Yes We Can Restore Sanity (and Vote Nov. 2)

The USA hasn’t been the greatest country to live in the last two years. Despite the historic election of a black President, a President that seemed to embody the hopes and aspirations of, well, at least a majority of voters in the last Election, the nation has remained mired in the Great Recession. Now it’s true that every time I venture to New York City, I see plenty evidence that money still flows freely up and down the Avenues of finance/media/fashion/art, and a weekend walk through the local village of Woodstock suggests that tourists will always spend money when away for the weekend (indeed, with “Staycations” having become part of the common vocabulary, local tourism is holding remarkably firm), but in everyday life, among everyday people, out there in America at large, the economy remains firmly in the doldrums, and for every step forward, we seem to take another step back. In other words, I welcome the good news, for example, that job losses are slowing, but being on the local School Board, charged with formulating our District’s budget, I’m fully aware that New York State is flat broke, which means that things are going to have to get still a hell of a lot worse (especially in terms of education funding) before they get better. In the interim, I’ve seen far too many local businesses close. Most of my friends juggle multiple self-employed gigs, none of which are making them rich, and we’re all reluctant to spend money, even to aid our mom and pop businesses in the local economy, because we have mortgages to pay, health insurance to cover, and kids to feed. About the only saving grace is that most of us have not yet sent those kids off to college – because there’s no way, right now, that most of us could possibly pay for it.

So I can understand anger. We elect our politicians to solve our problems and when they don’t, then presumably we should kick them out and elect others to do so in their place. Yes? Well, up to a point, we should. The policies of the last Republican Administration certainly got us into this mess, and the country took a step in the right direction by swinging wholesale towards the Democrats in the 2008 election, not just with the feel-good historic election of Barack Obama, but by putting both the House of Representatives and the Senate in Democrat hands.

A window store display in Phoenicia two years ago. Let’s not give up now.

Still, that was two years ago. Shouldn’t things be fixed by now? Well, here’s a quick pop quiz. How long after the major stock market crash of October 24, 1929, that which launched the Great Recession, did FDR take office? (The answer: over three years.) And how long after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the real signifier of the Great Recession, did Obama take office? Seven weeks. In other words, the USA went steadily downhill for several years after that famous Stock Market crash, and FDR did not turn it around instantaneously. In fact, he was continually vilified and symied and roadblocked by big business and the right wing, yet we now revere him as the greatest of 20th Century Presidents. The idea that Obama could inherit an economy that was in total freefall and be expected to have it back on its feet within mere months was wishful thinking on the part of those who have grown up with the Internet and expect an answer to everything in the time it takes Google to second-guess their intentions.

I always suspected that a lot of people were happy to elect Obama out of a sort of guilty conscience bout of affirmative action, and that once they’d done so, they’d consider themselves absolved, free to bitch and moan as usual. I can share in some frustrations. Like many friends on the left, I too would have liked a public option to have made it into health care reform, to have closed Guantanamo Bay by now, to have not needed to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, to have not had to bail out banks and car companies that should have known better and which, under more everyday circumstances, would have been allowed to fail. And as much as anything, I’d like Obama to have maintained the common touch he evinced on the campaign trail and which deserted him once he took office and had to deal, day and night, with the country’s almost insurmountable problems. But none of that is reason to abandon the man. Because in doing so, we allowed the right wing – by which I mean the billionaires and big businesses that control the right wing’s poor working class public base – to launch an exhausting and endless attack not just on Obama, but the Democrats brought into office with him. We allowed the Republicans in both houses of Congress to become the party of “No,” stone-walling, fili-bustering and outright voting against any piece of Obama-inspired legislation that came their way, even those that many of them had previously expressed support for. We allowed Fox News not only to dominate the public discourse, but to step well over any pre-conceived lines of separation of media and politics and to birth a so-called Tea Party, one which would be absolutely laughable for it outright ignorance and hypocrisy if it wasn’t so damned dangerous. Perhaps worst of all, we allowed the temperature to rise to a point that in a country that has always made freedom of religion a sacrosanct right, the word “Muslim” has, for many, become an acceptable euphemism for the word “terrorist.”

You didn’t vote two years ago just to alleviate a guilty conscience, did you? No? So vote again Tuesday November 2, 2010.

But I maintain hope. So while anyone who dares turn on Fox News (or, like me, watch it through the filter of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) might think that this country is at the point of insurrection, it’s worth remembering that the Tea Party movement is but a highly vocal minority. (And a manipulated minority at that, though I suspect that just as we will always have the poor with us, there will always be a percentage of them used and abused by the gilded rich.) Over the last year, I’ve looked for signs of Tea Party madness in everyday life. I live in the countryside, remember, and while the Town of Woodstock has five registered Democrats for every Republican, you don’t have to drive too far west, south, east or north to find a more even split. There are a lot of conservatives around these parts, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have their say. So yes, I’ve seen the letters in the local papers, but as it happens, I already recognize most of the names. (They are from, as far as I can tell, people who were born angry.) And I’ve seen what may be an increase in Republican campaign signs in front yards and road-sides. (Of which “I’m mad too, Carl,” actually started to look quite ironically funny after the Republican candidate for New York Governor alienated the Republican base with one crazed, prejudiced, threatening rant after another.) I hear the anti-school taxes invective, and I sympathize. (We absolutely have to shift the funding of local school taxes away from home owners and onto some form of income tax.) And I know there have been attempts to launch a local Tea Party in this area, and yet they don’t appear to have been successful…

…And that’s partly because the absolute vast majority of local residents – and I’m talking about 99% of them – are perfectly to happy to live in everyday harmonious disagreement with each other. I’ve never shied away from my politics, but that doesn’t mean I can’t greet my neighbors warmly, that we can’t wave to each other as we walk through town or pass each other in our vehicles, that we can’t hang out together watching our kids play soccer. Do I want to get into a political argument with them? Not necessarily. But I don’t see that they want to get into a political argument with me, either. Most of us seem grateful to live in this beautiful area, and we all want to make enough money that we can keep doing so, and we have kids to raise and we want the best for them, too. Some of us would go about governing in different ways, but any perception you might have from turning on your TV that everyday Americans are shouting at each other in the Post Office is wishful thinking on the part of those who don’t know the price of a postage stamp to begin with.


And so, as I prayed and hoped might happen, then as the Midterm Elections have gathered closer, we’ve seen a push back from the Moderates, the truly silent majority. And isn’t it sweet that the biggest push back of all has come from a comedian, Jon Stewart? The Daily Show’s Rally To Restore Sanity, launched as what initially looked like a prank to make fun of the odious Glenn Beck’s 9/12, ahem, “project,” has lit a touch paper for all of us who, as Stewart put it in his own words when first announcing it, are too busy actually getting on with our lives to join in the extremists’ shouting match. Those of us who feel of our everyday neighbors on the other side of the political fence, as he suggested for a possible rally sign, “I may not agree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

I wish I was going to DC this weekend; I think it’s going to be the best day out of the year. My excuses are absolutely perfect for why the Rally was needed for people like me in the first place. I leave for the UK in four days for almost a month; I desperately need the time at home to get organized. I happen to be playing a gig and DJing tonight, on the eve of the rally, and I’ll be on my feet for six hours straight; I don’t know if I could even get to Poughkeepsie to get to the bus on time. I just about broke my foot running a marathon three weeks ago and absolutely cannot possibly spend a day marching and standing. Oh yeah, and the $80 bus fare is a big expense as well.

But my 15-year old son Campbell is going, and I’m damn proud of him for doing so. (Indeed, I paid his bus fare.) Campbell is more of a comedian than he is a politician, which means that he prefers to get his news filtered through the prism of a Jon Stewart (or a YouTube clip) than sit in front of MSNBC and Fox News all night long. But even if he might fail a pop quiz on right from left, he knows his right from wrong. He intrinsically understands that sometimes you have to stand up for common sense – and that if you can have fun while doing so, then all the better. Last night he made up his sign for the rally:

“I was too busy with homework to make a witty sign.”

That’s my boy.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
10/27/10 in :60 Seconds
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Barack Obama reconnects, with Jon Stewart. (He should have been on a year ago reconnecting with his audience then, as well.) Watch the whole interview here.

Me, I’m going to do what I can to keep this country sane. This Tuesday, November 2, I’ll go to the polls as an American citizen, and I’ll vote for those I believe can do the best job for my community, my county, and my State. Yes, I’ll be voting solidly Democrat. They didn’t create this chaos. And it would be a hell of a lot worse without them, on both national and local level. Over the last few years, living in a smaller community, I’ve gotten to meet some of these politicians and converse with them, and I know they take their responsibilities seriously. The political system may well be broken, but not every career politician is corrupt. Maurice Hinchey, Kevin Cahill and Elliott Auerbach in particular, all have my qualified support. As for Obama, he’s not on the ballot this time around. But he’s still our President and I still have faith in him. Fortunately, he seems to have woken up in recent weeks and recognized the need to push back from the middle. His appearance Wednesday night on, yes, the Daily Show, revealed a President who, ironically enough, was mad as hell and not going to take it any more – even, or especially, from a comedian who helped get him elected in the first place. In a more heated delivery than we might have expected, he championed his track record – as well he should, given that Stewart, bless him, has made Obama an equal opportunity object of ridicule these part two years. So, for those on the far left who hoped for more… well, I’m sorry, but get real. For those on the far right who have been manipulated by the billionaires behind the Tea Party, please understand that this country would almost certainly be in the midst of a Second Great Depression had we continued down the Republican laissez-faire path. And for the 90% of us somewhere in-between, see you in DC to Restore Sanity. Unless, like me, you’re too busy to attend. In which case, my teenager will see yours.


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