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Regurgitations

Regurgitations

There is a Peter Gabriel song called “We Do What We’re Told” which seems to pretty much capture our modern society. Considering all the information we have at our fingertips, we seem more inclined to regurgitate things that other people say rather than do the research to find out if we’re being told the truth.

I will cop to being that way myself. I tend to find my information from Rachel Maddow, Mother Jones and other liberal sources. Once in awhile I’ll drop by a conservative website but generally I find the ones that I’ve been steered to so virulent in their diatribes against the President that you wonder if there really is an element of racism to the complaints. I’m quite sure my liberal friends will find a similar elitist bias going on at the sites I tend to visit; if I am being honest, a lot of liberal sites tend to characterize conservatives as redneck anti-intellectuals who are not only uneducated but distrust anyone who went to college. Strictly speaking, that’s not true. While there are certainly some conservatives who fit that description, there are an awful lot of college-educated conservatives who are pretty sharp thinkers. I’ve heard some things even out of Jim Boehner’s mouth that have given me pause for thought.

Which makes the recent Republican strategy all the more incomprehensible. Shutting down the government and risking defaulting on our bills? We are playing with the possibility of creating an economic crisis that will make the 2008 financial meltdown look like a cherry bomb on an atomic testing range. I understand the hatred of the Affordable Care Act; after all, they’ve attempted to repeal the damn thing more than 40 times. However, holding the entire country hostage essentially until the President and Senate Democrats agree to defund it? Did they honestly think that this kind of strategy would be successful?

Polls show that the popularity of the Republican Party right now is lagging just behind having a root canal without Novocain. It is at the lowest that it’s been since polls began to ask about the popularity of specific political parties, roughly about 40 years ago. Mostly it is the work of Tea Party Republicans who in their reactionary zeal have dragged their entire party near to if not over a precipice. Less radical Republicans like Peter King have called for a vote to end the shutdown and give up on this fool’s errand. Even John McCain has stated that Obamacare is the law of the land and that to attempt to defund it would be fruitless.

There are some pretty smart people on the other side of the aisle – not every thinker is a blue state liberal. I get the sense that now that the Republicans have achieved their aim of shutting down the government, they’re not quite sure what to do next. Some of the things coming out of their mouths tell me that they don’t have a real understanding of just how bad things have gotten and how much worse they’re going to get. Some deny that the debt ceiling will have any effect on our economy at all – a point of view nearly every respectable economist disagrees vehemently with. Some are saying that the country is actually better off without so much government and that they haven’t noticed much of a change.

Of course, we have to remember that these are wealthy people who don’t rely on government programs to feed their children. They aren’t members of the military whose family relies on the paychecks and services that the government issues. They aren’t families of soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice who aren’t receiving death benefits so that they can go collect the remains of their loved ones and arrange for their funerals. Instead, they prefer to lament about the national parks and monuments that are closed because of their own actions and blaming the whole thing on the President.

The last I heard, nobody put a gun to their heads and asked them to shut it all down. As far as I know, they came up with that pointy-headed little idea all by their lonesome. The least they can do is nut up and take ownership of their actions but instead, alarmed by the poll numbers and seeing their strategy backfire, they’re trying to shift blame like the cowardly weasels that they are. They may well have damaged their own party for years to come; certainly if this ship can’t be righted people are going to be much more critical at the ballot box.

It’s time to stop regurgitating the same old party line and do the right thing. At least keep the lights on while intelligent, meaningful debate on the budget goes on. I get that there are some issues which aren’t resolved and I get that there needs to be negotiation. However, it doesn’t need to be done under the barrel of a gun. Our government has lost the ability to govern responsibly; if we can’t trust our elected officials to do that, what the hell is the point in even having a democracy? Why not find some tin can dictator who may be despotic but at least will keep the government running efficiently? Of course I’m exaggerating but our democracy is plainly broken. Fixing it is going to take more than repeating memes that while sounding good in sound bytes do little to fix the fundamental problems that need serious attention from the governing bodies of this nation.

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

One of the iconic lines from The Wizard of Oz occurs when Dorothy first takes a gander at Oz after the twister transports her house into Munchkinland. Holding her dog in her arms, she gasps “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We use that line ourselves from time to time when we find ourselves in a situation or place that is different, bizarre or unsettling. I think the statement is perfect for the American political landscape (although, from a political standpoint, Kansas isn’t in Kansas anymore but more on that later). Our nation has become politically bipolar, fiercely divided upon party lines and completely paralyzed.

Does anybody besides me get the feeling that it has become more important to be right than to find solutions? Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped listening to each other. We’re so sure that we’re right – our opinions buttressed by media pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity – that even entertaining compromise is like becoming a traitor to our cause.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else is. It’s no secret that my political leanings bend to the left. It is also no secret that I have several friends who feel more comfortable on the conservative side of things. Some of them I am able to have intelligent conversations about our viewpoints with whereas others are basically all caps shouting matches on Facebook whenever one of us posts a political meme on our walls. I think that’s pretty much true for anybody these days. We all seem hell-bent on convincing others to the righteousness of our cause while at the same time being completely intractable for our own. It’s a recipe for disaster.

That disaster has come to pass. We now have a government that is completely dysfunctional. Both sides seem far more willing to score political points than to actually accomplish anything that might help the majority of the citizens who elected those running our government. Bills that benefit the very rich seem to get quickly and quietly passed.

Sure, there are a few politicians out there who I think are worth something – Elizabeth Warren, for one. Chris Christie for another (I’m willing to give props to anyone who will stand up to their own party in order to help citizens in need regardless of what party that is). Most of them however seem far too concerned with their own self-interest to devote any time or attention to the interests of their constituents.

There are times when I think both sides of the political spectrum are tails being wagged by the extremist whacko dogs on both sides of the aisle. While one side screams “Benghazi!” the other one yells “Racism!” We seem to be paying attention more to sound bites than to actual legislation. Whoever shouts the loudest must be right, I guess.

Remember when Kansas used to be sensible Midwesterners who could be counted upon for stability  (although some Missourians would argue that point) and common sense? Now they are rapidly becoming known for being the home of the Westboro Baptist Church as well as the State that essentially outlawed abortion literally citing the Bible as their legal source. Excuse me? I’ll bet these are the same yahoos screaming about Sharia law during the last election.

Back in the day the term “the Silent Majority” was coined to denote the millions of Americans who neither protested the War nor advocated it; they were if anything on the conservative side but mostly, they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace and really didn’t want their sons marching off to some Asian hellhole just so Bell Helicopters could keep their military contract humming.

Today the Silent Majority still exists but they have seen the advent of the Tea Party and the Christian right, both of whom claim to represent them. I’m here to tell you that they do not. Today’s Silent Majority is a bit more liberal than they were 50 years ago; they’re all for gay marriage and stricter background checks on gun sales but in no way shape or form do they want guns banned. They want the deficit reduced and the budget balanced but they don’t want their entitlements (i.e. Medicare and Social Security) touched.

The Silent Majority is what they’ve always been – moderate. Unfortunately, moderate politicians seem to be about as numerous as wheelchair hockey players and with a future as bright as that of the polar bear. We have gotten to a point in our history where in order to get noticed a political candidate must come off as extremist. Once again, it’s the person who shouts the loudest who gets our attention. I often wonder if someone like Dwight Eisenhower could have been elected president in 2012. I doubt he would have gotten past the first round of Republican debates.

We have entered the era of the whacko. Where wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and wild-mouthed Rick Perry can provide political satirists with plenty of material for their monologues but provide little in the way of legislation that creates desperately needed jobs, repairs a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure or helps improve our education system. The only education legislation that seems to be going through is that which allows banks to charge higher interest rates on student loans but who is going to pay those loans off when there are no jobs to go to after graduation?

This is our fault. We’ve become too lazy to care enough to actually listen. We’d rather have things boiled down into a six or seven word statement we can get behind and go back to surfing the Internet. How many of us have actually looked at a candidate’s platform? How many of us have listened to an entire speech, or read a piece of legislation? The last of these is understandable; most bills are so convoluted and poorly written that even a well-trained lawyer who understands the legal terminology within has a hard time following what’s being said.

I’m not sure what the solution is but this much I think is clear – things are going to be a lot worse if we don’t get our collective heads out of our collective derrieres. We need to stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other. Most importantly, we have to stop electing extremists on both sides and start getting moderates like Christie and Warren into office. We have to pay attention what the scoundrels in Washington and our own state capitals are doing. And we need to stop holding our politicians up as demagogues and understand that not everything promulgated by the right is evil, not everything that the left proposes is perfect and vice versa depending on your point of view. In other words, we need to start working together. To paraphrase one of our founding fathers, we must all work together or fall separately.