Running on Empty

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, that two become a law firm, and that three or more become a congress.” — John Adams

There are two enduring images from my childhood. The first is my grandfather’s description of the end of the world as a fiery catastrophe revealed to us in the Bible. The second is the infamous Doomsday Clock that counted the minutes until nuclear annihilation. Honestly, growing up as a Black Baptist in the shadow of the Cold War, I cannot say which outcome was more frightening to me then. Yet as luck would have it, Communism collapsed, taking with it the threat of mutually-assured destruction; and the Biblical apocalypse so vividly described from the pulpit of my neighborhood church assumed its place alongside other cultural myths shelved in my mind.

Having thus fallen out of the habit of thinking about the END OF TIME (except for the Zombie Apocalypse, I desperately want a Zombie Apocalypse), I was more than a little surprised to see a return of cataclysmic visions and predictions arising from the Federal Government shutdown and unsuccessful (to date) negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

Now I am the first to admit that I am not an expert in the intricacies of the Federal budget and the politics behind it. That said, it is perfectly clear even to an Ivy League poseur like me that people are suffering and that both the power and image of the United States are in serious jeopardy. To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around for this deplorable situation; but the House Republicans have achieved savant status in the art of self-destruction.

As a Republican, I agree with the desire to control spending and reform entitlement programs. I can even understand the urge to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. (In my view, the effort to do so, however, was a waste of precious time and goodwill.) But I am simply stunned that the Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan seems content to bring about fiscal ruin under the guise of “upholding principle.” Make no mistake. If our financial house collapses, the GOP will be MUD.

At the risk of summoning the ire of my fellow Republicans, I lay the blame for this calamity at the feet of one person: Speaker John Boehner. Call me Old School, but I fervently believe that if “Tip” O’Neill were still alive and Speaker of the House, there would be no “Tea Party Overlords.” (Thank you, Harry Reid, for one of the best phrases of 2013.) The Tea Party would be just another caucus of House members with a particular agenda. We would have a deal — and not one that would expire in a mere six weeks. And perhaps most importantly, the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States would appear together on camera to announce that they had reached an agreement. The American people and the world would see and understand that the Republic had emerged even stronger for having endured tough but fair negotiations.

But alas, Tip, the Gipper, and the great deal-makers of Congresses past are gone. Our nation is now being run by petulant children for whom compromise is as odious as castor oil.

The fiscal doomsday clock ticks on. Yes, there is still time to avoid, in the words of a classic R.E.M. song, “the end of the world as we know it.” But our so-called leaders should be ashamed that their endless bickering has brought us all to the brink of oblivion – again. We the People deserve better.

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Seven Things You Can Never Say In Politics

(In Memory of George Carlin, Requiescat In Pace)

When George Carlin died last year, I was deeply saddened.  He was one of the Great Comedians I had listened to from my childhood onward.  Indeed, I do not recall not knowing about Carlin, in the same way I do not recall not knowing how to read.

Anyway, the many obituaries and tributes that poured in paid homage to Carlin’s considerable talents, including his genius for skewering the human condition.  And, of course, they all mentioned his legendary “Seven Dirty Words.”  For a Black Baptist growing up in rural North Carolina, hearing these words was like discovering a lewd and truncated mirror image of the Ten Commandments.  (I should point out that my extremely devout grandparents, who would have cringed at Carlin’s unabashed use of the “Seven Dirty Words,” nevertheless allowed me to listen endlessly to Redd Foxx’s incredibly raunchy comedy records–on Sunday, at that.  Perhaps it had something to do with the way Black people tell stories.  Hmmm.  Methinks I have the subject for another post….)

Anyway, for some reason I felt inspired to write a little list of my own.  I have no idea why I chose politics as my canvas.  Perhaps the ghosts of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s recent resignation or the Monica Lewinsky scandal were clanging around in my head.  Who knows?  I humbly submit my “Seven Things You Can Never Say in Politics”:

  1. “I will never raise your taxes.”
  2. “Go ahead and follow me.  I have nothing to hide.”
  3. “S/he was just a staffer.  I never knew her/him personally.”
  4. “I welcome the opportunity to take my case before the American people.”
  5. “I never accepted gifts of any kind from that individual.”
  6. “I pledge to serve my full term.”
  7. “I am looking forward to spending more time with my family.”

Looking again at my list, I no longer find it as amusing as I did when I created over a year ago.  I guess you had to be there. 

Do not worry, Mr. Carlin, wherever you are.  I have no plans to give up my day job and try to do what you made look so easy for so many years.  You, Sir, were the Michelangelo of Mirth. 

[Expletive deleted.]