Just left Disney World today with my wife and daughter. For one week, we vacationed in an alternate universe where all the rules of human engagement had changed. Fake castles and canals; alligators and water mocassins extracted; amazing landscapes and architectural wonders. And hotels that seem to stretch out onto authentic Caribbean coves. But the happiness. Vacationers from all walks of life and representing every possible ethnic group–many of them extended families–let nothing get them down. Occasionally, buses were late and people were waiting for them, and some became irritated. That first night in the Magic Kingdom, in an unrelenting downpour, I joined in the mild complaining that ensued when we stepped onto the bus that was there to take us to Port Orleans, our hotel. The bus driver smiled and put on a comedy performance and there was nothing we could do. Two days later and there wasn’t a thing that could bother me. My daughter was fully enthralled. This world was real to her and to children much older. Teenage girls couldn’t wait to pose with princess characters at the Magic Kingdom breakfast. At a moment’s notice, their mothers jumped into the picture frames. I sat in the boat that sailed down a lazy little river surrounded by jungle foliage and stereotypical disney natives threatening passengers with shrunken heads and skulls, and I felt tears in my eyes. I remember the day my parents took me to see “Bambi.” It was my first movie in a theater. It was an experience I’ll never forget because there was that magical ether every great Disney feature was infused with. To this day, the death of Bambi’s mother is a moment as real as any other. The collective loss of imagination from the heart and soul of our known world leads us to seek places where such things can be found. At the end of this week, with Libya on the precipice, Washington completely unable to make even the most modest of corrections towards solving a seemingly endless economic crisis, and two wars continuing, (not to mention the East Coast earthquake and an oncoming hurricane), vacationers were leaving Walt Disney World’s Port Orleans hotel with their heads down, pulling their suitcases behind them. It was in near darkness and a jazz funeral dirge was playing hauntingly over the loudspeakers. For one week, total strangers were talking about nothing else but their experiences at WDW. And what an experience. It will take several weeks, hopefully, for the cynicism to return.
We’ve entered a new phase in American politics where political leaders demonstrate that they have no business representing the hopes and interests of the American people. With Congress at a well-deserved new low in the latest polls, republican pit bulls are grinding their teeth and foaming angrily at the mouth about how Obama is to blame for Standard and Poor’s credit downgrade. This is the same rating agency that overrated junk and crap bonds not too long ago. Now these unelected experts are exerting their muscle at the expense of American standing around the world, and it seems it was gamed from the beginning. Can presidential candidates like Ms. Bachman be seen as anything else but a traitor for her comments both before and after the debt ceiling debacle that was largely created by a republican caucus either so afraid of the tea party that they were wetting themselves or in cahoots with conservative members to enact a plan that should be the envy of the terrorist enemies we have been spending hundreds of billions of dollars to defeat? Yes, Obama should have shown real presidential leadership and done everything in his and his staff’s power to enact the larger bargain. He was elected to make sure that deals like the one almost struck with Boehner do not fall apart. He was not elected to admit that he tried but failed. So, yes, there’s blame to go around. But the blame for the present crisis must be laid at the feet of the republican party, especially the caucus that is holed up in the House, seeemingly working to make sure that Obama never gets re-elected even if the country goes down the toilet in the process. Make no mistake: they’re not interested in restoring balance in Washington. They’re interested in undermining American power and integrity. Though they’re not studying war or violence, they have the same aims as the terrorists we’re fighting. They don’t realize that. But treason is treason. They need to be called out for the actions they have taken and are taking.
In recent days, it would appear that the middle ground has born some fruit in the arena of national politics. But appearances are almost always deceiving. While President Obama touts the idea of “compromise” as a sacrosanct concept that too few in power take advantage of, he has been fairly roundly criticized for putting together a compromise deal that gives too much away to the republicans and that puts off the fights he keeps saying he’ll wage for another day–probably in the near future. Will the revenue fight actually result in a republican give-in? Time will tell, but history tells us that the answer is “no.” Republicans push for a zero-tolerance agenda; that’s zero tolerance for anything the other side puts forward. The democratic base is fed up with the White House. They’re getting nothing for all their efforts. And they’re not just fighting for the upper hand in upcoming elections. Progressive democrats are generally safe because they represent constituencies that aren’t interested in tea party talking points. They’re fighting, generally, for the preservation of a class that’s destined to go the way of the polar bear, white sharks, and a stable financial and atmospheric environment: the middle class. That it takes extreme measures with no innate chance for passage to save the middle class–while the middle ground approach offers little or no hope–is somehow beyond the constraints of irony. Deficit spending, a national campaign not unlike the programs of FDR’s early presidency, is the answer according to progressive-minded economists. But, unfortunately, we’ll never know. Progressives have never been good at coming up with simplified catchphrases to use as battle calls. But we’re also beyond the idea that the federal government can do anything visionary or transformative. If America needs anything, it’s a little more whimsy and a little less hard reality because realism only goes so far. But we’re in the throes of continuing economic decline. To find the hope that’s out there, one must turn down the media circus and venture out into the main streets and side streets of America. This is something that politicians don’t do anymore. The middle is a worthy badge to carry. And I think that much can be achieved in this middle ground. But for it to work, the sides that are engaged must be willing to actually give up on some of their new and sacred positions and see what the middle really entails. Old school politicians like Alan Simpson understand the no bull, take some prisoners, put it on the table, but put up some sweat approach. Perhaps our elected leaders will pull themselves out of this present morass. The truth is that the American people have always existed in this middle ground. At least 60% of us have. That number hasn’t changed much over these many years. It’s not so much that the American people have to move themselves toward Washington, but that Washington needs to move itself. Toward the American people and the heart that beats in the various heartlands that exemplify this country.
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