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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Resigning politics. Or, it's the stupidity, stupid.

There was Sen. Joe Lieberman on CNN Sunday morning calling for vengeance against those who allowed the underwear bomber onto Detroit-bound Flight 253 on Christmas Day.  They must be held accountable, Lieberman said.  Who are they? asked anchor John King.  Well, we have to find out, said the Senator; somebody has to be held accountable. 

That exchange is just another example of the kind of thinking that is propelling America along the course of failure.  There is no doubt that some things did not work in the case of the Nigerian with the explosive underwear. And there is no doubt that people who screw up should be held accountable.  But there is also no  doubt in this case that the fault probably lies in a massively unwieldy task put on a system that has some technical bugs that had not revealed themselves until this incident.

Anytime some complex and massive system is implemented, it goes through a debugging period.  It is an expected part of the routine, for example, of when Microsoft introduces a new operating system.  Or when the South Dakota Department of Transportation changes it computer system for dispensing license plates.  It is something that every new model of aircraft goes through, before it is approved for passengers to fly on it.  And as a new model airliner is put into service,  its performance is tracked with service bulletins and the model is grounded if some feature needs correcting and reworking.  Such procedures are part of making any system efficient and reliable.

When a glitch is discovered, the usual procedure is for the people in charge to say, we've had a close call, let's roll up our sleeves, examine the problems diligently, and correct and perfect the system.  But in the case of the Nigerian with the explosive undershorts, the predominant response has been to call for a scapegoat, as Joe Lieberman did.  The current furor is to find some soul to blame, humiliate, and publicly hang in the wind as the object of our fear and scorn.  In the case of the Al Qaeda's latest zombie, there probably is no identifiable persons whose incompetence or lack of diligence can be held up for an American five-minutes-of-hate session.  The fault probably lies in a hastily and ponderously constructed system that had not and could not be fully tested.  In today's political climate, it is more important to find somebody to excoriate than it is to rework the system to make Americans safe.  It has become the highest priority in American politics to find some basis for accusation and character assassination than it is to develop systems that work--whether in national security, health care, or recession recovery.  The American leadership is more concerned with providing citizens something to hate rather than something to trust and believe in, or benefit from.  Our culture has changed.

America is burying itself under the debris of dysfunction.  Government is not working because a significant portion of the people have been led to an Al Qaeda-type rage against anyone and anything that does not fit their small-minded preferences.  What takes place in the Senate, and comes from the mouths of representatives like Joe Lieberman, reflects a culture that has immersed itself in pettiness, malice, and cranky stupidity.

Gary Hart explains what has happened in a Huffington Post:

But, having held office in the 1970s and 1980s, I can testify to the fact that politics used to be more civilized, more collegial, and more, well, enjoyable. It certainly was more honorable. Since then, the confluence of exorbitant campaign costs, special interest influence, and the meanness of "consultants" have all conspired to remove almost all joy from public service. The net result is, with a few notable exceptions, the decline in the caliber and quality of Americans willing to serve.

For the tea-baggers and government-haters, this is all to the good. They claim to love our country even while hating its government. So, the worse the government performance, the more it proves their point. And the less thoughtful, intelligent, and wise the elected officials, the worse the government.

The U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century reported this in January 2001: "the United States finds itself on the brink of an unprecedented crisis of competence in government. The maintenance of American power in the world depends on the quality of U.S. government all levels. In this light, the declining orientation toward government service as a prestigious career is deeply troubling." Deeply troubling not for some reason of abstract civics, but deeply troubling for the security of this nation.

So, the cynics and trolls who scream like banshees at town hall meetings and scan the blogosphere to post cynical put-downs of their country's government are hurting no one but themselves. Not one of these people has the courage to stand for public office. And the most qualified Americans will continue to choose not to serve their country and we will continue to be weaker for it.

Hart supplies the reasons many people are choosing to resign from American politics.   As some one involved in recruiting candidates, I have found that the more intelligent and principled people are, the more they are repulsed by the idea of running for public office or taking public service jobs.  A common reason for not considering public service is that people feel they have a responsibility to protect their families and friends from the kind of insult, abuse, and defamation that has become the standard fare of political campaigns.  And a few moments watching cable television, surveying talk radio, or surfing the blogosphere shows they are right.

I, for one, am diffident about voting, let alone getting involved again in any campaigns.  America has been an experiment, which succeeded for more than 200 years.  The experiment has gone awry.  Those who say that we who criticize America hate America are right.  We hate the America they conceive in their minds.  If an experiment with a system does not work, it can be either corrected or abandoned.  The experiment is no longer working.  People of the progressive bent are no longer members of a political viewpoint; they have been branded as the enemy of America.  Political dialogue has been abandoned for war.  People must shrewdly ask if they have a country.

Like many people who hopefully voted in 2008, I have been shown that there is an element who cherishes a tradition of oppression and hatred that makes hope foolish.  Public service and civic interest offer careers of dishonor.

For many of us, it is time for a new experiment.  The ballot box is obsolete. Its integrity probably cannot be restored.  

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Now and then I think that the reason Lieberman gets any face time at all on TV is because he is almost always going to make Democrats and democracy look bad no matter which position he takes on any issue. He fits right in with corporate control of everything.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States