Tuesday, January 13, 2009
(Stuffed) Shirts and Skins
Still clinging to belief and hope, I watch Obama interviews whenever they happen. I liked what I heard recently, about the need for everyone to be prepared to sacrifice. Everyone, he said, will need to have "skin in the game." (Whole transcript here.) Aside from being an evocative term, it's clearly the truth. The only question is, will enough people buy into it?
For years, the implicit and explicit claim from the White House has been that we can get everything we want with no pain from anyone. Except, well, yeah, a few soldiers. But they signed up for it, right? Deficits? Who cares? Regulations? Not even. Compromise? Are you kidding? Scorched earth, most literally, and figuratively. And I'm only talking about our politicians. The rest of us? Bumper stickers and credit cards.
It's still my impression that the idea of people getting together and thinking only about what's best for the country, to get us out of crisis and to set us on a path toward success, is largely a pipe-dream. For too long -- especially since the Newtonian days -- politicians have been narrowly about self and party; power for its own sake. And, since they've been voted into office, the fault lies, ultimately, in ourselves.
There's clearly a theme, in the blogosphere, anyway, and among some of the usual purveyors of puerile 'publican pollution, that to cooperate with Obama is to betray party. Unable to see beyond their own self-interest, there are plenty who think that way. Is it, like denial of global warming and of evolution, the willful rejection of what is known? If so, to what end? Or is it based on a careful consideration of the data and coming to the conclusion that nothing is wrong? If so, based on what evidence? I think, rather, that it's the result of a mindset so deeply embedded and constantly reinforced -- namely that we're always right (and good, and god-sided) and they're always wrong (and bad, and devil-dealers) -- that it no longer occurs to people that there are any common interests or attributes at all. Or that there are things that we must do, together, to save ourselves.
And in case anyone wonders, I don't exclude either party or interest group. I do, however, happen to believe that ultra-obstructionism and demonization have been brought to unseen levels by certain members of the Republican party, and by the right-wing noise machine of which there simply is no counterpart on the left. And since it's primarily the policies which they favor -- tax cuts as solution to every problem, deregulation in all matters, war as our highest calling, American exceptionalism as the central theme of foreign policy -- that have gotten us into the critical condition in which we find ourselves, I tend to think the point at which we must aim to meet is somewhere to the left of the middle.
There's blame aplenty. I can't think of many people in Congress on either side of the aisle that impress me very much. For that matter, I can't deny that I've been less than charitable toward George Bush. But there was a time when I was willing to give him a chance. As poor as his performance had been before 9/11, and as clear as it was that he regarded the tragedy as an opportunity to rescue his presidency, I was more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as he responded to the attack. Much was at stake (although not as much as now.) I agreed with going into Afganistan (and was pleased that they used the plan developed under the Clinton administration.) The difference is obvious: my subsequent disgust with Bush is based on a long record. Those who continue to wish ill toward Barack Obama (do they still believe he's a Muslim terrorist Stalinist America-hater? Did they ever?), even before he's in office, can only be doing so based on the jerks of their knees. Because, clearly, to wish him ill is to wish for even worse calamity for our country, from which we likely won't recover. All for the sake of some perverted sense of self satisfaction, even as we go under together.
Maybe it's like the pain of failed romance. Burned by love, it's hard to try again, to expose oneself, to set oneself up for another disappointment, for more hurt. As rightfully distrustful of government as we've become, as inured to the venality of many politicians, really to allow oneself a measure of belief and hope is to take a leap, braver and requiring more vulnerability than many are willing or able to do. How could it be possible, after all, that we have a president who actually means what he says, who claims no "ownership" of good ideas, who really does want to govern based on what's best for the common good, engaging everyone? Jilted publicly and painfully, too many times, hopes left bleeding in the gutter, it's hard to believe this could be different. But what's not hard to believe is that if it isn't different, we're screwed. Royally, irredeemably, existentially screwed.
So it boils down to this: can our politicians set aside decades of wrong-headed and self-centered thinking and be willing to work for real solutions, no matter who gets the credit? And if they aren't, can the rest of us -- even people like some who comment here with vitriol (and people who post here with vitriol) -- call, email, write, agitate to demand that they do?
Skin in the game.
Because if there's anything I like, it's skin.