25 March 2010

To have and have not

For months now, American politics has had the inertia of a banana republic's government with endless machinations that led to no real policy. So today healthcare has been voted on for what feels like the forty-seventh time, and finally, for better or for worse, our government has managed to accomplish something sweeping. I had a taste of two different political worlds today: one in first class on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago and the second in a Chicago cab with a chatty driver.

As we were "deplaning," I heard the two men in the seats behind me suddenly turn their conversation to politics. I had just learned that one of them was in finance and the other presumably was too. (For the record, I got a free upgrade to first class since I do not work in finance.) One of the men sputtered with rage and declared that he wanted to vote everyone out of office, if that were only possible. Nancy Pelosi, a feminist icon to some, was to him "someone who couldn't even get a job in the private sector" and had written a laughable autobiography. For him, government doesn't work, and a rogue's gallery of Democrats spends the public's money willy-nilly.

Forty minutes later, my Africa-born cabby shuts off the radio and informs me that healthcare passed today. Without stopping to plumb my political leanings, he declares that Republicans are obstructionist morons. We have an animated conversation in which he denounces George W. Bush's expensive wars and praises the Democrats for everything good in the country. Okay, the conversation turns a little awkward when Don't Ask Don't Tell comes up--I couldn't figure out what he thought about gays in the military--but he ends his remarks on the subject with "the Republicans are stupid!"

Two distressing facts:
  • First, David Frum (a speechwriter under Bush) just lost his position at the conservative American Enterprise Institute for apparently being too critical of the Republicans, especially in their unwillingness to have any role (except of course obstruction) in the healthcare debate. Paul Krugman points out that Frum probably agrees with too much of what ended up in Obama's healthcare bill because even a member of the Heritage Foundation, which I think is to the right of AEI, argued in 2003 that healthcare reform needed an individual mandate combined with subsidies for needy people to buy insurance--in other words, AEI endorsed "Obamacare" seven years ago but that was a different world since a Republican was President. 
  • The second distressing fact is that a recent study explained on the New York Times op-ed page suggests that in the context of American political debates when you provide evidence to people that contradicts their previously held opinions, they are more obstinate in holding their original beliefs. That's right: Arguing with facts literally does not work in political conversations. How did we get to this point?

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