At least two, maybe three, wonderful freedom-enhancing things happened at midsummer. First, the hideous and wholly inappropriate observation tower at Gettysburg National Battlefield was blown up and is being hauled away by the Park Service. And second, for the only time in seventy-something years the PRI, the torpid and tainted establishment party, was defeated for the presidency of Mexico.
Though both may appear to bear more symbolism than significance to the average American, their weight is equal to their appearance. In the one case, a decent respect for history was finally allowed to overcome the profit motive. In the other, the banking-utility-manufacturing-agricultural oligopoly that has run Mexico since Pancho Villa finally began to split apart.
Neither of these outcomes was inevitable. It remains to be seen if they are sustainable.
One useful result of the Mexican election was to remind observers of the annus horribilis of 1988. All three countries of North America had elections that year. It will be recalled by the retentive that the one in the US was advertised, the one in Mexico was stolen, and the one in Canada was bought.
Just as the cancerous Lee Atwater used the image of a black prisoner to belabor a popular governor on behalf of a sitting vice president in 1988, the PRI used its dominance of the apparatus to fake the vote count in a spurious computer collapse. Both these are fairly well known instances of popular opinion being taken advantage of. Only those of us with Canadian connections know that, in order to artificially prolong the dismantling of the Canadian safety net, multinational money flooded that nearby, yet invisible, country on behalf of the Tories.
It is as well to remember the lengths to which the owners of private assets will go in order to mangle, diminish, or otherwise misappropriate public assets. And it is even better to remember that the struggle against their doing so is a political struggle.
Aristotle reminds us that the Greek ideal of leisure was that time in which one takes care of public matters such as politics, art, theatre, music, and family recreation. A Greek slave was a man or woman who had no leisure, who had no public existence. Greek slaves were such things as architects, painters, musicians, actors, doctors, and all kinds of middle management. Only the Greek landholders were full citizens. In modern workaholism we seem to have created two classes of leisureless (slave) consciousness: those who have too little to be able to relax, and those who have too much to want to.
Among the slaves of the stock market this midsummer a shiver has struck. Across the usual corporate earnings reports in the business pages floated a tide of dire prediction. Insofar as the Internet is the forefront of the new economy, there may be a ray of hope in the falling stock market. For it is being discovered on the Internet that the advertising model of revenue generation no longer works.
This is the third hopeful sign of midsummer. After a century of intense advertising gradually taking over from taste, productivity, and sense, the meretricious flame of cheap results may have burned itself out.
Articles in the Financial Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer all pointed to changes in Internet businesses in "dot.com land." The shifts they chronicled were all away from banner advertising revenue for sites and toward other models. Not that the subscription model favored by newspapers is winning. No, the current favorite seems to be away from advertising to consumers and toward supplying other businesses with tools or services.
Unfortunately for all of them, the actual structural model for the Internet is the public library, that exercise in socialism founded by Benjamin Franklin in colonial Philadelphia. You belong, you have access to the collection. Trying to support the Internet on the inefficient profit model instead of the clean, clear taxation/public service model is an error I suppose we were bound to make at this stage of our spiritual development as a country. But that does not mean we need to persist in it.
The punditocracy takes much slovenly and misplaced glee in attacking Al (Stick) Gore for claiming to have invented the Internet. Well, from his position supporting scientific spending in the US Senate and as Vice President, Al had a great deal to do with making the Internet happen. Moreso than George (Shrub) Bush, Jr. had to do with, say, making the Texas Rangers ballclub into a success while Shrub was figurehead of the team.
So if even the Internet economy is noticing the inherent weakness of one of capitalism's more wasteful manifestations, namely advertising, a certain grim smile of satisfaction may cross the phizzes of us community-based activists and public advocates. And it seems less and less likely that all the advertising the Republicans can pay for in October will save them the House, the Senate, and gain them the Presidency.
They may run it close. We have a struggle in my district to catch up to a six-term Republican moderate Congresscritter who votes for the leadership of Tom Delay and other Neanderthals at every opportunity, and then votes with the Democrats on final passage when the outcome is assured already. We are not, technically, a swing district but are trying our best to become so. I recommend this course to all of you. Vote Nader or whoever you like for President (in honor of the Supreme Court's three members aged 70 and over I am sticking with Gore) but be sure to vote Democratic for Congress and Senate. In 2000, we have a little better chance than in 1988 to make sure our political interests are neither advertised, stolen or bought. If the PRI and the Gettysburg Tower can fall, anything can happen.
James McCarty Yeager's teen-aged children often jump from a rope swing along the banks of the Potomac River above Little Falls.