Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pete Ricketts decides to run for governor of Nebraska

An excerpt from a book project I was working on a few years ago (and am still working on, although not quite so seriously at the moment because of other obligations):

Those are the fundamental properties of American “democracy.” All who are citizens of this nation possess the right, by virtue of citizenship, to oppose elected officials verbally and politically, to criticize those same officials, often unmercifully and publicly, to try and influence politicians at all levels with letters, e-mails, and hired lobbyists, to run for office against incumbents if we desire, and to vote. We may not accomplish much by doing any of these activities, but at least we don’t routinely get arrested and/or shot. As of this writing, this type of “democracy” is not reproducing itself very successfully anywhere in the world. The Pax Americana is proving itself to be a weak competitor for the hearts and minds of humans, especially those in what we call the “developing world.” In fact it is struggling to sustain itself in its own heartland. In an ideal America, none of these fundamental properties could be subverted by people participating in the system. The brutal truth is that anywhere the Republican Party is in power, it is likely to be working overtime to subvert the system through gerrymandering, intimidation of appointed officials, making it harder for poor and minorities to vote, promoting scientific illiteracy, ignoring scientific evidence when it contradicts ideology, and spying on its own citizens illegally.
In other words, we are evolving noticeably, if not relatively quickly, toward a totalitarian state, and that evolution is slowed mainly by some institutions that are constantly under attack from a variety of directions. Public schools, libraries, universities, museums, various arts organizations, and the entertainment industry are all routine targets for conservative elected officials. In some cases these officials use budgetary power; in others their words are sufficient to marginalize, if not demonize, a segment of our society. An excellent example of our cultural evolution is provided by a recent Republican candidate for United States Senate from Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, heir to the Ameritrade fortune, much of which he spent on his own campaign. Mr. Ricketts is not particularly important on global scale; I’m using him as an example because he’s handy, illustrative, and of a rather common type.
In the spring of 2006, Mr. Ricketts won the Republican primary election for a candidate to oppose Sen. Ben Nelson (D); Ricketts’ campaign rhetoric consisted primarily of variations on the theme of “faith, family, and hard work . . . values taught and shared in my home.” He swept us in by continuing “Those are my values, our values, Nebraska values that I will take to Washington.” Of the five videos you can (or could) access through his web (www.petericketts.com), one is entitled “Believe” and another is “Mom.” You are also invited to contribute to the Nebraska Families for Pete Ricketts pool. That is the extent of the civics discourse contributed by Mr. Ricketts. The family values candidate also contributed $4.5 million of his own money to this pool before May 8, 2006.
 No journalist ever asked Mr. Ricketts how he would have handled the low level radioactive waste storage site issue that has plagued the state like a cancer, how, exactly, he would get us out of Iraq or Afghanistan, what, exactly, he understood about global climate change, whether he could even define the terms “demography” or “ethnic diversity,” whether he ever took a course in a foreign language, what he understood about basic science and technology, to what extent he understood the arts’ contribution to our national economy and image, what he knew about the cost of producing ethanol from corn (as opposed to sugar cane), to what extent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would or could actually reduce gasoline prices and guarantee our energy future, and just exactly how he would propose to handle the health care delivery system problems faced by our nation. Needless to say, Mr. Ricketts did not offer any answers to any of these questions on his own.
“Nebraska values” it turns out are stereotypical neoconservative: anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-evolution, suspicious, if not outright disdainful, of science in general (but not applied science producing value-added discoveries involving agricultural products), and deeply religious, mostly Catholic. Are these “Nebraska values” wrong or dangerous? No, certainly not as held by free individuals in a truly democratic society. Whether they are wrong or dangerous, or perhaps more properly completely inadequate, as a basis for making international decisions in the Third Millennium, that is an open, and debatable, question.
But the most troubling question of all is: Are these values, combined with a candidate’s careful failure to reveal the extent to which he or she understands science and demographics, unique to Nebraska? If they are, then nobody should worry, or even care, about Pete Ricketts assuming an elective position with some power to influence global events. If they are not, then we have plenty to worry about because science and demography will be our challenges in the future, the former because it is completely re-defining what is meant by the term “human being,” the latter because demographic changes determine the boundary conditions under which this new form of human evolves.

(John Janovy , Jr.)

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