Monday, November 5, 2012

Dreams for the next four years

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 4:00 AM

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The on-going reality show we call political campaigning has been interrupted this week for something called an election. Everyone concerned will pause, take two or three ragged breaths, catch an extra hour of sleep. Then the show will go on.

Our entertainment industry (which includes "the press") needs this show.

So do the political parties.

The big campaign contributors can't live without it.

As for everybody else — those of us, that is, who try to think elections are what the show is supposed to be about — well, we can dream can't we?

Here are some of my dreams for the next four years ...

Legend has it George Washington could not tell a lie. Abraham Lincoln was known as "Honest Abe." But when it comes to contemporary politics, honesty seems to have fallen by the wayside. I don't know when it was that Americans turned being lied to into a virtue. Maybe it was when we voted George W. Bush a second term, even though anybody paying attention knew he lied about the need to go to war with Iraq. You'd think people would have been pissed-off about something like that.

We preferred Bush's dishonesty to facing facts. In this latest campaign, one candidate dumbfounded observers by blatantly changing his positions on different issues in order to seem more or less conservative, depending on the audience. But this did not disqualify him. Instead, many of his constituents forgave his dissembling. Somehow they decided his saying one thing and doing another would be OK.

Being honest, I know, is not always easy. There's a reason why people say the truth hurts. But, in the public realm at least, honesty is the next best thing to oxygen. I dream we get lots of it.

But honesty can be hard to come by when people are afraid. And Americans have become a fearful people. This is not the image we're used to. We like to think of ourselves as John Wayne, the barrel-chested individualist with a Winchester in one hand and a jug of bourbon in the other. But take a look around: We take off our shoes and submit to full-body searches in airports, trying to fend off yesterday's terrorist attack; we arm ourselves, we claim, for fear of violence in our public places or at home; we see a threat to marriage in the desire of same sex couples to share vows.

People who are afraid have a penchant for blaming some one, or some thing for what's gnawing at them. Lately, the favorite target has been government. It's the government that keeps us from doing this or that, that gets in the way or keeps us down. The trouble is that the government, to paraphrase Pogo, the cartoon possum, is us. Unless, of course, we make government a spectator sport.

I dream we shake off our fears and get in the game.

One of the biggest troubles we have with fear is that, the bigger it is, the more we try and ignore it. This is how we've treated increasingly weird and disruptive weather events. Two hurricanes in New York harbor in the span of 12 months; an extreme drought throughout the nation's bread basket; a year in which winter never really came — we've known something strange was happening to our climate for some time, something that we human beings were largely responsible for. But we've put off coming to terms with this looming crisis because, well, we're addicted to a way of life that turns out to be unsustainable.

Look at what just happened to our Eastern Seaboard. In a single day, more people lost power than live in the combined states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Maine and both the Dakotas. As New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo remarked, what do you do when what we used to call 100-year events become the new normal?

You take them seriously, for a start. It's not as if we haven't known that the garbage we put in our air and water is dangerous. They don't call that 107-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that contains numerous petrochemical and industrial plants "Cancer Alley" for nothing. We have a corridor like that of our own through the steel belt in northwest Indiana. But our society is so dependent on using high doses of toxic energy, it is almost impossible for us to imagine life without it.

Rather than deal with the problem, we have tried to justify it. Some have gone so far as to suggest it's God's will. The fact remains that things appear to be getting worse. In September 2012, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic sea ice declined to its lowest extent since records began.

This presents us with a real dilemma: We can set about the ridiculously difficult task of changing the way we live — or we can, as our politicians like to say, kick the can further down the road. Once again, it's up to us. I may be dreaming, but if we're not made for dealing with this stuff, who is?

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