Who Will Annihilate Whom?

This HuffPost story caught my eye:

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned fellow Republicans this week, saying President Barack Obama’s inaugural address had convinced him that the president was undertaking an effort to “annihilate” the GOP.

“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me — should be clear to all of you — that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said during a speech at the Ripon Society on Tuesday. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party.”

The story struck me because I had been thinking that the Republican Party was doing a pretty good job of annihilating itself without help from Barack Obama — or anyone else for that matter. Clearly there are deep divisions within the Party among the far right spiritually certain and Tea Party types, the mainline Republicans, the intellectual conservatives (with whom I share many values), the moderates, and the left-leaning Republicans who are open to antithetical points of view (a rare thing these days on both sides of the aisle). There’s even a group of Republicans that has started to pull away from the Party. Given those divisions and the recent failed attempts like those of candidate Romney to please them all, the Party could be said to be on the brink of annihilation.

It is true that Barack Obama has said publicly that he will no longer be “Mister Nice-Guy.” He spent four years trying to reconcile conflicting points of view and play the compromise game — playing it a bit too enthusiastically for my blood. It didn’t work. Now he says he will take off the gloves and get serious. We shall see. It could get interesting.

Consider the fact that a recent report indicates that when Barack Obama was elected to his first term a group of Republican politicians (and their sponsors, I dare say) met in Washington and swore to oppose anything the President attempted to do. For the most part the strategy worked, though the Affordable Health Care Act slipped through the cracks. But the sort of opposition that denies the possibility of compromise a priori makes it impossible for anything to get done — as we have seen first-hand. This last Congress was the least productive on record and the newer version will continue to be unproductive until or unless those who are elected to public office recall that their ultimate responsibility is to further the common good — not special interests or their political party.

But that may never happen. In the meantime, the Republican Party will continue to overwhelm us with its many divisions within its own house and its leaders like John Boehner will continue to point in the wrong direction in his effort to determine the cause.

Who’s Right?

The situation in the Middle East involving Palestine and Israel is so complex that one wonders if things will ever become clear. Virtually every other nation on the planet except for Israel and its staunchest ally the United States believes that the appropriation of land by Israel in that part of the world after the Middle East war in 1967 was illegal if not immoral. The United Nations recently voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine “State” status — over the protests of Israel and the United States. Is it possible that the rest of the world is right and we are wrong? One does wonder.

In the latest chapter in what has become an ugly book filled with violence and mutual hatred, Israel has announced that it is going to expand its settlements in East Jerusalem. However, as a recent news story by MSNBC points out:

The White House  and the State Department said on Friday a new Israeli settlement expansion plan was “counterproductive” and could make it harder to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated this position, adding: “We’re going to be evenhanded in our concern about any actions that are provocative, any actions that make it harder to get these two parties back to the table.”

I am certainly not in a position to say who is right and who is wrong in this situation. I’m not sure anyone is! But this is the strongest language I can remember hearing in the way of a disagreement between the US and Israel. This country is usually foursquare behind every step Israel takes in its ongoing battle with its neighbor. The relatively mild comments above almost sound like scathing criticism. But it is clear that an action such as this planned expansion at a time when the situation is already red-hot and ready to explode seems ill-advised. Indeed, it almost seems designed to provoke a response of some sort.

I have a friend who is married to a Palestinian woman and who insists that Americans are not provided with objective news reporting about the goings-on in that region of the world. This may or may not be  true, though it does seem that we have developed a one-dimensional viewpoint on issues involving Israel and Palestine. I dare say there is right and wrong on both sides of the ongoing conflict and it would be refreshing to know that the news we read is impartial — to the extent that it is possible to read news that is not slanted one way or the other.

But in the end, this situation is a powder-keg waiting to explode and we do know for certain that many people will die in the aftermath. And any steps that can be taken by either side to temper the situation would seem to me to be well advised. As long as the two countries continue to dig in and insist that there is only one right course of action and each of them insists that they are taking that course, there can be no resolution to the situation.

On a much smaller scale, of course, one is reminded of our Congress where the sides are entrenched behind barriers of party loyalties and seem incapable of admitting that they might just be wrong. There lies intransigence: the heart and soul of stupidity and prejudice born of the unwillingness (or inability) to admit we might be wrong.

In Abe’s Footsteps

A fascinating article in USA Today (11/29/12) suggests that some members of our Congress have seen the film Lincoln and have learned from it how to do their job. Right! Believe that and I have some farm land in the Everglades that I want to sell you. These people clearly do not know how to do their job and watching a Hollywood film isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s called “grid lock,” and our government has a bad case of it. The framers had one eye on the English system of government when they were writing our Constitution; they should have kept both eyes on their model. Unlike the English, we are unable to call time-out and hold new elections when the government reaches an impasse such as the one they are stuck on at present. Lincoln to the rescue!

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill) is convinced he learned valuable lessons from the film — which depicts Lincoln’s struggles to get the Congress to agree to the Emancipation Proclamation. “We want to prove that democracy is not chaos,” he said on MSNBC recently. “That’s what we have to prove to this generation.” Hot Damn!!  This is exciting stuff, though it is not clear who the “we” refers to. The film needs to be required of all members of Congress. It’s not sufficient that Dick and a couple of his friends saw the movie.

As we all know the Congress is facing a crisis, which has been called the “fiscal cliff,” to scare the crap out of the rest of us. The Republicans have pledged themselves not to raise taxes — especially on the wealthy who helped them get elected. On the other hand, the Democrats are unwilling to cut social programs that many see as unnecessary and expensive ways to encourage leeches who know only how to put their hands out and take from the rest of us.  But with their eye on Lincoln and their hearts true as steel, they will soldier on in the knowledge that progress (which “is never made by pure means”) is just around the corner and we will avoid the cliff altogether.

There are any number of problems with all this of course. To begin with, there are those who think the drastic cuts in programs — including “defense” — are essential and would not be a bad thing. And the tax increases are long overdue, especially on the wealthy who may in fact be the ones with their hands out. In any event, there is considerable disagreement among experts as to whether or not we will break our collective neck if we fall over the cliff. It is a gamble, to be sure. But it is not the big hairy monster that has been held up before our eyes to scare us to death. More importantly, Congress shouldn’t have to see a movie about Abraham Lincoln to learn how to do its job. This is ludicrous. But when we reflect that these people for the most part know only how to get themselves elected it stands to reason they might draw a blank when it came to the question: what do I do now?

Lincoln was a genius at working with people he disagreed with. He kept an open mind, had infinite patience, and was willing to listen to opinions that differed from his own. It is not clear that today’s politicians can do any of these things. They seem to spend all their time garnering votes and listening to those who think like themselves; they refuse to open themselves to new ideas. As Martha Moore said in USA Today, “It could be seen as alarming that a movie is needed to remind Washington that legislation requires both leadership and compromise.” Alarming, to be sure. But not surprising when we recall that these people are professional politicians who are loyal to the monied interests that got them elected and are focused almost entirely on the next election. Governing this country is not their primary interest or something they are fully qualified to do — whether or not they watch a film about the greatest president this country ever had.

Imagine If You Will

Let’s imagine a bright, fairly wealthy woman in her 40s named Dorothy who decides to go into politics. She has genuine concerns about rising costs of education, global warming, the environment, and the economy. She is a women of strong principles and is convinced that she can help improve her world. In order to run for office, she must attach herself to a political party, of course, since the costs of running a campaign these days are prohibitive — even for a woman who is fairly well-healed as Dorothy happens to be. So, let’s say, she decides to run as a Democrat since she has always tended toward the left a bit and that party seems to be more in sympathy with her concerns.

At this point, we must speculate, but we can make some pretty good guesses: she will have to adopt the party’s agenda as her own, even though she doesn’t agree with all of the items on that agenda. She’s not overly fond of the health care plan the party has endorsed, for example. And their stand on the environment strikes her as weak. But in order to get into the fray, she must accept the party’s agenda. Thus she starts by making a compromise. Or two. Then she meets with wealthy people who want to support her candidacy and as she needs their financial support she agrees to push for several of the items high on their agendas if she is elected. So she makes a few more compromises in order to bring those people along with her.

You get the picture? As she progresses along the path toward election she makes compromises here and there until the agenda she embraces in the end bears little resemblance to the one she started out with. She reasons that once elected she will be able to pursue those things she holds dear. In the meantime, she is focused on her election. As the days and week pass, she begins to realize that once elected she will need to continue to focus on her reelection as that becomes necessary if she wants to remain active in politics. In a word, the election and the reelection become the main focus of Dorothy’s attention and the compromises she has made along the way necessitate that she become a tool of those who have helped her get where she is. Without their assistance, she never would have gotten to first base And she will never get reelected: she owes them all. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Her personal agenda gets swallowed up in the frenzy of becoming elected and then staying in office.

This is a fictional example, of course, but I am convinced there is truth in fiction, even fiction of my own invention.  I suspect this little fiction isn’t far from the truth and if so it would explain why there is so much disenchantment especially among the young about politics in general and disillusionment about certain candidates who have been a disappointment once elected to public office. We now have a breed of professional politicians who are expert at getting elected (and making the compromises necessary to do that) and whose main goal once in office is to remain there. Socrates said long ago that it is not possible for a person to enter the political arena and retain their integrity. I suspect he was right.