Recent events compel me to stretch my purview beyond my normal commentary on art and culture. I feel as if our whole society is living inside this depiction of ”Nero fiddling, while Rome burned.” Unfortunately, “Rome” has become our own American body politic.
We all grieve for the horrifically senseless massacre in Colorado. But that does not change the inability of virtually all politicians – Obama included – from addressing the obvious and urgent need for sensible gun control laws. The silence is deafening. I do not understand how preventing ordinary citizens access to assault rifles and clips above ten rounds, impinges on Second Amendment rights to bear arms. One can hunt, protect one’s property and family, perfectly well with handguns, rifles and shotguns. Senator Frank Lautenberg has proposed a ten round clip limit as being reasonable for these functions. Whether the limit is ten, fifteen, or twenty, what I think is obvious, is that only the military should have access to assault weapons and all related kinds of firepower. The Second Amendment does not give individual citizens the right to own bazookas, hand grenades or their own personal tactical nuclear weapon. Government certainly has the right, and duty, in fact, to decide what is reasonable.
I am similarly frustrated and perplexed by the large number of politicians, and citizens, who are able to pretend that global warming is not happening all around them. Step outside your door. I can understand why oil companies and other fossil fuel burning technologies want to downplay it, but the facts and reality of it are obvious and incontrovertible. We have unleashed natural processes that can cripple our planet and our future. We can not allow corporate greed to determine our environmental policy. Make no mistake, these issues are not just environmental, they effect and threaten all aspects of our daily life; our weather, our food and water supply, the integrity of our coastlines, etc., as well as being one of the great destabilizing international threats of our time. I guarantee that this reality will become one of our most significant national security issues in the years ahead. Again, I am befuddled by our inability to even begin to deal with these issues politically. Some of the basic steps are obvious. Alternative energy needs to be encouraged, fossil fuel energy discouraged. Yet, even in this time of economic and fiscal crisis, we can’t stop giving oil companies billions upon billions of dollars in tax breaks. Who’s running the show here?
This brings me to the state of our national debate around the economy. Every political player knows exactly how to solve our current problems. It is not difficult. It simply involves some version of ”Simpson-Bowles.” The only plan that will work is a combination of higher taxes, deficit management, and entitlement compromise. Everybody has to give a little. This is not rocket science. I won’t get into the notion that ” we’ve tried stimulus and it didn’t work.” The problem, from my point of view, is that we didn’t do enough stimulus to the right segments of the economy, and did too much for the people who got us here. You can’t starve the engines of growth, like infrastructure and education and expect to expand the economy. I believe in capitalism, but not in Wall Street threatening the foundation of our whole society by gaming the system, for their own profit, with the guarantee of tax dollars to protect them, while we suffer incalculably. But as with even the most minimal, common sense gun control, most politicians can’t deal with the most obvious, basic financial regulation and restructuring of a deck so stacked against our real national interests.
Regardless of one’s political party orientation, we need to start acting like adults on a national political level. People can certainly disagree about how to accomplish policy objectives, but “reality and truth” are not relativistic in these areas. If you bury your head in the sand, you will get buried – and unfortunately, take a whole society with you. We have to decide if this country will be dedicated to the greater good of all its people, or become even more polarized, with our national agenda controlled by, and for the benefit of, the privileged few. The Supreme Court not withstanding, I don’t recognize an America where corporations have the same rights as people. The strength of America was built on her dramatic expanding of the middle class. We used to embrace the notion that a rising tide lifts all ships. We need to decide what kind of society we want to live in, to leave our children, and build towards it. We need to do it quickly. I think we’ve gone way past the point where time is on our side. Meaningful, thoughtful, action is required. Bi-partisanship used to mean a recognition that the common good most likely required everyone to compromise. We need to unite, we need to act, and we need to do it now. The flames in the depiction of Rome above are already lapping at our heels. If we don’t start dousing them, the country we cherish, and our future, will be relegated to the ashes.