By Lynn Paris
It’s Time To Take A Break
I made one New Year’s resolution that I implemented on the first of January. Well, not really a resolution, but a decision. I didn’t watch any of the Sunday news shows, not “Meet The Press,” or “Fox News Sunday,” or “This Week” or “Face the Nation,” all of which I had DVR’d religiously each week and watched Sunday afternoon, usually after church, when I was feeling nice and peaceful and filled with compassion. And then I’d listen to what I considered to be lies and distortions and hypocrisy repeated over and over again (predominantly by the Republican candidates for president and/or members of the conservative right in Congress) until I found myself filled with very little peace and a whole lot of anger and frustration. And that, unfortunately, would set the tone for my week.
So, I have decided to take a break from politics. For some reason, I’ve been taking it all too personally, beginning with the whole health care debate after Obama was elected. I’ve been letting the divisiveness and what I’ve seen as Republican intransigence get under my skin and then I’ve tried to use logic to convince my readers about what I believed to be rational and fair, if they’d only just read my column and reflect upon it. What death panels are you talking about? What do you mean take your hands off my Medicare; it’s a government program!! How can you NOT raise taxes on the 1 percent? I did a lot of ranting.
Of course, that was simply my monthly exercise in futility, since I wound up mostly preaching to the choir. When I first began writing about politics, I used whatever means available to engage the opposing viewpoint; I tweeted and posted my column on Facebook and pretty much begged someone who disagreed with me to take me on. I had a few takers, at first, but as it became more and more obvious to those readers that I thought their opinions were ridiculous, they dropped off. It would be like me reading Glenn Beck, I suppose.
Then last night, while we were having dinner and watching football, “60 Minutes” was suddenly on and I found myself staring at Eric Kantor doing an interview with Leslie Stahl. I should have turned it off immediately since this was obviously going to be political, but my curiosity got the better of me; I wanted to see a different side of this guy who has seemed to epitomize conservative inflexibility and narrow-mindedness. And I did. He was hanging out with his kids, who said he was cool . . . he admitted to liking Jay-Z and Lil Wayne . . . really? . . . and his wife was totally charming, telling Stahl that she was pro-choice and not opposed to gay marriage. Clearly, there was a lot of compromising going on right in the Kantor house!
But when Stahl began questioning Kantor on just that subject, compromise, he retreated to evade mode. I give her credit; she pushed harder than most TV reporters have been doing lately, asking him repeatedly to explain why the Democrats seemed willing to compromise by including both revenue and huge spending cuts, even on entitlements ― while the Republicans refused to consider raising taxes on the super-rich to bring in new revenue. He couldn’t answer; he continued to say that he was willing to cooperate, but no one should compromise their core principles. Stahl then said that even his idol, Ronald Reagan had compromised by raising taxes, but Kantor wouldn’t budge. Even as “60 Minutes” played a clip showing Reagan telling the American people that his tax increase was a compromise, Kantor regurgitated that Reagan had never compromised. It was like arguing with a doorknob.
And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with my political rantings and ravings . . . trying to convince people who need to believe the sky is yellow that it’s blue.
Kantor has no choice. He and his cohorts need to remain intransigent if they want to keep their jobs. For that matter, Obama has to remain part-pragmatist, part idealist if he wants to keep his. They all have to play their roles and I’m beginning to believe that none of it matters; it won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the end. Because none of them has any real power. None of them can change the course we’re on.
At least, that’s what Lawrence Lessig, the author/economist who wrote Republic, Lost, has put in my head with his theory about how big money corrupts our government ―both the left and the right. According to Lessig, moneyed special interests wield such extraordinary influence over our political system that there really is no fix, or certainly not one currently being put forth by either party. Neither party is motivated to find a solution, either, because politicians, no matter how well-intentioned, depend upon the existing, highly corrupt system if they want to remain politicians.
If he’s right, and I admit I’ve only read excerpts from his book and not the whole book yet, then we’re in for more of the same for a very long time. After all, Obama came in pledging, and I believe wanting, to reform government, and found it impossible. As Lessig points out, the list of problems that never get resolved is endless:
“ Bloated and inefficient bureaucracies; an invisible climate policy; a tax code that would embarrass Dickens; health care policies that have little to do with health; regulations designed to protect inefficiency; environmental policies that exempt the producers of the greatest environmental harms; food that is too expensive (since protected); food that is unsafe (since unregulated); a financial system that has already caused great harm, has been left unreformed, and is primed and certain to cause great harm again.”
And that list doesn’t even include the deficit, the debt, or unemployment!
So I’m taking a break from politics, for awhile, that is. Hopefully, for all our sakes, Lessig’s views are extreme and there really are some solutions out there. Hopefully, I’ll get inspired by something or someone again. I’ll know more by the time I write my next column. Or the one after that.