Silence Is Not Golden

In the face of the recent shut-down of the E.P.A. (for all intents and purposes) including the directive to all employees to basically keep their collective mouths shut, one must object and do so loudly. I swore I was not going to allow myself to get all riled up by what this man does — after all, we saw this coming, didn’t we? — but the attempt to gag a Federal agency cannot pass unnoticed, especially an agency that can prove the lie that climate change is a Chinese hoax.

In looking for Voltaire’s famous comment about one’s right to speak, I came across an equally pithy and even profound comment that I would like to elaborate upon:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

This is indeed profound and so very timely because it appears as though this Administration is losing no time whatever in doing precisely that, making us believe absurdities. What else is the nonsense about “alternative facts”? It appears as though the plan is to confuse the citizens of this country with alleged facts which are made up on the spot — such things as the claim allegedly made by Trump that the Women’s March on Washington was in protest over Obama’s presidency. If it weren’t pathological it would be funny. But it is pathological, it is becoming an almost surreal pattern.

One must hope that the Congress, fighting as it is with one hand tied behind its back, will not be cowed by this man and will stand in opposition to this blatant attempt to silence dissent and force-feed untruths to a stupefied public. One would also hope that members of the Fourth Estate would stand up and scream “foul,” but so far they have not shown the courage to take this man on. He is fearsome and clearly capable of silencing the media by simply telling them what he wants them to hear or refusing to allow them into his daily briefing sessions or press conferences. I am reminded of the shell game where the object is to confuse in order to win the game.

If the attempt to silence the media and bring it to heel succeeds this country will be in very serious trouble indeed. With the Newspeak that is coming out of Washington coupled with the recent attempt to shut down the voice of the E.P.A. in order to keep people in the dark about what is and what is not happening to our planet, we are closing in on the next step Voltaire notes, the commission of atrocities. Voltaire knew whereof he spoke and we would do well to listen.

In the meantime we must hope that members of Congress who still have a conscience — and there appear to be a few of them remaining — will speak out against the latest blatant attempt to gain control of the public mind. The rest of us can write to our representatives and hope they read and respond to what we write — and take action. And we can pray that the opposition to this most recent attempt to keep us all ignorant is opposed with loud and coherent voices. Silence is not golden. Not in this case.


The Game of Politics

Perhaps like me you have been besieged by requests for funds from Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana who will have to engage in a runoff election because the Senate race in her state was too close to call earlier this month. Initially I was sympathetic with her requests, because prior to November 4th it was not clear who would control the Senate for the next two years and I had been told repeatedly that the apocalypse would be upon us should the Democrats lose their majority in the Senate. I hoped the elections would be close, but the Republicans opened their massive corporate campaign chests (thanks to the Supreme Court who gave them the key) and took out gold by the buckets-full to assure the Republican Party sufficient victories in what has become a political farce of monumental proportions. In any event, I later read that Landrieu was planning to introduce a bill in the Senate to promote the Keystone XL Pipeline and I gagged. I was confused: a Democratic Senator, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, initiating a movement to support a project that every environmentalist worth his or her salt has opposed? But then it occurred to me: Landrieu is playing a political game. Of course.

The idea, obviously, is to win enough votes from the citizens of Louisiana to allow her to maintain her Senate seat: the end justifies the means (right out of Machiavelli’s Prince).  She seems determined to entice a few hundred apathetic voters away from their television sets or simply draw some of the independent voters her way since the pipeline project promises jobs to her state (now where have I heard that one before??). The problem is that she may lose many of the Democratic votes she had won in early November — especially if the voters realize that she is playing a game, and a dangerous game at that.

The game is dangerous because it could cost her the election in the end, as noted. It is also dangerous because the pipeline is predicted by those in the know to place the country at risk of an environmental disaster. But while a great many voters pay lip service to a concern for the environment, in the final analysis it doesn’t matter as much as the issue of the economy. And as long as people buy into the false dichotomy — either jobs or the environment — then jobs will win out among the majority of folks who can’t see beyond the tips of their noses. So many Americans are still blind to the fact that some problems cannot be solved and that at some point the damage we are doing to the environment will be irreversible, at which point the question of jobs will be moot. Some experts have said the Keystone project is the tipping point when it comes to protecting the environment. We shall see because despite the fact that when, as promised, Landrieu introduced the bill in the Senate recently it failed to pass by one vote, nonetheless the Republicans are confident that when they gain control of the Senate and House next year this bill, or one like it, will pass with flying colors. Then it is simply a question of whether the President will have the courage to veto the bill — and whether his veto can be overridden.

Despite the fact that he has both hands now tied firmly behind him, President Obama has vowed in his final two years in office to fight the battle of climate control, to become known as the environment president. This would be preferable to leaving office having a reputation of being a pleasant, glib, but totally ineffectual president with one of the lowest popularity ratings ever. Presumably this means Obama will try to thwart any bill coming out of the Congress that promotes the environmentally dangerous Keystone XL Pipeline. We shall see, Thus far he has not shown himself to be a man of either courage or principle, which has been very disappointing. But he does have two years left to at least make his presence felt, because he is right: the environment, protection of our planet, is a major concern, if not the major concern, and should always trump any question of jobs — especially when environmentally safe, renewable energies have shown themselves capable of generating thousands of jobs and thereby proving the falsity of the dichotomy mentioned above — jobs or the environment. We can have both.

But in the end, politics is not a game at all and Landrieu’s tactic is doubly disappointing. It shows that she will risk endangering the planet in order to curry votes and that she is not a woman of principle; she is just another politician. Some experts predict her tactic will backfire and that she will lose out to Bill Cassidy, her Republican opponent. We shall see. Indeed, we shall see a great many things in the coming years. Hold onto your hats!

In The Aftermath

Welcome to the age of hyperbole where an increasingly tongue-tied population attempts to describe what is going on around them and cannot “find the words” without using superlatives or clichés.  This happens daily but was nowhere more evident than in the recent horrific events in Boston where 3 people were killed and more than 170 injured in two bomb explosions. Interviewers asked dumb questions of eye-witnesses who could only pause and say “it was tragic; it was huge, I can’t explain it.” We have come to the point where the word “tragedy” simply leaps to the tongue whenever something terrible happens. The Greeks, who invented the word, distinguished it from “pathos” which is mere sadness, even extraordinary sadness; they reserved the word “tragedy” for those terrible, and terrifying, events in which a noble person brings his world down around his ears through his own blindness and stupidity. But that has changed and only a pedant would insist that we reserve the word for Greek tragedies. No other word seems to suffice. The term has legitimately come to mean any unexpected event in which innocent people are hurt or killed — though we use it even more loosely than this, of course, when we describe the ACL tear the running back suffers in a vicious tackle as “tragic.”

In any event, it is certainly the case that the bomb explosions in Boston recently were terribly gut-wrenching, whether we want to call the event “tragic” or not. And at times it is hard to find the words to express our grief and outrage. But if we do insist on calling the death of three people and the injury of more than 170 others, a tragedy, then we must agree to use the term to apply to the death of men, women, and children in the Middle East where as many as 880 innocent people, including 176 children, have been killed in drone strikes that have taken an estimated 3,325 lives only 2% of whom were the militant leaders who were targeted. These are estimates, of course, and they probably err on the low side. The Obama administration is not forthcoming about the effects of the drone strikes and this in itself is unsettling. We are certainly not informed about these figures on a daily basis, nor shown film or pictures of the carnage, as we were (and still are) on TV following the explosions in Boston. Indeed, the photo here is a rare one showing the aftermath of a drone strike in Pakistan that involved a number of civilian deaths, including this child.

Child killed in drone attack

Child Killed In Drone Attack

But we must remember that we are the ones responsible for those deaths and that destruction in the Middle East which is many times greater than what happened in Boston. So while we pray for those who suffered or died in the aftermath of the bombings in Boston, we should take a moment to pray for those innocent people who are dying on a regular basis in crowded cities on the other side of the earth as a result of decisions made by our government. They, too, suffer. And their loses are as meaningful to them as ours are to us.

We may find it hard to find the right words to express our feelings and describe what is going on around us, but whatever those words are we should make sure we acknowledge that they apply to other people as well as to us.  No one who engages in these sorts of attacks on other human beings is in the right. And if we are convinced that those who planted the bombs in Boston are evil people who should be punished, it raises serious questions about the culpability of this nation as it prances about on the world stage flexing its muscles. We have become an increasingly bellicose and arrogant country of late and while it hurts to say so, there are those around the world who might insist we have this sort of thing coming.

The NRA On Hypocrisy

I get the feeling that this fight is about to get really ugly: the latest in the battle that is ongoing over gun control involves the mean, personal attack the NRA is running that charges the president with “hypocrisy.” Consider the following lead paragraph:

In a sign of how brutal, emotional and deeply personal the coming battle over gun violence is likely to be, the National Rifle Association on Tuesday accused President Barack Obama of hypocrisy for having the Secret Service protect his daughters even as he opposes the NRA’s call for armed guards in schools.

The vitriolic ad also calls Obama “elitist.” This word, of course, is aimed at the blue-collar rifle owners the NRA is keen to convince Obama wants to disarm. It’s a sure-fire “scare” term that is guaranteed to piss someone off. I have even seen it used against the liberal arts, if you can imagine, in an effort to cast aspersions on studies directed at improving the mind but not preparing students for work. It does seem to be effective in that it persuades people — and that’s the object. It appeals to the emotions, not the brain. And the charge that Obama is a hypocrite is also designed to get the knees jerking among the intellectually challenged.

The fact of the matter is that Presidents have always required protection — as do their families — because there are folks out there carrying guns (as permitted) who would just as soon kill them all. And kidnapping members of the President’s family is always a very real possibility. He is in a special, very public, position and it is not hypocritical on the President’s part to want the children of less public folks to be protected against nut-cases who carry assault weapons into schools. And Columbine has shown that having armed guards at the schools is not the answer: it just sells more guns. Obama’s concern is born of what appears to be genuine empathy for the parents of those whose children were massacred in Connecticut.

And, speaking of hypocrisy, those who live in glass houses should be careful about the stones they throw. Congress is opposed to gun control, for the most part, yet they have metal detectors at every entrance to their hallowed halls to make sure a madman doesn’t wander in and start shooting. So if the NRA wants to target hypocrisy (sorry!) they had best start with the folks they sponsor and help get elected to public office — those who toe the mark and do as they are told and who will therefore be able to count on reelection the next time around. And speaking of hypocrisy, it seems just a bit hypocritical for the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA and clearly have the most at stake in this gun control game to pretend they give a tinker’s dam about the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

But I think the most disturbing thing about this fight over gun control is the fear and hatred that are being stirred up by those who have decided to take the gloves off and fight bare knuckles. The level of discourse keeps getting lower and lower. But we now live in an era of fear and suspicion — and personal attacks funded by corporations whose only concern is with profits — where the emotions are carefully played like a fine instrument by people skilled at producing the melodies they want to hear. I think I can hear the orchestra tuning up in the background. Brace yourself!

Taking On Big Oil

I am just ornery enough to think if Lisa Jackson pissed off the dirty energy industry she must have been doing a terrific job as director of the EPA. However, she will be stepping down after four years of scrutiny, second guessing, and downright nastiness from people like the Koch brothers surrounding her attempts to put teeth into environmental protection. As a recent Yahoo news story tells us:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The past four years of U.S. environmental regulation was marked by a crackdown on emissions that angered coal miners and power companies. Over the next four, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency will have to decide whether to take on an even larger industry: Big Oil.

Following Lisa Jackson’s resignation on Wednesday, her successor will inherit the tricky task of regulating a drilling boom that has revolutionized the energy industry but raised fears over the possible contamination of water supplies.

The battle between the dirty energy industry and environmentalists has been going on for years and centers around the untenable dichotomy: either jobs or the environment. One gets tired of pointing out that we can protect the environment while at the same time we create jobs. But, while true, the statement falls on deaf ears, since when Big Oil says “jobs” it means “profits.” It is clear, however, that clean energy can provide thousands of jobs. It already does. Despite the lack of any solid support from the government, the solar industry, for example, already provides more jobs than the coal industry.

But Big Oil has poured billions into fracking in an attempt to extract cheap oil and gas from underground. It has a vested interest in continuing to exploit the earth and those jobs assuredly are at stake. The problem is that the fracking process contaminates millions of gallons of water — which is going to become increasingly precious — thereby rendering it useless for human or animal consumption. Jackson has said in public that the process can be made safe, but studies now underway will prove whether she was just saying what she was coached to say. In any event, Big Oil has put the screws on Jackson and waits to see who President Obama will nominate for the position she vacates to take a well-earned vacation.

Speculation is that Obama will be reluctant to nominate an environmental “hard-liner” because of the precarious condition of the economy and the fact that the energy industry is one of the few bright lights on the economic horizon, and oil is one of the few bargaining chips this country has to play in the international game of survival poker. But Jackson’s experience has shown that even a strong person may wilt under the constant attacks of the monied special interests who pull the strings in Washington. Compromise is possible if the person heading the EPA is tough enough to stand up to Big Oil with its bottomless pockets. A weak person in that position will almost certainly prove to be ineffective — and that  is something future generations will live to regret. This may prove to be another example of short-term thinking directing political decisions; money provides the fuel. It’s getting to be a tiresome story.

Pointing The Finger

In a provocative story in HuffPost we find the Republicans blaming hurricane Sandy for the predicted loss of their Presidential candidate. Instead of talking of the devastation and suffering the storm has caused, or the likelihood that this storm is the first vivid sign for a great many people that the planet is in fact in danger, the talk instead in the Republican camp — especially by “Republican strategist” (read “mega-doner”) Karl Rove — is about how the storm halted their candidate’s momentum. Consider Rove’s comment:

“If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the [Mitt] Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” Rove said. “There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney’s] advantage.”

Obviously this comment was made prior to election day. It would suggest that the brain trust within the Republican party was reading the handwriting on the wall and preparing to find someone or something to blame for their loss. It can’t possibly be the result of their man’s inherent inconsistency, his recurring gaffes, his ineptitude, or his proclivity for telling untruths and then denying that they are untruths. It has to be the Frankenstorm…… or something.

I find this story interesting on two counts. To begin with, it suggests that these people are more disturbed about the storm’s impact on the election than on the thousands of people who are struggling to put their lives back together after the worst storm to hit the Northeast in recorded history, or the fact that this storm portends future catastrophes that might in fact dwarf this one. Secondly, it suggests a mind-set that looks for excuses somewhere else: it’s not us, it’s them (or in this case, it). The lack of sympathy for the victims is especially galling. Note the further comment:

Putting all campaigning aside, [New Jersey Gov.] Christie repeatedly commended Obama’s outreach and support in a rare show of bipartisanship — the kind the president has been promising to pursue if he wins a second term. Earlier on Saturday, Politico reported that the Romney campaign was frustrated by Christie’s recent show of affection for Obama, another sign that they felt their candidate had been placed in a losing position on account of the storm.

Again the lack of sympathy for their fellow humans and nothing kind to say about one of their own who had the audacity to show his gratitude to a politician from the other party. Christie, as expected, apologized to the Republican leadership and came back quietly into the fold. He aspires, after all, to be the Republican Presidential candidate the next time around. In any event I don’t yet know who will be our next President. But I sincerely hope it is a man who has people around him who have their priorities straight, who know what is important — that the suffering of their fellow humans is more important than winning an election. And I also hope they are people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

Selling The Presidential Product

I swore to myself that I would not kick the dead horse of the debates again, but like New Year’s Resolutions, this one evaporated quickly: I read an opinion piece in Yahoo News dissecting the last presidential debate on foreign policy. I knew going in that Obama should be the stronger voice in this arena, given Romney’s gaffes in England during the Olympics and his untimely remarks after the disaster in Libya. But what I did not anticipate was the degree to which this debate, like the others, is really all about image and making the right impression in order to win a political contest — and what this implies for the rest of us Consider the following remarks by Jeff Greenwald, opinion guru of Yahoo News:

There were times during this last debate when I almost thought I could hear the words of Mitt Romney’s advisers playing in his head:

“Look, big guy, you’re on track to win this thing. What they want to see tonight is a calm, confident leader, unthreatening, informed, unruffled. So don’t get up in Obama’s grill. Bring the conversation back to the economy when you can, and be the reasonable, credible Commander-in-Chief the voters want.”

In a word, create the impression that you are the man who these people want running the country for the next four years. Forget about the truth; forget about principles, and even about foreign policy; forget about strategies for strengthening the tattered reputation of this country in the Middle East; forget about how we might best deal with warring political and religious groups elsewhere in the world. Just smile and look calm and in control. Your audience tonight will be mostly women because their husbands and brothers will be watching sports, so your job is to bring them into the fold. As Greenfield said further on in his analysis:

Rather, his [Romney’s] challenge was to stand—or sit—face to face with the incumbent president and demonstrate that he could credibly argue matters of state, in the face of a debate foe determined to thrust and spar at every opportunity. Without question, Obama came into this last debate knowing that his presidency is hanging by a thread, in large measure due to his remarkably weak performance in the first debate. There was no opportunity he let pass.

If Greenfield is right, and he knows more about this sort of thing than I do, then those who plan debate strategies know that people don’t listen carefully; they just want to get a warm feeling after they watch another TV performance. This debate was carefully staged as one more form of entertainment on a night when the debate itself had to contend with Monday Night Football and the seventh game of the National League Baseball Championship between the Giants and the Cardinals. Know your audience and tell them what they want to hear.

Obama’s election is “hanging by a thread” because he failed to perform well in the first debate. How bizarre! I have always said these debates are about image and impressions. But the really disturbing thought is that the voters in this country buy into this crap; they are willing to be manipulated by image-makers and marketers into buying the candidate with the most sparkle. The debates are really about who a great many voters will cast their vote for — on the basis not of political records and probable performance in the highest office in the land, but about how a man looks on TV in a 90 minute debate with a political opponent who is working hard to create an even stronger impression. The founding fathers must be proud!

Unequal Opportunities

The number of words that have poured forth after Romney’s gaffe about the 47% of Americans who don’t pay taxes (the “Obama supporters”) makes me somewhat reluctant to add my two cents worth. This is especially so since I have already addressed this issue. But that has never stopped me before, so I will push ahead!

Any number of commentators have mentioned that the 47% of Americans who supposedly don’t pay taxes do, in fact, do so — including payroll, sales, excise, and property taxes; the benefits they receive, such as social security and medicare are from money they paid in when times were better. The people who don’t pay taxes, relatively speaking, are the wealthy folks like Mitt Romney who have a smaller percentage of their income taxed than do the folks like you and me. But that being said there was the other part of Romney’s speech that was equally troubling. I speak about the conviction of Mitt Romney and the wealthy in general that they made it on their own — you know, born on third base convinced they hit a triple. That of course is hogwash. No one makes it on his own and studies have shown that those who make it big time in this country are the ones who had a foot up at the start — the rich just get richer. This is no longer a country of equal opportunity, though the Romney camp would insist that the poor are simply lazy and could make it if they just got off their collective butts and borrowed $20,000 from their parents to open their own business. [He actually said that and please note his assumption that the average young person out there can simply ask Mom and Dad for $20,000! This tells us a great deal about the world Mitt Romney lives in.]

One of the people to shed the most light on this subject is Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who wrote the following paragraph as part of a lengthy rebuttal of Romney’s speech to well-healed Republicans:

…, many of those receiving benefits are our young — providing them education and health (even if they or their parents don’t pay taxes) are investments in our future. America is the country with the least equality of opportunity of any of the advanced countries for which there is data. A child’s life prospects are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in these other countries. While the American Dream may have become a myth, it doesn’t have to be that way. Children shouldn’t have to depend on the wealth of their parents to get the education or health care they need to live up to their potential.

This is an important point in my mind. I have remarked before about the death of the Horatio Alger myth but wasn’t aware of the studies Stiglitz refers to. We need to think about the fact that this country was conceived as a community of persons brought together by common interests and hopes. We need to take care of one another when we are down and out — not turn our backs on each other. The founders deeply believed in the notion of “public virtue” which takes us outside of ourselves and leads to selfless acts of kindness — all of which strengthen the community as a whole.

But by 1816 Thomas Jefferson, for one, was already beginning to worry about the lack of public virtue in the form of narrow self-interest exhibited by the increasing numbers of corporations hell-bent on making as much money as possible. He hoped “that we shall take warning and crush at its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of the country.” To which Mitt Romney replies: “Corporations are people too.” In any event, those who run our largest corporations are the immensely rich who do not care in the least about community and would insist they made it to the top of the pyramid on their own.

However, if someone makes it big he assuredly owes it to those — in addition to his parents —  who made it possible. To turn one’s back on others who fall on hard times and ignore them as lazy and unmotivated is to ignore the fact that as a community each of us depends on others along the way. Romney’s attitudes, reflected in numerous comments he has made (in or out of context) reveal him to be a man with no sense of history and no awareness of the innumerable people who have helped him get where he is today.

Those Annoying Regulations

I wouldn’t be a politician for all the tea in China; they can’t win for losing. A case in point is the matter of regulations. Obama is criticized by the conservatives for being “regulation-happy” when according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs he has been responsible for fewer regulations than any president since 1992 — a fact which brings criticism from the political left which thinks there should be more, not fewer, regulations.

Even more interesting is the fact that in an election year large numbers of regulations that have been passed simply sit somewhere in an office in Washington “wrapped in red tape” “under review” waiting for “experts” to move them along. They are in limbo and aren’t part of the warp and woof of our political world. They have been passed but haven’t yet been passed, if you catch my drift. This year, for example, a number of so-called “expensive” regulations — those that might reduce the profits of the large corporations and further weaken the economy (along with some that are regarded as “controversial”) simply gather dust waiting further review, even though they have been passed and approved. These regulations, according to USA Today (July 27, 2012), include such things as “four rules required under last-year’s updated food-safety law.. .[including] improved controls at food processing facilities and stricter standards on imported foods.” In addition, waiting activation are regulations to reduce exposure to silica dust, regulations to require rear-view cameras in automobiles, and the like. Some regulations would appear to be essential to our health while others seem a bit esoteric and even pointless. But they have not been activated because this is an election year and someone might get upset — someone with a fat check book. This tells us who carries weight in Washington, in case we were in doubt.

Liberals want more and tougher regulations and see the important ones gathering dust and complain loudly. But they carry little political clout so their collective voices are not heard. The corporations do not want the “expensive” regulations passed — such as the regulation to reduce silica dust — because they will cut into profits and therefore hurt the economy. This is the familiar argument that regulations (the result of an overgrown government) cut into profits resulting in cut-backs and “downsizing” (not to mention outsourcing) and the economy is further crippled. Here we have the old bifurcation fallacy: either jobs or the economy. I have discussed this error here and here. Despite the fact that it is a flawed argument, it is heard, of course. This is most interesting: politicians have determined that the economy is more important than health and human welfare. And apparently we agree with them because we keep electing the fools.

Until the regulations have been fully “reviewed” and approved they cannot be put into effect even though passed by the Congress. And since the mid-term elections the current  Administration has been reluctant to pass along many regulations and the best guess is that it will be quite a while — at least until after the elections — before the regulations are put into effect, especially the “expensive” regulations. And this despite the fact that regulations that are pending could help improve our quality of life and reduce health risks, such as heart and respiratory problems that result from poor air quality.

We need to reconsider what we mean by the word “expensive.” Some things may cost money, but even when it is a great deal of money it is cheaper than poor health and early death from causes that could be eliminated or reduced through government regulations — especially those that have been passed but are “pending” until further review — i.e., until it becomes politically expedient to move them along.

Political Discourse

The political scene has always been a bit trashy. One can look back at the early elections in this country and find numerous examples of name-calling and trash-talking between political candidates. Those candidates could sling mud with the best. But the level of trash-talking seems to be escalating with time and has reached new levels. One must simply adjust and acquiesce — or tear one’s hair out to no purpose. But one must also regret that the level of discourse has dropped so low. At the level of the Presidential race, especially, one would like to think the candidates would be shaping their political agendas and informing the voting public what their plans are for the next four years. Instead we read stories like the following:

WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) — President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have one campaign strategy in common: Each is trying to convince voters that his opponent in the closely contested race for the White House is not trustworthy.. . .

Romney’s campaign said Sunday that Obama is willing to say anything to win a second term and should say he’s sorry for attacking the Republican’s successful career at Bain Capital.

“No, we will not apologize,” the president responded, adding that if Romney wants credit for his business leadership, he also needs to take responsibility. The Obama campaign says that with Romney at the helm, Bain Capital sent thousands of well-paying American jobs to China.

One is reminded of little boys in the school yard after school calling one another names:

“You’re an idiot!”

“Oh Yeah? You’re an idiot!”

“You’re a bigger one!”

“Oh yeah? ”


“Well, I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say about me bounces off me and sticks to you!” [This, of course is the equivalent of the triple-dog-dare and there is no possible rejoinder. Unfortunately, there is no such response in political exchanges: they can go on forever.]

Such an exchange, however, doesn’t advance the argument much does it? It doesn’t inform of instruct. It just makes noise: sound and fury signifying nothing. I have blogged about “uncivil discourse” back in March, and we expect this from little boys and from people who rely on text messaging. We don’t expect it from grown men and women in the public arena though it seems to be more and more commonplace.

One would hope that elections would bring out the best in people. Instead, they seem to bring out the worst. But we must realize that the level of political discourse that seems to be dropping lower and lower reflects the level of discourse in this society as a whole where vocabularies have shrunk and tired and underpaid teachers seek the latest technical toys to give their entitled and spoiled students what they want rather than what they need. In effect, we are getting what we deserve.

Our attention spans have grown shorter and our lives busier than ever. We are bombarded on every side from morning until night with images and thought bites, most of which we filter out. We have lost the ability to listen and to speak intelligently or write a coherent sentence. We don’t have time to stand in the hot sun for hours as the folks did in Illinois to listen to Honest Abe and his opponents address critical issues of the times. I doubt that we could do it even if we were willing. And clearly we are not willing. As a people we are terribly ignorant of our own history and focused almost exclusively on the economy. As long as we can pay the cable bill and have beer in the ‘fridge we are content. If not, we’ll vote the bums out of office!

If a candidate were to stand up and declare himself or herself for the public good, to address the real issues of the day in no uncertain terms, and to sketch out a viable plan about how those problems might be addressed there would be precious few who would listen. And those who did would doubt: we have become jaded and skeptical of all political promises. And with good reason. But this is not likely to happen anyway. Instead we will get the shouting and name calling. It’s what we have come to expect in politics. And it may very well be just what we deserve.