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Capitol Latino

Politics, Culture, Reporters, Thieves

foto by Pablo Manriquez
The St. Petersburg Times runs a site called Politifact that was first brought to my attention while working as New Media Director of a Chicago technology firm in 2008. At the time, I was auditing political websites for elements to use in one of the firm’s several online spamming abominations. There was very little about Politifact that caught my eye. The site seemed pretty straight-forward, and thereby useless to us, as we sought magical traffic widgets and functionality and the like.  In short, my job was to find substantial traffic support to unsubstantial content.

Soon, my position at the firm was eliminated in the global financial hemorrhages of late-2008; then, Obama won the White House, the Democrats increased their majority in our Congress, and Politifact has emerged as one of the most important sites I regularly visit; and I regularly visit it for tidbits like this one —

To give the economic stimulus plan some perspective, “if you started the day Jesus Christ was born and spent $1 million every day since then, you still wouldn’t have spent $1 trillion.” (Mitch McConnell, Feb. 1, in appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation)

Senate Minority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., sought to put the proposed economic stimulus bill into some sobering perspective. We saved you from counting zeros on your online calculator by doing a quick and dirty assessment of whether the analogy is right.

We went with the commonly accepted theory that Jesus was born around 4 B.C. So we’ve come 2012 years since the birth of Christ. Now, 2,012 times 365 (yes, we are aware there are leap years … don’t be like that) times $1,000,000 is $734 billion, give or take a few hundred million.

The final stimulus bill checked in at $787 billion. So not only was McConnell right that $1 trillion is more than spending $1 million a day since Jesus was born, but the stimulus bill itself was also more than $1 million a day since Jesus was born.

Tonight I type from 2009’s finish line and the question that hangs heaviest in my mind about 2010 is whether or not such massive spending will serve anyone but that thin upper-slice of Americans that rode a windfall winning streak through the last decade.  In his inaugural address, Obama referenced much of the last decade as a period of “greed and irresponsibility” and cited as culprit “our collective failure to make hard choices.”  One “hard choice” that Americans must make as we proceed to the International Year of Biodiversity is to reexamine our relationship with our government.

On Sunday, I took a friend visiting from Duke to the Capitol to observe the hard edge made by the bright white dome and the night’s cold dark. As we approached the the building he grew increasingly nervous, finally asking me, “Are you sure we’re allowed to be here?”  Immediately I recalled (as I so often do) A Seriously Funny Man from Missouri on the cover of 3 July 2008’s TIME Magazine —

In the 1880s the british poet and culture critic Matthew Arnold paid two visits to the U.S. to observe the native customs. Eventually he set down his impressions in a book, Civilization in the United States. On the whole, he didn’t think there was much. For one thing, he was troubled by the way Americans appeared to lack any capacity for reverence toward superior men. “If there be a discipline in which the Americans are wanting,” he pronounced, “it is the discipline of awe and respect.” And in that connection, one institution of American life struck him as an especially bad idea. That was what he called “the addiction to ‘the funny man,’ who is a national misfortune there.”

Arnold didn’t mention any funnyman in particular. He didn’t have to. In an essay six years earlier, he had already attacked by name the most famous American funnyman of all, Mark Twain. His humor, Arnold sniffed, was “so attractive to the Philistine.” It would be truer to say it was attractive to anyone who valued plain speaking and the kind of deadly wit that could cut through the cant and hypocrisy surrounding any topic, no matter how sensitive: war, sex, religion, even race. Twain was righteous without being pious, angry for all the right reasons and funny in all the right ways. You might say he gave virtue a good name.

All the same, Twain was stung by Arnold’s words and prepared a reply that he never published. That’s a shame, because it includes the single best one-line defense not just of himself but also of how a democratic society works in the first place. “A discriminating irreverence,” he wrote, “is the creator and protector of human liberty.”

Regrettably, the “discipline of awe and respect” is alive and strong in our American political scene today; particularly among Democrats; particularly on Capitol Hill, where journalists and correspondents jockey for luncheons and call backs; where activists are herded from seminars to brown bag lunches to rallies and back to then to the bar and then home. All the while, no one seems to notice that lawmakers are your employees. So are the staffers they hire and the custodians who clean our congressional offices and the rooftop snipers whom I sincerely hope were ready & willing to brain my Blue Devil friend and me where we stood, if necessary, to protect our U.S. Capitol.

Barack Obama is my employee, too. He is also my tenant. To me, his Election ’08 was a job interview and the candidates, applicants. We the People were a hiring board and once we’d hired our representatives, my hope was that they would … well, represent.

Unsurprisingly, they haven’t. Our Congress remains a brothel where our future is whored out to the highest bidder. And suddenly I feel like a sucker, having worked for Obama in ’08 and believed in Obama in ’09.

So what’s it going to be then, eh? in 2010.  This year’s trajectory suggests that “conservatives” will remain united against Obama, “liberals” will continue to shift conservatively, and “progressives” will continue to get their asses kicked all over the gym, as they always have — at least, in my lifetime.  That is, unless Americans — particularly We the Correspondents — employ Mark Twain’s “discriminating irreverence” toward the faux-majesty of government that somehow lifts citizens elected to national office beyond the reach of their employers: We the People.

NOTE: These are my initial thoughts on a philosophical shift I’ve advocated in American politics for some time.  I post them here, now, without much of a proofread as it very early in the morning and I’m aching to write on something else.  I may more-thoroughly edit this post later for publishing on FireDogLake.  Then again, I may not.


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