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

31 October 2010

You’ve Got to Know Something

[I hate to upstage my latest more far-sighted post. But this one is more relevant to the election. It will be my last before the votes are tallied. For a brief goodbye to Ted Sorensen, click here.]

I’ve been trying to think of something persuasive to say to people who want to throw their votes away just to shake things up. I’ve been wracking my brain for weeks.

You know the types. On the one hand, we have the Tea Mobbers. They want to vote for people with no experience and no training in politics, just because they’re angry.

But they’re not the only ones. We also have Democrats who won’t vote for their party. They want to vote for fringe parties like the Greens, the Peace Party or any other obscure group that manages to qualify for the ballot in a handful of states. These are the same voters who threw their votes away on Ralph Nader and put Dubya in the White House.

No, I don’t want to re-hash that old argument. Maybe the Supremes really would have stolen the election for Dubya anyway. But I think I’ve got something better.

Think about your everyday life. When you go to the doctor, do you want someone who never went to medical school, has no medical training, and learned about modern medicine from reading the Reader’s Digest? Would you want someone like that to take out your appendix?

When a bad driver injures a member of your family, do you want a “lawyer” who never went to law school, never passed a bar examination, and earned her spurs by watching “Perry Mason” or “L.A. Law”? Or do you want someone who has a good law degree and a real license and knows her way around a courtroom?

When your computer goes on the fritz, you may not even know whether the problem is hardware or software. Do you take it to a basement geek or someone who’s taken a few courses at community college and has run a computer business for a few years?

When you go to the hairdresser or barber, do you want someone who just wandered in off the street and picked up a pair of scissors? Or do you go to someone who went to beauty or barber school and has a proper license?

I could go on and on. But you get the idea. We live in a complex society, with lots of division of labor. Every thing we do―even the “simple” things―requires some knowledge, training and experience, including your own job.

So what makes you think Congress and government are any different?

What makes you think that someone who has never done it and never even studied it can help govern our country just because he or she is angry like you, or rich like Linda McMahon or Meg Whitman? Does being rich mean you know everything? anything besides what made you rich?

Linda McMahon may know how to kick a man in the balls. But does she know how to get a bill onto the Senate floor against opposition from her own party’s leadership?

You may be mad as hell, but do you want someone just like you going up against all those sharks?

Have you ever seen a trained boxer take on an angry, unruly drunk? All it takes is a couple of dodges and weaves, and a few well-placed jabs to put the bum off balance. Then a single, quick roundhouse punch sends him out cold and bleeding to the ground. What makes you think any of the Tea Mob’s bums will do any better if they make it into the House? (It’s unlikely any will get to the Senate.)

Whether Christine O’Donnell is or is not a witch is beside the point. Even if she knows witchcraft well, that’s not what they do in the Senate.

She doesn’t even know our Constitution, let alone the Senate rules, which are much, much longer and more complex. If she ever got there, they would eat her alive. The first real dispute would put her down for the count, just like the drunken bum against the trained boxer. She would either be utterly useless and irrelevant, or a tool of the rich and powerful that you are angry with. Would that slake your anger?

The President may not look like much of a fighter. But he knows a lot, and he’s clever and skillful. He got us a working (albeit struggling) economy after the 2008 catastrophe, health-insurance reform, financial reform, a start at more efficient cars, a live American auto industry, a combat exit from Iraq, and a plan to exit Afghanistan. And as it turns out, the hated TARP bailout, which Dubya and Paulson began, is going to cost us people only about $26 billion—a mere pittance by today’s standards.

All these things may be less and slower than you’d like. Fair enough. But unlike that stumblebum, the President is still standing. He’s still working. And he knows what he’s doing.

What do the bums offer? The same thing they’ve offered for thirty years: lower taxes for the rich, less regulation, and more freedom for the wealthy and powerful. And don’t think they’ll reduce the deficit one penny. Not a single real GOP leader has proposed a single specific cut that might make a dent in our deficit.

A few Tea Mobbers have proposed cutting Social Security, Medicare and defense. But good luck with that. The GOP leaders are not on board. And do you think the stumblebums, knowing nothing about how the system works, can go up against their own party leadership, AARP and the military-industrial complex?

It’s all smoke and mirrors, folks. The Tea Mob and the Republicans have got nothing but more of the same. The Tea Mob is even worse: its “candidates” don’t know anything and have no useful skills.

To do any job well, you’ve got to know something. That goes for governing, too.

So buck up and vote for the best of the ones who know. You may not love them. They may not thrill you. But your doctor, lawyer, computer geek and beautician/barber probably don’t thrill you either. Yet you rely on them anyway.

If your representatives are going to solve any of our many real problems―from jobs to energy and immigration―they’re going to have to have some relevant knowledge, training and experience. If you vote for a stumblebum just ‘cause you’re angry, you’ll soon have hurt and despair to add to your wrath, when you see your bum knocked out by the bums who know and can do. Is that what you want?

So when you get in that voting booth, just think of that knocked-out bum lying on the ground. Then vote smart. The lesser of two evils is never as bad as a sure loser.

Death of a Shy Hero

Ted Sorensen died today. He was JFK's speechwriter, advisor, confidant and companion. A retiring, superbly educated, erudite man, a master crafter of phrases, he was responsible for JFK’s most memorable lines. He penned such historic quotations as “Ask not . . .” and this, from the 1962 speech in which JFK pointed to the Moon and made it our national objective:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard . . .”
Sorensen was not just a writer. He was a first-class thinker and advisor with reliable and penetrating judgment. As the New York Times revealed today, he wrote the crucial letter to General Secretary Khruschev that saved the world from nuclear Armageddon in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Most people alive today—and many who’ve already passed on—owe or owed their lives in part to Sorensen.

In his old age, Sorensen recognized the extraordinary promise of Barack Obama, throwing what remained of JFK’s “Camelot” energy behind Obama’s candidacy for president. Sorensen was a man of exceptional intelligence, modesty, skill, grace, and elegance. He will be missed, the more so in a time when few in public life can hope to match him. He was a man who knew something.

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