Sunday, February 14, 2010

Soundpolitic Sundays: It’s All Your Fault Edition

And a very Happy Valentine ’s Day to all you lovers out there. That’s lovers of things like music and politics and words and such. See, I tend to feel like Good Ol’ Charlie Brown these past few Valentine’s Days. I’ve been too focused on things like writing and thinking and looking for work to actually work up the courage to ask for a date…not that I could pay the tab, anyway!

Then again, whose fault is it for me not “having” a Valentine? It’s all me, of course! I’m the one walking about labeling or not labeling other people with the same title we’d give a piece of mail. So I realized earlier this week that I certainly did have a Valentine and, better yet, I’d been getting ephemera from her every week for the past two years!

This is just a fancy way of saying I have a subscription to Newsweek as gifted to me by my dear old Grandmother.

Pitiful, right? I don’t think so. I do love that magazine. Every week, I take a break from the job hunting and freelancing to enjoy that what I might be purchasing for myself: the best political commentary, interviews, and journalism on shiny paper with a dab of humor and art criticism. If I had the time, I’d praise or rebut everything in it.

Which brings me to the current February 15, 2010 issue. Set aside the fact that the issue is dated one whole day in the future (I never quite understood this trick) but within the magazine’s pages were a couple of conflicting articles that could really do for a kiss-and-make-up this Valentine’s Day. So below the fold, we’ll try to get that done for them, considering they have less than 24 hours to come to terms with yourselves.

“The Take” is Newsweek’s section devoted to the finest in current punditry. The best talking heads in the business hit their typewriters with as much passion that they bring to the 24-hour news cycle.

This week, we see on the title page an article by Jacob Weisberg spoiled as “Blame voters for our political paralysis…” just above the teaser for Robert J. Samuelson’s piece saying “…No, blame politicians.” I love when this sort of thing happens. Usually when it comes to the lip-flappers on my favorite Sunday shows, I shudder in disgust once people start interrupting and talking over each other. These two pages gave me a way to at least imagine a civilized discussion…

…even though the discussion will probably go nowhere. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Mr. Robert J. Samuelson!

We have a massive candor gap, led by President Obama but also implicating most leaders of both parties. The annual budget necessarily involves a bewildering blizzard of numbers. But just a few figures capture the essence of our predicament. Here they are:

-Emphasis mine.

And then blah blah deficits and blah blah Social Security and blah blah entitlements blah blah blah...

The message: the budget is mainly a vehicle for transferring income to retirees from workers, who pay most taxes.

Followed by spending cuts yackety yack rising taxes yackey yack financial crisis don’t talk back!

I love this article like the old girlfriend who keeps popping up my head. Or like the re-runs of my least favorite sitcom episodes. I know they both don’t hold up to criticism, but I still entertain the idea. It reminds me of who I used to be.

Of course, that’s not R.J. Samuelson, Super Genius’s idea. He’s got a job to do. He’s got bills to pay. That is to say, he’s got two people he has to please beyond all reasonable doubt: his Editors and his Audience.

In order to do that, Mr. Samuelson had to display a gap in candor of his own. He’s hooting and hollering about “entitlements” and “redistribution.” This is all empty pie-filling when you consider the actual pie:

Oops! Looks like we’ve been “transferring” most of our “income” to men and women who are still working. Very. Hard.

Now why would Samuelson ignore this fact? He writes well. He’s able to craft facts together to fit his argument and come off sounding pretty intelligent. That doesn’t explain why he essentially lies in this entire article. And if the guy is that smart, he’s got to know he’s stretching the truth to please those who consume his work…

Pay attention to that word: consume. Now I feel sorry for Mr. Samuelson. He’s the one who has to try and maintain a good reputation by coming up with phrases like “candor gap.” Do a Google search on that phrase and you might as well have just searched for “Robert J. Samuelson.” It’s a phrase that essentially means nothing, except as a nice way to say that the President is lying…for those who want to believe it in order to validate their sense of self.

So who is the real problem with this article and others like it? It’s not the writer. It’s the reader. And those guys I do not feel sorry for. Not one bit. It’s these people who are causing the drop in approval ratings for a President and causes the pundits on today’s shows to talk about how Obama hasn’t “articulated” his vision properly for the American People.

Essentially, guys like Samuelson aren’t selling the truth or information for the purpose of critical thinking. They are selling soap. Like this guy:

Now we can condemn the soap salesman as a slick truth-stretcher. But what does any salesman require to make a successful pitch?

A customer.

We have another soap salesperson out there today. Here’s a humorous take on some of her sales pitches from a big party down in Tennessee earlier this week:

Zing! Bop! Pow! They’re loving every second of it, aren’t they? And rightly so. It is exactly what they want to hear. And good ‘ol Sarah Palin has learned the lesson every beauty pageant queen learns early: you give the judges what they want if you want to wear the tiara.

There’s probably a lot of condemnation of Palin around here. And a lot of scorn for the people buying up her soap. I’ve gotten into minor tussles in the comments sections regarding the use of the phrase “teabaggers” to describe her supporters.

Allow me to explain. The phrase “teabagger” refers to a rather unsavory act that involves one man disrobing and shoving his genitalia in somebody else’s face. I learned of it through some buddies in college who used to joke about it. To us, it’s disgusting and funny.

And these folks are serious. And calling them names only adds more fuel to fire. Not only that, but I’m of the firm opinion that the truth of the matter in all forms of name-calling and bullying is this:

If you call somebody else a nasty name, you might as well just call yourself that nasty name. You have become nastiness. You have become the bully. And in my experience, bullies have never served any purpose except to display cowardice and provide the opportunity for their targets to display courage.

What I’m saying to you is this: don’t blame the Tea Party. Blame yourself.

You can’t condemn these people for being stuck in a rut validating their own sense of selves as “conservatives” or “libertarian” or “ignorant” without first coming to grips with your own stack of descriptors that give you your sense of self.

Think about who “you” are. Are you just a “liberal” or a “progressive” or an “activist?” There’s really not much to that. Me? I’m not any of these things. These are just useful adjectives that describe fleeting thoughts that, ultimately, are not real.

Neither is the political climate. And this brings me to the second column I spoke of in the opening. Ladies and gentlemen, Jacob Weisberg’s “Down With The People” hits the nail on the head:

In trying to explain our political paralysis, analysts cite President Obama's tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for important legislation. These are large factors to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit of all: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.

That's it. He's talking about you, the person. Or rather, he's talking about we the people.

The logic is very easy to follow: if we are a government of the people, then the people are the government. Therefore, if a person has disdain for the government, or an opposing political movement, shouldn't that mean that this person has disdain for...himself?

Keep your own sense of self in mind as Weisberg continues:

Some say that the public is in an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly passive rather than militant. The better explanation is that the public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time. [...] We like the idea of sacrifices and hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one? Emphasis mine. -SP

Candyland. Or "Soapland" if you will. This is so incredibly true it's hilarious. And I've seen it first-hand as a candidate for office myself.

See, in the fall of 2009, I was still out of work and down on my luck. I realize this was of my own doing now, but at the time, I was pretty upset with the world for not hiring me. So since I had the time and had dreamed of doing it, I decided to run for Supervisor in the Town of Berne just three weeks out from the General Election.

I'll expand on this more in future posts, you can be sure, but the main reason I chose to run was because both the Democratic and Republican candidates seemed very reluctant to me. Both parties had to ask upwards of ten people to run before finally settling on somebody to say, "Alright, I'll do it." Me? I wanted the job. My youth and inexperience be damned; I had the resolve to want to apply for the job myself. And I figured that a degree in paralegal studies along with my enthusiasm to put in as much time as possible would be enough to get the job done. I knew it was a big job. I also knew it wasn't fair for the parties to badger somebody who'd just retired into a huge, stressful undertaking that they didn't really want.

So I did it. And I knew I wouldn't win. I had to run as a write-in candidate, which is almost certain doom. But the other thing I wanted to do was get out and talk to regular folks about local politics and hopefully raise civic awareness.

The verdict? Well, aside from getting 8.51% of the vote (scroll down to "Town of Berne Supervisor"), I determined one thing above all others:

This country needs a freakin' civics lesson!

You would not believe some of the questions I got. Here I was running for Supervisor in a rural town with a population of about 3,000 and people were asking all sorts of absolutely stupid questions! "What's your stance on abortion?" and "What's your thoughts on big government?" and "So what do you think of Obama?" and "What do you think of Bush?"

Now I was courteous at the doors, you bet. But people were floored when I informed them that their questions had absolutely nothing to do with running Town Board meetings. Floored! And not because they'd come face-to-face with an honest politician. Quite the opposite: they were forced to face their own ignorance. They were forced into realizing that all the soap they'd been buying from guys like Robert J. Samuelson was just that...soap!

And just like somebody whose been had by a slick soap salesman, they realized that they couldn't have been had if it weren't for their own selves.
Those sacrifices that Weisberg was talking about above? The way I read the piece, I wasn’t connecting the word “sacrifices” with any fleeting line in the budget. And I don’t’ think he was either. Consider the final paragraph:

Our inability to address long-term challenges makes a strong case that the United States now faces an era of historical decline. To change this story-line, we need to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office, and look instead to ourselves.

Emphasis mine – SP

To start making sacrifices as it comes to policy, you need to sacrifice your self. Get rid of it! If it’s the Tea Partiers way of thinking that has the power to cause confusion about Obama’s message; if it’s the definitions of self that Congressman and bureaucrats have crafted that keeps our institutions in gridlock; and if it’s the uncompromising stances that we take on the progressive blogosphere that clashes with these, then aren’t you to blame for this mess, too?

See my above logic. In a government of the people, you cannot draw a line between the people and the government. The people are the government. They (we) are one and the same. The politicians are just people, and the voters are just people too.

And each and every one of them is you.

As for me, it’s time to go downstairs and wish my dear old Grandma a Happy Valentine’s Day and thank her for my subscription to Newsweek. As for you…I hope I get to see you again next week as Soundpolitic Sundays continues.

And I hope you get to see…you.

Cross-posted on The Albany Project

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