The notion that our two-party political system is broken seems to be catching fire. Reporting from a gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland, the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman ponders the notion of political instability in the United States.
Before you say “who cares,” read what Friedman has to say.
I heard of a phrase being bandied about here by non-Americans — about the United States — that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before: “political instability.”
“Political instability” was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman here remarked to me, “people ask me about ‘political instability’ in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world.”
Friedman points out that poking fun of and complaining about America are “the only global sport[s] more popular than soccer.” (Which, interestingly, is a sport that is wildly UNpopular in the United States. But that’s another topic.) This year, Friedman says, there’s more to it than that. “We’re making people nervous.”
And why not? Look at the way our government is run. It is 100% us and them, if you’re not with us, you’re against us. It would be easy to put the blame on the GOP, but the Democrats had a supermajority (up, up, and away!) and managed to make it significantly less powerful than a locomotive. They talked about health care reform for a solid year, waited until they no longer had enough votes for a supermajority, and then said, “oh well. Better luck next time.” How is that not dysfunctional?
The most emailed story at NYTimes.com at the moment is an op-ed by Frank Rich called The State of the Union Is Comatose. Frank Rich kind of annoys me (for reasons that really aren’t very good, but whatever), but he’s a terrific writer and this particular essay not only expresses an opinion, but backs it up with facts that I had forgotten and/or never knew in the first place. Remember the V-Chip? That was what Bill Clinton came up with after the Democrats got spanked in the 1994 mid-term elections. At least President Obama came out swinging, Rich says. He also points out that, despite GOP Conservative Hive Mind braying to the contrary, “Only 7 percent of the deficit could be credited to the Obama stimulus bill and 3 percent to his other initiatives.” Also worth mentioning is that the idea of not criticizing the guy who was in office right before you is a new idea. Rich points out that “In an October 1936 speech, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the ‘hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government’ he had inherited”; and that “F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.”
Since Scott Brown won the election in Massachusetts (or after the Democrats lost Massachusetts, depending on your point of view), there has been a lot of chatter about what “the people” want. “The people have spoken.” First of all, let’s put that in perspective. We’re talking about voters in one state, and that isn’t even 100% of the voters in the state that are eligible to vote. (It never is, something that has always irritated me. I think voting should be mandatory. I know. It won’t happen.) Second, this is another example of the pathetic fallacy. You can’t say that “the people” have a particular feeling or point of view. It’s not possible. Yes, it makes it easier to score political points. But that doesn’t make it right.
Take a look at this exchange from the recent GOP Summit that President Obama attended.
The title of the video is Obama Takes Down Rep. Jeb Hensarling At GOP Retreat. Which is also not helpful. Because what really happened was that President Obama talked to Rep. Jeb Hensarling like a person. He was right. The question Hensarling asked wasn’t really a question. It was a soundbite, albeit a very long one. Does Hensarling think that by asking that question he’s going to make any headway into the laughable political gridlock that currently has a stranglehold on our government? No. He probably thinks that he’ll make points with voters. Which he might. But his job isn’t to get elected again. His job is to govern. That’s true of all of these guys (and women, although it’s mostly guys). In theory, President Obama has opened a door here, not for bipartisanship, although that’s what he’s saying, but for some actual no nonsense debating between the two parties. Let’s see if it actually happens.
In other news…
Here’s a headline to make all the sci-fi paranoids freak out. “NASA mission to unravel sun’s threat to Earth“. (TimesOnline) The way the sentence is written, it sounds like the Sun being a threat to Earth is a fact. Reading a little bit deeper, it’s just a precaution — scientists “hope to be able to produce reliable forecasts of ‘space weather’ and provide advance warnings of any threat.” So they don’t necessarily think the Sun is going to crash into the Earth by next Tuesday. Still, maybe I should pay more attention to some of the cartoons I watch… I mean, the cartoons my KIDS watch. Right. The kids. Sure.
The Grammy Awards were last night. We’re supposed to care. I preferred it when we didn’t.
This photo of Justin Bieber palling around with rappers could be a sign of the apocalypse.
And now, here is your Weekend Movie Box Office.
‘Avatar’ is on track to sink ‘Titanic’. (Ha! Get it? SINK? Oh, the witticisms.) James Cameron’s movie about giant smurfs took in another $30,000,000, bringing it’s total take to $594,472,000. ‘Titanic’ is the number one grossing Domestic film of all time with $600,788,188. ‘Avatar’ has already topped the ship sinking movie in worldwide ticket sales. How much? $2,039,222,000. Wow. Does this mean we all have to learn to speak Na’vi now? It does appear that James Cameron has his zekwä on the pulse of moviegoers. If you don’t know what zekwä, you can look it up at the Learn Navi website.
‘Edge of Darkness’ opened in second place with $17,120,000. The movie stars Mel Gibson, who can spot a Jewish person at thirty paces. ‘When in Rome’, which looks awful, was third with $12,065,000. ‘The Tooth Fairy’, which also looks awful but my kids want to see it, was fourth with $10,000,000 ($26,106,000 cume — I smell a flop). And in fifth place, ‘The Book of Eli’, which took in $8,770,000 ($74,373,000). I liked it, but it seems to be getting crowded out by ‘Avatar.’ Which is also good, but I think ‘Eli’ might be a better movie. Not as BIG, and no giant blue smurfs. But still.