Archive for the 'Washington' Category

Taking it out by the roots

July 2, 2012

I tend to notice things about tree or plant roots — the metaphor, pictures of them, rules against putting out a root ball for yard waste collection — ever since I became aware some people have an anxiety about them.

So I noticed the confluence of Speaker John Boehner’s words, after the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, about getting rid of the entire Affordable Care Act “by its roots” and the storm damage in the Washington, D.C. area a couple of days later that included the toppling of huge trees by their roots.

I see synchronicity.

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Kids and parents

September 25, 2011

As I wrote in my comment to Tom Friedman’s column about wanting leadership in today’s Times, Jonas told me on Friday, in passing, how this kid and that kid and the other kid had told him while they were playmates in elementary school that their parents had told them they couldn’t be friends with him.  The full sentence was, “He told me his parents said he couldn’t be friends with me because I’m black.”  Jonas then went on to say how he didn’t think the kid himself came into this world thinking that way, how he thought it was taught to them by their parents, and on this subject Jonas displays no bitterness or anger (on other subjects I can detect some).  Maybe I need to note that there wasn’t anything in Jonas’s behavior that would have made him an unsuitable playmate at the time, and in fact other parents often volunteered to me how polite and well-behaved he was.

My surprise wasn’t that there was this bias, because that became apparent to me when Jonas got to middle school (for example, when his friends refused to walk with him to school the first day they attended middle school; by high school he reported that only the “druggies” were accepting of him), but that it started so early, that it came from “good” families who purported to have other values, and that it occurred in a town that displays banners about its inclusiveness; and that the parents would agree to play dates but tell their kid he couldn’t be friends with him.

And it’s not that I think my naivete is particularly instructive to anyone, but I put this experience out there to make the point that our society accepts a lot of pretext, pretending, hypocrisy, denial, two-tiered thinking, whatever we want to call it: we don’t do what we say and say what we do, and in fact, I have heard this praised as a form of sophistication.

I raise the issue now in part because it happened to come across my radar the other day and in part because maybe that’s the elephant in the room in Washington that is driving the destruction of our country, and we are all going to sit by and be too polite to even discuss the possibility.   Maybe it’s not about politics and re-elections and differences in philosophy but about racial bias.  How will we ever know?

Debates as sound-bite producers

September 8, 2011

I’ve been watching some of the Republican debate, and how it’s being packaged already on some websites, and while I realize it’s part of a political campaign, I am frustrated that the ideas mentioned in the debate don’t get explained there in more detail, that the challenges to them are met less with responses than deflected with gambits, and that they are packaged as moments; because I thought a discussion of some of the many ideas put forth might have led to some interesting progress on the issues.  Instead, the candidates seem to have an opportunity to gain or lose campaigning trading cards, these sound-bite moments.  If we leave the ideas on the cutting-room floor and put only snippets into the distributed film, I don’t think we foster government by the officials, once they are elected, that revolves around fully developed ideas.  Without a focus on fully developed ideas, I think it’s probably more likely for governance to degenerate into partisan maladaptive behavior.

Ending the cycle

August 6, 2011

It never ceases to amaze me how we think we are applying “Do unto others …” or “Love thy neighbor …” when all we are doing is expanding the category of people we deign to treat well, without our eliminating the category of “other,” of “not included.”  In my view, we’re not there yet until we’re all in the same boat, in the same category.

The latest version that troubles me is this demonizing of the Tea Party.  They didn’t come out of nowhere.  I actually think they are the progeny of our response to 9/11, which, even if the event seemingly came out of nowhere, required a calm response if we wanted (and want) it to safely and effectively dissipate.  And I think the only real way to end The Cycle (whether of religious strife, East-West friction, or domestic partisan politics, or anything else with seemingly opposing forces, for that matter) is to have compassion for “the other,” too, to the point that we do love them as much as we love anybody.  The challenge is to love those whom we fear as enemies, loving the neighbor with whom we identify is far easier.

People seem to think that President Obama is too accommodating to his political opponents, but I sometimes wonder if we could have lost the battle but won the war if he had been even more accommodating.  I don’t know that he could have done that without truly relinquishing his desire for a second term.

President Obama’s window

August 4, 2011

I heard a segment on the PBS NewsHour this evening in which Professor Beverly Gage of Yale made a point to the effect that President Obama had missed a sort of window of opportunity:

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I think Obama came to office with a real moment a few years ago.

In fact, I happened to be looking back at an old issue of Newsweek from early 2009, and it seemed incredible to me, but the headline on the cover of Newsweek was, “We Are All Socialists Now.” And this was just a couple of years ago.

It’s almost impossible to believe that that was really the case. And I think Obama had a moment when he came to office, when he had both houses of Congress, in which he could have mobilized people around a different sort of economic agenda certainly than we’re seeing now or even that he himself attempted to put into play when he came to office.

And one of the things that’s really astounding is how quickly that moment has passed and where we see ourselves two years out from that moment.

I don’t know, I was awake and alert in early 2009, and I remember being frustrated that President Obama, for all his electoral support in the nation, seemed to have less support in Washington, or maybe more specifically in Congress, for what he might have wanted to do and arguably should have done.  Maybe I wasn’t following closely enough, but I guess I’m not convinced he missed an opportunity that was really available.  Maybe it’s a feature of representative democracy, that the voice of the people is not necessarily transmitted note for note through the voice of its representatives in Congress.

For all of us to win

August 1, 2011

What would “winning” look like?  Legislation put forward by the Democratic caucus?  Legislation proposed by the Republicans?  Something floated by the White House?  The best thinking of our best pundits?  Even the ideas floating up from the electorate?

I actually think winning would look like interactions with less rancor and more sincere good will towards the other.  Every time we erupt with our own righteous indignation at “what the others have done,” we perpetuate the cycle, I think, regardless of how justified we feel according to some doctrine about the others’ content or process.  Every time we think we’ve won when our own preferred course of action carries the day, we achieve only a Pyrrhic victory if civility and caring for others are casualties of the process — we may win a battle but contribute to losing not just a war but our ability to live in peace.

Because I don’t think the it’s a game in which being right and getting our way is the object of the game — I think the “game” (if that’s another name for needing to build something together, whether it’s an economy, a social program, software, a widget, a school of thought, the Tower of Babel, or anything else we do together) is the means to the end, so to speak, the exercise we go through in order to achieve emotional fitness.   And I think that we’ve so lost our way by mistaking content, and getting it “right,” for the main event.

The main event is how we interact, what intangible products we produce through our emotions toward each other.  I’ve used the analogy of a canary in a coal mine dying for what we should be seeing in what’s been going on in Washington, and I see the gases as emanating from our negative regard for one another.

The ironic thing about this is that it’s actually something very much within our control to work on — how we treat each other.  To treat each other well, we need some inner peace ourselves, some self-awareness, too, to achieve this.

I don’t mean this as a speech against anyone, I mean it as guidance to do something other than pulling the tangle tighter by strenuously fighting back — we don’t have to agree with one another, we can believe in our perception of what’s right to do, but we need to relearn how to get along with each other, how to love each other, how to stop trying to control one another.

I suspect that part of the root of all this dysfunctional behavior is our inability to actually love ourselves — to love the part of ourselves that is our core, not our superficial skills and accomplishments.  We often love a false self, I think, and that misprision makes it difficult to love another.  But the encouraging thing is that we can always work on rediscovering who we are through stripping off all our encrustations, and when we have done that, we find ourselves freer to feel and interact in ways that are pleasant and helpful for both ourselves and the people with whom we interact.

Demons and Angels, game 2

August 1, 2011

So the Democrats were demonized by the Republicans over the Affordable Care Act, and now Democrats can demonize Republicans over the debt ceiling legislation.  I think this makes the series even, but clearly we’re all losing, on issues such as comity, cooperation, and progress, that is.

I took a slightly different point of view in my response to Paul Krugman’s response to the proposed deal.

Summerhill

July 31, 2011

I have been assiduously looking for a positive way of framing what’s going on in Washington over producing legislation that will raise the debt ceiling.  What came into my mind this evening was my recollection of A.S. Neill’s observation in his book about his school Summerhill, that when kids were given the freedom to choose a diet or a course of study or a schedule, for example, they did eventually reach a workable way of doing things.  So, I’m thinking, with all the analogies to kids and their behavior circulating in this family drama in Washington, maybe A.S. Neill’s experience sheds some encouraging light on how things may resolve themselves.

Irrational aggressiveness and aggressive irrationality

July 29, 2011

Paul Krugman’s column today got me thinking about behavior that is irrational and aggressive.

I suspect that such behavior is generated by fear.  In terms of effective responses to such behavior, the only one I know of that seems to have any “success” is detachment, not engaging with the fear and its emotional sequelae that are lodging in the person.  Detachment doesn’t necessarily mean not interacting with the person, and certainly it doesn’t mean not loving the person.  I think it means some kind of “boundaries,” in today’s parlance, and maintaining our own focus on what we each as an individual should be doing ourselves, regardless of what is going on around us.

Now, how this applies to interactions among elected government officials I am not sure.  The United States government certainly isn’t structured the way, say, the Al-Anon World Service organization (and I’m referring to Al-Anon, for family and friends of alcoholics, not to AA, for alcoholics themselves) is, or guided by its principles (those embodied in its steps, traditions, and concepts of services, for example).  But I don’t see that our values in our founding documents or legislation preclude or are at odds with those principles, either.  I also don’t see those principles as sufficient, because a government must be concerned with service to its constituents, not just to service to its own organization (one of my puzzlements about how Al-Anon works).

So, I don’t see Al-Anon as some kind of Answer, including to our current woes in Washington, but I do think it has something to teach us about how to interact with people acting aggressively and irrationally.