Jul 21 2011

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Why People Do Not Last in Politics

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted here with permission and was originally published on Grassroots in Nebraska.

Politics...yes it makes people want to scream

As Norlyn said recently, it can take a long time to turn a bad trend around, sometimes years, and therefore, distributing good information is the most effective thing we can do.

Our regular publishing routine has been interrupted since April. I’ve now got a back log of information ready to publish, but I’ve been holding back. For nearly a month, in between continuing my research and taking care of some neglected family business, I’ve redrafted this article…it seems like a million times.

I haven’t known HOW to explain the interruption but I believe the regular readers of this site deserve an explanation. And the reason for the “silence” seems important.

The how-to-say-this is difficult for me because I have no choice but to talk a lot about my own perceptions and, yes, even my feelings. I am not comfortable doing that, except in direct conversations with people whom I know well. But ENOUGH. After what seems like endless drafts and a lot of thinking, I’m no more comfortable. Because of this, I’ll be drawing upon a lot of music to help me convey my sentiments.

So…here we go.

I stopped writing because I found myself speechless in the face of the nonsense that passes for government process and, perhaps even more so, because of all of the politics and the people that maneuver in, around, and through it.

The first song I’ve chosen to help me is “Shout” by Tears for Fears.

Using music to explain something is a bit risky. If the song turns you off for some reason, it’s hard to follow the train of thought. No one song can do a job perfectly.

Not every line conveys my sentiments absolutely. I chose “Shout” because of all the songs I know, it comes closest to capturing how I felt by mid April. Listen to the whole thing and you hear, above all, frustration, and yes, someone who just wants to, yes…SHOUT! But specifically…

“You shouldn’t have to sell your soul”

From what I’ve observed, people in and around politics do a whole lot of that in little and big ways, more than they don’t. And some don’t necessarily sell their souls, so much as they “mortgage” them by rationalizing or fooling themselves.

“They really, really ought to know”

A LOT of people really, really ought to know…better. I am most disturbed by the willful blindness of so many people. I’ve realized that many people can witness unethical, very unprincipled conduct and not call it what it is. I’m one of those, “let’s call a duck a duck” people. If it has a bill, feathers, and waddles, I have a hard time pretending it’s not a duck. That’s what has disappointed me in dealing with people in the past five years, and willful blindness seems to be reaching epidemic proportions.

The majority of people do not seem to be bothered much by bad conduct until or unless it directly hurts them. For me, this tendency explains a lot of our problems. The political discourse includes a lot of talk about deficits. It seems to me the biggest one we’ve got is moral.

Speaking of deficits, our national indebtedness serves as a prime example of how too many people have grown to care only about themselves, even while simultaneously expressing concern about the debt. Governments are spending us all into oblivion. I find no small irony in the fact that as I am finally finishing this, the Congressional Budget Office has released its most recent long term federal budget outlook. Not good. Very many Americans say they want to see spending drastically cut. They say that – until their own “goodie” is the one falling under the axe.

"The Parable of the Mote and the Beam" (see Footnote 1)

Fix Social Security or Medicare? NO! I paid into that. Student loans? NO! MY kid can’t go to school. Medicare? NO! I paid into that. Energy credits? NO! I want to install a new garage door! TIFFs? NO! We need the “economic growth”! Ethanol subsidies? NO! It’ll wreck the whole state economy. Education budget? NO! Our kids will be hurt! Government employee pensions? NO! They’ve earned it. The problem is, there are so many goodies now, few people won’t see the axe pointed somewhere near one of their favorite government-sponsored treats. It’s no surprise we have an impasse in solving our problems.

In light of our own moral confusion, our politicians’ lack of ethics should come as no surprise[1. The painting is "The Parable of the Mote and the Beam", Domenico Fetti, 1691. I included it here because it's hard to avoid thinking of Matthew 7:3-5 when pondering our problems with our elected officials: "And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Click HERE for some commentary on these verses.] As broken as our country might be, there are things that still work much as originally designed. Our government is nothing more than a mirror, reflecting back on US.

“They gave you life”

For me, the “they” is US, and the “you” is politicians. WHO elects these people? We do.

“And in return you gave them hell”

Considering the kinds of elected officials we’ve got, it’s no surprise they do little about problems, and in fact, often do more damage. Seeing more of the way this stuff works up close, it’s hard to walk away without the following impression…

“As cold as ice”

Career politicians care about their careers, not about principles. That’s about as cold as it gets.

“I hope we live to tell the tale”

A final word about the song, after the interlude. I’d definitely like more people “to take down their guard” but I have no desire to break any hearts. I’d just like to change some. But the majority of politicos (elected officials and those who orbit around them) seem to operate without one. And, to reference The Wizard of Oz, far too many are without any brains. I take no pleasure in saying such things, but the truth is impossible to avoid.

I finally had a moment where I felt like I’d been hit by a wave of revulsion so deep I was stopped in my tracks. It became crystal clear why it was so hard to find people who are trying to do something about all of this and remain decent. I felt like I was looking into a deep, dark abyss. I realized I was likely not alone; other people had also stared at this same abyss. A lot of them, quite understandably, had decided to just get out. They couldn’t stand looking at it anymore and were afraid of what might happen if they did.

And that brings me to the next song.

People who decide to get out, or back away, what are they feeling other than hopelessness? Yes, as the song says, you feel just like a speck of dust in the wind, a drop of water in an endless sea. The song says, “Now don’t hang on”. How depressing!

I wish I could say that I am alone in my perceptions, but I’m not. In fact, I realized I’d probably become a little too callous about what I was dealing with when I asked for my husband what he thought after he’d sat through the second round of CIR (collective bargaining reform legislation) hearings in April:

“Hopeless. I felt hopeless.”

That’s a startling statement from someone whom I’ve known to be an eternal optimist for twenty two years. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard him use the word hopeless before, and he used it twice in the same day.

Lest anyone think my husband’s response was entirely motivated by my increasingly grim attitude, I’ve heard similar assessments from others. They don’t live with me and they’ve only attended one or two legislative hearings at the Capitol. One such example is provided by Norlyn. He was going to testify at the first round of CIR hearings in February. After observing the process for a couple of hours, he was turned off enough that he decided, instead, to write a letter to the editor of the Lincoln Journal Star. It was published as a Local View column entitled “Laws and sausages“. A brief excerpt:

“I attended the hearings on the Commission of Industrial Relations bills and experienced firsthand the truth of the old adage about the desirability of witnessing either laws or sausages being made.

After seeing more than two-and-a-half hours of this attempt to stuff 9 feet of sausage into 4 feet of skin…”

I really do need to be clear at this point. When I realized that I was starting to feel too much like a speck of meaningless dust, I knew it was time to step back. That’s all.

It was time to pray and think.

I’ve not written much about prayer before. But there hasn’t been a thing I’ve done in association with or on behalf of this group that has not been proceeded by prayer. If you’ve seen me in front of a microphone or a group of people, know that moments before, I asked for the Lord’s help with whatever I was about to do.

It turns out, my decision to step back for a bit was perfectly timed. My daughter, a high school senior, needed a whole lot more of her Mom’s time for the rest of the school year. And she got it.

Meanwhile, I’ve realized a few things. First, since some of what we’ve been doing is so frustrating and it’s not helping us impact the process, we’re going to have to change our approach once again. All of the answers are not entirely clear at this moment, but we’ll continue searching for them.

One of these questions regards how to impact the processes without either becoming a part of it or comprising principles. When you get involved in trying to impact problems in government and politics, it’s inevitable that there needs to direct interaction with elected officials, their staff, and others. It naturally follows that one finds out things that cannot, either temporarily, or ever, be reported. Of course, in some instances, explicit requests of confidentially have been explicitly requested before information is shared or agreements made to engage in a joint effort. Sometimes, the whole thing is more tangled.

For many people reading this, what I’ve said comes as no surprise. If you give your word to someone, you keep it. A dilemma, however, arises in witnessing conduct or simply hearing statements that are troubling. You start wondering whether or not your obligation is to report what you know because it is troubling, or to stay quiet because reporting what you’ve seen or heard may render you completely unable to accomplish anything. Another kind of dilemma arises when you realize what you’ve observed will never be known unless it’s revealed by an eye witness, especially if you are one of few, and no one else is going to step forward.

That’s been one of my biggest problems. I did NOT get involved in this stuff to become some kind of insider who is privvy to information others don’t know. A scene from the 1996 movie version of Mission Impossible comes to mind. Referencing some very nifty explosives masquerading as sticks of chewing gum, a gadget guru explains to two field operatives:

“Come up against a lock you can’t pick, you mash them together…*boom*. Hasta lasagna, don’t get any on ya.

Accepting the idea that politics is a dirty game, when the dirt explodes (and it regularly does), the dirt will get on you. After awhile, it’s kind of hard to wash off. Dealing with politicos?…Hasta lasagna, don’t get any on ya. How? That’s the question.

Meanwhile, there are things that can be reported that haven’t, should’ve been, and now will be. Some things have not been reported only due to lack of time. Others, however, have not been reported out of concern that people would shoot the messenger(s) and stop listening.

And that brings me to the single biggest problem I have been unable to get around in the past few months. From all I know, the majority of people in Nebraska who are interested in what’s going on in government don’t understand the extent of the problems right here in the state.

The majority of people who have come to our rallies, meetings, who get our emails / read our site, if registered to vote, would likely show track records of having voted mostly Republican.

Are we really willing to see or hear?

The average Nebraska Republican thinks their elected officials are doing just fine, that Nebraska is just fine; it’s other states that are in trouble and above all, the overwhelming trouble is in Washington. And lots and lots of people think that if we could just get that Obama guy out of the White House, and get the whole Congress Republican, our problems would just evaporate.

Boy, do I WISH that was all true.

Nebraska is not in nearly as good of shape as the political dialogue would have us all believe, and Republicans have controlled this state for a very long time. If we’re going to address the problems, I don’t know how we avoid saying negative things about the people who have made and are making the decisions…and they are mostly Republicans.

So what I’ve realized during my little hiatus is that I became too caught up worrying about getting shot for carrying the message. Time to put on my bullet proof vest. We need to get a lot tougher on the people who are in public office and the people who circle around them who are helping keep the status quo in place.

I’ve also worried too much about people no longer reading our site or wishing to hear from us. But in worrying about that, there isn’t enough truth getting out there. And to quote from John:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:32

My motto needs to be: tell the truth, and remember the wise words, shared by a friend, from Matthew:

“And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” - Matthew 10:14

I know full well, I’m definitely not one of the disciples and I’m not preaching the gospel. These lessons are meant to teach us how to live. Tell the truth and if it cannot be heard, dust off your feet and move on.

And the truth is, Nebraskans need to wake up, and real soon. I got involved in this stuff to do something about it and that means telling a lot more truths, more unvarnished. People in the circles of power just keep playing their games. Here in Nebraska, they clearly don’t believe they have anything to worry about.

Hopefully, some of what I’ve said here that might not be entirely clear will become so as we kick back into full gear distributing information. Here’s a list of some of the items we’ve got ready to go or in the works (in no particular order)…

  • Rewind on the bailout / TARP of 2008
  • The second highest donor, ever, to Governor Dave Heineman’s campaigns 2006 – 2010
  • Governors and the Chinese
  • Nebraska’s political history, including ties to…The Wizard of Oz
  • The NEGOP stated #1 priority for the 2011 legislative session – no, it wasn’t CIR “reform”
  • An interesting offer one of us received recently
  • Senators’ handling of CIR legislation
  • Out of state endorsements of US Senate candidates
  • How health care is being implemented, right now

And lots more.

[jbox color="white" shadow="3" width="490" content_css="font-size: 20px; color:#575757; font-variant: small-caps; letter-spacing: 3px;"]Image Credits[/jbox]

The Scream” by Evard Munch, 1893

The Parable of the Mote and the Beam” by Domenico Fetti, 1619

“Refuse to Listen, unattributed, Cliqueclack

[jbox color="white" shadow="3" width="490" content_css="font-size: 20px; color:#575757; font-variant: small-caps; letter-spacing: 3px;"]Footnotes[/jbox]

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