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Liz Joyner: Glass house you live in, meet stone in your hand


The recent passage of the healthcare bill in the Senate brought with it some need-to-take-a-bath-right-now details on how the legislative “sausage” was made. Now dubbed the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback” by conservative commentators, two Democratic Senators (Landrieu and Nelson) seemed to have snatched possible electoral defeat from the jaws of what initially probably looked to them as consummate legislative dealmaking victories.

Whether you’re on the left or right side of the aisle, there are real signs of good news in the general public’s negative reaction to Nelson and Landrieu’s actions, most wonderfully in their home states – the people who were supposed to be delighted at the booty the Senators had brought home. Good for them.*

You would have a hard, hard time finding .5% of the population who support this sort of legislative ugliness. We should probably take a moment to revel in something that is finally bipartisan.

Moment over. Hope you enjoyed it though.

Right now “we the people” are acutely aware of the apparent failure in moral standing of our elected representatives. Half of them anyway.

We seem to be only capable of perceiving moral failure in those we disagree with. The exact behaviors that we rail on endlessly about in our political enemies get a big yawn – or even an ovation – when they’re practiced by our political allies, if we even ever perceive they’ve occurred. If we bother to see the inconsistency, we usually use an uber-rationalization for it, such as the old standby that “we” stand for goodness and light, “they” are out to get you.

So while the right is having strokes over the bad behavior of Democratic Senators, the left is having strokes over nearly identical bad behavior of Republican Senators:

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations – about 70 high-level government positions – until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

We have become a nation of people who so love the warm bubble bath of only ever perceiving things that make us feel good. And apparently hate, finger-pointing and lobbing stones from our own glass houses is really yummy feeling right now.

The tragedy here is that if we could only momentarily throw off our blinders, we’d see that we could change what none of us like by holding everyone to the same high standards. Elected officials can only play their hypocritical childish games as long as our nation is a playground full of children with no adults in sight.

It should be perfectly clear by now that we can’t wait around for our leaders to grow up. So we’d better go ahead and do it ourselves.

If we don’t like legislators holding out for home state payoffs, we’ve got to be equally offended when our “side” does it. On the day that we wake up to that reality, when the politicians hold their finger up in the wind, it will have shifted.

So often we whine that we have no power. The irony is that we have all of it.


*On a side note, there is some reporting that the Republican Governor of Nebraska asked Senator Nelson to strike this deal, who is now – in an utterly ridiculous irony – the opposition candidate who Nelson’s action has put him 31 percentage points behind in the polls.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

(Photo credit)

Cherry pickers galore.

cherry picking numbers

At this week’s Dinner at the Square we gave away door prizes by picking cherries with numbers on them out of a bowl. It was our little way of coming down firmly against cherry-picking facts.

Cherry-picking is epidemic these days. People use it as a launching pad for their fury. You see, if you can ignore the context of the many facts surrounding a problem, a situation, a person, an organization – then you can continue in your self-righteous fury unabated. And self-righteous fury is sooo the new lazy.

Gone are the old-fashioned days when more of us sought to understand each other, tried to grasp the facts, and might have even given putting them in context a go. Anger is sometimes the appropriate response after all that, but these days it’s out-of-the-starting-gate-de-rigueur.

Our institutions are beginning to reflect our hair-trigger fury and bent towards preferring only the facts that support how we want to feel. The market-tested-out-the-wazoo-uber-individualized culture we live in knows exactly what we want and we want fury. And they’re all about giving us what we want. Fury is good for ratings. We have whole evenings of programming devoted to cherry-picking in service of fury. It sells newspapers too. (Or maybe it doesn’t because really furious people aren’t usually mollified by being thrown bones. They’re like fury crack addicts who will just want more.) Maybe we’re getting the television, the newspapers, and the Congress we deserve.

Picked cherries lately?