What are we really voting on next Tuesday? The major issues in our democracy have been obscured behind layers of political white noise and an avalanche of innuendo. Long gone are the days when you could simply support or oppose abortion, supply-side economics, the nuclear triad, or welfare for the poor. The last two years have seen mounting campaigns against phantom enemies; conservative political operatives in particular have learned well the lessons of airborne electronic warfare. In that martial field the production, via chaff or digital signals, of false targets is a principle way to hide your own airplane.
And so politicians in this new American theater of operations have mastered the art of the straw man. Build him up and tear him down; just so long as the public doesn’t know the difference between the real subject and the red herring. The mythology of this midterm cycle began with, and has been mastered by, Republicans. But Democrats have fought back, usually clumsily, with their own brand of subterfuge. Regardless of who takes the tactical battles this Tuesday, our democracy has been dealt a stunning strategic setback this cycle. A brief summary of this campaign’s myths and legends follows after the break…what follows after the election is anybody’s guess.
In one week, the voters of our democracy will not be casting ballots on the issues. At least, they won’t be voting on the issues that are reported in the conservative mainstream media. Over the last weeks and days, I have seen report after report writing and speaking about the “voter anger” focused on the deficit and debt. Yet poll after poll has found that voters are angry about one thing above all others; jobs. Next Tuesday, we will not be voting on the primary tool used to address the real source of voter anger, the American Recovery Act. The artist formerly known as the Stimulus is one of the least understood and most maligned pieces of legislation in world history…and we aren’t voting on its substance.
The Recovery Act was the single largest working class tax cut in American history…at $287 billion it dwarfs any other package passed in terms of tax relief for regular working Americans. The rest of the bill, famously, was that horrible orphan known as government spending. Military barracks renovation, military hospital renovation, road work, rural water projects, rural broadband projects, wind farms, brown-water renovation (most of our nation’s commercial river traffic is supported by infrastructure that is 3/4 of a century old)…you name it, money was spent on it.
It is the last Monday of October, and the beginning of the final week of an excruciating midterm election cycle. With that in mind, today’s musings will leave out the politics and focus on television and sports. Surely there is enough corruption, misplaced priorities, and cultural strife in those two subjects to fill our need for political drama. For this column it is important to note, for full disclosure, that I can always root against teams from Texas if my favorites are doing poorly. With that fact highlighted, my turmoil should be evident to many who know my loyalties. As a Dodger fan, I am incapable of accepting any success had by the hated San Fransisco Giants; I am now forced to root for the Texas Rangers.
On a brighter note, former Texas Rangers owner and current mindless baboon Tom Hicks is no longer the owner of my beloved Liverpool Reds. The theme song for the denizens of Anfield Road, You’ll Never Walk Alone, will NOT be sung for him at his exit. He has been replaced (happily, it was against his will) by the owner of the Boston Red Sox. Hope shows itself at winter’s onset, and the promise of life’s renewal is again kept! My joy was fulfilled when the Cleveland Browns shocked the New Orleans Saints on the strength of two interception-returns for TD’s by former WIU standout David Bowens. If you are keeping track, my Browns have as many wins as the Dallas Cowboys…I guess that makes us America’s Team.
More sports and TV after the jump (Note-If you have a man-crush on Brett Favre, it would be best if you didn’t read the rest of this column)…
Perhaps the most self-centered activity I engage in is my volunteer work. I spent a wonderful decade coaching football to (mostly) under 13 kids. Currently, I fill the void as a member of Kiwanis International, where my peers and I are solely committed to serving the youth of the world. I say self-absorbed, because there are few visions more pleasing to the eyes, ears, and heart, then a group of happy and engaged children. As an example, the Macomb Kiwanis chapter, of which I am a member, is now in the process of completing a major project; the financing and building of a new playground for our little town’s central park.
This has been a project long in the pipeline, debated and fretted over for two years before I arrived on the scene. My only substantive contributions would be in the actual building of the site, a project scheduled to take less than 12 hours over two days. After 12 hours on Friday (that I was not present for), 12 hours on Saturday, 8 hours on Sunday, and 8 hours today, the playground is now almost complete. Where my hands were roughened from power-lifting, the callouses have split; where my hands were still soft from my decidedly non-physical life of managing and writing, blisters have formed and popped. As with everyone else, my joints are sore and my nerves are frayed.
The members of The Rational Middle may disagree, but it is this writer’s opinion that the principle threat to our democracy is intellectual laziness. Terrorism, pollution, crime, and economic imbalance pale in comparison to the dangers of self-inflicted stupidity; we Americans too often choose to be ignorant out of a sense of expedience. Today’s campaigns are filled with ads that take simple and completely unrealistic positions given the facts. All Democrats who run under the presumption that Republican policies caused the recession and Republicans are therefore evil, fail the test of credibility. Every Republican politician now claiming to be able to grow jobs, cut taxes, and stop deficits are equally disreputable.
But here we are, in 2010, believing what we see crammed into expensive television spots filled with venom and bullshit. It isn’t the fault of the politicians; for all of our snide jokes and references to crooks and liars, we like them this way. We the people have proven that the politician best able to make his brand of b.s. smell the best will get our votes; or at least enough of them for a simple majority. This is one of thousands of spots on the net where the informed voter can go for reasoned argument and information. Too often, however, the front-line topics covered by the campaign ads are the very same discussed on these pages, and a little spice is in order. The Rational Middle will profile one commonly cherished Magic Wand every week for the next four. These topics aren’t the hot and sexy stories at the front of the political press, but they are ever-present notions bubbling under the surface of political thought. It is the hope that these will inspire conversation, as none (I believe) are amenable to simple black and white explanations.
Fall arrives quickly in the Midwest, bringing with it hints of melancholy winter. I am not alone in dealing with a change of season cough, it being just warm enough during the day to convince one to be under-dressed for the chill of evening. The natives love the color change around here, but the dust and bugs stirred up by the harvest rob me of joy. It may be strange coming from a heat-loving desert rat like me, but I long for the first freeze of winter: it at least has the benefit of killing off all of the flies and gnats.
And so ends another season in wrath; my Dodgers played with all the inspiration of a dust-mop. They did manage to win 5 of 6 and close out Joe Torre’s career on a decent note. The ignominy of finishing below .500 (after two straight bites at the apple in the NLCS) is matched only by the team’s fool of an owner. I am soothed by the Browns (they beat the Bengals) and the Fighting Leathernecks (4-1 and nationally ranked). We won’t discuss the Reds of Liverpool…