Furnace of Now

     Hiring a reporter to cover Congress has given me a looking glass into the political system in the nation’s capital, in all its zany glory, and all its imperfections.     
     While I admire the life that many European countries have provided for their people, I will not see in the French National Assembly, for example, the open work of committees building national legislation.
     But here it is all hanging out on display, the rank, right-wing posturing of the Republicans, the sometimes pollyanish populism of the Democrats. As a member of the capital press corps, our reporter sees it all up close and personal.     
     These are harsh times for the world, and for the U.S. in particular. There is the absolute mess created by the last administration to clean up, but there is much, much more than that for the nation to deal with.
     At Sunday night dinner, a good time for discussions about life and the state of the world, I recounted my Humanities 101 class at Reed College and the core part of that class which dealt with the rise and fall of the Greek and Roman civilizations.     
     The art of the civilization reflected the rise and fall of its military power as painting and sculpture advanced from simple and powerful to gilded and overdone reflecting the civilization’s youthful rise, its passage over a divide when power started to ebb and a nattering old age. Defeat and death.
      America, as the unequaled superpower in the world, could afford to carry out foreign wars while it subsidized vast swaths of agriculture, encouraged enormous consumption of energy, subsidized a ridiculously expensive health care and paid for the police and prisons to put away an outsized percent of its population, all the while propping up the most skewed income distribution in the Western world.     
     That system is no longer sustainable. It wastes too much of America’s wealth and the inequities are simply too great.
      There is a clear and cold-eyed look that can be taken in comparing the efficiency of an authoritarian system like that of the Chinese and its ability to move an enormous society over huge chunks of economic terrain at remarkable pace with the inefficient, messy and extraordinarily open system of America’s democracy constrained by compromise, pure foolishness in some legislators and the lodged, locked-in positions of big-money operators.
      But it is without a doubt the greatest political show on earth. In debate this week over the energy bill, a prehistoric senator from Wyoming denies the very existence of global warming. While Energy Secretary Steven Chu quotes Martin Luther King:
      “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”
      Powerful words indeed. Befitting preacher King’s power to make the spirit soar in belief and hope.
      Our political system has its openness as its enduring strength. One that from the viewpoint of one who loves the debate of ideas and the flow of information is not matched in the world. But one that is now running with a lot of drag in the forms of war, a bad health system and excessive energy consumption, burdens that, in a preacher’s hope, can be lightened in the fierce urgency of now.

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