What’s Next?

“Our side has done a poor job of explaining what it is we’re fighting for.”

– The West Wing

Well, yeah.

If you listen to Rush (and if you do, please find the biggest container of bleach you can and pour it directly into your head [note to the kids: this is called sarcasm. Don’t sue.]), the Left is fighting for the right to give your hard-earned money to crack dealers, perform abortions during the Inaugural, replace the National Anthem with the Loyalty Oath of the Communist Party and generally force everyone to become gay Wiccans.

Now as much fun as it all sounds, I’ve been a lefty since I figured out it was the easiest way to piss my parents off, and I’ve never become interested in Wicca or gay sex, and all the communists I’ve met are frankly kind of boring.

But mocking the Right is a lot easier than actually coming up with a definition for the Left. Look at the blogs, man. It’s like a fight to build the biggest straw enemy, from James “Fuck you, hippie” Lileks to, well, “Fuck you, Rush” me. We all tend to tear down the worst stereotypes of the other side instead of trying to convince one another of our own good intentions.

In the absence of any articulation of a national vision for America, a la Kennedy or even Reagan, it’s hard to say what, in this age of The War on Terror, we’re actually fighting for. The right to shop? We’ve got that, and I don’t think Osama bin Laden’s problem with us is that we buy too many ugly-ass shoes. The right to freedom of religion? Okay, but as far as I can tell Al-Qaeda doesn’t necessarily have a problem with us going to church in Connecticut so much as it does with us trying to do it in Saudi Arabia.

Look, there are specific political beefs “they” have with “us.” I don’t think all of their complaints are justified, and I don’t think they’re justified in any of their methods to try to achieve them. But saying “they hate freedom” inspires directionless fear, not directed and inspired action. It leaves me wondering, “If they hate freedom, what do we hate? More importantly, what do we love? What do we want?”

The question for me, lately, isn’t so much “What does victory look like in the War on Terror?” It’s “Why do we want that victory?” It’s “What are we fighting for?” What do we love about this country so much that we’re willing to overlook its flaws for that inspiring quality.

I love America because we can, if we choose to, use our government as a means to solve problems. Government programs are not necessarily always successful, but failure is better than not trying at all. We have a mechanism to take care of people, and most of the time, we use it well. We give tax breaks to people raising kids and we give financial aid to those kids when they go to college. I pay my tax bill in the People’s Republic of Oak Park and the republic sends a cop through my alley every hour or so in the summer to keep the teenage hooligans from doing anything more dangerous than smoking a little pot and cussing out the kids the next block over. It’s a call and response system and yeah, we have a lot of incompetent assholes in government, but statistically, I don’t think it’s any higher a percentage as relates to the general population.

I love America because we went to the moon for the hell of it and to fuck with the Russians. I want to go to Mars. I love America because Star Trek and Mary Doria Russell are here. Deep down, we’re a country of geeks, because we’re always reaching outward, because if we don’t, we’ll turn back in on ourselves. We’re always looking for the next thing, and if there is a failure of the last 25 years, it’s that we’ve stopped doing that. We need someone to tell us what’s next.

And I think the Left could do that. Cure cancer. Explore the oceans. Solve the AIDS crisis. Feed Africa’s poor. End inner-city drug wars. I think the Left could present a vision of this country that would lift people up and inspire them, that would make the Work Progress Administration and the Peace Corps look like good starts.

I think that would help us understand more what we have at risk than any half a dozen small wars in places of no consequence. You can’t tell people to be afraid, to be ready to fight, without giving them weapons and pointing them in a direction. Right now we’re standing, empty-handed, in the middle of Nebraska, wondering where the hell the front is, and when the general is going to show up.