Spoken Word

September 2004


Why do we believe politicians? They always tell us what we want to hear and then we're disappointed when they do differently. We could do a better job ourselves -- so why don't we?

Many people pay careful attention to the speeches made by politicians. They listen intently, hanging on to every word. This has always puzzled me. Nine times out of ten, the speech was written by a professional speech writer. The only thing you can accurately deduce from such a speech is that this is what they think you want them to say.

I just love the way political speeches try to capture the high moral ground. One of the favorite formulas for this is the "Obvious Truth" = "You're one of Us". For example, Governor Schwarzenegger's speech at the Republican National Convention: "If you believe that the government should be accountable to the people, and not the people to the government... then you are a Republican."

Obviously, in a democracy, the government should be accountable but that has nothing whatsoever to do with a person's political party affiliation. This is well demonstrated by the fact that the Bush Presidency has been the least accountable of any US administration in the nation's history. As documented in the New York Times and Washington Post, the Bush presidency has been ruling through regulation rather than by legislation, creating new federal regulations and changing existing regulations as a means of achieving policy aims without subjecting the changes to congressional oversight or public debate. Examples include: changing federal standards for mercury in drinking water, exempting the US elections in 2002 from scrutiny by the UN elections commission, and removing funding from enforcement of environmental inspections by the EPA by executive order. Is Bush, therefore, a bad Republican? Depends on what you mean by the term Republican.

In general, I was amused by the governor's speech. Here is a movie star, a multi-millionaire, married to the daughter of one of America's most powerful and influential families -- and he says "America works for me." Well, duh! If I won the lottery, America would be working pretty good for me, too.

William Jennings Bryan was the premier speachifier of the last century in America. He spoke with great conviction. He also wrote most of his own material. In later life, his popularity waned, principally because he stopped saying what he thought people wanted to hear and started telling what he thought they ought to want to hear. This is a traditional failing of many elder statesmen.

If you distilled down most of Bryan's message into words of one syllable, you would not find an ounce of difference between them and the public posturing of the latter day Republicans: family values, old time religion, thrift, self-determination, and the American spirit. Trouble is that there was just as much wrong with these "simple truths" then as there is now.

When you take power and money away from government, it doesn't transfer to The People: some rich, powerful person gets richer and more powerful. When you give people whopping "tax breaks" either the government goes bankrupt or you get to pay more from your own pocket for the services you depend on. Why will it cost you $80,000 to put a BA degree on your child's resume? Maybe the massive cuts in government support to universities have something to do with it. Want to know why your local taxes are going up to pay for more and more people dying of lung disease? It just might have something to do with "Clear Sky" playing Russian roulette with environmental pollution statistics. Do you get mad when it costs $1.50 to ride a bus, or $5 to cross a bridge? Lower tax rates bought you these higher prices.

Politicians are in the simple answer business. Unfortunately, as HL Mencken said, "There is always an easy solution to every human problem,” neat, plausible and wrong." The only answer that can work in a democratic process is to get more of the real people involved in real government. We need real solutions to real problems, not just sound bites and disconnected logic. To paraphrase Georges Clemenceau, our children's futures' are too important to be left to the politicians.

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