The word “psychiatrist” has been defined as a Jewish doctor who can’t stand the sight of blood. (Relax. Writer is Jewish. That makes it OK!)
If I may purloin that theme, a U.S. legislator is defined as a surgeon who can’t stand to cut. They may do all right with fingernails, toenails and body hair. Yes, I know about the tea parties and the new conservatives, and I see and hear our newly elected Republican senators and congressmen brandishing their sharpened knives and shouting their brave incantations, but when it comes to the serious cutting America’s survival demands, the combination of their instinct, tradition and cowardice will paralyze them.
They’re going to enjoy their new prominence and power and they’re going to want to perpetuate it. Instead of doing what we clearly hired them to do with vengeful gusto, they will look for every possible way to “kick the can down the road,” even though they know we’re no longer smiling and we’ve got them at political gunpoint. If, when and as they do put their names, votes and futures in favor of the needed slashes, they will do so with the attitude of a child forced to write a thank-you note to Grandma for an unwanted book.
They know exactly how the American voter’s brain works. It moves inexorably from, “Yeah, we need conservatives like him” down through “Hooray, he won!” and onward through, “Our budget is so bloated. Go get ‘em, Baby! Go get ‘em!” and finally over to “Look what that treacherous traitor helped cut! Student loans, Medicare, unemployment compensation extension and five other programs important to ME!”
There was a hauntingly educated comment heard by Americans over 60 after 9/11 when President George W. Bush took America and the war to al-Qaida’s workshop, Afghanistan, and later Iraq. Younger Americans won’t understand. The comment was: “This is not good. The president isn’t asking us to sacrifice anything!”
True. President Bush assured us the military would do the job and we should just go shopping. He wasn’t being a wise guy. Bush meant, “Don’t let Osama bin Laden run our lives. Get out there and keep the economy going!” Wrong message. Americans will respond when leadership explains the reasons for sacrifice and presents a strong logical case for it. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 explained the reason. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented the strong case. And Americans responded.
My insult, snide chiding though it may sound, is not limited to the legislators I fear will let us down. A huge hunk of the blame is our own. We need to show Congress we understand and we’re highly resolved. That, alone, will give them the moral backing to make the cuts. Their earlier campaign speeches and tea-party rhetoric will not.
That resolve was abundant during World War II. There was an alarming fall-off of that national attitude during the Korean War, so few years later. Vietnam? Enough said.
“Go shopping!” How do we summon forth the old winning American mojo? How do we turn elected leaders into real leaders and not pre-teens nervously looking at the other kids to see if they’re really going to jump into the cold water, too?
Why do I expect forfeiture on such major promises, especially in the face of the public’s threat to throw the new ones out in two years if they disappoint us? Don’t underestimate the power of denial. Illogical fantasies will overtake reason. Like reptiles slithering out of putrid water, the reluctant legislators will think, “Maybe something big will come along and distract everybody. Maybe a surge of good revenue will well up out of the economy. Maybe we’ll have recovery. That’s IT! I’d much rather vote for a tax cut than a spending cut!”
I once saw a young politician, who became defense minister and foreign minister of Norway, and whose son is today prime minister, belly-flop into a rubber raft and try to paddle with his bare hands in winter water to reach Hungarian refugees on the other side who were about to be overrun by the Soviet Red Army approaching out of the distant woods. We, standing on the Austrian bank of the Einser Canal, watched horrified as the current carried him away downstream. Then we screamed with joy as he found a stick sturdy enough to let him pole his way successfully across and make the rescue!
That courageous politician was Thorvald Stoltenberg. That was Christmas night of 1956 and on the other side of the ocean.
I’m more than ready to see some more political courage.
And, this time, on this side of the ocean; here. and now!
Hey, chicken conservatives. We’re not Communist soldiers coming at you out of the woods.
We’re American voters ready to re-embed you into the woodwork.