The Pioneer Valley … Almost
By Bob Gaydos
Just when I think I’m out, they drag me back in. (Hey, if it’s good enough for Pacino, it’s good enough for me.)
When I retired from the Times Herald-Record, I wrote a final editorial decrying our desensitized, argumentative society that constantly looks for fault and someone to blame rather than working together for the common good we so loudly proclaim to want. I put politicians squarely in the bull’s eye of this farewell and committed myself to not being part of this problem in the future. To look for ways out of the confusion, or at least to not add to the noise.
With that in mind, I fully intended to write a (probably) sentimental piece about a brief visit to the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts. My sons went to a lacrosse camp at the University of Massachusetts last week and, since one of them had to come home early, I decided to stay over and take a brief vacation from my retirement. Nice, huh? And it was. I got to watch them play and explored a bit of what is really a lovely, laid-back area of colleges, farms and artsy stuff.
But no sooner do I get home and prepare to write about Historic Deerfield and Amherst and a butterfly conservatory than the headlines bring that angry, desensitized world crashing back into mine. Sarah (yes her) Palin, whose campaign for the vice presidency was all about responsibilities (she insisted she had had a lot of them) says she’s quitting her job as governor of Alaska with a year and half left in her term because, well, I’m still not sure why. But she blames the mainstream media for, you know, asking her questions.
Then The New York Times tells me that Leon Panetta, the new CIA director, told Congress that some of his employees told him that way back in 2001 Vice President Dick Cheney told them not to tell Congress about a secret counterterrorism program the agency began developing in the aftermath of 9/11. This admittedly not shocking news comes a day after reports that Cheney also ordered a lid placed on knowledge of the National Security Agency’s program of eavesdropping without warrants. Ah, liberty.
Now, as it turns out, these are two of my least favorite people in the world, not because they are Republicans, but because they are examples of that political world I have come to despise. Cheney takes no one’s counsel who does not agree with him, sees no approach but the one he prefers and arrogantly ignores the laws he swears to uphold. Palin hasn’t got a clue on solving any problems, hypocritically ignores the personal values she extols on the stump and unfailingly blames others for her misfortunes, which, by the way, she is parlaying into a small fortune.
You want Democrats? Take the New York State Senate — as Henny Youngman would say — please! Start with Pedro Espada, the turncoat from the Bronx (maybe) who defected to the Republicans with a buddy who is charged with beating his girlfriend. They brought state government to a grinding, shouting, Marx Brothers-like halt for nearly a month. Why? So Espada could blackmail both parties into electing him majority leader of the Senate. He says it was about institutional reform. When he was with them, Republicans — who had 40 years to reform the rules but never did — agreed. They still insist it was worth punishing state taxpayers for this political power play.
Espada has now created a Democratic Senate majority with so many factions it will be a miracle if it lasts until the next election. There is a Hispanic faction, a black faction, a combo city faction, a combo city-suburban faction, a combo suburban-upstate faction. None of these factions talks about what it wants to do in the Senate. The members just want to be the ones to decide. The ones with the bigger offices and staffs. It is about politics, not governing. No one in Albany talks about governing except occasionally the governor.
That’s the whole deal here. Palin doesn’t care about governing. If she did, she’d stay on as governor instead of giving speeches to people who don’t blink when she says Alaska is a microcosm of the United States. Maybe if you count moose as minorities. And Cheney, well, he doesn’t want so much to govern as to rule the country. And nothing, but nothing, that happened in the eight years of his reign is his fault.
And finally, as I am still entertaining notions of recounting the pleasures of three carefree days in the Pioneer Valley, comes the coup de grace. With a sneer no less. A story in the Record about the nation’s economic recovery includes a comment from Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor happens to be the House GOP whip. That means he’s supposed to make sure his party has its votes in order on whatever business is being conducted. Thus far this year, his job has been easy. Republicans just vote no on every proposal put forth for President Obama.
In the newspaper article, Obama argues that his economic stimulus package needs more time before its impact on the economy can be felt. House Republicans, who offered no alternative, simply call it a failure. Cantor, whose accompanying photo has him sneering almost in joy, if that’s possible, says simply, “This is now President Obama’s economy.”
Now there they go again. Obama inherited the worst economic situation in 70 years from George W. Bush, along with two wars and a world of international ill will. Obama has had all of six months to try to fix what Bush took eight years to break. But, Cantor says, this mess is now Obama’s, without even knowing if the programs will work. And if they do work, the GOP will probably try to claim credit for something for which it has offered no support. They have not tried to help Obama govern; for the most part they have stood bye, hoping for him to fail. That is a political strategy of a sort. It substitutes for actually having ideas, but it is not governing. It is not helping to find solutions.
And it is not limited to Republicans. Some of the president’s supporters have expressed displeasure with him over different issues because he has not held firm to what they thought were liberal positions he possessed. But Obama’s campaign was always about forging bipartisan or even non-partisan solutions to lingering questions. He is liberal, yes, but he is also a pragmatist. By definition, seeking consensus requires occasional compromise. It’s how you govern effectively. Bill Clinton recognized that when he was president and it served him well. It’s easy to criticize and hold out hope for better days when campaigning for the presidency, but when you get elected, the hard part begins. For Bush it was the other way around.
Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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