For as far back as I can remember it has been an article of faith amongst high minded political thinkers that political parties and party platforms could not be readily assigned an identity as inherently good or evil. That is a very convenient analysis because it leaves the door open for everybody with a stake to be included in the fraternity of professional civility that all of the participants enjoy very much. It is hard to break that thought paradigm but we need to do so without delay. There is a clear line between good and evil in our politics today and now everybody has to choose a side. There is no room for fence-sitting anymore. Truth is good, lies are evil: Choose a side. Helping people is good and hurting people is bad: Choose a side. Honest elections are good, tainted elections are bad: Choose a Goddamned side! Our politics have gotten just that primal and it is actually necessary to speak in stark terms and describe positions in bold colors to make sure that you are not misunderstood by the hayseeds you actually need to turn out and vote in their own best interests.
I will quickly break down how I found my understanding of good and evil in politics and it comes from something my dearly departed mother used to say from time to time. Mom was a church lady from rural Ohio so her sensibilities were decidedly conservative. But because she was very well educated and self-aware, she would rather have poked herself in the eye with a stick than voted for any Republican candidate during the 70’s and beyond. She was a high ranking staff member for Michigan State Senator Jack Faxon when I was a small and I recall regarding him as a nice man but not being particularly impressed by him. When my father would point out the flaws in Senator Faxon (which he did quite often as his true objection was probably to my mother working at all) he derided his weak image and tepid presentation of policy. Mom would always pretend to listen to Dad’s ranting and then just sum it up like this: “Jack really is trying to help people. That’s all I care about.”
Dad was right: this man was not a strong political messenger. Mom was also right: he really was trying to help people. The verdict of the people ran as you might expect: strong and wrong overtook weak and right and the voters of Michigan dumped Senator Faxon for the firebrand Alma Stallworth after a few terms- chasing mom out of politics and into a few shots at entrepreneurship before casting her lot in the non-profit arena for the rest of her life. Something that I would hear on the occasions when my mother forced us all to go to church was to “charge my mistakes to my head and not my heart.” Somebody would say this when they had made a mistake and was seeking forgiveness for their error. And therein lies the simple answer to the difference between the good side (as best represented by the Democratic Party) and the evil side (obviously represented by the Republican Party): The both make governing mistakes, but you can always charge Democrats’ mistakes to their head and Republican mistakes to their heart. When your errors are chargeable to a heart that is in the wrong place, you are on the side of evil. When your errors are chargeable to a head that is in the wrong place, you are on the side of good. These are not moral equivalents.
The state of Michigan is a practical example of this dynamic because the Republicans have politically dominated and had stewardship over the state for a long time now and have effectively gotten what they want policy-wise. And the people are suffering as a direct result. The Flint water crisis, where the Republican government privatized the water supply and poisoned thousands of Flint residents, is the most glaring example. And there are many others- all revolving around an effort to convert a public service into a private profit center and harming citizens in the process. No matter where you are in the country, that theme holds up. Governing is difficult and it is easy to construct a policy that fails to meet its stated objectives. But when your failures invariably lead to somebody you know getting rich and other people getting hurt, your heart is in the wrong place.
A practical example of a failed Democratic policy that has gotten a lot of attention in the last year is the “get tough on crime” measures under Bill Clinton that resulted in mass incarcerations of black American men. That was a very bad result. As a black man I am cognizant of policies that have specifically hurt my group. But I also hate street crime and it was running amok in the early 90’s. Something had to be done- and it was. The “something” just switched one major problem for another. It was not well-conceived and was probably overly politicized but the fact is they were really trying to help. They made a mistake that was chargeable to the head and not the heart. And that is forgivable. Making a mistake in policy because you were not really trying to help people at all is not forgivable. Forcing everyone on food-stamps to take drug tests that they must pay for- and by the way, my golf partner happens to own the drug testing lab- is not forgivable. That is undeniably some evil shit and we need to call it that. Setting up an automated system that flags all unemployment claims as “fraudulent” and rejects them pending an appeal to cut down state payments to people in financial distress is not forgivable. That is undeniably some evil shit and we need to call it that as well.
It would really be enlightening if someone could prove me wrong about this but I know they can’t because this culture issue is baked into the cake and it has been since Americans took up arms against each other in 1861. Here is the breakdown: The North was trying to help people by freeing them from bondage and keeping the country together. The South was trying to keep people in chains and break the country apart. So that is an easy call and there is no relativity here. There was good and evil then, and there is good and evil now. It really is that simple- as hard as it may be to accept. At bottom, those who are reluctant to accept it are probably just afraid to choose a side. And now is a time for choosing.