Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Standing For Something

So, barring a shock vote in the Senate, it's August 2nd and we're out of the debt-ceiling crisis. For now. (It'll keep being 'for now' as long as we have a debt ceiling to raise, something we enshrined during World War 1 with the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 and modified with Public Debt Acts during World War 2. It wouldn't be very difficult to repeal the ceiling if we didn't want to have one anymore.)

Beyond the point just noted, we're not going to discuss here my feelings on the bill itself. I'm more focused on the feelings channeled through the bill and the debate over it. And those feelings are abysmal. Just about everybody hates... well, everybody hates everything. We're angry at each other for the feelings our opposite number holds. We're angry at the middle for not picking a side. We're angry at our own side for not getting enough out of the bill.

One person I saw, a Democrat or progressive or liberal or whatever term it is we want to use today, noted that they had a sort of grudging respect for the Tea Party, because "at least they stand for something."

At least they stand for something.

Whenever I hear this phrase uttered, it is always from a person fed up that their side hasn't gotten close enough to their ideals. That they compromised-- actually, no, "compromised" is never the word used in this context. The word is "caved" or "folded" or something else to that effect. My side lost. The other side 'at least stood for something'.

'Standing for something' is in this context just about always confused with 'being a stubborn asshole'. 'Standing for something', I would argue, plays a very large part in how Congress got to its current state. Use the two phrases interchangeably, and you tell me if the sentiment changes at all. In fact, oftentimes that's the first half of the sentence. 'He may be a stubborn asshole, but at least he stands for something'. It's somewhat unintentionally redundant.

Congress is full of people who stand for something. They stand for something so much that they only talk to each other in the most technical sense of the word, never seriously making progress towards critical, must-pass legislation until the very last possible second before disaster hits. And some won't even talk then. There are only barely enough people to barely operate for barely enough time to function. Imagine a plane flying through a mountain range, headed straight for a cliffside. Essentially, we are gunning the engine and headed right for it, only to wildly yank on the controls while screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" and missing the cliff by 20 feet... only to aim the plane straight at the next mountain over and start it all again. Sooner or later, that plane is going to slam into a mountain.

And there are mountains ahead. There's a government shutdown fight coming up not too long from now. The debt ceiling will raise its head again. And then there's every routine bill that can be blocked, held, filibustered or otherwise held hostage in any way, shape or form.

The thing is, there are a whole lot of things that can be stood for. Political positions. Sports teams. Coke or Pepsi. And, as is becoming increasingly apropos, the positions held in wars. Which wars? At the risk of sounding like Sarah Palin: All of them. Pick your favorite. Every war ever began because people stood for things quite forcefully.

"We believe rather fervently that your oil/land/people actually belong to us. We also believe that you should be dead."
"We disagree."
"Well, let us settle this disagreement through grievous bodily harm on the grandest possible scale."
"Kudos to you for standing up for your beliefs, but by the same token, I do hope you enjoy the sight of your own blood, good sirs."

We reached a point, somewhere along the line, where the middle is unacceptable. If a bill goes left, it angers the right. If a bill goes right, it angers the left. If a bill goes anywhere in between, it angers EVERYBODY.

And on some level, we have to realize that we did this to ourselves. The sentiment- and Nate Silver's analysis bears it out- may show that the will of the voters and elected officials are in total disconnect with each other. But don't think yourself blameless. Each and every one of them is only there because the voters put them there. (And please don't give me the 'it's who counts the votes' line. If anyone should be using that line right now, it's me. I'm from Wisconsin. Look at all the shenanigans going on here with open sacks of votes and fliers muddying the knowledge of when Election Day is and fake candidates who say outright that they're fake... and I'm not boycotting or acting like my vote doesn't count even given all that. Why? First off, that's just not how I operate. Second, because I know if I stay home the other side won't care. Me staying home seems to be what they're actively trying to CAUSE. Me staying home is only going to be seen as an increase in their margin of victory. I'm not going to give them the satisfaction. They want me not voting, they are going to have to physically hog-tie and drag me from the precinct.)

You put them in. You- or people you know; you may have supported their opponents- went into the booth and checked the name of each and every person in that body. America voted for gridlock, for checks on one-party rule, and gridlock is exactly what America got. You voted them in, and you can vote them out as well. At the very least, this particular set of people has proven fundamentally incapable of working with each other. Given that the legislative process is built around debate and negotiation and compromise, what that means is that this set of 535 people is incompatible with the system.

What needs to happen, if we are to avoid fights like this in the future, is that there needs to be a movement towards people who are compatible with the system. People that aren't stubborn assholes. People who can talk to each other like adult human beings. People who, instead of arguing over whether the plane in the mountain range should veer at the mountain on the left or the mountain on the right, stop and consider that maybe the plane should fly over the mountains and not veer at any of them.

You know. People who don't stand for things so much.

No comments: