Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Necessary Insanity

I know for the past few weeks I've been getting political on this blog. The election season does that to me. As a reporter, I have to be wired into the current political climate. Believe me, if I didn't have to do this for my job, I'd be off pursuing other goals, like sipping Bordeaux with a hearty mutton dinner or cross-country skiing down an Alpine mountain or trying to nail one of the Olson Twins. Either Mary-Kate or Ashley, I don't care. I'm not that fussy when it comes to celebrity concubines.

Politics is a necessary insanity for my job. I must delve into its murky, often toxic waters if I am to get a story. In so doing, a reporter mustn't wade gently at the shallow end, but rather, hold their breath and plunge into its deepest depths in order to extract the real essence of a candidate, which usually is insecurity mixed with narcissism. Oftentimes, one drowns in rivers of diarrhea the candidates spew in the form of inane hyperbole and trite verbiage that would make any sane person want to flee the room out of frustration and hide under a rock in Outer Mongolia.

Yet the jargon and rhetoric flowing from candidates during a contentious election year is especially polarizing. How do we keep track of the real, substantive issues? Too often the core ideas are lost or not present at all, and we're left with amorphous, half-baked concepts that don't really serve to generate dialog or debate. In fact, candidates want fewer debates because that usually means fewer errors or verbal gaffes. For us in the media covering politics, trying to pull a logical or reasoned argument from a candidate or making them clarify one of their controversial statements is like attempting to swim the English Channel with a piano strapped to your back: impossible and utterly useless.

Instead of addressing the people's concerns, we get partisan attacks and no substance. Gone are the visionaries and charismatic orators. Now we're left with schoolyard bullying and sophomoric utterances that make one want to punch a kitten. The people need candidates with concrete ideas and real solutions who articulate well and who aren't afraid of responding to challenges.

I think candidates should say the following:

1. Admit America is screwed up. Don't assign blame. Both parties fucked this country over tenfold. Greed and love of money did, also. If we've lost our way, it's because we took our eye off the ball and ignored the things that really mattered. We neglected our infrastructure, working poor and children. That's why we have crumbling bridges, a rise in unemployment and kids that bring Uzis to school.

2. Promise to destroy the pay-to-play system and Washington lobbyists. Special interests have formed a stranglehold around the political process and created a culture of corruption.

3. Don't promise you won't raise taxes. Hey, shit happens, and it might happen on your watch. Where are you going to get the money from? A loan shark from Jersey? Sometimes you're going to have to bite the bullet and vote for a tax increase.

4. Candidates and politicians who talk about how sacred the U.S. Constitution is should actually try reading it. I don't mean peruse it, I mean read it; all 7 Articles and all 27 Amendments. Become familiar with one of the greatest documents every produced on American soil. Then and only then can you speak with some degree of authority on the Constitution.

5. Politicians should have the wisdom of Solomon, the intelligence of Ben Franklin and the humor of Abraham Lincoln.

6. All students should be taught mandatory civics, U.S. history and writing courses. They should know about their government, their nation's past and how to express themselves via the written word.

7. Make America a place where businesses can establish themselves, expand and thrive. Create incentives for businesses to compete globally with American-made goods that don't break in a fortnight.

8. Realize that government can't solve all problems. Sometimes government-run programs and initiatives are too bulky and cumbersome and result in mismanagement and inefficiency. Steam-lining and cutting are good, but newer managerial models that reduce waste and duplication and run effectively are better.

9. Conduct wars only when absolutely necessary, like when our national security is threatened or when one of our allies is attacked.

10. Do the people's business, not the party's business. Political parties were created to hold onto power and perpetuate this power for as long as possible, which in reality usually lasts every few election cycles. Candidates should realize who really put them in power: the voters and not the special interests. Money and political parties will corrupt candidates and politicians. With money, candidates will be persuaded how to vote. With political bosses, they'll be bluntly told how to vote. How is this serving the interest of the electorate? Where are the voices of the people?

One final thought and I'll get off my virtual soapbox. Power in America is not monolithic; it doesn’t flow from the top down like an orderly hierarchy that can be easily graphed and plotted. Politics is more like a hydra; a beast with several heads gnashing, hissing and howling for more blood, ravenously devouring all which then morphs into another snapping, hideous head. And the hungry jaws are coming for you, waiting to gobble you up and transform you into a drone who likes business as usual in America.

Unless the people rise from their apathetic slumber and demand more from their elected officials, unless they threaten to oust them if they don't do the people's business, nothing will ever change and the hydra will grow larger. Only a vigilant, civic-minded people who want a better America not through partisan bickering but through reasonable policies which strengthen our communities and nation economically, ethically and socially, can slay the hydra.

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