Friday, September 11, 2009

The End of an Era

The phrase "statesmanly conduct" came to mind recently, most notably because of the lack of it in the current brouhaha over health care. I looked up the word "statesman" and a few others that seemed relevant:

statesman: a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.

statesmanship: the ability, qualifications, or practice of a statesman; wisdom and skill in the management of public affairs.

respect: to hold in esteem or honor; to show regard or consideration for

It becomes more and more evident to me that the art of statesmanship in the Congress may well have died with Teddy Kennedy. Teddy was not perfect; he was quite fallible and made some very public mistakes. But one thing that characterized his work in the Senate was his statesmanship: he could disagree with someone about an issue, but he was never disrespectful. He might challenge a colleague in debate, but as far as I know, he didn't resort to disparaging their character, their heritage, or their love of this country.

He collaborated, negotiated, cajoled, pushed, pulled, and, above all, he persisted. According to other members of the Senate who spoke after his passing, Teddy didn't sink to the level of open contempt, arrogance, and disrespect that seems to characterize the behavior of many of the people's representatives in Washington these days.

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I looked up a few other words, too:

disrespect: lack of respect; discourtesy; rudeness; to regard or treat without respect; regard or treat with contempt or rudeness

play politics: to engage in political intrigue, take advantage of a political situation or issue, resort to partisan politics, etc.; exploit a political system or political relationships; to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way

As Bette Davis said in All About Eve, you'd better buckle your seatbelts, folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cut the crap, already.

I missed Obama's speech last night, as I was at Fenway Park, watching the Red Sox beat the Orioles. But on the train home, I read the speech in its entirety, and I think it was a damned good speech.

A few things have come to mind over the past couple of weeks:

When the Republicans as a group say no to everything the president proposes, that's not leadership, it's politics. What we need now is leadership. Politics is crap.

When the Democrats dig their heels in so hard that they can't even compromise with other Democratic representatives, people who share some of the same foundational beliefs, that's not leadership. It's a logjam. And it's crap.

Conservatives have become masters at creating pejorative terms for everything they disagree with--"death tax," "death panels," "partial birth abortion." These terms are not only misleading, they're also guaranteed to terrify people who are all too willing to distrust their government (except, of course, their representative in Congress and the pundits who stoke their biggest fears). It's marketing, not policy, and it's very effective. And it's also crap.

Mr. Obama is trying to govern, and is trying to lead--by example--the Congress to behave like rational adults and do their jobs. Do the real work, not the grandstanding, dig-your-heels-in activity that passes for "serving the people." Saying no to everything is not a job, it's a credo. It only serves to maintain the status quo. And it's crap.

Mutual respect and decorum are sorely lacking. In fact, the only person in this whole debate who has been respectful to everyone involved is Mr. Obama. The people who disrupted the town hall meetings, the congressman who yelled out "Liar!" during the speech last night, the snotty and self-righteous pundits--nothing in their behavior comes close to matching the measured dialogue and respectful manner with which Mr. Obama has met his critics and addressed the country.

The guy is a class act. If only the other people involved in this debate could follow his lead and work towards reasonable compromise to solve an incredibly difficult problem. But they don't. And they won't. And that, my friends, is also crap.