I heard on the radio that presidential candidate Joe Lieberman is running ads in New Hampshire attacking Howard Dean for his Confederate flag comment and for not accepting federal campaign financing.
All I could think of was, "Wake this guy up, already. Doesn't he know the parade has passed? Won't someone tell him that the paradigm has shifted."
Paradigm means "model" or "pattern." "Paradigm shift" describes an event, cataclysmic or quietly unnoticed, which changes the direction in which the world, or part of it, is moving.
For example, this week is the 40th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy. On that dark day, the paradigm shift was from a relatively safe and predictable America to one filled with uncertainty and hidden dangers. We had a young, well-educated and intelligent president, and then, suddenly, we had Lyndon Johnson, the Vietnam War, riots in the streets, and an almost unending line of substandard leaders.
Paradigm shifts don't always come from world events. Music, for example, is full of them. Miles Davis always said he changed the course of music several times, and he wasn't bragging _ it was true.
The Beatles brought about a musical as well as a cultural paradigm shift. The Boston Globe's Ed Siegal writes about it this way:
"Presley, for all the great music, was really a throwback - to John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, the "rugged individualists" who were alpha males in manner, conservatives politically, contemptuous of women, and dismissive of anyone who didn't agree with them...The Beatles gave... an alternative... Finding your group, based on shared values, was more important than striking the 'lonely teenager' pose."
The election of 2000 shifted the prevailing paradigm in a major way. Before it, who thought that the presidency could be stolen? After Election Day, most of us expected the Republicans and the Democrats to go back to their corners and wait for the recount. It would have been the decent, right, democratic, American thing to do. Here in Vermont, we do it for every close election.
But that's not what happened. When the dust cleared we found ourselves the victims of a coup d'état.
Then, while many of us were still in shock, instead of attempting to reach out and begin a healing process, the right-wing Republicans who had seized power began ramming down our throats the most radical agenda of our lifetimes, including preemptive and aggressive international wars, the bankrupting of the American government, the development of new nuclear weapons and the destruction of the environment in the name of profit.
Even if there was merit in the Bush Administration's agenda, there was no attempt to educate or sway the public, no attempt to build consensus. Instead, those of us who asked questions were threatened, lied to and treated with contempt. John Wayne had trumped the Beatles.
Sept. 11, 2001 brought another huge paradigm shift. One moment Americans were relatively secure, free and safe, and the next moment we were frightened and vulnerable. One moment we believed in the sanctity of human life and thought that suicide was caused by depression and could be cured. The next moment we learned that people were willing to kill themselves in order to kill us.
An interesting thing about a paradigm shift is that some people recognize when one has occurred, and others do not.
The latest paradigm shift has come from the Democratic presidential primary, courtesy of Dean, a most unlikely agent of change. He's a Rockefeller Republican who never met an energy company he didn't like. He was not a friend of Vermont's environment. He went into the closet to sign the state's civil unions bill.
But when half the nation - excuse me, half the world - took to the streets, trying to prevent a unnecessary war in Iraq, Dean was the only presidential candidate who stood up and said, "Hell, no, we shouldn't go."
John Kerry and Lieberman can whine and call Dean politically incorrect when he says he wants to be "the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." But they voted for the war on Iraq. They're members in good standing of the herd of sheep who went along. They're the establishment. They don't get it, and the press doesn't get it, but they're over. They're dead candidates walking.
The great folk singer Greg Brown speaks for many of us when he sings, "I want my country back, and a good dream to stand up for... I don't feel at home here anymore."
Dean is saying the same thing. "We know what happened to Enron," he said, speaking this week in Houston. "Moral bankruptcy led to fiscal bankruptcy. And the ethos of Enron is where our politics and policies have led us in America... When the people take back their government from the powerful few who control it, we will be able to make real change for the future of our country."
A few years ago, Dean happily would have been in Enron's pocket. It's a question for the ages whether he has had a real change of heart or is acting entirely out of self-interest. I, for one, would love to ask him. But when push comes to shove, he's on the right side.
Millions of us want our country back. We want an America which treats immigrants with kindness and cares about the poor, ill, hungry, and disenfranchised. Which respects working people, and is concerned because millions sit in jails while huge corporations profit from their misery.
We want an America with the intelligence and strength to respond to world events with suppleness, craft and wisdom instead of rigid antique dogmas. We want an America which has enough common sense to know that you can catch more flies with honey than by advancing with nuclear weapons on the millions abroad who look to America for freedom and democracy.
Bush has lots of money, and his TV ads, when they come, will be a sight to see.
But the paradigm has changed. Dean isn't just leading a campaign, he's leading a movement. The 2004 election is just a question of numbers. Let's hope that there are enough of us to get our country back.<
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who lives in southern Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.