Sunday, March 04, 2012

Knotting Knickers

Bob Schieffer on the CBS "news" show voiced his opinion and dismay that Olympia Snowe announced her resignation from the Senate. Here is a transcript of his words:

I've never liked it when old people remind us things were better in their day, but here I go:
When I came to Washington back in 1969, things were a mess - the country was divided over Vietnam, and a wave of violence had taken the lives of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr.
Yet, even in those difficult days, the government still functioned, and Congress was a much better place - it still passed significant legislation.
The Senate was a place of giants and a blend of all persuasions - Democrat John Stennis of Mississippi was a conservative; Republican Jake Javits of New York a liberal, Washington's Scoop Jackson was a hardliner on defense and a liberal on social issues.
Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was a liberal's liberal, and Republican Barry Goldwater was a hard-core conservative.
They came and they went. But none of them left for the reasons given last week by Olympia Snowe, the moderate Maine Senator who said in so many words she was just tired of fooling with it - that the modern Senate with its "my way or the highway mentality" was no longer the place to accomplish anything.
Snowe is not the first to feel that way lately, just the first to say it aloud.
The Senate will be the worse for her absence, but it will survive. But what does it say about the state of our government and politics when serious people conclude that serving in the United States Senate is no longer worth their time and effort?
That's the part that should worry the rest of us.
Our governance is predicated on the idea legislators bring opposing and competing views with them to do their job. The idea is that the media exposes and publishes information about these opposing and competing ideas and, we the people, having had our public educations, can read, reason and distinguish how best to go forward. We the people then communicate our positions to our legislators and our legislators, based on their feel for the majority opinion weighted to what is best for the common good, vote their conscience. In matters that are not simple choices, black/white, yes/no - but - are instead, nuances of choice, in order to tend to the business of governance - you know, get work done -- compromises had to be made. It was how "significant legislation" was accomplished during "divisive" times was made.

I am, unabashedly, a liberal. I am a Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Occupy liberal. A citizen who strongly believes that government is supposed to work for all citizens. A citizen who understands the necessity of complex issues needing lobbyists who inform, challenge and explain these issues to Congress and citizens, but not to the preference over and against the interest of the common citizen. Precisely because I believe in the best governance and government for all citizens, precisely because I believe in an informed and engaged citizenry to help make decisions, I need an opportunity to hear opposing, contrasting and shades of viewpoints so I can make my own best decisions. 

Face the Nation has been on television almost my entire lifetime. Yet, currently the program does not present opposing viewpoints, nor is it very adept at calling out those who pollute the public discourse with out-and-out falsehoods. When George Bush was president, the show, and all the others like it, had a majority of "conservative" politicians and "leaders" like Grover Norquist. When Mr. Obama took office, I looked forward to a more balanced and even guests or, at least, an opportunity for more liberal views to be aired on these shows. In the past three years, they have not changed their guest lists very much at all, with even Dick Cheney still occasionally a guest. We still are subjected to one view point, over and over and over again. When these programs do present someone with an opposing viewpoint, they tend to have as a guest someone who is only marginally in opposition. There is almost never an honest telling of the facts and issues to mitigate the constant stream of straw man arguments set up by guests on the shows.  The best and maybe the only exceptions I ever find are Rachel Maddow and Laurence O'Donnell. 

Mr. Schieffer could do a great deal about the partisan divide and unwillingness of cooperation stymieing our government's ability to function. He should change his show's format and guests and start encouraging an engaged and informed citizenry by first informing them of the facts and then, having guests with varying opinions and ideas present them. The citizenry will then be above to engage in their own government with clear choices and decisions based on facts and not partisanship and ideology. The public discourse would be raised and, I believe, the quality of our governance would also improve. 

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