Still looking for sanity in the asylum

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fifty years ago I considered myself a political optimist. I had faith in our elected officials. I trusted them to do the right thing. And even when my duly elected representatives on the local, state and national levels disagreed, I expected them to use their negotiating skills to work out what most of us would consider to be a good deal.

Over the years politics have been shanghaied by all sorts of "isms" that have not just turned politics into a morass of useless rhetoric, but also have polarized our government into a paralysis seemingly beyond cure.

As Republicans tear at Obamacare, I patiently wait for details of a sensible alternative. So far, all I'm hearing is that we have to wipe the slate clean. Then, I suppose, the Republicans will step forward with a brilliant plan for dealing with the reality that millions of Americans do not have access to affordable health insurance.

I'm not holding my breath.

It's a shame that every contest for political office has been taken over by the canned positions and canned phrases that now pass as political discourse. If you're a Democrat, you have to say this, and you have to say it this way. If you're a Republican, you have to say that, and you have to say it that way.

Which leads us to the unseemly situation of two Republican colleagues in the Missouri House -- up till now supporters of each other -- running for the same Missouri Senate seat. It's unseemly because these two individuals, both good and decent people, have developed a serious case of politics-speak and are making accusations about one another that surely neither of them truly believes. Don't they get just a little sick to their stomachs after some of these shenanigans? Do they really think their mothers would be proud?

And look at the candidates crawling around on their hands and knees trying to appease the National Rifle Association and begging for the votes of Missouri's hunters. If Cape Girardeau wants to end its deer problem, host a political rally and invite all the candidates to bring their guns. Let's see who can really load, much less shoot, a deer rifle.

Most political advertising is so disgusting that you have to appreciate the inventors of the digital video recorder that allow you to zap TV commercials. Unfortunately, businesses trying to reach customers are lost in the ether as well.

And what about those telephone calls from politicians, from their campaign phone banks, their robocalls and their polling "experts?"

How many of you have actually taken the time to listen? How many of you have actually participated in one of the polls? By my unscientific count at a recent lunch with several well-informed citizens, only one person, out of curiosity, had taken part in a push poll. Doesn't that make one person's opinion 100 percent of the polling results?

The politicians don't seem to care. They are never going to divulge (a) how sloppy the polling is or (b) any results that reflect negatively on their election campaigns. So basically the polls are annoying as hell and have little or no real meaning.

Which leads us to the gut issue.

Most of us complain about politicians as much as we carp about the weather. But, like the weather, we don't do anything about it.

With the weather, we don't have any control. With politicians we do.

If we're truly dissatisfied, or if we truly believe in whatever alternative is presented to us in form of candidates or issues, then why don't we use our ballots to change things?

Republicans are tapping into that thinking on the national health care issue. Many Democrats have much the same hopes on issues like taxation of the rich.

How will you vote? Are you willing to scrap Obamacare without knowing what, if anything, would take its place? Are you willing to soak the rich? Do you think it's government's place to create jobs? Or is the economy driven by business leaders who are willing to take risks and invest their hard-earned money in new equipment and more employees? And, if so, should we also burden them with more taxes?

I wish I could say I am still a political optimist. I still have faith that good people will make rational and informed decisions, even if I disagree with them. I would like to think voters this year will be equally engaged -- but without the prepackaged blather of both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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