Jewish World Review May 2, 2012/ 10 Iyar, 5772
Maintain Your Outrage
By Roger Simon
I am not talking about faith in our political system. Those people who still have faith in our politics are hopeless optimists or hopeless loons. Most Americans no longer "hate" politics, as E.J. Dionne famously put it in his book more than 20 years ago. Now, they simply feel that politics has become irrelevant.
Politics is a titanic struggle with a Lilliputian result: The Democratic Party and the Republican Party grapple daily on Capitol Hill, but the outcome is so pathetically small that one wonders why they bother.
Life, thank goodness, is not all politics. There are institutions that operate above and beyond politics. And how have they been doing in recent years?
How about the Supreme Court? It is a body that remains above politics in order to carry out a sacred duty, a body where justices serve for life, conduct their debates in secret and never answer to the public in order that they might rule dispassionately, free from the demands of partisanship.
Allow me to pause here while I wipe away the tears of laughter (or of sorrow) from my cheeks.
Does anyone still believe this guff? Following Bush v. Gore in 2000, how can anyone still believe the Supreme Court acts other than supremely politically? It was in that case that the court picked a president for raw political reasons: a majority wanted George W. Bush to become president rather Al Gore.
Think I exaggerate? As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
Stevens also wrote: "Time will one day heal the wound to the confidence that will be inflicted by today's decision."
All one can say is that day has not come. The 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, allowing unrestricted political spending by corporations, saw to that.
Once again, Justice Stevens wrote in dissent, stating that the majority decision "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation."
"A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold," Stevens wrote.
Next month, the Supreme Court will announce its decision on Barack Obama's health care plan. Does anyone have faith that that decision will be free from politics? And, in fact, we are told we must choose our presidents with an eye to the Supreme Court appointments they will make, appointees who will agree with their politics.
But forget about the Supreme Court. There are other institutions that we can believe in.
Like the Secret Service, for instance. An institution whose reputation is impeccable, incorruptible, unblemished and, oh, yeah, a national joke. After "Hookergate" in Cartagena, Colombia, and allegations of "Strippergate" in El Salvador, David Letterman joked Friday: "Brad Pitt is getting married to Angelina Jolie. You know who's planning the bachelor party? The Secret Service." And President Obama joked at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner Saturday night, "I had a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew."
And there are new rules for the Secret Service. Like no sex while running alongside the presidential limousine. (OK, so I made that one up. But it's a good idea.)
It has been a bad few years for national institutions that we never used to question. Take Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 300,000 veterans, two presidents (John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft) and other famous departed, as well as the Tomb of the Unknowns. Arlington's official mission is to "lay to rest those who have served our nation with dignity and honor."
Which it has since 1864, except for a chaotic management system, exposed by Salon in 2009, which allowed thousands of graves to be misidentified, bodies to be buried atop one another, burial urns dumped together and millions of dollars wasted. Two top administrators were forced out. One, Arlington Superintendent John Metzler, said: "Sure, mistakes get made. ... Does anyone run a perfect organization?"
One wonders. Remember all those politicians, camera crews in tow, trooping out to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, crowing about the wonderful treatment the wounded were getting, but never reporting, as The Washington Post did in 2007, roach- and rat-infested facilities, walls covered in mold and how "disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs."
There are other institutions we used to have faith in: our presidents, the Congress, Amtrak, and a postal system where, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
All problems are being worked on, corrected or, some will insist, never existed in the first place.
But every day, there seems to be a new institution — the schools, the media, big business — that tries our faith. We must struggle to maintain faith, but we must also struggle to maintain a sense of outrage, because without our outrage, nothing will be forced to improve.
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