Us vs. Them

Published: June 22, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Ten years from now, historians may look back and label this period as the “reality show” era of politics.

I’ve already talked about the reality show “quality” surrounding banker Jamie Dimon’s testimony before a Senate banking committee. Well, Dimon was on Capitol Hill again, this time testifying before House officials. Unlike the Senate, House lawmakers’ questions carried a much harder edge. At one point, the voluble Barney Frank asked Dimon to “stop filibustering” his responses and TV cameras didn’t miss a moment.

In the meantime, while federal prosecutors failed to find former presidential candidate John Edwards guilty of campaign finance laws, Cable TV networks received a nice bounce from covering all the angles. The feds failed in a second trial (the first was declared a mistrial after discovering prosecutorial misconduct) against baseball pitching great Roger Clemens for obstruction of Congress regarding his alleged use of Human Growth Hormone and steroids.

However, in reading the post-trial interviews of the Clemens case, something caught my attention; something former prosecutor Daniel Richman said in a New York Times article (June 19). Richman opined that jurors “most likely did not buy the government’s argument that what it cast as Mr. Clemens’s lies to Congress were so grave as to deserve prison time. “ ‘Juries care,” Richmond said, “about the nature of the crime as much as they care about the strength of the evidence.’ ”

Then there’s that wacky new show examining Leak-gate brought to light by David Sanger’s book Confront and Concealwhich reveals, among other things, quite a bit of insider detail about the cyber-attacks against Iran’s nuclear program.

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney claimed that the leaks have “put American interests and our people in jeopardy. Even Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “I think what we’re seeing, Wolf, is an avalanche of leaks [that] puts our nation’s security in jeopardy.”

While Attorney General Eric Holder has begun an official investigation, the FBI is conducting its own investigation.

Then there’s Mr. Holder’s own on-going show regarding the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation into the Fast and Furious “gun-walking” program sponsored by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. While approximately 7,000-8,000 documents have been turned over by Justice concerning the program, Republican Chairman Darrell Issa apparently isn’t satisfied and, as of this writing, is holding Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress. This particular gun fight adds yet another unnecessary distraction from the fact that Congress continues to take up no meaningful legislation because… it’s an election year! (Okay, with strong bipartisan support, the Senate just passed a Farm Bill that promises to cut subsidies, the deficit and create jobs. BUT… it now goes on to the House where it awaits a much tougher audience.)

In the midst of a struggling economy, a roller-coaster Wall Street, 8.2 percent unemployment, a European economy on the edge, a deadlocked Congress and grandstanding public officials who act more like they’re on an episode of The Apprentice thanMr. Smith Goes to Washington, the American public is simply fed-up with the Us vs. Them mentality in Washington..

They’re fed-up with Republicans vs. Democrats, the haves vs. the have nots, citizens vs. illegals, right vs. the wrong (depending on where you’re sitting), and Tea Party vs. most everyone else!

We have met the enemy and he is us!

“Can we all just get along?” Rodney King, who died earlier this week, said at the height of the 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked by an acquittal of the police officers accused in using excessive force on the unarmed King.

In his latest book, Our Divided Political Heart, Washington Post opinion writer E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “Building a new consensus will be impossible if the parties to our political struggles continue to insist that a single national trait explains our success as a nation and that a single idea drives and dominates our story. [Our country] has witnessed the rise of a radical form of individualism that simultaneously denigrates the role of government and the importance most Americans attach to the quest for community.”

America’s success comes from all quarters, Dionne argues: Republicans, Democrats, individualists, communitarians; the religious as well as the secular, black, white, Hispanic, the haves as well as the have nots.

What I argue for is a lot more listening than talking, rational debate over irrational babble, more common sense and a lot less political nonsense.

If we are ever going to rise again as that “shining city on a hill,” as Ronald Reagan said, we need to transform ourselves from another loud, self-absorbed episode of the Kardashians, to a community of citizens who focus on what we can do; from thoughtless noise to a collective enthusiasm and individualistic spirit. Because the real reality is, we are a work in progress. We have it within our power to be better than we are.

Watching the recent HBO documentary “41” about the life and career of President George H.W. Bush, I kept thinking, what would he say to all of this shameless political grandstanding? What advice would he offer to anyone thinking about entering public service?

“Politics is a noble calling,” the 41st president said. “Don’t be turned off by the scandal of the moment, by the criticisms from the press about politics and politicians.

“Do your best. Get in there. If you believe in something, then work at it. It’s worth it. It’s worth doing it. It’s worth serving something other than your own self, your own pocketbook. Public service is a noble calling, and I still feel that way.”

My thanks to Dan Piraro for his always funny, on-target political cartoons.



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