Our dysfunctional Congress sometimes moves even the staunchest supporter of democracy toward errant thoughts. This is democracy? This is what we are trying to encourage in the rest of the world? This week an event in my local Island County (state of Washington) commission meeting restored my belief in government by the people.
A packed house at the commission meeting on continuing a conservation futures levy resulted in a 3-0 decision by the commissioners to continue the levy. Two of the commissioners are Republican, and one is a Democrat.
According to the local South Whidbey Record, hundreds of the county’s residents contacted their commissioners in support of the levy. The levy uses taxpayers’ money to buy easements for conservation purposes in the county. Commissioners had considered placing the levy on hold.
The meeting to consider continuation of the levy was packed. One attendee said, “It’s interesting that we have a packed house. There’s bigger value in life than a dollar sign.”
Amen. The other Washington, as the place on the Potomac is known here, might want to take notice.
The day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, November 23, 1963, may be the day America lost her innocence.
True, the nation experienced horrible tragedies before Kennedy’s murder: Lincoln’s assassination, Pearl Harbor, the beginning of the Great Depression. This one, however, involved young children—Caroline and John-John, barely six and three years old. Pictures of innocence.
Before that day, we were on a roll as the unassailable victor of World War II, our nation physically undamaged by the carnage that had devastated Europe, free to lead the industrialized world. The Cold War was at its height, but Kennedy had stood firm during the Cuban missile crisis. The young and personable president was much more popular with the world’s peoples than the aging, dour Kremlin leaders.
Surely, the nation would conquer all. We would win in any encounter with the Soviets. We would buy our homes and enjoy rising middle class prosperity. Our children would go to college, find great jobs. We would enjoy sitcoms and sports events as the television age blossomed.
And then Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President, for what reason we are still not sure. In a bizarre anticlimax, he was killed by Jack Ruby two days later. Ruby died in 1967 of cancer. Speculation has boiled ever since.
Of course, even in Kennedy’s presidency, things weren’t as sanguine as they appeared. The baby boomers, beginning to grow up, would transform every demographic bulge they passed through. Something called “the pill” would challenge moral certainties. And U.S. advisors already were entering the little Asian country of South Vietnam.
“ . . . I am convinced that the common good requires us to be both personally responsible and socially just. These are the two best big ideas of conservatism and liberalism . . . .”
“What are the best and biggest ideas from each side that we will all need to listen to?”
—Jim Wallis, Conservatives, Liberals, and the Fight for America’s Future
The magic word: listen. Can we do that in Washington? In budget committees? In congressional debates? In local politics? In family conflicts? Can we choose not to hate but to respect someone who has different ideas or a different take on the same ideas?
I can remember opinions of mine, over the years, that I concluded were false. But many more of my opinions were not wrong in themselves but were transformed into a better idea when I listened to others.
Listening is a magic wand, more powerful than any brandished by the students of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. And we don’t have to be magicians to use it. We just need a mustard seed of humility.
In a column for The Seattle Times, Danny Westneat, 48, reminisced about his college days. It was possible in his college years, he said, to actually earn a year’s tuition to college with a summer job.
According to the columnist, in 1981, a year of tuition at the University of Washington was $687. Today, it’s $12,500. Part of the difference is that the government paid ninety percent of the tab in 1981. Today? Thirty percent. Westneat’s opinion is that his generation milked the system, but, having prospered from their education, aren’t interested in doing the same for the current generation.
Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, in their book That Used To Be Us, How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, question resources transferred from the nation’s youth to seniors since Social Security was established in the 1930′s. The authors state: “The national interest depends on everyone, including seniors, making some sacrifice so that the country can make the investments it needs in America’s future.”
We might also consider the money spent on the wars we have fought in the last few years. They have taken money that might have been used to better fund our pension system as well as pay more for education for our youth. Our military adventures that sent our young to war also robbed them of educational resources.
How about a Patriot Tax to pay off the war debt which the United States accumulated as a result of the Afghan and Iraq wars? Those who favor tax increases to lower our debt and those who favor spending cuts might cease their constant paralyzing disagreements by considering this tax.
Those who wish to raise revenue through taxes could recognize a Patriot Tax as a way to pay off debts without cutting Social Security or Medicare. Those who wish to cut spending could nevertheless see the Patriot Tax as justified, since this tax would pay only for the debt from two wars voted by Congress, in which our troops risked their lives.
Normally, when the country fights a major war, Congress and the President raise taxes to pay for it. We did not do this for the Afghan and Iraq wars. Thus, a Patriot tax seems fitting, even if a bit late.
Due to the U.S. government shutdown, hundreds of workers at the naval air station on Whidbey Island, Washington State, where I live, have been furloughed. The impact of hundreds of people worrying about their paychecks will certainly impact the local economy.
A country commissioner pointed out that the local government is just now recovering from the recession and sequestration. She wished that the national government would stop manufacturing crises that only hurt the ordinary citizen.
The executive director of one of the Island towns commented: “Let’s just hope for a quick resolution to this. When you take people’s pay away for no good reason, it hurts everybody.”
As of this writing, the shutdown has entered Day 5.