A Sick Feeling
We believe that everyone has his or her own definition of patriotism. We don’t mean patriotism in general, we mean American patriotism.
The past week has given us examples of different sorts of good-feeling towards our nation. Or bad feeling, let’s be honest.
We don’t think of ourselves as being naïve. We’ve spent hours and a great deal of ink pointing out to readers and viewers that our country is probably no less corrupt than other Western nations. Our own fiscal meltdown in 2007/2008 demonstrated that not every industrial or banking giant had the good of his/her country squarely in his/her sights.
Further, after being unmasked as players, men and women who go for the return rather than the healthy building of an industry or a nation, few have apologized or been disciplined in any way. This, of course, is especially true of the mortgage lending industry, the big banks, those too big to fail.
For their part, the banks basically assaulted Americans of all income levels to increase their own bottom lines. Truth in lending became meaningless.
This fiscal world of make-believe extended afterwards to the recent campaign, where to automatically lie was second nature to all candidates.
There were candidates put before us who had absolutely no talent for governing, no experience at it, no idea what might be a first step in solving some of our more intractable problems.
And yet millions of people around the country who expressed disappointment or disdain for Congress and for politics in general stood in line to vote for our system of democracy. That’s patriotism, in one way. Some would also say that it was the sign of insanity so many people like to cite: doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.
Even the recent six week set-to over whether to fall off the fiscal cliff was patriotic. Many wanted to avoid catastrophe as envisioned by pundits and commentators throughout the country. Others seemed content to let the catastrophe occur, to teach us all a lesson about fiscal responsibility and its lack. Many legislators actually hoped the country would remain in an economic and tax stalemate, forcing us to revisit our understanding of basic economic theory, forcing us to admit that spending cuts and the decimation of social programs so important to middle class and lower income families would help solve some of the inequities between spending and income.
The debates in Congress were important ones, affecting us all.
When, on Tuesday night, the cliff was avoided, for many voters– if not most – relief was the sound around them. A gigantic sigh. True, what was passed was flawed, but what mattered most to people was that it was passed, that Congress could, if forced, act sensibly.
But on Wednesday, the world changed again.
We learned, via our various news sources, that while the fiscal cliff had been avoided, in the very bill that gave protection to so many, was included what is generously called “pork.”
“Pork” for those just waking up after one hundred years is a system of bringing home the bacon to one’s district in the form of favors for particular industries or financial backers of one’s campaign. It’s payola, it’s a bribe. It demonstrates to one and all that supporting Mr. X or Ms. Y for office does pay off in ways that apparently benefit one particular industry or district and no one else.
You’re a baker. You vote for me, and I’ll slip a little something in the next available bill that will make your life easier and better: cheaper sugar, for example, or less expensive flour. And when that actually happens, the voter not only knows to whom he should write a thank-you note, he also knows where his next piece of bread is buttered, and will continue to be buttered because the man or woman who arranged the insertion of pork into an unrelated bill is as good as his word.
There is “good” pork and there is “bad” pork. Good pork may help an industry or a project that actually benefits a large group of people, and often people even beyond that group who somehow depend on that industry to make a living.
Bad pork is site specific…the bridge to nowhere for example. This idea would have assisted contractors and builders on a project that was designed only to do exactly that. The benefits of that bridge were never intended to assist the public in any way. It was or would have been, simply a bribe. Or if you will, payback for support from that particular Alaskan district. Other wondrous examples of pork might be a museum of fingernail clippings in Little Rock, or a school devoted to easing eye-strain in Portland, Maine.
So, here’s where we went ballistic. Debating a bill and presenting it on the floors of the Senate and the House – and passing it! – was designed to help many Americans who needed assistance in order to keep working, or to maintain their families, or even to maintain a standard of existence of which the nation could be proud.
The Fiscal Cliff Bill should have been a clean bill, one specifically designed to avoid disaster for millions of less fortunate citizens.
But as if to demonstrate that the old way of doing things was a long, long way from dying off, someone — several someones, in fact, added riders to the bill in the form of specific pork awards.
When we heard this on the evening news, we actually felt sick to our stomachs. How could openly elected representatives of the people not understand that life was changing, and that to append such clauses in important bills that needed to be passed post haste was not only in the worst possible taste, but a gauntlet thrown down once more in the face of the entire country?
We were enraged and completely disheartened, regardless of the targets of this continuing practice. Some may have deserved help of a different kind; others did not.
The first thing we wanted to know were the names of those members of Congress, or lobbyists, who had the nerve to soil what should have been a clean bill. On our computer, we set up an Internet Alert, so that when this information became available it would be forwarded to us. Very little useful information was forthcoming.
Why did we react so viscerally? The answer, alas, is terrifyingly simple.
Because by the simple act of adding pork to a bill designed to lower some of our daily overhead, more money was added to our long-running deficit. Which is to say, the addition of pork vitiated the purpose of the bill entirely.
Even worse, it meant that someone … Tea Partier in the House, old hand in the Senate, a well-connected trade association lobbyist…someone was telling us that try as we may, Congress was unchangeable, the gridlock in which it existed for the past two years was going to continue, and the coming three months were going to be intolerable as the two institutions once more fought tooth and nail over philosophies and partisanship that had nothing at all to do with the health of our country.
And what this says about American patriotism in some quarters is appalling. No matter how big the national problem, some member or lobbyist is going to slip into another bill more pork that will eventually redound to his or her success and career. What these people are telling us, clearly, is that they don’t give a damn about the US of A. And that they don’t give a damn about how the US of A is viewed abroad by friendly or unfriendly nations. What matters to them is re-election and their pocketbooks, period.
These moles in our midst should be identified and sent packing.
These men and women, or lobbyists, should be forced to go back to school to learn Civics 101. And they shouldn’t be returned to Washington in any role until and unless they can prove to us all that they believe in the greater good, that they believe in good government, that they – on pain of death – will never again slip pork into ANY bill that does not contribute to the health, stature and standing of the United States of America.