Mulhall column: A comrade by any other name
As an occasional writer, I’m sometimes asked, “Do you mind if I change what you wrote?”
I answer, “No.”
I normally care about the person asking, so I add, “As long as you make it better,” not as an obligation, or even as a suggestion, but as an acknowledgment that improvement is always possible — providing you understand what you’ve got.
A lot happened last week: Former Colorado governor and presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper threw socialism under the bus, the Washington Post published a George Will column on individualism, and the last “Chernobyl” episode aired.
As a backdrop, Chernobyl, a five-episode HBO miniseries, portrayed what life around Pripyat, Ukraine, must have been like just before and after the 1986 nuclear explosion.
It’s a good period piece, with fluorescent lighting, concrete block construction, and enough government cascade green to make everyone look ill.
There’s some conjecture, mainly about how the RBMK reactor exploded, and some biological stretches, which make good drama, but there’s some truth too, like the Soviet’s slavish deference to the apparatus of state.
A major theme is an observation about the former Soviet Union made by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: “One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny.”
Solzhenitsyn’s was a hypothetical statement, of course. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, about Chernobyl few had quit lying, even those who knew the truth, in part or whole.
In the USSR, truth was what the state said it was, and many forget truth had nothing to do with what you thought.
Chernobyl’s final episode aired June 3. It’s worth streaming.
Three days earlier, on May 31, the Washington Post published an excerpt from a new book by George Will under the title “Is the individual obsolete?”
In one passage, Will writes, “The more that individualism can be portrayed as a chimera, the more that any individual’s achievements can be considered as derivative from society, the less the achievements warrant respect.”
Empty individualism is one attribute that distinguished the former Soviet Union from America. You don’t have to listen very long to Democrats to hear Soviet echoes.
A familiar case Will points to is the “you didn’t build that” campaign. First uttered on a political stage by Elizabeth Warren, repeated by then-President Barack Obama, and dutifully replayed by our news media, it portrayed the individual as a manifestation of government.
Why would you do this?
Well, if your ideology values collectivism, the American individual needs toned down.
A few days later, on June 2, John Hickenlooper said in a speech before the California Democrat Party convention, “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer.”
For this, Hickenlooper got roundly booed.
It was a risky bet, akin to pouring Trump bluster into the ears of California Democrats.
Not a great idea (unless you’re Trump).
Strategically, there may have been no better way to pull a long-shot candidacy back from the brink of full-on campaign obscurity.
But did Hickenlooper really mean it?
Before his foray into Colorado politics, Hickenlooper was quite the entrepreneur. In 1988, he opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. Some might argue Hickenlooper “didn’t build” Wynkoop, but no one can deny he sold it for a tidy profit.
Hickenlooper’s positioned himself to pick up centrists when Joe Biden gropes the wrong teenager or spikes another speech. And, there’s ample time to tack left, which Hickenlooper will have to do to pick up Sanders’ socialists.
Yes, last week was a reflection of where we are on the political stage heading into the summer of 2019 — smack dab in the middle of Democrats trying to settle on the party’s collective view of “the individual.”
None of their definitions stand a chance of improving the American idea, however, for few, if any, understand what we have.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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