Monday, February 25, 2013

Sequest, Out

So we're moving headlong towards our latest entirely self-inflicted economic disaster, the sequester: across-the-board automatic spending cuts set to start on Friday. (Here's a state-by-state report from the Pew Research enter; a lot of places are linking to the White House's reports, but even though I personally side with the White House here, I think I'd rather have a neutral party's take on them for article purposes.) The idea was supposed to be that the sequester cuts were so odious that surely- SURELY- Congress wouldn't be stupid enough to let them happen and would merely use them as an incentive to pass something better. The whole idea of the sequester cuts is that Congress considered them so bad that they would force themselves to do something to stop them.

Congress has, in the starkest possible fashion, overestimated itself.

This all leads to one big, important question., not 'why won't they nut up and deal'. Who wins, silly. Bill Schneider of the Huffington Post gives us a perfect example of this just in the title of his article: "Leveraging Likability: Why Obama Will Win The Sequester". The article itself is exactly what you'd expect an article with a title like that to be: horserace analysis of partisan brinksmanship, leverage, who's going to blink first, who the public's going to blame, and most importantly, who's going to come out the other side looking better in comparison to how they looked in the public's eyes beforehand.

And if you work in Washington, or spend all your time talking to those who work in Washington, I'm sure that seems important because it helps determine who you're going to be dealing with every day in the future or whether you get to keep working in Washington or not. For the vast majority of us, though, this is decidedly not the case. What has happened here- what happens to a lot of people when they get into the big leagues- is that they completely lose perspective. The people they used to deal with every day fade into numbers, statistics, points on a scoreboard, or more insidiously, pawns and bargaining chips.

That's how it can get to the point that articles like this are written. Sure. One side's going to get blamed more than the other, but that doesn't mean the other side 'won'. Obama end up with improved political capital, but he does not win. He loses as well. He loses because the countrymen whom he leads will be made to suffer despite his efforts. Conflicts do not always have a winner and a loser. This is not a zero-sum game, no matter how much Election Day may make it look like it is. It's not Election Day anymore anyway. Sometimes everyone wins. Sometimes everyone loses. If we reach sequester, everyone loses.

The public at large, no matter how much it gets drummed into their heads who's winning a certain news cycle and what side they should be on, ultimately really wants one thing: they want shit to get done. They want their lives to be as improved as possible, they want their futures as secure as possible, they want to know someone, anyone, has their back if something goes wrong. The fact that their anger over these things not being done has been met from their leadership not with a renewed effort to get them done, but rather with gamesmanship, and the fact that that gamesmanship is far too often not only not condemned by those journalists who cover them, and not focused and refocused on the constituents whom it would affect, but instead encouraged, cheered, and aided and abetted, serves only to further erode public confidence in all involved: the elected officials who finger-point, and the journalists who allow and engage in finger-pointing themselves.

People don't like having their concerns be ignored. They don't like writing to their elected officials and getting form letters back that either are only tangentically related to the issue at best, or thanking them for holding the opposite opinion from that which they said they had. They don't like it when a reporter shows up in town for an inadequate amount of time and completely misrepresents what's going on to make for a better-sounding story. They don't like feeling like their questions have gone unanswered. They don't like feeling like their leaders and the people who watch them seem to exist in some alternate universe where TV ratings and decibel levels have taken the place of votes.

I do not blame Schneider's side of the argument for causing the sequester, presuming that some last-minute deal does not come down the pike (like, admittedly, it has a tendency to do). I do, however, blame the mentality that he brings to the table and places on display.

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