A Citizen’s Lament
Back from a month-long road trip, we turned to first things first. Adjusted the thermostats, activated the water service and hot water heater, stashed the accumulated laundry in the washer, rifled through the mail, and then punched the blinking button on the answering machine.
Lots of messages, more than a dozen of them robo-calls from desperate sounding voices feverishly urging the election of the Martha Coakley. Remember her? Wow, we’ve been gone too long, it seemed, considering what’s happened since those futile calls arrived.
There was drab Martha herself two or three times, Deval Patrick, state Democratic Party leaders, even Barack Obama checking in at the 11th hour, all to no useful purpose it turned out.
In the aftermath of the Coakley debacle, we now are told by the experts and the Republicans that the entire political landscape in the country has changed. And maybe it has. After only a year the Obama presidency is pretty much in shambles, and it looks like it will be all downhill from there.
Despite his surprising victory in 2008 and a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, Obama has gone from a symbol of promise and hope to a portrait of frustration and disappointment.
That’s very sad and disturbing for what it says about this country. And the more Obama tries to bridge the yawning gap between the two parties with his continuing offers of bipartisanship, the wider the gulf grows.
Neither he nor his party are actually governing these days. The Republican members of Congress are clearly in charge, driving the debates, calling the shots, killing the initiatives, whether it is health insurance reform, regulation of the financial industry, or blocking action on housing assistance, programs to relieve unemployment or aid the jobless, not to mention stalling scores of presidential appointments to key upper level government positions. They do all of this not out of principle but simply to compound Obama’s and the Democrats misery, and ours as well.
The atmosphere is so poisonous and it has happened so quickly that some of us are left wondering if it is possible to govern this fractious, angry, hobbled collection of 300 million people with any degree of stability and success. Even before Obama was sworn into office a year ago, speculation began about who would be in the best position to run against him in 2012. Meanwhile, members of Congress were pondering their re-election odds for the 2010 election well in advance of starting to consider crucial matters of economic and social equity before the current Congress.
That’s no way to govern a nation wounded by recession and trying to absorb the sudden outrageous burden of taxpayer bailouts to prop up some of the largest, most reckless and morally impaired Wall Street corporations. And these same recipients of government largess now thumb their noses at those same taxpayers. And what about the staggering cost of those two wars we are called upon to finance, while still looking over our shoulder to see if there are any terrorists lurking?
As if the game in Washington has not been sufficiently rigged in favor of the large interests with the resources to buy themselves a Congress that pretty much determines the outcome on virtually all key pieces of legislation. Add to that the recent landmark Supreme Court gift that guarantees corporations all of the free speech rights constitutionally accorded individual citizens. That means no limits on corporate spending to influence elections and the outcome of legislation.
So as a citizen, a former journalist, and bookseller, I’m discouraged to the point where I feel I don’t have much of a stake in what happens nationally because I’ve become marginalized.
It seems now a better place to be active and well informed about is closer to home, in our local community.
For me getting refocused after a month’s withdrawal from the local scene entails sitting down and going through more than 30 back issues of the Gazette, trying to get up to speed on what’s happening closer to home, on Main Street , not Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue. That ’s a task worth the effort because while Northampton has its share of problems and its leaders sometimes don’t listen well, the determined citizen still has access to its government and can register loudly his or her view.
So look inward, I say, because the political mayhem engulfing this country is beyond our reach and totally out of our control.
- Edward Shanahan
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