Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

22 September 2014

The Woody Allen Test

    Eighty percent of life is just showing up. — Woody Allen
In about 45 days, our nation is going to take a Woody Allen test. We’re all going to take it together, all at about the same time. But the people who need to pass it most might flunk. I speak of the poor, the too-hard-working and our mobile-device-obsessed Millennials, including college students.

It’s an odd thing, of course. But it’s true. In most states and most districts, “majorities” of 20% to 30% of eligible voters decide who governs us, at least in midterm (nonpresidential) elections like the one coming up. And when issues are on the ballot, like minorities decide those, too.

So we not only have minority rule in both of Houses of Congress. We have minority rule where it counts most: in selecting the pols who govern us.

Minority rule in Congress is not really our fault—if by “our” you mean all of us. Our Founders, in their infinite wisdom, gave each House of Congress the power to make its own rules of operation. They anticipated a lot of human failings and abuses. That’s why they gave us a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a Bill of Rights.

But our Founders never dreamed that pols elected to represent the people, under a system of majority rule going back to ancient Greece and Rome, would decide, of their own free will, to institute minority governance in each House, in its standard rules of operation. And our Founders certainly never dreamed that such a system would perpetuate itself on the theory that, if pols ever changed it, their party or faction would have less power when in the minority.

Only a person with the intelligence of the average pol could conclude that giving a minority carte blanche to obstruct increases his or her lifetime influence to make constructive change. (I refuse to believe that even the worst pol doesn’t crave influence to make constructive change, however he or she may define that concept.)

So, no, the institutional dysfunction that makes this Congress the do-nothingest in our nation’s history is not directly our fault. It’s the fault of the morons we elected. But those morons—who sit in Congress, do nothing, and perpetuate a system that does nothing—are our fault. We elected them.

We can kick them out if we just vote. But unfortunately, many of us don’t vote.

We fail the Woody Allen test. We don’t show up on election day. Worse yet, Democrats don’t vote at a much higher rate than Republicans. That and minority rule are why the do-nothing-but-lick-the-bosses’-boots party still essentially runs this country, despite having dim prospects for ever winning a presidential election again.

All the civics classes we ever took urge us to vote. So do all the Fourth-of-July speeches we ever heard. So do all those crosses, stars and crescents that remind us on Memorial Day how many of us have died to preserve our democracy against would-be invaders and tyrants.

Some of the Woody Allen failures have what they think is good excuses. “I’m too busy,” they think. We’ll how much busier will they be if they have to go fight another unnecessary war, or pay for one, or if they have to seek another job or find another home after the bankers crash the economy again and they lose one or the other, or both?

Then there are the purists. “No one is good enough for me,” they think. Well, do they have a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, brother, sister, mother, father, children or grandchildren? Are all of them perfect? Do they all always succeed at what they try and do what they promise? And if not, don’t the Woody-Allen failures love them all the same? And don’t they go to bat for them and try to help them when they can?

Why should pols be different? Are they deities? If you have any sense of realism at all, it shouldn’t take you long to answer these questions.

No one is perfect, least of all a pol. So voting for the lesser of two evils is a sacred duty.

My proudest vote ever was for Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon in 1968. Both were flawed candidates, but Humphrey was far less flawed. If a few more people had voted like me, we never would have had Watergate, no president would ever have resigned under pressure, and our useless, losing misadventure in Vietnam would have ended a lot sooner. A whole lot of needlessly dead Americans, not to mention a myriad of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, might still be living.

Which brings us to President Obama. No, he’s not Teddy or Franklin. Nor is he Lyndon Johnson, for worse and for better: he can’t twist arms in Congress the way Johnson did. But unlike Johnson, he’s getting us out of two unnecessary wars and only dipping a toe in a third.

No, Obama didn’t give us a public option, which two-thirds of us want. But he made a partial success where a whole century of presidents before him had failed. Now you can get health insurance without worrying whether you were ever sick before. And if you’re a Millennial, you can stay on your parents’ insurance through age 26. Best of all, Obama got 7.3 million people insured who never were insured before.

What does that mean for you? Well, suppose ebola comes to our shores. Uninsured people don’t go to doctors when they feel sick, until it’s too late. So there are 7.3 million fewer people out there likely to deliver ebola viruses to you on your Big Mac, on the beds they make or the toilets they clean, or to your kids in day care. That simple fact might save your life.

Care about immigration? Well, who has curtailed deportations despite Congress’ inactivity? And who has made a virtual political platform out of demonizing Hispanic immigrants, even innocent kids fleeing gang murder? (Hint: it isn’t the President.) If more Republicans get into Congress, you’ll have more demonizing of Hispanics, more deportations, more sending innocent kids back to gangland to be slaughtered, and more exploitation of undocumented workers. Care to stay home on election day and let that happen?

Care about global warming? Well, who has proposed a clever rule that, in about a decade, will shut down most of our coal plants, which are not only our biggest source of global warming, but our biggest stationary sources of harmful pollution, including sulfur dioxide (acid rain), mercury pollution of lakes, rivers and seas, and particulate pollution that causes or exacerbates asthma in cities and suburbs, mostly where poor people live? Think all this will get better with more Republican members of Congress?

Have trouble deciding how to vote? Republicans have made the choice easy. For five years they’ve opposed virtually every initiative and idea of the President’s, without offering any alternatives of their own. They have a few good people, such as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., but most of them have no chance in Hell of even getting nominated over Tea Party opposition.

What was once the Grand Old Party and the party of Lincoln has become the party of extremists. Although not all Republicans are racists, all racists who vote are Republicans, especially now that a half-black man is a Democratic president.

So if you care about health, immigration, global warming, or racism, you don’t have much choice but to vote Democratic. If you’re too busy or too ill-informed to know pols’ names, just vote for the ones with the “D” adjacent.

The election is Tuesday, November 4. I’ll be there, if I don’t vote early or as an absentee. If you’re too busy or confused or too much of a purist to pass the Woody Allen test, then you’ll have no right complain, no matter how bad things get.

And if you’re a Millennial and recent college graduate, be assured that things can get much, much worse. Imagine graduating from college a century ago, in 1914, just before World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II . You would have spent most of your life struggling economically while fighting, and perhaps dying, in the two greatest wars in human history. Vote—and vote wisely—and you might help spare yourself and your family that sort of agony.



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