2011-12-02 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Nation Divided, The Centre Did Not Hold
Commentary By Howard Schwach

In the wake of the Super Committee’s failure to come up with a budget deal and in light of several new polls that show that not only Congress, but the nation is divided on the more important fiscal issues of the day, I am reminded of William Butler Yeats’ ominous stanza in his poem “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Now, Yeats died the year I was born, 1939, but his poem has as much resonance today as it did when England and Ireland were battling over “The Troubles” and Fascism was taking over much of Europe.

He probably would have felt very comfortable in the political climate we face today – two implacable foes at either end of the political spectrum, each unwilling or unable to move towards the center to come up with a compromise that could save the day.

In fact, there is no more “center” in American politics. The Tea Party movement and the Progressive movement have seen to that, and President Obama, who should have a major role in bringing the two ends towards the middle, seems not to have a clue on how to do that.

I heard a radio program last week that discussed the problem and the fact that a Beltway think tank that had been disaggregating Congress for 50 years reported that, 20 years ago, there was indeed a center in Congress, made up of more than 20 Senators and 250 Congress members, who could look at both sides of an issue, and work for consensus.

Today, that report shows that there are no Congress members in the middle, that all of them have taken sides and refuse to budge from their positions no matter what.

Some of you who have kids might remember Tootle The Train, a kids’book in which an engine was taught that he could not leave the track “No Matter What!” He finally became a happy engine only when he left the tracks to pursue a field of spring flowers.

Our Congress members will never be happy, because they will never go off whatever track they happen to be on – No Matter What!

And, the polls show that many of their constituents believe they are doing the right thing – to a point.

A CNN poll completed on November 21 showed that 59 percent of those polled who considered themselves to be Republicans opposed tax increases under any circumstances. At the same time, 57 percent of those who identified themselves as Democrats polled said that they oppose spending cuts under any circumstances, or at least unless tax increases for the wealthy are included in the deal.

Independent voters, or those who identified themselves as independents, had similar ideas. Nearly 70 percent favored raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations while supporting cuts in entitlement programs.

Personally, I hate that term, “entitlement” programs.

That title makes it sound as though I am entitled to Social Security and Medicare funds even though I never did anything to earn the right to that money.

I worked at summer jobs while I was in college, mostly at the Post Office in Far Rockaway, but stocking shelves and bagging groceries as well.

After graduating college in 1962, I went right into the U.S. Navy and I have been working full time ever since.

For those of you who can’t count, that means I have been pumping money into my Social Security and FICA accounts for one year short of 50.

I earned my 40 quarters a long time ago, but I continue to put money into Social Security even though I retired from the school system 11 years ago and began collecting Social Security and Medicare seven years ago.

That money is not an entitlement; it is something that I have earned by my contributions to the system over those 50 years.

Anyway, I digress, but every time I hear some smarmy Republican Congressman make it sound like I am stealing the money from the government, I get angry and plan to leap into the television set and throttle the dolt. Perhaps all Republican legislators need to be spanked by their parents – who are undoubtedly receiving their own largess from the government.

Back to the Super Committee.

I knew that it would fail to come up with a compromise. In fact, everybody who understood what was happening in Washington knew that it would fail. Even the members knew that it would fail. The only one who believed that it might succeed was President Obama, and that speaks volumes about him as a president.

In fact, a Zogby poll found that 78 percent of likely voters believed that the committee would fail to come up with a solution.

Only 19 percent believed that a deal was possible. Find them and put them away where they won’t harm anybody.

What did those voters want?

They wanted the government to close loopholes, particularly for the wealthy and corporations. They wanted to reduce spending, but not on entitlement programs. They wanted to end the “Bush Tax Cuts” for the wealthy.

It does not matter what the public wants, however. It only matters what the members of Congress, their supporters and the lobbyists who pump money into their coffers want.

How do we get back to the days where “compromise” was not a dirty word?

Simple.

Ban Lobbyists.

Ban elected officials and Congressional staffers for the rest of their lives from working for organizations that do business before congress.

Do away with the limit on how much a person has to earn to keep putting money into Social Security.

Place a term limit on federal electeds just as we have for city electeds.

Throw the bums out.

They’re not working for you.

They are working for the lobbyists and the corporations they represent. They are working for the whacky ends of the political spectrum. The only way for politics to survive is for everybody to move away from their corners and into the middle of the ring.

Unfortunately, under our system, that is never again going to happen.

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