Living in a Monochromatic World.

November 21, 2011

D.C.'s Not-So-Super Committee has begun to leak the inevitable. They will fail to reach any agreement on deficit reduction.
Hardly surprising.
It feels like yesterday that S&P cut America's once--vaunted AAA-credit rating. Even with all the time in the world, D.C. failed to heed S&P's warning of a rate cut should it not trim the deficit.
The scene was reminiscent of one from the movie Austin Powers in which the security guard stands for an eternity in front of the plodding steam roller screaming "Nooooooooo!", as opposed to simply moving aside.
This time, our bi-partisan nincompoops--err, committee, again failed to hit the mark. Yet, deficit trimming measures will follow. $7.1 trillion in automatic spending cuts will result, between the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and other measures resulting from the Super Committee's failure.
Yet, the political dysfunction has global investors concerned. And rightfully so. Amidst the ongoing economic malaise, our political class continues to operate within a leadership vacuum. If accusations and finger pointing were of any value, we'd all be rich.
And therein lay the problem. The ongoing culture and political wars between the GOP and democrats has only wrought uncertainty, indecision and, for most investors, a feeling of helplessness.
But, according to CBS's 60 Minutes, D.C. does not feel your pain.
Jack Abramoff recently detailed how his lobbying company essentially "owned" over 100 congressional and senate offices during his ascent to becoming D.C.'s most powerful lobbyist. The now-out-of-jail lobbyist has written a book, detailing how D.C.'s political class utilizes their elected positions to become healthy, wealthy and--well, wealthy.
More recently, 60 minutes showed how our political (mis)leaders leverage their positions to trade on information gleaned from special committees, panels and hearings in an effort to create wealth--often while the average Jack and Jill continue to see theirs dissipate.
But, we can't blame the dolts in D.C. for all of our woes. The average Joe spends more time watching the Carolina Panthers battle the Seattle Seahawks than learning of the political and economic issues that will impact his family fortunes.
And therein lay the problem. Our priorities have placed our political duopolists in a position to do all of our thinking for us. The GOP and the Democrats have convinced the electorate that we inhabit a black and white world. Even when things appear so dismally gray.
Consider health care reform.
When the Obama administration began its quest to reform the health care system, the GOP had an opportunity to positively affect the outcome.
Realize that the Democrats had the votes to pass some type of reform. They could hardly afford not doing so.
Healthcare had long been viewed as an honorable goal. In fact, the Obama plan was born of past Republican plans. And Democrats were so eager for bipartisan support that they likely would have paid a substantial price for it--including the removal of the surtaxes on work and investment supposedly financing the Affordable Care Act.
Yet, Republican politicians began to view healthcare as Obama's Waterloo. That must-win battle that would define the next few elections. In other words, Republican legislators deferred on the opportunity to dynamically impact the legislation in favor of better positioning themselves in upcoming elections.
Remember this: election victories are temporary. Wide-ranging legislative acts are permanent. Once in place, it requires an act of God to remove them. Yet, the GOP opted for the short-term feedback loop, rather than participating in better healthcare for all, a reform that was going to get done with or without them.
Now? We have a healthcare reform bill upon which the GOP had little impact. Yes, the GOP did great in the mid-term elections. Whoopey! Half of those politicians will be settled back into their districts by the time the lion's share of the health care reform bill begins to take hold.
Congratulations, GOP brass. A leadership case study this was not.
Loons on the left. Loons on the right. What's a middle-of-the-road rationalist to do? The more we keep quiet, the more it seems that and the Tea Party set the agenda.
The extremists have managed to set the stage for an ongoing tug of war in which the vitriol becomes ever louder, while the solutions become less achievable.
News flash, Lemmings: Rush Limbaugh represents republicans no more than Bill Maher represents democrats. Most party members are community minded family members with the best of intentions. They harbor a few ideological leanings, but typically desire what is best for most.
Limbaugh, Maher and their ilk are entertainers. If the GOP jumps on board the healthcare reform debate, Rush has to work on the content for the final hour of his show. If the GOP vehemently opposes healthcare reform--voila! His show is set for years.
Real Time with Bill Maher? Hardly. Maher is the fun-house mirror version of Limbaugh. Happy to court controversy. Diplomacy in D.C. would have an adverse impact on the ratings of both shows.
And that's the point. These pundits preside over shows. Ratings first. Reality later. Much later.
So, if over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday, you find yourself in the company of Lemmings--individuals who have obviously co-opted the opinions of extremists, as opposed to formulating their own, then remind them that the stage play of reality operates against a backdrop that is far from black and white.
When your feet hit the floor each morning, you wake to a world that exists in the gray area. Opaque. Flexible. Fluid. Sometimes surreal. If everything were black and white, then the role of most parents would be relegated to the first seven years of a child's life, at which point they'd be equipped to tackle a black and white world.
Black and white? Hardly. The myriad nuances lining the paths of our daily lives often defy categorization. It is callow to pretend otherwise. Yet many of us remain blind, so devoted we are to the ideals of black and white.
Television. Radio. The internet. All of the punditry. Their jobs are easier and more interesting if they can convince all of the Lemmings that the world is, in fact, black and white.
Only, my world, and the one on television remain light years apart. I am not married to the Real House Wives, but a real house wife. Nor do I inhabit Viacom's The Real World, but live in a real world.
Republicans. Democrats. Christians. Muslims. Blacks. Whites. Blue collar. White collar. Rich. Poor. The labels we give may simplify our world. Yet, they also simplify us, by exacerbating the rifts between us.
We are born without labels. Tellingly, children are more tolerant than most adults. More willing to work and play together. Less willing to judge, box in, deride.
But, as we age we adopt the labeling system. Clean slates become littered with preconceived notions.
Until we wake up to the idea that labels, like a black and white vision of the world, will only push us further apart, we will achieve little of consequence.
Our problems will grow. Our divisions will fester. Solutions will elude us. And those elected to public office will continue to blame each other in a symbiotic dance of political atrophy.
Only when we refuse to accept excuses, blame and inaction will the Lemmings cease their thoughtless, incessant march over the cliff. Perhaps in time to save the rest of the nation from going over, as well.

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