So this piece is being written by an extremely amateur political junkie. There are political blogs, including several posted by this newspaper, that are written by smart people who make politics their daily focus. These are people who research, who can keep track of multiple moving parts, and who have practiced the art of analysis and portrayal. Right now I’m just a frustrated and scared guy who earned a degree in English a century ago and who’s been around a few blocks.
For more than just the last year or two I’ve found myself shaking my head and rolling my eyes at the antics of many politicians, individuals from all parties and at all levels. Of course, the prominent ones get the most attention and so come across my own dashboard more frequently. Recently, from the vantage point provided by my work I have reacted with heat and clenched fists at some of the statements attributed to Maine’s Governor and some in the Republican Party. Sorry, but at the moment that’s what comes to mind.
Christmas trees with pigs as ornaments and adorned by the faces of legislators whom the Governor scorns isn’t political theater, and it’s not funny. It’s not funny when thousands of Maine kids can’t get adequate health care. It’s not funny when the Governor’s tax policies would give a few wealthy citizens a big Christmas present in the form of tax refunds while most of us would get enough to pay for some groceries and gas for our cars. It’s not funny when seemingly no one is paying serious attention to the condition of our roads and bridges, and it’s not funny to contemplate thumbing our noses at brave families who have escaped violence and persecution in their home lands. It’s not funny on a moral level (what the hell has happened to our national vision and the words, “Give me your tired, your poor and…”?) or on one of community and economic development. We need to welcome new folks of diverse backgrounds and cultures to help us develop our economy and catch up with the rest of the world a little in terms of who we actually are.
So I’ve been getting angry frequently (there have been a lot of stupid and harmful political statements and actions reported by the media) and tried to take a hard look at why. The statements alone hurt people (and the rest of us by reputation), but there was something bigger at play. I finally realized that my biggest concern is about us, the voters.
I think we have become second rate. Think about stories you’ve seen or read about academic scores for kids in our schools vs schools in Japan, India, Luxembourg or Great Britain. Think about how poorly we’ve been scoring on all the metrics used to measure public health (infant mortality rate, life expectancy, frequency of chronic diseases, etc.). Think about who owns our own land!! (If you don’t understand this reference, you should look it up.) We are not “Number 1!!!!!” I was thrilled at that hockey game in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It happened to be the day my daughter was born. But that moment of innocent, spontaneous and joyful proclamation has become a narrow minded, bullying and simply wrong chant. Do we need to yell that in the face of all the warning signs? Do we need the politically driven and constant presence of references to patriotism to make us feel better? Vietnam, and the far more honest press coverage, was nationally painful and ugly—but we were truly engaged as a country!
My personal frustration and anger is not all created by or aimed at the statements and actions of politicians like Governor LePage. My anger is actually based on fear. I think that’s true of anger in general. I believe that the anger you can read about and see on t.v. (or wherever you more modern people get your news) every single day is based on fear. Funny, right? Day one’s story is a video clip of a United States Congressman telling us to watch out because more stealth terrorists will be acting individually and using modest weapons like knives or their own vehicles to attack us on the Fourth of July. We blow up innocent families along with terrorists on foreign soil. That destruction further radicalizes the bad guys and gives them a platform, just as some in this country use their actions to rationalize ours. And we’re not going to give a couple bucks to a family fleeing that destruction.
My frustration and anger stem from looking around and seeing most of us seemingly disengaged. We do not pay attention. We do not do our research. We do not think things through seriously, and we do a lousy job connecting dots. And we look away. That is where I get scared.