Sturm: “What’s Scarier Than Ebola? A Brain-Dead Polity.”
October 23, 2014
It's been an October of surprises. As U.S. health officials' mistake-riddled handling of the deadly Ebola virus topped newscasts, the Denver Post editorial board captured headlines for its denunciation of Sen. Mark Udall's campaign tactics, helping subdue the fevered politics that's plagued us.
Insisting that Udall — dubbed "Mark Uterus" — Think Again about his fixation on gynecological issues while "a great deal is at stake," the Post's endorsement of challenger Cory Gardner injected truth serum into a poisonously dishonest election season.
Noting Udall's lack of leadership in Washington and his "obnoxious one-issue campaign" in Colorado, the Post contends that "Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision." As if inoculating himself from scrutiny, the Post notes, Udall has spent a "shocking amount of energy and money … to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman's call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives."
The Post's rebuke may not be a cure-all for mindless and dispiriting "War on Women" sloganeering, but it's healthy if it incentivizes politicians such as Udall to address constituents' real preoccupations and priorities.
In addition to war with the Islamic State and Ebola, Americans face serious economic-mobility concerns, described last week by Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen as significant "gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority."
Unfortunately, neither striking an independent pose nor debating and shaping such great issues is allowed in Harry Reid's Senate, contrary to the two-century history of the world's most deliberative body.
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With the Senate now less open and more partisan, unanimous Democrat votes set an all-time high for either chamber, according to a recent study by Congressional Quarterly, with the average Senate Democrat voting the party line 94 percent of the time in 2013.
To maintain this governing conformity, Reid has denied votes on more than 350 House-passed measures, many with large bipartisan majorities, and used parliamentary trickeries to pass controversial measures on narrow party-line votes. In December, he activated the "nuclear option," eliminating the Senate's two-century-old filibuster tradition (the 60-vote threshold requiring consultation with the minority) on most presidential nominees.
Smash-mouth politics has served the governing elites — many of whom, like Reid, have parlayed influence into family fortunes — but not Americans who feel ill-served by the institutions they oversee.
Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed. Furthermore, the two most respected federal agencies in a 2013 Pew poll — the Veterans Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are reeling from reports of veterans consigned to death by waiting lists and Ebola-infected nurses. Considering presidential security lapses, even the Secret Service is suspect.
The merry-go-round of evasion and unaccountability is well-known. First, never-ending investigations are launched promising to hold people accountable. Then governing elites blame budget hawks — even amid increasing budgets — not misplaced priorities and misspent taxpayer money. Finally, to protect the governing agenda, appointed mouthpieces run interference, rambling incoherently at oversight hearings to run out the clock.
More worrisome than the cavernous competence gap is the politicization of every bureaucracy, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws, such as the Justice Department and IRS.
Aided and abetted by elected officials who defend the indefensible, the administration diverts our attention with false assurances: You can keep your health insurance and your doctors, there's not a smidgeon of corruption at the IRS, al-Qaida is on the run, the border is secure, and a U.S. Ebola outbreak is extremely unlikely.
Unsettled by Ebola's transmissibility and skeptical the government can track and contain the lethal virus, Americans want travel restrictions from affected African countries. Yet President Obama resists, claiming a ban could lead to more Ebola cases.
Willing to defy public opinion before an election, imagine what controversial policies Obama will pursue afterward. An Iranian nuclear deal that sidesteps Congress and the legalization of illegal immigrants are reported — though political allies such as Udall studiously avoid these issues.
In a television interview this week, Udall admitted to being "brain dead," which isn't surprising given how dumbed-down and non-deliberative the Senate has become. Had Udall and Reid succeeded last month in passing their constitutional amendment to refashion the First Amendment (under the guise of campaign finance reform), there'd be even less need for politicians to defend themselves in the marketplace of ideas.
Calling the senators' amendatory efforts "exceedingly dangerous to the democratic processes," the American Civil Liberties Union warned the amendment "would lead directly to government censorship of political speech, … fundamentally break the Constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations" — a contagion our society couldn't endure.
Think Again — with sunlight being the best disinfectant, Coloradans could have a senator who'll represent our interests in Washington, not a servant of Washington's agenda back home.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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