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The Road to Somewhere | Political Waves

The Dog Days of Summer are behind us now, and school has begun in many cities even though the hot weather continues unabated. Here in the Midwest we're into our third week of brain-numbing heat, a steady virtual temperature of 105-115 degrees. The air smells scorched. This is the hottest decade on record and the most uncomfortable summer I can remember, with insect populations and allergens exploding.

Heat captured by the ocean creates even more problems in the long term. An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan unexpectedly calved in Greenland last week. The Canadian Ice Service will monitor its drift to keep ships and oil platforms apprised of its location. I'm sure it's been this hot before, I'm sure icebergs of this size have dropped into the sea -- I just don't remember them. Everything feels sharply new and over the top. Our weather patterns are radicalized, and so are our political narratives. An uncompromising intensity on all fronts signals the approach of the next act, come what may. It may take a decade or two. History takes her time.

Speaking of schools, Nancy Pelosi called the House of Representatives back from their summer break to vote on an emergency jobs bill that saved 300,000 teachers, firefighters and police from unemployment. The $26 billion bill got Dem support, but Republicans objected that the money will go to teachers' unions and the bailout of spendthrift states that can't balance their own budgets. Think about that a moment. The good of the nation's school children is hijacked by a political party whose average age is well over 50. Intellectual discussions about bipartisanship don't factor in the disproportionate age differences. What might an absence of teachers look like in your community?  What would happen to the kids if the teachers weren't paid? What would the future look like for them or for us? Republicans, who last month let almost two million unemployed citizens hang out to dry, sink to a new low in abandoning the nation's children.

Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi and likely 2012 GOP candidate, complained that the federal windfall would equal the costs of reconfiguring the state budget to account for it. That sounds like a good conservative talking point only if you ignore the stats on national education, where Mississippi student achievement trails the very bottom of the list. Gov. Barbour appears unconcerned that his fourth-graders are the nation's least proficient readers, perhaps because Mississippi standards place his elementary students in the top 10%. The federal government sets a national standard, but as Mississippi illustrates, states can and do create their own. Mississippi, patting itself on the back, is a legend in its own mind. This is also true of Texas, which rewrites history to suit itself and continues to toy with the possibility of secession.

Similarly, Oklahoma compromised women's rights with a collection of pro-life, pro-Christian laws making abortion all but impossible and access to birth control a challenge. Arizona has split itself in two, charged by the Obama administration with usurping immigration policies considered the venue of the federal government. In my own state, Missouri voted last week to approve Proposition C, making it illegal to mandate health care. This is a first assault on what the Republicans call 'Obamacare.' Several other states are drafting similar legislation to test the legal waters.

These and other issues of states' rights will figure prominently in our future, much as Tea Baggers will show up in our elections. States will tout their own lowered standards, as will radical political candidates who are currently beating back moderate Republicans. Consider this the reactive vote. Federal money that kept the Republic tied to the national coffers disappeared during Bush's decade of rash spending, leaving local communities to their own devices. Conservatives' worship of states' rights spawns the same kind of multiple challenges to federal authority that resulted in the Civil War. A portion of the nation's voters and a disproportionate number of pundits refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Obama administration, and their radicalism plays out across the country.

In order to buy the Republican talking points, you must believe that government is broken beyond repair because it has failed to achieve what the private sector can produce, especially under an 'inexperienced' President with deeply socialist inclinations. You must believe without question that it's time to get back on board the Fiscal Responsibility Express, driven by newly sober and serious Republicans. Never mind that Reagan's assault on regulations brought us to this pass, or that Bush's tax cuts and wars put us in this multi-trillion-dollar mess. Never mind that there's nothing fiscally sound about corporate welfare, about bankers owning Congress, or about the federal government engaging in privatized war. Never mind that thanks to Obama's health care bill, Medicare will continue to be fiscally sound through 2029 and Social Security through 2037. The Republican axiom is that Medicare and Social Security are welfare entitlements that must be eliminated entirely.

Our inability to face the truth prevents the kind of financial triage it would take to bring government back into balance. Paul Krugman recently wrote an editorial for The New York Times that spelled out America's future in bleak terms. Krugman isn't afraid to speak plainly, and it's difficult to ignore an article by a Pulitzer winner entitled, America Goes Dark. Krugman deplores our inability to get past political considerations to rescue our ailing nation. From failing infrastructure to flagging community services and chronic unemployment, the challenges to our economy have brought us to a standstill. Without the political will of concerned citizens and legislators, we can't take steps that have worked in the past to restore us. According to Krugman, a propagandized lack of confidence in government has brought us to this impasse. America is "on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere."

I know that isn't a projection we want to wrap our arms around. We resist political discouragement on a daily basis, looking for some sign of returning normalcy. We seem to be caught in an epidemic of what actor Steven Weber calls Americide, but perhaps this is just a resting spot to catch our breath. Maybe this isn't the new road, but the new fork in the road. Whom to trust, when doubt is epidemic? Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust common sense and decency and heart.

Some things are obvious, don't you think? For instance, in what universe do we not fund our children's teachers or education? Our firefighters and police? At what point do we no longer take care of each other? That route is the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere. We -- you and I -- we're going the other way.

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