Sunday, February 10, 2008

Reflections on Election Day

As I watched the election unfold Tuesday, I was struck by the significance that Tuesday was also Mardi Gras. As voters in McHenry County and 20 states were choosing their future, the people of New Orleans were defiantly celebrating their beloved holiday.

Before I explain the significance of this in relation to McHenry Country, permit me to recite a quote:

“I want to shrink government to the size that it may be dragged into the bathroom and drowned in the bathtub.”
Grover Norquist

The author of this quote is the Karl Marx of neo-conservative thinking. Reflecting on that philosophy, I am reminded that government at the hands of its adherents is more bloated and unresponsive than ever at all levels. Yet on August 30, 2005 we were presented with incontrovertible evidence of just who would be doing the drowning. Abandoned and left to die, the crescent city continues to struggle back to its former greatness. Its people paused amid the massive reconstruction to revel in their carnival as much to hoist a one finger salute to the administration that turned its back on them as an expression of joie de vivre.

McHenry County is undergoing its own Katrina moment at this time. And, while it lacks the visual immediacy of bodies floating in the streets, it is none the less devastating to the people of McHenry County and has cost lives. While the immediate cause of Katrina was a natural disaster, the McCullom Lake disaster is entirely man made. Both Katrina and McCullom Lake share the proximal cause of neglect. In the case of Katrina the resources to maintain and improve the levees was withdrawn. In the case of McCullom Lake the government simply neglected to monitor an industry long known to deal with toxic chemicals.

The McCullom Lake cancer cluster spot lights a county government that has failed to protect the two irreplaceable resources vital to the existence of the county – its people, and its ground water. Rather than address the problems and resolve to change the failings that allowed this disaster to occur, a dysfunctional county board, Board of Health, and Health Department spin in a desperate attempt to evade responsibility.

The selfish philosophy that pervades Republican thinking is bereft of social conscience. Through their words, they claim to serve the greater good. However, through their actions they serve only themselves. It is the philosophy of entitlement. It is the philosophy of the sinking ship. Its authors lack the intellectual capacity and desire to examine their manifesto through to its larger implications. It is destructive, not only to the populace subjected to its arrogance, but to itself as well. The ever expanding spiral of neglect that is the heart of neo-conservatism will ultimately consume it and lead to its own destruction. Like communism and fascism, neo-conservatism too will be relegated to a footnote of history with the rest of a long list of failed political ideologies.

In both New Orleans and McCullom Lake government failed to rally to the defense of the people when the crisis was revealed. Long term, in both examples, was the failure to manage and protect the commons. The most damning sin, however, is the refusal to examine their own conduct, to learn from their mistakes, and to devise and implement remedial solutions so that others need not suffer the same fate.

I opened with the contracted and disconnected Grover Norquist quote. I’ll leave you with a different view of our society - one that binds us and unites us in mutual respect and support.

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
John Donne