Most Americans, with the exception of a few members of political-intellectual cliques, share an unfortunate distaste for examining the contending ideologies that will shape our political near-future. Two notable exceptions to this distaste for thinking are Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. Neither man belongs to a narrow ideological clique. Further, Dr. Dean and General Clark possess a total of four names that could serve as either given names or surnames, a versatility that I admire. Either man would make a fine president, although Mr. Clark may in fact be contending for the vice-presidency. Dr. Dean, however, the current leader in the race for the Democratic nomination, has come under attack from two mutually exclusive yet collectively frustrating political groups. The first clique, so-called “centrist” Democrats led by the Democratic Leadership Council, has denounced Dr. Dean for his alleged leftist tendencies and for his supposed “unelectability,” arguing that a more rhetorically moderate candidate will better capture undecided voters. The DLC fails to realize, however, that the Bush administration is flouting traffic laws–so to speak–by driving with two wheels on the sidewalk off the right side of the road. Consequently, what “moderate” Democrats view as the middle of the road is actually located somewhere in the right lane. The moderate supporters of Senator Joseph Lieberman, for example, believing that Dr. Dean is excessively “liberal” despite his record, must reconcile their consciences to supporting a man who continually criticizes sex and violence in Hollywood films despite his own resemblance to Star Wars’ Machiavellian Senator Palpatine. Further, Sen. Lieberman, like other so-called centrists, is worse than Bush for the same reason that Pepsi One is worse than Pepsi. Some members of another fractious political group, the progressives, have also criticized Dr. Dean. Since the word “liberal” has become offensive, some people who support traditional liberal causes have taken to calling themselves “progressive.” For instance, www.moveon.org, the popular political action organization that formed originally in response to Clinton’s impeachment, champions “progressive” causes. On a popular progressive news site, www.alternet.org, the media critic and self-described progressive Norman Solomon, who previously battled “Dilbert,” attempted to take Howard Dean to task. Said Mr. Solomon, “Howard Dean has said point blank he is against cutting the military budget. … He also supports the occupation of Iraq, a continuation of a war that he did oppose. I think that’s a contradiction, when we’re spending billions and billions of dollars a month on an occupation that is the continuation of illegitimate war.” While Mr. Solomon may represent the shallow end of the progressive pool, he is not alone in his sentiments. It is not a contradiction, however, that Dr. Dean, realizing that we’ve entered Iraq like it or not, would keep our soldiers there to restore order rather than remove them suddenly, creating a power vacuum, yet for this logic, he becomes less than progressive in one Progressive’s eyes. “Progressive,” however, like “centrist” or “compassionate conservative,” is at best a relative term and is at worst meaningless. The moral of the story is that if we are to understand and control what will happen, we must examine our would-be leaders’ plans and think critically for ourselves rather than latching on to convenient labels. It doesn’t matter that President Bush considers himself a fiscal conservative but, rather, that he has in fact built up a record deficit. It shouldn’t matter what label the self-proclaimed centrists or progressives assign to Dr. Dean or President Bush. One of my teachers challenged us in class on Tuesday to name five living American intellectuals, positing correctly that we’d be unable to do so. Americans, he argued, are disinterested in intellectual discourse, in the process of thinking. If we Americans, however, would critically consider the ideas behind the actions that build our future, then in shopping for a leader we might choose one with the best content rather than one with the most appealing label.
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