Wednesday, February 24, 2010

functionality before change

This past Sunday, in The New York Times, Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat from Indiana, outlined why he will leave the Senate at the end of this year at only 54 years of age and still strongly supported in the polls. He says that Congress has become dysfunctional, which is certainly no revelation. Among causes for the dysfunction he sites “strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.” Sounds to me like the Senate, and the nation, is losing one of the few people who gets it.

Meanwhile, as the Congress whirlpools in its dysfunction, Tea Party activists keep showing up at rally’s and Town Hall meetings around the country. They show up with a lot of anger and few good ideas. They seem to be awash in contradictions. They wear ‘We the People’ on their t-shirts and reference the Constitution at nearly every turn as they harp for smaller government. They seem to be unaware that the Constitution empowers the government to intervene and help its citizens. Scroll down to Article I, Section 8, Powers of Congress, which states “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” Not only is there a constitutional directive for Congress to provide for the ‘general welfare’, but there is a sensible one as well. When I think of opting for less government and less regulation I think our naivety is exposed. After all the banking, insurance, investment company and bailout crisis we have endured how silly is it to think that ‘Corporate America’ would ‘do the right thing’ all in the spirit of good business practices. I also wonder exactly how many activists calling for smaller government are ready to forego future Medicare and Social Security benefits.

The other side of the aisle hasn’t fared much better though. The Democratic majority has yet to deliver solutions for health care premiums sharply on the rise and the double digit and flat lined unemployment numbers. The current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, is now trying to figure out how Anthem Blue Cross of California can justify a 39 percent rate increase to some of its individual policyholders. In Washington, there is not much hope that meaningful medical or spending issues will be resolved. And pessimists seem to outnumber the optimists regarding even a modicum of reform.

On the job front, I suppose dysfunction is the forerunner as well. We allocate a great deal of money to fight wars all over the world. But rebuilding our aging infrastructure of bridges and roads, which would produce needed jobs, is continually underfunded. And it is not just Congress that is dysfunctional. It would make sense to bring new technology that is green and renewable to market on a massive scale for the sake of jobs and a brighter future. But, either to condemn carbon ‘cap and trade’ or to infer science from a few snow storms, the newest cessation of common sense by many is to refer to global warming as a hoax. It seems to defy our logic to trust, for example, NASA’s ability to grasp scientific concepts over those of many politicians or commentators with an agenda. Add to that, our behavior over the last forty years of foreign oil dependency has not fared well for our functionality either. Yet we seemingly want to stay the course.

Considering the rule that most situations are not quite as good or as bad as they seem I suppose this contagious dysfunction is not cause for all doom and gloom. At least one bright spot appears in learning that Sarah Palin’s approval ratings have slipped in the polls since her keynote speech and palm reading episode at the Tea Party Convention February 6th. It is difficult in this environment to uncover a majority opinion among Americans on an issue that makes sense. But a recent ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST poll, put out in the days following Sarah Palin’s speech in Nashville has shown some promise. The poll reports that 55 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Palin and 71 percent of Americans think Palin is not qualified to be President.

Tomorrow, President Obama will convene a bipartisan summit in Washington to once again attempt enacting workable and meaningful reform for America's system of health care. Perhaps, and God willing, another majority opinion that makes sense will come together in this nation.

(C) 2010 Christopher's Views

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

state of the rhetoric

I know it works for some, but being a ‘happy idiot’ and foregoing awareness has rarely provided lasting results in my own life’s experiences. And so I think that President Barack Obama’s attempt at frankness during his Q&A/therapy session last Friday with members of the Republican Party in Baltimore was understandable. For the most part, civil behavior ruled the day. But, in the end, I don’t think the political machine of the Capitol will respond much differently, or be interested in further analysis. I may, however, be able to envision a reunion for a game of chess perhaps. Planning one move ahead could be good practice.

During their meeting Obama said ‘we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality.' I would love to see this happen. But where do we start? And are politicians really equipped to even know how to do this? The reality of politics is that any pointed comments about the lip service of another party, no matter how well intentioned, are typically not well received by the other side. Politicians are not introspective. Elected leaders are pragmatic at their best and in denial at their worst. More than likely, the goal here will be to prove the ‘other guy’ more rhetorical. The President fairly stated that the rhetoric comes from both sides. And the proof is easy to find.

The Obama Administration has focused an inordinate amount of time and energy on health care reform this past year. I think this would have been great if we had something to show for the effort. But we don’t. What we have is national unemployment that has been averaging between 9 and 10 percent for many months. Some individual states like Nevada with 13% and Michigan with 14% unemployment are struggling even more. And specific segments of the work force, such as graduating college students (ages 20 to 24) are dealing with unemployment percentages in the 16% range. In the days leading up to the State of the Union address last Wednesday jobs were called priority number one. Without substantive job creation so far by the Obama Administration, couldn’t that be considered rhetoric? Even at the Florida high-speed rail project, which Obama visited on Thursday, construction jobs are not expected to begin until 2011.

Politicians aside, the rhetoric is hardly just contiguous to Washington D.C. It permeates throughout the American landscape. I have CNN, FOX NEWS, CNBC and MSNBC bookmarked on my desktop because I try to be informed of various opinions. I occasionally listen to both liberal and conservative talk radio when I am in my car. Far too often I am turned off by hosts or guests on these news outlets zealously defending every single move of the party they support. It’s just impossible to agree with any individual, or any organization all the time. Though risking credibility, many continue to beat their drum.

Appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live the night before Obama’s address, Stephanie Miller, liberal radio talk show host of The Stephanie Miller Show, was so over the top in her support and anticipation of Obama’s speech that Penn Jillette, a libertarian and guest on the show, posed a tongue-in-cheek but appropriate question. Seemingly tired of Miller’s unalterable passion for Obama, Jillette queried ‘What could Obama say that would make you not agree with him?’ Thankfully, upon being drawn out, an enlightened and comedic Miller replied ‘He would have to come and pee on Larry’s desk. I don’t know.’

180 degrees to the right in opinion and 360 degrees back to chancing credibility, I listened to The Rush Limbaugh Show on my car radio while taking lunch the day after Obama's State of the Union Address. Limbaugh, the well known conservative political commentator, read a piece he called ‘Dear Mr. President.' I thought it was anything but endearing. I found it to be a rambling attack on President Obama in which Limbaugh said of Obama ‘It’s time to man up.’ He accused The President of having ‘no tolerance for debate or dissent.’ Limbaugh continued down a derisive path and felt it was important to remind Barack Obama that ‘Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky are not our Founding Fathers.' During his oration, he even somewhat theatrically called out to Obama ‘You are delusional. You are delirious.’

I am not a fan of unbendable support or exaggerated ramblings. But I certainly wouldn’t want freedom of speech to be a casualty of my disdain for this form of rhetoric. I would just rather debate ideas that flow from thoughtfulness as opposed to ideology. And our nation needs some quick thinking on a myriad of issues including jobs, taxes, deficits, banking, investment company regulation, security, climate change, energy, wars, terrorism and yes health care—just to name a few.

I am a believer in awareness. Clarity though is a step ahead. The Obama loyalists will be forever supportive of him. The hard line conservatives will be against him. And the GOP is what it is. They are the other party, hoping to forge ahead or play to a stalemate. The latter seems most plausible when realizing that effectively clearing gridlock involves putting commonsense movement over self-important movement.

Obama needs to gain back the middle ground. And the only way to do that is with results. Yes, he inherited a yeoman’s task. But Bush is gone now-we all know that history. Perhaps great speeches, debates and reflection can come later. Right now, the country needs jobs-that is the present. Currently, the focus needs to be much more on the unemployment ticker and not the front door of the GOP retreat house.

(c) 2010 Christopher's Views