Politicians on both sides of aisle are great when it comes to "the what" -- telling us what they'd do in an ideal world. Where they all fall down is in telling us about "the how" -- how in the world they're going to get anything done . . .
Writing and posting a weekly thousand-word essay requires a certain amount of discipline. Setting aside the many hours it takes to decide on a topic, then research, write, edit and record it can be quite a challenge -- especially when one is also researching, writing and delivering upwards of six college lectures a week and spending the better part of a day and night familiarizing oneself with the latest medical research on such diverse conditions/diseases as meibomian gland dysfunction, lupus erythematosus or wegner's granulomatosis. (I have spent the past twenty years working as a "public representative" of an Institutional Review Board, which is a federally mandated committee that has been formally designated to approve, monitor and review biomedical and behavioral research involving humans.)
In addition to the necessity of being reasonably disciplined, writing a weekly political essay can also require having the hide of a rhinoceros. Let's face it: in addition to those who send laudatory notes, there are a lot of screwy people out there who, hiding behind the shield of internet anonymity, will attack, damn, vilify and threaten with gay abandon. Over the years I have been called both a Nazi and a Communist, a self-hating Jew and a religious zealot, a prig and a libertine. Why these puppies would continue reading my essays is a question well beyond my pay grade . . .
One of my favorite critics is a classy, well-read mainstream conservative who I actually met face-to-face a couple of years ago. Although we are, for the most part, on opposite sides of the political fence when it comes to economics, foreign policy and President Obama, we have nonetheless managed to keep our disagreements both civil and gentlemanly. Frequently, he will send me long detailed emails taking apart a weekly essay, pointing out "the error of my ways," and chiding me for being blind to the realities of life. My one regret is that I rarely have the time to respond with the same amount of detail. Recently, I wrote him the following brief tongue-in-cheek email:
I guess its only fair that for any and every article I write highlighting something ignominious on the conservative side of the aisle, you find some way to tie the sin, error or shortcoming onto Obama's tail. By the way, I'm still waiting for you to announce your candidacy for president and tell us precisely how you would handle the economy, foreign policy and a myriad of other challenges . . .
Amazingly, he, in his words, "took the bait," and sent back a nearly 700-word response. I found myself in agreement with some of his proposals such as:
"No subsidies to wealthy farmers not to grow"
"Eliminate the advantages of 'carried interest,'"
"Mandate, advocate, incentivize, training for the unemployed in skilled jobs, such as welding" and
"A major comprehensive program to attract scientists and engineers, and others with advanced degrees to America. If you attend Harvard, Yale or Columbia, you must stay here for 5 years, and start your business here, or who the devil needs you to take up space?
I should mention that we have always been in substantial agreement on hot-button social issues; the man is far from doctrinaire. As I said at the outset, the man is intelligent, well-read and has class . . .
In reading through his proposals for what he would implement were he president, I found myself wondering precisely how he would do it. This pondering thread led me to recall an old Steve Martin routine which in its own way, addresses this what/how dichotomy:
You can be a millionaire . . . and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! You say, "Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes? First, get a million dollars. Now you say, "Steve what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says 'You have never paid taxes?' Two simple words: I FORGOT!
Yes, it is a funny bit. But, as with much of Steve Martin's humor, it contains far more than a punch line. One will note that while he succinctly states the what -- becoming a millionaire who never pays taxes -- he totally glosses over the all-important how -- becoming a millionaire in the first place.
It is much the same with my conservative friend and indeed, with virtually all politicians on both sides of the aisle. They are just great when it comes to the what, but rarely, if ever, share with the public the far more crucial how. Politics is filled with "whats" -- platforms which reveal what the individual, bloc or party would do in an ideal world where they could get their way. But in order for any what to become reality, people have to seriously engage in how -- that complex process which begins with commitment to the commonweal and then proceeds along a path containing what I call "the four C's": commitment, comity, civility and compromise.
Without question, America -- and the rest of the world -- is in the throes of some of the gravest, most vexing challenges in history:
Economic disparity in this country is far greater than that of the Gilded Age. We have yet to face up to the fact that our economic future will not -- indeed cannot -- resemble our past. In order to secure and win the future, we must train and educate a new middle class with new skills suitable for new areas of endeavor.
American demographics are undergoing a quantum change. By 2030, "we" will become "them." According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030, a majority of Americans will be what have long referred to as minorities. Meaningful immigration reform has been stalled for so long that it may have to wait for a "minority-majority" Congress . . . God forbid we should have to wait that long.
America's infrastructure is not only creaking; it is crumbling before our eyes. Bridges, roads, railroad tracks, ports, dams, levees, schools -- you name it -- are in dire shape. When we speak of a dangerously crumbling infrastructure it is as if we were talking about someone else's home that's falling apart. WRONG. America's infrastructure is our home, and we simply must do something if it is to be habitable.
We have just about reached the point of no return vis-à-vis climate change. If we are to have a hope of reversing a future that will bring rising seas, coastal and intracoastal flooding, drought, food shortages and a thousand other nightmares, we have to stop appeasing the Luddites and start listening to the scientists.
OK. These are all examples of what -- of problems and challenges; of areas which need attention and amelioration. The question before us is the far more important one of how -- precisely how do we accomplish the tasks, enact the laws, and win the future. One thing I would urge is for we the people to stop accepting all the political fast food our candidates and elected officials try to pass off as well-balanced nutritional meals. When they campaign on a platform of what, we must demand that they explain how -- of how they are going to get their various dishes onto a finalized political menu. We have to demand -- DEMAND -- that they stop merely telling us what is wrong with the other guy, the other party and start telling us how they are going to work together for the common good. And don't just tell us "elect me and the future will take care of itself."
Commitment comity, civility and compromise: four major ingredients to hopefully take us from what to how.
And while we're at it, if not now, when . . .?