Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Requiem for a Lion

Well, it finally happened. Teddy is gone. God bless him, and God speed. He will be missed. I cannot think of anyone in Congress who had more friends on the other side of the aisle. I was actually trying to conjure someone with similar bipartisan respect, and as much as I love calling Al Franken my U.S. Senator, the only other person I can come up with is Paul Wellstone. God only knows where we'd be if that blessed man were still alive and in the senate. We were robbed of the next generation's Liberal Lion by that plane crash. But as for the original Lion, Edward, let's state the obvious: He was the only Kennedy brother who lived long enough to see his hair turn white, and arguably the one who made the most difference in American life, just given the length of his political tenure. He was a Kennedy, to be sure, and as such he was dogged by allegations of all kinds, from unseemly partying to the Chappaquiddick incident. But at heart, he was a liberal senator capable of building the kind of consensus with conservatives we can't even imagine in today's politically charged arena.
So now we're left with Patrick, a Congressional Kennedy without the charisma of a Jack or a Bobby or even his late father Ted. I say that without venom - I really like Pat Kennedy (and his unlikely friendship with our own Minnesotan Jim Ramstad), but it would appear that the dynastic days have finally drawn to a close, and this Mayo Clinic rehab alum will be content to quietly champion his causes without meriting undue spotlight. For that I commend him, and as a Midwesterner I respect his humility. From what I can tell, it seems that the story of the greatest generation Kennedy brothers has been one of failure to live up to expectations, and I salute Patrick for moving past that. Tonight on PBS they had a special highlighting the Joe Jr. through Ted generation and they kept mentioning the onus that was put on the survivors. When John died Bobby had to live up. When Bobby died Ted had to live up. It appears that the next generation of Kennedys is over that particular pressure. RFK Jr or Pat Kennedy aren't running for national office any time soon, and that is to their credit. And so with the passing of a lion, an entire coat of arms fades into American political history. We'll miss you, Edward.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why we should argue with our dining room tables:

So, I'm frightened. I'm frightened of what might be happening in America this summer, and that some of our elected officials are complicit, if not actively supportive, in its institution. The now famous Barney Frank video is quite funny, if only because, as Jon Stewart pointed out in his commentary of it, this woman lives "on a planet where a mixed-race president and a gay Jew are considered Nazis." But what deeply disturbs me, and is so eloquently discussed by Frank Rich in this past Sunday's New York Times, is the specter of underlying violence the tone of the discourse about health care has begun to exhibit.
When a large group of Americans (quite frankly three is large enough) begin to come to town hall discussions with their elected officials brandishing guns (guns! I can't believe I just used the word in the same sentence as 'discussion'!) this country is reaching dangerously toward the realm of Simpsons mob parody.
Quite a few years ago, I was at a house party in LaCrosse WI. It was after a rock'n'roll show, and there were many people there whom I knew. There were also, however, quite a few whom I did not. One of the former, a laid back guy I had known for some time who wouldn't hurt a fly, apparently offended one of the latter with an off-hand remark. This dude had come to this jovial house party brandishing a freakin' bowie knife strapped to his belt, and now he was starting shit with my friend. I distinctly remember the sentence, "Where I come from if you say something like that you either put up or shut up," being spoken. At one point someone went downstairs to get the host and I found myself alone with these two guys, standing in between them (both at least six inches taller and of considerably bulkier builds than I). At no point did the guy in the Arctic Cat baseball cap reach for his knife, but at no point did anyone in the room forget it was there.
That is what I mean when I say the armed citizenry at the town hall meetings frightens me. One does not need to use a gun for people to be intimidated by it. In situations where tempers flare and emotions run high, it is awfully easy for judgment to become clouded and everyone is aware of the firearm's presence.
I do believe in the second amendment. I would be the last person to say guns should be banned from American life. I love venison. But having said that, I don't think a tool designed expressly to kill what it comes into contact with has any place at an event that is intended to be a civil discussion of issues vitally important to all members of a community. To introduce a firearm at a meeting with a member of the U.S. Congress is reckless at best, criminal at worst. How are rational people to see this behavior but as a threat to our and our elected officials' safety?
One thing Rich mentioned in his commentary was OK Sen. Tom Coburn's blaming of the government for this outpouring of intimidation. He quoted Coburn as saying on Meet The Press "Well, I'm troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government, but we've earned it." This is the junior senator from a state that witnessed one of the most atrocious anti-government attacks in recent memory. How can he implicitly validate the mob mentality that threatens violence in one our most sacred institutions of the democratic process, the town hall?!
This is why we must argue with our dining room tables. Dining room tables are heavy, and can crush good legislation, taking cousin Barney or uncle Joe with them. We must get them to understand the actual language of the bill and the actual intention of the government. We must dispel any rumors of Nazi death panels or any other absurdity these people believe may be in this bill. Why can't we counter the bureaucrat argument with a simple explanation: "The government bureaucrat doesn't stand between you and your doctor - s/he pushes the insurance company bureaucrat out from between you and your doctor."? I hope we can get past this feeling that right-wingers have that government is trying to put their grandparents down, and start having a reasonable discussion about the very real and very important issue of health care, because it's about damn time we did.