in the context of their time, were bold progressives, willing to risk everything to change the world of their day.
The message of today’s progressives should be that our national character is not to look backward. It is central to our national character to keep pressing forward. The constitution is a living document adding over the years progressive amendments such as giving the government the right to impose an income tax and giving women the right to vote.
Our history is one of expanding democracy. What separates progressives from the right wing is a marked different view of democracy. The progressive view is that we move towards greater “liberty and justice for all” via vitalizing our democracy. The right wing, however, fears democracy and seeks to suppress it — even as the founding fathers did.
The debate over the budget, as many Washington conflicts, is a phony debate. The fix is in. It’s a fixed fight, because our government has been purchased, and the owners are calling the tunes. It’s a fixed fight because our democracy is a faint shadow of what it should be. The real debate is over competing visions of America’s character. The battle, at heart, is over democracy. Progressives should frame the debate as a debate over national identity — over remembering who we are.