Tuesday, October 4, 2011
"I have never had so challenging an assignment as finding people who approve of Congress," Joel Stein writes in the 10/10 issue of Time. Stein has spent the last two weeks on assignment in Los Angeles, searching for people who would join him for a meal and tell him why they don't hate Congress. "It was the hardest job of my life," he says. Recent polls show a 12 percent approval for Congress, which matches the lowest rating ever recorded, and Stein considers even that has got to be over-inflated. Finally he did manage to track down five people willing to talk with him, two of whom wouldn't allow him to print their names because they didn't want anyone to know they actually think Congress is okay.
Three of the five who ended up convening with him for brunch at the Alcove Cafe were Tea Party enthusiasts, one of whom declared, "A Congress that doesn't get anything done delights me." This was a doctor who wanted to remain anonymous because he feared if his patients were to know his views, they would leave him. One of the others, a housewife with a PhD, proclaimed her nostalgia for the time Newt Gingrich succeeded in shutting the government down. When asked by Stein to name something they thought the Senate and House did well, a lawyer answered, "Give me a second. I know it's there. It'll come to me."
For almost three years, Barack Obama tried to work with both parties in Congress "to get things done," until he finally got it that he would never get any cooperation or support from Republicans. So now, with his approval rating at an all time low, he has taken to the hills to campaign for his American Jobs Act--a mixture of tax cuts and government spending totaling $447 billion--entirely on his own, looking exhausted and demoralized, but hanging tough, like Atlas holding up the world. Republicans may never even bring the bill to the table for a vote. For them, nothing happens unless the rich get their tax cut.
"The country needs a leader," Peggy Noonan crooned on "Meet the Press," this Sunday, back to her latest refrain--Obama hasn't managed to bring the parties together, nor has he succeeded in making Republicans fear him. Meanwhile, America's politics have turned into a chicken-and-egg game over which came first: Republican obstructionism or Obama's failure to lead. Meantime, the rest of us have become like black marbles caught in a whirlpool of blame.
In The New Yorker [09/26], James Surowiecki presents reasons the GOP could actually get away with their obstructionism without being punished for it at the polls. Responsibility for the economy, he claims, now belongs to Obama and and the Dems, and since Republicans control only one house of Congress, they can more easily dodge blame because they've had little chance to enact anything on their own. According to polls, most swing voters are strongly in favor of reducing deficits, and voters in general don't expect Republicans to do much about jobs anyway, so they are not penalized as much for their inaction. (This last has got to be an argument that depends, in all good faith, on the rain.) In fact, uncooperative Republicans are really just delivering what their constituencies expect. In the run-up to last year's midterms, Republicans were explicit in their opposition to stimulus programs and to any tax-and-spend policies--and they won a landslide victory. Surowiecki concludes that Americans may want the government to get the economy moving again, but when push comes to shove, they vote for a different story. So, for now, he claims, it is not only our representatives who are to blame. It's ourselves. We are the culprits who voted them in. And, as black marbles caught up in the whirlpool of blame, which of us can honestly claim NOT to have felt all the emotions as itemized below?
To BLAME, [per Roget's Thesaurus] = to disapprove, not admire, fail to appreciate, have no praise for, not think much of, take a dim view of, censor, disfavor, lament, shout down, boo, hiss, throw mud, pour vitriol, lambast, call names, curse, vilify, reproach, denounce, stigmatize, sneer, taunt, trounce, come down on like a ton of bricks, revile, think the worst, condemn.
Who, at this point, is not in search of a wailing wall, not feeling a need to cram hair balls down somebody's else's throat? In doing so, however, we ignore at our own peril (in the words of Ray Bradbury) that "poison can destroy minds even as it can destroy flesh." "Teach me, he writes in "Zen in the Art of Writing," "how to be sick then, in the right time and place, so that I may again walk in the fields, and with the wise and smiling dogs know enough to chew sweet grass."
If these are really our choices--becoming black marbles or chewing sweet grass--which of them should one choose? I ask Virgil, my trusted alligator-muse, to give me his opinion. Considering the state of everything today, how can one NOT want to play the blame game? It would be like asking tribes give up their bingo rights on the reservation.
In the winking of a lighthouse, Virgil has his answer at the ready "Your country lost its legal standing when it argued and convinced the Supreme Court that corporations are people and have rights. Now, all the cases in which you are still hoping to defend your rights are prepared by skeletons in a bone court."
So what does that mean?" I ask. "Listen," says Virgil, "you people are insane, without a doubt insane. Not every donna can be prima. You're going backward into the future, where you are surely going to lose. To paraphrase from one of your most illustrious poets, you would rather be ruined than change. The national debt is rising at $46,000 per second, so I would bag the marbles and ditch the sweet grass. It is already known that resentment is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die. Personally, in a predicament like yours, I'd reach for pistachios, with maybe a dash of wild ginseng."
After dropping that bit of alligatorial advice, Virgil brushes the dust from his leather trousers and rises to go. He has new orders to fill from more than a dozen states and countries, and even though his percentage is pretty low, he still earns more than he needs to expand his empire and add to his collection of ladies' shoes. Riding waves of electrified delirium, the crafty alligator quickly disappears, sleek as a Bedouin in the night.