Monday, October 17, 2011

Our Floundering Ship of State

O Ship of State
Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er
our fears,
Are all with thee, -are all with thee!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

         It is inconceivable that the President Obama has, during the last three months, raised about $70 million for his current reelection campaign.  The election is more than a year away!  The Republicans will be obliged to raise similar amounts of money for their campaigns.  We are talking about estimates as high as a billion dollars between the two parties that could be better utilized for more constructive purposes than advertising, negative campaign ads, denigrating other candidates, and waterboarding the hapless television viewer.

          There is something inherently wrong, something improvident about this cumbersome, agonizing process.  It is destructive to our polity.  It should not take so long, be so divisive, or be so expensive to run for office.  It was not always so.   There are more efficient ways to elect a leader and many more useful ways to spend money.  Perhaps the old way of political parties picking the candidates in nominating conventions was better.        

          Less democratic, perhaps, but more efficient, and perhaps more productive of good candidates like Roosevelt, Truman, Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, to name a few. 

          A year ago I wrote that I was grateful that the 2010 congressional and senatorial campaign was over. But wait! Now we are obliged to listen for another year to candidates for the Presidency in an essentially perpetual campaign.   We cannot afford a perpetual campaign, diverting resources from the actual governance of the nation.  A process that is devoted for years on end to divisiveness is a self fulfilling enterprise, a destructive song without end.  The very length of the campaign is productive of even more divisiveness, not the cohesiveness we now so sorely need as a national goal to get us through the great economic global crisis in which we now lie, almost like a tortoise on its proverbial back, helplessly unable to right itself, ready to be devoured by predators.

          Candidates, questioned by journalists about all manner of irrelevancies, including whether that candidate is a true follower of Jesus, Brigham Young, Mohammad, or is a true Christian. Who really cares if Mormons believed golden plates of Jesus were in New York and they moved to Missouri?  Who cares if Jesus ascended to heaven on a cloud?  What difference does it make that fundamentalist Christians pronounce fitness for office on how “Christian” a candidate is? These are not questions that should be asked of candidates. How deep and abiding faith guides a candidate is not the issue.  Religion and government do not mix.  Any candidate, who wishes to force upon the public social issues such as abortion, should be asked whether they also believe that putting people to death is contradictory to that premise.  Why is our dialog so rudimentary, so infantile, and so juvenile in its exercise?  What is it in the American vernacular that has happened to stunt our intellectual growth as an electorate?

          The inanity of it all is a stupefying indictment of either the lack of intelligence of the voter or of the politicians or more likely, both.

          Why do we need Wolf Blitzer and Chris Wallace to moderate debates? Why do we need any moderators at all?  The idea of Michelle Bachman giving a straight answer to anything other than how much she is guided by her faith is so fantastical as to strain the imagination of J.K. Rowling. Mitt Romney, a homogenized, blow-dried, fabric softened mannequin, is now vying with the pizza man for front runnership.    The “debates” are farcical, nincompoop enterprises, offering only a modicum of insight into who these people really are.

          And the President, although disappointing, will probably get another term after all is said and done, given his less than courageous posture in standing up to a Republican party that has been taken over by social ideologues, who deny science, climate change, evolution, stem-cell research, instead harping on piety, religiosity and “values.”

          Our political and electoral system is a broken, rusty, creaking locomotive, chugging up a hill that steepens every year, hampered by global competition, economic challenges, and countries which select their Prime ministers in 6 week campaigns from start to finish.

          The Electoral College is an anachronism. Its origins, based upon state’s rights, disenfranchised women, slaves, and rural communities is in need of serious reform. We need direct popular election of the President, a dramatically shortened campaign, and a congress that remains in Washington, seeing to the business of governance, not partisanship driven by vote getting.

          Billions spent to elect candidates and a rational discussion of the issues confronting the country, do not need years of campaigning.  


          Debates should be discussions among the candidates themselves, not howling, applauding audience extravaganzas on Fox and CNN.  The discussions should include follow up questions, follow ups to the follow ups and not be a continuum of handler-generated sound bites.

          People should understand that there should be a depth of knowledge generated by the discussion and a revelation (forgive the expression) of what these people are actually thinking and, more importantly, what they actually know.