Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Creating Positive Change

In September 1984, I visited the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union with a People-to-People tour organized by the Society of Women Engineers. We traveled to Shanghai, Bejing, Moscow and Leningrad over the course of two weeks. China was just beginning to open up to Western visitors. In Beijing, we were housed at the Diaoyutai State Guest House, in the same quarters that Henry Kissinger used while opening diplomatic relations during the Nixon administration. We were in the USSR just after Andropov had died, Chernenko was in power, and Gorbachev would take over in a few months.

I was struck by how different the attitudes and outlooks were between the two cultures. In China, where they were getting ready to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the PRC's founding, the attitude was "yes, there were grave mistakes made in the past, but together we are building the future!" The people were optimists, proud of their accomplishments, forward-looking, and very curious about us Americans.

In Russia, where almost 40 years after the end of WWII sugar was still rationed, the propaganda line amounted to, "If you only knew how much we suffered under the National Socialists (Nazis), you'd understand why we haven't gotten anywhere." The people tended to be morose, passive, and seemingly proudest about the glory days of the Czars! (The post-war restoration of Petrodvorets, the Summer Palace, is an amazing story in its own right. The Nazis had razed it during the seige of Leningrad, leaving only the foundation and one wall standing.)

I tell you this tale because I see a similar attitudinal divide between the Democrats and Republicans. And attitudes matter. I wrote after the 2006 elections:
The stories we tell ourselves say a lot about what we want to do, and what we think of ourselves. Stories help us tether abstract ideas to the real world, providing concrete examples of the principles the leader wants us to consider. The language we use is important, for it can inspire us or depress us, encourage us to find new answers or chastise us for trying to change the system. We can imagine the best of all possible worlds, or worry ourselves into a pit of despair.
The Democrats denigrate this country, lecture her people, and belittle our accomplishments: change for them is couched as being against what is wrong.

The Republicans celebrate this country, encourage her people to greatness, and build on our accomplishments to make America greater and stronger ethically, economically, and spiritually. Fred Thompson said to the RNC:
[W]hat we're doing at this convention is also important to our country, because we're going to nominate the next president and vice president of the United States of America.

We do so while taking a different view of our country than that of the other party. Listening to them, you'd think that we were in the middle of a Great Depression that we're down, disrespected, incapable of prevailing against challenges that face us. Now, we know that we have challenges. Always have, always will. But we also know that we live in the freest, strongest, most generous and prosperous nation in the history of the world and we're thankful for that. [Emphasis added]
I still remember President Reagan and his ability to inspire me with his vision for our country. He was an aspirational leader, preaching hope and high ideals:
And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way. My fondest hope for each one of you -- and especially for the young people here -- is that you will love your country, not for her power or wealth, but for her selflessness and her idealism. May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here.

May all of you as Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism. And finally, my fellow Americans, may every dawn be a great new beginning for America and every evening bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill.

President Reagan delivered this speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston.

Related posts:
Inflection Point
Changing the Conversation

Update: Check out Dr Sanity's post, "GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION"
...McCain, with a little help from Palin, in a short time has suddenly made most of the non-committed Americans realize the kind of change they really want:
-They want to be proud of America again and not be constantly told how 'evil' it is;
-They want America to get on with winning its wars without all the PC posturing and military bashing;
-They want government to help the less fortunate, but not to tax those who work hard to the extreme; while financially rewarding those with poor judgment and a grand sense of entitlement. Americans want to help out "the little guy"--probably more than any culture (and we are the most giving culture in the world); but we help them so they can get back on their feet; not so they can constantly put their hands out for more. As a culture we still believe there are consequences for bad judgment and behavior (though sadly, that attitude is becoming more politically incorrect every year as more and more "victims" vie for cash handounts and special treatment).
-They want government not to stand in the way of the their life, liberty and the pursuit of their happiness.