Everyone’s a critic

Everyone’s a critic

It has been a while since I posted a column here and it isn’t because of writer’s block exactly. A while back I decided that I would not use this space solely for the purpose of criticizing others unless I also had some suggestion for a solution to the situation I was criticizing. Isn’t it time to focus on what needs to be done instead of what is wrong?

As the Obama team is being assembled I am impressed with the direction he has chosen – competence over ideology. As a sometimes far-left progressive, I am more than happy to put aside personal ideals in favor of simply getting government working again. After what some have claimed was an eight year project to destroy the effectiveness of government, that would be a major accomplishment.

Likewise in the current financial meltdown, my own lack of expertise has led me to offer a few suggestions but decline to attack those of others, even in the face of what appear already to be serious missteps by the current Administration.

It seems to me that more than anything else in these times is developing a sense of community, common goals and building trust and cooperation. We have been engaged, as a nation, is so much divisiveness and harsh criticism for so long we may have lost sight of the need to pull together. One good thing about the economic crisis is that we may be forced to do so for our survival.

While a healthy democracy requires a vigilant and critical look at not only government but ourselves, it takes much more than that – it takes each of us finding what common ground we can and speaking to what binds us together at least as much as what divides us. There has been precious little of that for decades now, and we are suffering the consequences.

I am not advocating “happy talk” nor glossing over errors or omissions. What I am suggesting is that I, and maybe others, are tired of the harping, nitpicking and constant stream of negativity that has so dominated public discourse for so long. Doug Thompson writes today of the corrosive effect of partisanship. I would add that it goes deeper than that.

Not only in politics is partisanship eating at our fabric, but it extends to all levels of our culture. Little is left of our ability to consider the welfare of others when we speak and act. Thankfully there are many among us who center their lives on just such considerations, but there are might forces working in other directions.

Rampant commercialism is as much the source of our problems as any partisan politics. Personal ethics have devolved to seeking advantage for oneself with little concern even for family or friends in too many cases. Parents abandon marriage with little real regard for their children. And as they age, many among us have nowhere to turn but limited resources of government.

What I like most about President-elect Obama is his apparent commitment to bringing all of us together, abandoning labels that divide us in favor of facing our problems as one people. This is the spirit that America excels at in times of grave need. It is the America we are all proud of and it is the real “change we need.”

Let us embark together in a new direction of cooperation, comity and holding our tongues when we feel the urge to criticize others. Everyone may be a critic, but not every criticism is helpful. We are sorely needing to work together and a commitment to doing what we can for our common good.

That is the real patriot’s course.


  1. jlmccreery

    Well said, Phil. I’ll second that. And, for those who want to look a bit deeper, allow me to recommend the Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Bauman argues, quite persuasively I think, that our current habits of criticism emerged as a response to totalitarianism, when they were absolutely essential to carve out a space for freedom in a world where freedom seemed to be dying. Now, however, “Well, that’s just your opinion” trumps reason. We need to rebuild a public forum in which mutually respected rules for evidence and argument make it possible to get beyond our current Punch-and-Judy shows.

    John McCreery

    If you are a U.S. citizen and live outside the USA, register to vote and request an absentee ballot.


  2. curmudgeon

    10,000 problems… not all will be resolved on January 9. This is time to watch for movement in the right direction, to remember that miracles are rare.
    Right on, Phil!

    this too, shall pass

  3. claypigeonbx

    Freedom and Justice for All!

    I certainly agree with the basic premise of this article. And, all other things being equal, I salute our President-elect for his decisions to choose cabinet members for their expertise. One of the things I admire most about Mr. Obama is his obvious professionalism.

    But I remain very worried about our country. I think we chose well in the recent election, but I’m really not sure how much difference that will make, even in the long run. (I expect it to make very little difference in the short term; the problems are too big to yield to any kind of “quick fixes.”)

    But what really concerns me is corporate power…the kind of corporate power described by John Perkins in his books and in his interviews. It really has seemed throughout the Bush administration, that the “economic hit men” and the “vultures” have come home to roost. And that maybe they have been pulling their dirty little tricks in this country since…oh, shall we say…1963?

    Or do we really want to go on pretending that we just don’t see the elephant in the room?