Aug 3, 2007

Dribbling in the Corner

In the political world, those who favor the status quo are at a distinct advantage. They do not need to persuade anyone to adopt their views; all they need to do is prevent change. They can criticize without offering better options or even understanding what they attack. They win by default if nothing happens. In this sense, they are like the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, who beat the Minneapolis Lakers 19-18 in a 1950 NBA contest by playing "stall ball" for the entire game. Eventually a shot clock was added to basketball games so teams could not run out the clock by doing nothing more than dribbling in the corner waiting to be fouled. There is no shot clock in political debate.

History moves as slowly and falteringly as it does because this has always been true. A frontier nation like the United States suffered less from this syndrome because there was little established power and plenty of opportunity for ordinary men. Our nation lead the way to democracy, exporting ideas long fermented in Europe into a land without a status quo of kings and czars. Still, we wrote slavery into our Constitution and slaughtered and displaced an established culture, proving that progress is indeed slow.

Despite these transgressions, the American revolution was emulated in Europe, and elitist powers fell. Our evolution did not stop with the establishment of a democratic government. We codified fundamental rights and actively worked to improve the Constitution, eventually freeing slaves and granting suffrage to all citizens. For a while, it seemed like progressing beyond the status quo WAS the status quo in America.

This ended with Bill Clinton. Our first corporate President, the man from Tyson Chicken offered lip service to progress but always bowed to corporate interests. He presided over the rise of an investor class that valued marketing slogans over principles and happily reaped profits as businesses shed the burdens of job security and employment benefits, once the lifeblood of America's middle class. Elected by unions, as Democrats always were, Clinton passed NAFTA and destroyed organized labor.

Corporatization and investment solidified as the status quo. The democratic economy of small businesses crumbled like the unions. The transformation was so rapid, Clinton was succeeded by a pawn. The Bush Presidency has been nothing but a marketing campaign behind which tax dollars have been shoveled upon corporations, mostly war profiteers and energy producers.

Energy producers are a prime example of an industry that benefits from the status quo. Our gluttony is their profit, and the last thing they want is for us to take energy independence and conservation seriously, for whatever reason, be it Middle Eastern terrorism or the risk of climate change. To keep the profits flowing, all they have to do is confound and confuse us. If no one takes the risks of drought, floods and rising seas seriously, we will not cut back on our consumption of energy. If our vengeance toward the 9/11 attackers is misdirected toward Iraq and expressed through a military that ravenously consumes oil, money will continue to flow to both war profiteers and energy producers.

The path to rationality is narrow. To stay on it, you must understand where you are headed and what challenges you face. It takes many turns, whether veering across the Atlantic to establish a democracy or refusing to move to the back of a bus in Selma, Ala. The path to status quo is oblivious; you simply march forward. No vision is required, no awareness, no choices, no judgment, no ability. You just keep dribbling until your clock expires, unconcerned about the game your children inherit or the corner you've pinned them in.

Those who favor the status quo are betting not only that no one can impose a shot clock on their dull advantage, but that the game itself has no end and the idiot dribbling on the ball in the corner is the image of God. He is not. Status quo is the devil's play thing.