Jewish World Review July 29, 2011 27 Tamuz, 5771
We Are Stuck With the Present, but Responsible for the Future
By Roger Simon
This is one of my favorite quotations. It is by Adlai Stevenson II. Behind the quotation is an almost never-spoken truth. While we, in the media, constantly blame inadequate, hyper-partisan and often just plain moronic politicians for our woes, we overlook the obvious by never blaming the people who elected them.
If there is an Eleventh Commandment in journalism (though, actually, there is not even a previous Ten) it would be: Thou shalt never blame the people for anything, because in a democracy, the people are holy. Besides, they consume your product and pay your salaries.
Are you angry today with the political theater of the absurd (to call it kabuki is to insult kabuki) now playing on Capitol Hill over raising the debt limit before we reach a default on Tuesday?
But who are you angry with? Who elected these yahoos? They didn't just appear one day like mold in the basement after a rainstorm.
Members of the tea party caucus have argued there is no real debt crisis because the United States can always sell off the U.S. gold reserves or public lands.
Sure, why not? We could sell the contents of Fort Knox to China and the Grand Canyon to Saudi Arabia. I hope France doesn't buy Liberty Island, though. I have always liked the statue that stands on it, and I would hate to see it crated up and shipped back to Paris.
I am not suggesting that democracy does not work — these dimwits were legally elected, after all — it simply does not work as well as we sometimes would like, and our current national obsession is to whine about the results.
Nobody whines more than the pundit class, of which I am a member. A great, wet, oppressive blanket of air has settled over Washington and New York, where most of the pundits live, and this has helped transform their anger into weariness.
Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, one of my favorite columnists, concluded a recent column by saying that if neither the Republicans nor Democrats can come to their senses, "then I'll hope for a third party that does get it and can take us where we need to go."
Oh, boy. Some hope. Third parties take their supporters not "where we need to go" but off a cliff. Everybody thinks Ross Perot gave hope to third parties because he got nearly 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, second only to Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party vote of 27 percent in 1912.
But Perot won no states and got no electoral votes. Since World War II, the only third-party candidates to win states and get electoral votes were two ardent racists: Strom Thurmond and George Wallace.
So if you want to hope for a third party, hope that tea party members pull out of the Republican Party to form their own. That would marginalize them instantly.
Other pundits have formed their own Time Machine Caucus. They point out that the current crisis could have been averted if back in December the Democrats had agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts only if the debt ceiling were raised in exchange.
Eliot Spitzer — OK, OK, the guy likes hookers, but that doesn't mean he isn't a public policy expert — recently wrote in Slate: "Why didn't (Obama) make raising the debt ceiling part of the transaction that extended the Bush tax cuts? ... Recall, extension of the Bush tax cuts added about $2 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years, about the same amount that many of the debt-ceiling agreements would save over the next 10 years."
So, why didn't it happen? Because the deal that Obama brokered kept taxes from rising not just for the rich, but also for virtually every taxpayer in America. It also extended unemployment benefits and cut the Social Security payroll tax, putting money in workers' pockets.
Did liberals like it? They did not. But Obama described the compromise as "a package of tax relief that will protect the middle class, that will grow our economy and will create jobs for the American people."
He just didn't say when.
If he had a time machine, would he go back and do things differently? It doesn't matter. A Hong Kong scientist released a study a few days ago stating that time travel is highly unlikely, even in a souped-up DeLorean.
So we are stuck with the present, but still responsible for the future.
Which brings us to another group of pundits, the Cliffhangers, who believe we will dangle by our fingertips until Aug. 2 —- or maybe obtain a 30-day extension —- but everything will all turn out all right in the end.
Why? Because things always turn out all right in the end for America. Always have, always will. And I would like to believe this. I struggle to believe this.
Meanwhile, Congress has become a fantasy baseball camp where amateurs wander the halls pretending they are major leaguers, emboldened by the power they exert over the Republican conference. There are no more real leaders with real power.
So where is the power today? Where it always is in a democracy. With the people.
"Democracy is a device that ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve," Adlai Stevenson said.
I think this current crisis will become a major turning point in American history. People now realize that our political system is broken and needs dramatic repair, not through a third party, but through the active participation of sane, responsible Americans who have ignored politics in the past.
The real trick is to avoid despair. Good trick. Good luck.
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