A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
October 27th was a morning both glorious and sad.
Glorious because of the brisk tempreratures and pristinely drenching sunshine enjoyed on my weekly walk to the Farmers Market; sad because it was the last Market of 2012. I love those walks - the jumbled worries of the week put aside; the attendant endorphin rush of exericse, fresh air, and sunshine never failing to rejuvenate.
I always listen to music on the way, and that morning featured an eclectic mix: The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, a hauntingly brooding depiction of a descent to madness started the playlist. Others included the lovely ballad Romeo and Juliet by Mark Knopfler, The Killers fabulous cover of Ruby, the richly resonant chords of Take it Back by The Barenaked Ladies, and finally, the epic, prairie sweeping harmonies of Mumford and Sons.
As I walked and listened, spinning the I-Pod like some miniature roulette wheel, I was staggered by its power and reach. I thought of the old clanking turn table and speakers I had in High School; recalling their weight and size, compared to the matchbook-sized device in my hand, and its capacity to play any one of 20,000 songs at the touch of my finger. Finally, I thought of Steve Jobs; the man who more than any other individual, was responsible for putting it in my pocket.
It is no accident that America has been the leading producer of such technology, for it is the by-product of many things: individual genius, manic comittment to a goal, the freedom to interact with the best minds and resources society offers, and yes; the opportunity to reap the reward of untold wealth for those who devote all that they have and all that they are to produce such masterpieces. I believe it is this happy confluence, along with other factors such as the Constitutionally ordained gift of property rights, that has created in our country the greatest outpouring and breadth of prosperity in human history.
American Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald opened The Great Gatsby with the following: "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me a piece of advice that I have been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like critizing any one" he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world have not had the advantages you've had".
Most of us learn at an early age that life isn't fair. We don't like it, and often have to re-learn the lesson, but most come to understand it. But one lesson that has eluded our collective political grasp is that there is no way we will ever be able to MAKE it fair. No occupying tent city in Central Park, no tidal wave of egalitarian sentiment, no President of either political party, no Congressionally ordained commission, no edict or decree or fiat, can ever make it so. And even if you could get a group of ten people - much less a nation - to agree on a collectively accepted definition of "fairness", who amongst us could guarantee its implementation?
Such considerations beg the question of how such things are to be "made right"? Since the days of LBJ's Great Society we have seen the Federal Government pursue the great "balancing". And in the forty five years since, having thrown trillions at our ever expanding swath of social ills, can we not set aside whatever legitimate policy differences we may have long enough to acknowledge that the very conditions that were to be rectified, have in fact worsened immeasurably?
So - does this mean we give a fatalistic shrug and accept the lot of the disadvantaged and the down trodden? No, I don't believe it does; and each of us, if we are to live rightly, must search their own heart as to how to most effectively meet our responsibilities to our fellow man. But is it not time to recognize the demonstrated inability of the Federal Government to balance the scales; to somehow "put things right"? Can we not stop arguing over whether or not it SHOULD do so for a pause brief enough to recognize that it has FAILED to do so?
And lastly, as we consider this question of "fairness", the vanishing commodity known as civil discourse comes to mind. I recall William F. Buckley and George McGovern - could there have been two more dissimilar individuals with more stridently opposing views? And yet they held an unshakable respect, even affection for each other. And even as each brought the hammer blows of policy differences down upon the other's head, they never forgot that a nation was watching, and that they carried a responsibility that was greater than themselves. In the spring of 2008, it was this unshakable respect that moved an octegenarian and afflicted McGovern to brave the the jaws of a South Dakota blizzard, and travel to Manhattan for his old adversary's funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Where are the leaders and pundits of their ilk who, despite their differences, fought their battles with a "joie de vivre", and conducted themselves with dignity?
For the sake of more productive discourse, can we discard the blog-o-spheric practice of lumping people into stultifyingly amorphous categories such as "gun-hating, bug-eyed socialist" or "knuckle-dragging, right winged lunatic"? Can we abandon the Facebook approach and its emotionally based prompt which asks, "how are you feeling", and instead insert the query, "what are you thinking"? Can we as a collective body politic, set aside our Internet-based rage, most of it offered behnd the cloak of a pseudonymed anonymity; each day witnessing fresh broadsides of pejorative-laced tirades?
And as we consider these things, I suggest we all ask ourselves a fundamental question. Do we REALLY believe that the issues which darken our societal horizon will be cleared away by the next round of legislative japery from inside the DC Beltway, regardless of which party is in power? Do we REALLY believe things will be set aright by the bloated and insulated ruling class that has been ensconsed in Washington DC for the last forty years?
I don't believe that. And I don't know many people, regardless of their political persuasion, that do. And if this be the case, perhaps it is time for us to consider and learn anew the value and worth of our local institutions.
In particular I believe we need to consider the effectiveness of local institutions vis a vis the Federal Monolith. It is time to read and reflect upon the wisdom of the Founders, and in particular, the Amendment that demonstrated more than any other, their intent - the Tenth.
Things to ponder in the New Year.
And speaking of that - Happy New Year!