Op-eds of Special Note


Of a number of great Op-Eds since the election, I am posting three that I believe are particularly important to read.  They are:  David Broder’s Goals worth fighting for in the Washington Post on November 4, 2010;  Steven Pearlstein’s Leadership challenge: Take voters’ mixed messages and deal, also in the November 4 Washington Post; and Charles Blow’s The Great American Cleaving in the New York Times on November 5, 2010.

While all are important , the last two address the theme expressed in my posting on this weblog entitled Winning is Everything.  Steven Pearlstein is right that this country can’t move forward without compromise and that without it the country will suffer continuing economic decline.  That one party apparently decided two years ago to refuse to compromise believing, apparently successfully, that the tactic would enable them to retake Congress is concerning for its implications.  Convinced it’s a sound strategy for Republicans, they are likely to carry that strategy forward in the next session of Congress.  Second, this no-compromise strategy is a potential blueprint for Democrat Party strategy in the House for the next two years.

Charles Blow ends his piece with these words:  “That ripping sound you hear is the fabric of a nation.”  The author is absolutely right.  We are in deep trouble as it means nothing can happen in this country to address our daunting problems until one party takes complete control.  Maybe that’s on the way if the Republican’s chief goal is defeating Obama in two years.  I’ve been a lifelong Republican but am dismayed at the course the party is taking; it is very dangerous.

The implications on the nation’s ability to govern itself are staggering.  I must conclude that indeed, the fabric of the nation is being ripped apart.

There was an interesting piece in last Sunday’s (10/24/10) Washington Post by Charles Murray entitled The tea party warns of a New Elite.  They’re right. Murray observes that the tea party is “of one mind on at least one thing:  America has been taken over by a New Elite.”

Accompanying the article in the printed version of the Washington Post is a graphic containing 10 questions.  The more “no” answers one has to the questions, the more solidly one’s membership in the new elite is established.  The questions were as follows:

1.  Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?  (The really famous one, not the football coach.)

2.  Can you identify military ranks by uniform insignias?

3. Do you know what MMA and UFC stand for?

4.  Do you know what Branson, MO is famous for?

5.  Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis or Rotary Club?

6. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker as host of “The Price is Right/”

7. Have you ever lived in a town with fewer than 25,000 people?  (During college doesn’t count.)

8.   Can you name the authors of the “Left Behind” series?

9.  Do you live in an area where most people lack college degrtees?  (Gentrifying neighborhoods don’t count.)

10.  Can you identify a field of soybeans?

The answers:  “Jimmie Johson is a NASCAR driver who won the Sprint Cup Series championship four years in a row.  MMA stands for mixed martial arts; UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship.  About 7 million tourists travel to Branson, MO, each year to visit its 50-plus coutnry-music halls.  Drew Carey replaced Bob Barker on the “Price is Right.”  Time LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are the authors of the “Left Behind” series.”

A “yes” to 0-2 questions seals you “in the New Elite bubble.”  A “yes” to 3-7 suggests you “need to get out more.”  “If you can answer “yes” for 8-10 questions, it doesn’t matter if you went to Yale or live in Georgetown, you’re part of the American Mainstream.

My score of 4 indicates that while not a full-fledged member of the new elite, I need to get out more.  (I knew about Branson, MO, I was once a member of a Rotary Club while living in a town with fewer than 25,000 people and I can identify a field of soy beans.  I could identify a few, but not all, of the military rank insignias and I thought one of the authors of the “Left Behind” series was named LeHane – close but incorrect.)

What does this all mean?  It is clear to me that there are many Americas out there.  Several of those Americas genuinely frighten me, including those parts that never read a newspaper but have strong opinions about issues of the day.  It’s not that regularly reading a newspaper makes one wise, but it’s a step in the direction of having informed opinion.  And without informed opinion we have chaos.  While I would again have to note that the “new elite” are neither necessarily wise nor well-informed, the odds increase if they read a newspaper with regularity.

I am glad that I’ve lived in small town America.  I also visit that America regularly when I travel to a beach community in Delaware.  While it is indeed refreshing to leave the intellectually snobbish Washington, I’m clearly also not really a part of the greater local community.  That was brought home to me this past weekend as I walked along the route for Rehoboth Beach’s annual Sea-Witch Festival Parade.  This was definitely not an America of which I feel a part.  This is no doubt partly the consequence of my being full-fledged member of the definitely-not-mainstream “gay” America.

While the article seems to suggest that the gap between elite and mainstream America can be bridged by the elite “getting out more”, I think a more fundamental solution lies in doing a much better job of educating all of America.  There is an education gap between mainstream and elite America that must be addressed.  I have also personally spent a lot of time trying to become a more “conscious” individual, aware of the complexity of the universe and my role in that universe.  I am convinced that increasing the “consciousness” of all of humankind is the only path toward a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.  It involves not only education, but self-awareness and an ongoing commitment to spiritual development.  I am thus far from convinced that educating myself about NASCAR, the MMA, the UFC, and “The Price is Right” would accomplish anything of real value.  In fact, I am quite convinced of the opposite.

There are two additional two Op-Eds today that are well worth reading, both of which appeared in today’s New York Times.  They concern, respectively, two issues that have been much discussed on the campaign trail this year.  Specifically they concern two government programs upon which it now seems almost all candidates, incumbent and otherwise, believe were dreadful mistakes.  I am referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 (the “bailout”) and the fiscal stimulus bill.

The first article, concerning the “bailout” bill is authored by Ross Douthat and is entitled The Great Bailout Backlash.  The second, by Paul Krugman and concerning the stimulus bill, is called Falling Into the Chasm.  Both offer important perspectives on these important issues that have been grossly misunderstood it seems by a majority of the electorate.

I regard both the “bailout” bill and fiscal stimulus as having been essential to the country’s economic welfare.  The problem is that the first was badly executed and explained and the latter poorly crafted so as to result in far less in economic stimulus than could almost certainly have been achieved with a better designed (less political) bill.

Unfortunately, we are going to have a lot of Congressmen and Senators elected next week who wouldn’t voted for the TARP bill or any economic stimulus.  This is frightening, very frightening, and it doesn’t bode well for the ability of the incoming Congress to tackle future economic crises.  Let’s hope some sense yet creeps into the public debate in advance of next week’s election.

Robert J. Samuelson writes an Op-Ed in this morning’s Washington Post on the polarization of the American political system.  The piece is entitled Politics has lost its center of balance (online it is entitled “The dysfunction of American politics”).  Indeed it has.  Samuelson cites four reasons:

First, politicians depend increasingly on their activist “bases” for votes, money and job security (read: no primary challenger). But activist agendas are well to the left or right of center. So when politicians pander to their bases, they often offend the center. In one poll, 70 percent of registered voters said Republicans’ positions were too conservative at least some of the time; 76 percent likewise thought Democratic positions often “too liberal.”

Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.

Third, cable television and the Internet impose entertainment values on politics. Constant chatter reigns. Conflict and shock language prevail; analysis is boring.

Finally, politicians overpromise. The federal budget has run deficits in all but five years since 1961. The main reason: Both Democrats and Republicans want to raise spending and cut taxes. To obscure their own expediency, both parties blame the other.

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Samuelson and I recommend reading the piece.

While the Republican Party spends its life in fantasyland (no new taxes, etc.) and welcomes with open arms the delusional tea party movement, the Conservative Party in Britain is going about the task of governing.  Ruth Marcus’ Op-Ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday entitled British Conservatives tackle their fiscal crisis with ‘real’ magic gives us a perspective on how the Conservative Party, through the coalition government it leads, is realistically addressing the big issues facing the United Kingdom.

This call to govern in the United Kingdom, albeit in a coalition government, came because voters decided the nay-saying, fantasyland Conservative Party of yesteryear (almost two decades yesteryear) had learned its lesson andwas ready to govern again.  While the Republican Party may take control of the U.S. House and even, perhaps, the Senate, next month, they are unlikely to capture the White House in 2012 or any time soon unless the Republican Party, like their Conservative Party counterparts in the U.K., is willing to realistically address head-on the serious issues facing the country.  This will require a realistic as opposed to a rigidly ideological mode of governing.  Don’t count on this happening soon here in the U.S.  The GOP needs a decade or two of losing elections, like their Conservative Party counterparts in the U.K., to learn this lesson.

I am a firm believer that the best government is government in the relative center of the political spectrum where one can acknowledge the need for government, and indeed taxes, but actively fight the “liberal” impulse to make government the ultimate solution to every problem.

While I was off introspecting this summer, something stunning was happening in American politics.  Conservative Republicans were being rejected by Republican voters in primaries and caucuses across the country:  Bob Bennett (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Mike Castle (DE).  Charlie Crist would surely have lost the Republican primary had he not opted to run as an independent first.  These conservative Republicans were beat because they were not conservative enough.  They were too “moderate” for the Republican rank and file.

The extent of this lunacy is well-described by Dana Milbank in an October 6 Op-Ed in the Washington Post entitled Who’s a real conservative?  It’s all relative. I consider this a must-read.

It helps explain why I am not longer a real Republican.  If there is no place in the party for folks who are with you two-thirds of the time, there is no place in the party for a relative centrist such as myself.  And it speaks to a very dangerous America in the years ahead when our two parties are so ideologically distant.  Nothing that this country so urgently needs to do will be done, as Thomas Friedman so eloquently pointed out in his October 2 New York Times Op-Ed, discussed and linked in one of my blog postings yesterday.

What I am pleased about is that Senator Murkowski and Governor Crist have opted to run as independents.  Fantastic.  My hope would be that they would choose not to align with either party and start building a third party base in their home states.  I think there would be enormous freedom in not having to pander to either party’s ideological base.  The country would undoubtedly benefit as we’d likely see more common sense and rationality emanating from at least two U.S. Senators.  I regret that Mike Castle declined to also run as an independent.  He would have been a great U.S. Senator, especially if freed from the need to pander to his party’s right wing.

In an October 2, 2010, Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled Third Party Rising, Thomas L. Friedman hits a nail directly on its head with two primary assertions:  (1) That our government is failing to seriously address the significant crises that beset it, and (2) that we must, as a country, rip open the two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a “serious” third party that will be able to develop rational and centrist public policy with greatly diminished special interest influence.

I couldn’t agree with more with this piece.  In fact, I am making it a mission to identify these groups working on East and West coasts to develop “third parties”.

Let me close with a excerpt that especially resonates with me:

“We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country,” said the Stanford University political scientist Larry Diamond. Indeed, our two-party system is ossified; it lacks integrity and creativity and any sense of courage or high-aspiration in confronting our problems. We simply will not be able to do the things we need to do as a country to move forward “with all the vested interests that have accrued around these two parties,” added Diamond. “They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations,” where each one’s gains are seen as the other’s losses.

Hear, hear!

When Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post speaks, we are wise to listen.  His business commentary is distinctly non-partisan and filled with common sense observations about the state of our economic world.  His piece today in the Washington Post is another must-read.  It is entitled Keeping an open mind on solutions to the budget deficit.

On the eve of the election in Great Britain there were two Op-Ed pieces in the Washington Post that I regarded as worthwhile reading. They were Mark Penn’s A new wind in politics and David S. Broder’s A test of two parties.  While Nick Clegg’s Liberal  Democrat Party didn’t do nearly as well as predicted (an understatement), it looks like it will still play the role of kingmaker. That is hopefully good news for those of us who believe that two-party rule is failing in the modern world to move policy in the right direction.

Let this also announce my complete and total endorsement of Charlie Crist’s run as an independent for U.S. Senator from Florida.  Two-party rule must be broken.

I heartily recommend a New York Times blog post I came across this morning thanks to a friends post on Facebook.  It is by Pico Iyer and is entitled The Doctor is Within.  It’s an excellent piece talking about the Dalai Lama and Buddhism.  It made me think about why I stopped writing on this blog several months ago.  Perhaps I was trying to change the world and was realizing the futility of such an effort.  Perhaps it was a cognizance that I needed to readjust my thinking before I commenced writing again.  And, perhaps it is appropriate that I began again with different expectations.  Perhaps.

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