Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2012/ 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5773
Those dumber than you
By Roger Simon
This quotation, from Adlai Stevenson, is one of my favorites. I have used it in the past because it sums up all the hopes of our democracy and all of its perils.
Good presidents, bad presidents, liars, straight shooters, strong presidents, weak presidents — we’ve had them all.
A poor child born in obscurity can overcome great barriers and become president.
A wealthy child born to privilege can use his affluence and connections to maneuver his way to the highest office in the land.
Either can be great. Either can disappoint.
Our ability to peer into the souls of our politicians is limited. Heck, sometimes we can’t even peer into their tax returns.
Our media, for the most part, do their best. They try to see what is behind the curtain and expose the truth. They try to report without fear or favor.
But they are up against an enormous industry of consultants, managers, ad-makers, image crafters, manipulators and smoke-blowers.
If the media manage to convey a few slivers of truth about the candidates, we should count ourselves lucky.
“We have to work together,” Mitt Romney said Monday while campaigning in Virginia. “We’ve got to be united as a nation.”
“We’re all in this together,” Barack Obama said Monday from Wisconsin. “We rise and fall as one nation and one people.”
Yet, nothing drives us further apart every four years than our national elections.
Rarely, to use the famous phrase of Abraham Lincoln, are “the better angels of our nature” appealed to.
Instead, we are barraged with ads that do not just play to, but encourage, our prejudices, fears, hatreds, suspicions and divisions.
Our democracy depends on expressing the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority.
Yet Washington has descended into a zero-sum game where there are only winners or losers. Compromise, which should be the very essence of our modern political system, is scorned. And with neither side able to attain total victory, Congress has decided that inertia, lethargy and torpor are preferable to cooperation.
We are told by both candidates that we are engaged in a great national struggle between fundamentally opposing views of government. One side wants to use government to solve problems, and the other wants to limit government in order to unleash individual initiative.
But don’t kid yourself. Whoever is president, he is unlikely to solve the greatest problem facing our country today: Washington is the place where dreams go to die. There is no desire for unity in our politics, only the desire to be reelected.
This means our politicians appeal to the extremes and not the middle — assuming such a middle actually still exists.
I am not saying it does not matter whether Obama wins or Romney wins. It matters a great deal. Abolishing our national health care system, which is barely in its infancy, would be a huge step backward. Promises of tax cuts, increased military spending and a balanced budget are a fantasy wrapped in a delusion. A foreign policy based on belligerence could lead us into endless conflict around the world.
And making war on women and immigrants is not the kind of war that makes us stronger as a nation.
Climate change? Urban policy? Poverty? Gun violence? Maybe our presidential candidates will get around to seriously discussing those issues. Next time. Or the time after.
Leon Trotsky once said, depending on which translation you believe: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
He meant that you can ignore thinking about unpleasant things, but those things may often end up controlling — or even ending — your life.
You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
It is traditional at this point to urge everyone to vote. Unlike paying taxes or serving on juries, which are the only other things that our government asks of us, there is no penalty for not voting. Nobody will arrest you or fine you or put you in prison.
But you could be placing your future in the hands of people who may be dumber than even you.
And do you really want to risk that?
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate