by Jeremy Leaming
It can be difficult to follow with great interest the machinations in the nation’s capital, especially with divisive, often ridiculous debates that unfold and then are taken to a whole new level by loud pundits dominating airwaves. But when cynicism sets in, as it has within parts of my family, there’s almost no room for serious, calm conversation about policy that is actually being advanced in the confines of the beltway.
Over the winter break I had the great fortune of seeing three of my brothers, two of whom I rarely get to see anymore. One brother, who has veered from libertarianism to socialism, has written off the entire political process. President Obama is a tool of Wall Street, it would not have mattered had Mitt Romney won the White House, they both represent the same interests, he would say. He scoffed at the Affordable Care Act – no public option, no expansion of health care to the needy – and at the extension of unemployment benefits that has occurred under the Obama administration’s watch. In my brother’s mind the entire system was bought by big corporations a long time ago and they pull all the strings of both major political parties. But I wasn’t all that surprised – he’s been regurgitating the late comedian George Carlin’s stinging, though simplistic, lines about a broken American government for many years now.
The reality is that the American political process is messy, incredibly divisive and often terribly exhaustive and inadequate. But the constant carping about how bad politicians are is also tiring and irrelevant. When hasn’t our democracy been a messy, maddening affair? Sure there have been respites, but they often don’t last long. It’s a fairly large country, and regardless of Carlin’s jabs, we do and have had some remarkable politicians and heroic leaders for equality and civil rights.
And regarding the Obama administration’s first term, a little research would reveal that it is wildly over-the-top to blast it as a tool of big business. As The American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie notes, Obama’s first two years in office “are a good case study of what happens when Democrats have control of the federal government – they try to expand it. In those two years, Democrats greatly expanded the welfare state with a new, quasi-universal health-care program, funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure and clean energy research, and implemented a host of new financial regulations. There’s a reason Time correspondent Michael Grunwald called his book on the stimulus The New New Deal – in both size and scope, the activity of Obama and the 111th Congress resembled that of FDR’s first term.”
I was looking forward to some relaxing moments over the winter breaks, like many people. And, at one point, was enjoying Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night – far more engaging than anything being reported on about the so-called fiscal cliff, and reluctant to engage a brother who has legitimate gripes about the federal government and the administration, but they’re encased in cynicism. And after only a few minutes of hearing his bile directed at legitimately progressive work, I lowered my eyes to the pages of a novel set in a time on the cusp of a progressive era, brought on by a decade of excess, greed, great disregard for humankind and large portions of the nation’s land.