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Kingston, NY, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010

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Slip-Slidin' Away
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

There's nothing so lovely as a blanket of fresh snow, especially here in the country where the landscape is naturally scarred and rutted. What seemed raw and bleak after Autumn removed the softening effect of foliage takes on a gentle, gleaming beauty as snowfall obscures all the sharp angles. When I spoke to my granddaughter this week and told her it was still snowing, she said, with little kid enthusiasm, "Lucky!" Well, yes, ok -- if you discount the heating bills, the harsh realities of cabin fever and the many navigational challenges.

Being a diminutive person, making my way through a snow drift to get the mail is a slow, cold business; I suspect a taller individual could easily step over what I'm obliged to plow through. As I worked my way out to the road yesterday, I noticed a track of exposed gravel left by a passing truck. It seemed easier going, but I no sooner put my foot on it, slick with invisible ice, than I found myself upended with a thud and a yelp. Oscar, my dear neighbor Fishing Jim's housemate and member of my extended dog-family, came running to take a deep bow in front of me, his tail wagging a plea for one of the biscuits I routinely carry in my pocket. I surrendered not one but two biscuits, got the mail and limped back to the house, carefully retracing my steps.

It seems as though life is like that, these days. We're wading through some very heavy stuff in a landscape we're neither accustomed to nor prepared for, but we're doing the best we can. When we think we've found an easier option, one with which we're more familiar, there's every chance it will turn us upside down with bruising results. And even as we attempt to right ourselves, there's someone or something standing right there, expecting us to jump up with a smile and get on with it. So we do, limping and shaken and wondering how much damage we've sustained, how much ache tomorrow will bring. From the economy to the government gridlock to cutbacks in crucial services and the rising cost of utilities and food, we're dealing with formidable challenges. From deluge and mudslides in the West to "Snowmageddon" events in the East, we're getting a Winter tutorial in navigating the unexpected. Perhaps we should begin to expect it, and give ourselves an edge.

Falling on my behind in the snow can be dealt with because my error was in trusting my eyes rather than what I knew of cold weather and ice. My resulting bruises can be avoided next time, based on what I learned from this experience. The national situation is similar but more harrowing, due to a national epidemic of irrationality that has entwined itself in our belief systems and conversations, and made a direct beeline into the halls of Congress. Various national leaders insist that we step out on that treacherous ice again and again, and they're prepared to keep us skidding and slipping until we're all so battered and confused that we go along with them, exhausted. We need to keep our wits about us.

Consider the Tea Baggers, shaping into a movement of considerable influence, offering few if any solutions and moving ahead on an exaggerated sense of disenchantment and anger. They reflect a growing distrust of government itself, and to that let me offer a big resounding DUH! Perhaps if we'd all grabbed a pitchfork -- oh, say around 2002 or before -- we wouldn't have this amount of repressed rage to deal with, but the Republicans would not break faith with their Anointed One and marched us all like lemmings to the sea. Now they're just pissed off at how it all worked out and looking for blood. Certainly -- here's my politically incorrect statement of the moment -- they would not be so fractious and mean-spirited if Obama was a white man. The anger is out of the bag and, while understandable, it proposes only another incomprehensible and irrational skid on the same ice that brought us here.

What the Republicans are bringing to the table to deal with our current emergencies is similar, although they play the war-is-peace, black-is-white, ice-isn't-slippery card with more vigor than do the Baggers. While they keep mum on matters of money, protesting that their alternative budget proposal is not yet ready, an examination of their priorities is available in an early draft of what's being called the "shadow budget." Their proposal for dealing with fiscal solvency calls for the privatization of Social Security and replacement of Medicare with a series of modest vouchers that will assuredly not handle the extraordinary medical expenses of the aged. They want more and better tax cuts for the well-off. They want a spending freeze, and they want unspent funds from the current economic stimulus plan rescinded. This is being downplayed by Republican leadership because of reasonable fear of the Senior response to such a proposal. You will remember this summer when a clueless gent demanded that the liberal administration keep its hands off his Medicare -- looks like he'd do better to worry what his own have planned.

The Democrats are at least headed in the right direction, attempting to sustain the nation through this downturn and provide enough stimulus to give us a chance at employment growth, but they've been checked by the obstruction that hasn't let up since Obama put his hand on the Lincoln Bible. Too many Blue Dogs and triangulators have watered down the Dem's power to legislate and now they've shifted into election mode to protect their jobs. Nothing is moving in this cold February air but a lot of mouths.

Once again, the polarized philosophies of governance have us in checkmate with no relief in sight, much like the whiteout in DC that kept government employees home, day after day. That's because the very definition of government is redistribution: yes, the same word that sent Joe the Plumber into fits of apoplexy and an alternative career as a right-wing political commentator. The needs of the nation are supplied by a portion of that which is earned by its citizens, and government has the responsibility of defining and implementing them.

You and I are supposed to decide what we want the money to do for us, and make sure that those we send to Washington are credible representatives that will do as they've promised. We'd be better off today if we'd learned how to select a candidate and were not impressed with his abs or his hair or her ladylike demeanor more than his intelligence, his integrity and her record of accomplishment. Sarah Palin is still talking about running in 2012, if we're looking for a perky talk show hostess to run the country. If we can't see the black ice, too busy staring out at the pretty blanket of snow, we're destined to fall.

Much as in our own house, reality needs to be established on the nation's home front. Yes, we have to shovel our own driveway but it won't do us much good if the city can't afford snow removal to clear the street, if the county can't fill the potholes, if the state is cutting back on employees and the Department of Transportation isn't funded to maintain our system of roads. Under those circumstances, digging out to the driveway will only get us as far as the mailbox. In times such as these, when the public does not have money to spend, the only institution large enough TO spend is the United States Government.

There is a faux 'crisis' out there these days called The Deficit. We've run a deficit in this nation since its inception, but when those who want to scare us combine the word 'deficit' with 'debt' and 'grandchildren,' we get worried. Decades of Keynesian economic policy have made us a consumer nation. In the back of our minds, we know we've been overly indulgent in our lifestyles. Now that we don't have disposable money for convenience, we realize how wasteful we've been. We find ourselves with more available national products - homes, cars, high-end goods -- than money to purchase them, and we're in a credit hole, as we might have noticed when we stepped out on that self-indulgent ice years ago.

Still, our level of debt is noteworthy but hardly catastrophic and can be handled more easily when the nation is in upswing than in downturn. If our courage suddenly becomes frozen, and we don't spend what needs spending in order to bring jobs back, keep the schools open and the commonwealth humming, there will be no escape from the downward spiral we've begun. Ah, but don't look at the ice, see all that lovely snow taking the edges off? I expected the Pubs to follow along party lines, but the Independents, who pride themselves on their ability to carefully weigh the factors, should know better.

Since I'm unable, as are we all, to change the amount of irrationality outside of my own environment, I'm insisting that my home, my work and my relationships all exist inside the No Bullshit Zone. If you're willing to get honest with yourself, carefully observe the reality around you and listen to your own body, it's easy to establish the Zone. Your gut will twist when you hear a lie, when the dots don't connect or the snow load gets too heavy. You can feel the energy of an uplifting idea, the kind that brings you hope and shows you the way forward, just as you can feel the density of contraction, bluster and the sting of fear. Those last three don't belong in our Vision for the future.

When you begin to notice the same feelings popping into awareness as you listen to yourself, telling you where you're fudging or preening or inappropriate, then you have your own lie detector constantly at work for you. Take some time to practice that innate skill. Watch some television, pay attention to commercials -- buzz buzz buzz -- and listen to the news. Listen to yourself when you're on the phone with someone, get a sense of your own silent agenda and ego-speak. Mark down how many uneasy feelings you get as opposed to expansive, happy ones. Learn your own personal language of truth; then you'll know it when you hear it.

Then share it. For instance, if the Republicans, who represent the corporations and business concerns that make and keep the majority of the world's money, really wanted to 'fix' our national problems, they would insist that the jobs sent overseas return home to flesh out our ability to produce, buy and sell again. They would be glad to see businesses pay their share of the taxes that feed the structures of the nation and buoy the middle class. They would condemn the corporate practice of both producing and marketing in other countries without lifting a finger to assist this one. If they wanted to take care of seniors, who comprise an alarming amount of their base, they would make sure Medicare remained sound, trimmed of unnecessary fat so that it could sustain itself, and never suggest that Social Security become a marketing crapshoot. There's no compromise with this.

If the Tea Baggers wanted to move past the old Dixiecrat platform of racism, homophobia and fundamental religion, they shouldn't have invited Palin and Tancredo and Pastor Rick Scarborough to be their spokespersons. What's new and revolutionary about those archaic old ideas? If they're seriously concerned with lowering taxes, which are historically moderate, then they're proposing that we learn to do without public services like libraries, schools, police and fire personnel and street repair. We can mow the grass in our public parks ourselves, like the über-Republican, tax-cutting town fathers in Ft. Collins, Colorado, but only in spring and fall, not in summer, when they can't afford the water to keep lawns green and growing. Perhaps the Baggers could just be honest about what they want: no interference from government except a well-funded military. We can't compromise on this, either.

If the Dems weren't so worried about keeping their jobs long-term, they could give us some national success short-term. I think they would be surprised by their returning popularity if they did so, but they seem unwilling to risk. If I was an ethical public servant, I'd rather do some honest good in a single Congressional season than spend a watered-down career protecting my butt. I'm particularly pleased with Al Franken, our new Minnesota Senator, and I wonder if his ability to recreate himself again and again is what makes him so confident and gutsy. For Franken, there's probably life after politics. And in such a polarized political situation, I'd like to see the President stop digging through the snow to find something bipartisan - there's nothing there, just a thick sheet of ice at the bottom, awaiting his foot. One can only compromise with those willing to do the same. We need to flood this Congress and this President with encouragement to do the right thing. They are all that stands between us and a continuation of the old paradigm practices.

Despite all this, I remain pragmatic, positive and patient. It's my part, and yours, to hold the Vision of a world working in an ethical and responsive way toward justice and equality and compassion. It would be irrational to tell you we aren't in gridlock, with pundits posing the question whether this nation has perhaps become too big and polarized to BE governed. But this energy is going to break eventually, one way or the other, and I'm adding my affirmations, visualizations and intentions to a reclamation of Democratic principals, an expansion of ethical governance and an end to old worn-out ideas.

We need to spend, to risk, to tell the truth. Most of all, we need to believe in the future. That's what feels good. If our neighbor doesn't share our reality and gives off sad, repressive feelings, smile and wave and quietly beam them some love; they're badly in need. Most of all, don't give up. Politics, like ice, is slippery but this too shall pass, and we'll find that not only our situation, but we ourselves, will have grown through this frustrating period. We never stand still, even when it feels like it. So, deep breath, dearhearts, take heart -- and watch out for slick spots.

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