Year-End Complaint

It is the hair-splitting that most folks can’t stand when they read a column like the Rational Middle. The preachy and often nit-picky focus on details that aren’t very important in the grand scheme of things is a turn-off to many of us (yours truly included). We hate it when someone corrects our grammar (is it who or whom?), and we despise it when someone misses the humor in a joke because the joke wasn’t “accurate” (just shut up and laugh know-it-all!).

For several generations, we have hated math class and sentence structure with equal zeal. With each succeeding generation, we have forced the status-quo to move ever so subtlety away from precision. As a nation we have become sloppy. Facts are important only when they serve the proper master, and sources are valuable only if they can be manipulated. When a comic does the manipulation in pursuit of a joke, the act has value. When a politician or “journalist” does the manipulating, it has the capacity to slowly destroy the country.

Sometimes at least, I can take some humor from the fall from grace of the manipulators; missing a critical detail can be embarrassing if your argument is supposedly fact-based. Most of society goes through the ritual of “end of decade” and “end of century” analysis in years like this one; a year that ends in the number 9. For most purposes, the reality that the decade does not end until next year (a decade is ten years numbered 1-10, not 0-9), is not important. If however, you are a “numerology” or “prophesy” person, telling the world that your “scientific analysis” indicates the end of the world will happen at the turn of the millennium in 1999 leaves you with something of a problem. (It is after all, only 1,999 years from the birth of Jesus..maybe…if the Romans were correct, and not 2,000. Come to think of it, should not the end of time be in 2033?) Of course, for most of those people, the mistake seems to be easily covered by making the statement that “God told me that He decided to change His mind.”

In our society it is the responsibility of all adult citizens to stay informed and vote their conscience in every election. This is the essence of democracy; enlightened citizens participating in self-governance. To the extent that many of us have decided to use bad government as an excuse for their lack of participation is a shame that people living in North Korea and Iran would find unbelievable. Knowing the facts in a political debate is the most important task that citizens have. Reporting the facts in a political debate is the reason that our journalists have such wide-reaching rights. Sadly, many of us do not know, and most of the world of journalism does not report. This goes beyond bias and extends to hubris. Journalists on every side of the issue have made 2009 the capstone year in the quest to drive opinion rather than report facts.

If you regularly get your news from cable channels without benefit of fact-checking or verification, the reality is that you don’t know what the politicians have really been arguing. Republicans never debated the health bills that came out of committee in the House and Senate, and the Tea-Party crowds never complained about them either. Both of the above groups argued against elements that never existed in the bills. Things like “death panels” and “the government takeover of health care” went beyond exaggerations or worst-case scenarios, and rose exclusively to the level of lies. Pure and simple. Should John Boehner, Sarah Palin, Dick Armey (the corporate force behind the “grassroots” teaparties), or anyone else care to try, I will easily beat a lawsuit for libel…because all of you lied about the issue repeatedly and for the record.

If you think the Democrats are blameless here, then you are naive. They never had a debate about what was really wrong with the system and what the most efficient solutions to the problem would entail. Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Robert Bennett crafted a bill that came close to addressing some of the major structural issues, but it died a quick death among the deal-making of Washington liberals. President Obama and the Senate leadership agreed early to shield pharmaceutical companies from real reform because they knew that Big Pharma had more more with which to influence Congress than even the big insurers did. Lobbyists won there without firing a shot.

Nobody in the media, from the GOP owned and operated Fox News to the supposedly liberal network channels pointed any of this out. The “liberal” media actually supported all of the GOP’s most far-fetched talking points because most of their news models were too lazy to actually read the bills themselves (and no, it is not hard to do if you are a supposed professional). The news bimbos read the top line of poll results that showed a majority of Americans opposed the bill, but they never read that a third of the opposition came from liberals who did not think the bill went far enough. I don’t recall Brian Williams and the allegedly liberal NBC News team ever reporting on the strange case of Americans consistently opposing the bill in general while consistently supporting the idea of government-run competition for private insurers.

This pattern is consistently repeated on items presented for the citizen’s review from both sides of the political fence. Politics has become a game of getting journalists on your side, instead of a process for solving national problems. Most citizens seem to see the same things; rising health costs, flattening salaries, rising traffic and pollution, threatening security problems, failing infrastructure, and falling standards in schools. There are different ideas for the causes of those problems, but the commonality of them indicates that we could solve them; if only we agreed that we were looking at the same thing.

For the new year, one of my resolutions is to regain my sense of humor while another is to write shorter posts. I am not convinced that any of my resolutions will fair better than those of my recent past, but I am sure that I will retain my conviction that the details are important. We simply can’t afford to not know what we are arguing about. The democracy is not a guarantee, it is a process dependent on participation. Knowing your argument is the first step to being a good participant.

Of course, even I admit there is often humor in ignorance. Glenn Beck released a book full of preachy “founding father” references and patterned on “Common Sense” and its author, Thomas Paine. Paine is a commonly referred to figure on the Tea Party circuit, so Beck’s use of him was expected. So what is so ignorant and funny?

Thomas Paine was the liberal spirit of the Revolution and an ardent advocate for progressive taxation. He was also an atheist….so reviled was he by others in his time for his rejection of God that only 8 people attended his funeral. Way to go Glenn!

The rational middle wishes all a happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year!