September 15th, 2010 12:01 EST
Republican-Democrat Conflict is a Distraction, We Should Examine The Records
Blaming Washington is a cheap ploy
For a refreshing look at American politics take a look at the e-mail in your spam catcher. It`s gobbledegook. Its purpose is to sell something bad for you.
Gobbledegook is largely what the mainstream reports. Senator This threatened today, and Congressman That accused and so it goes day after day while the fast-food lies and half-truths add on pounds of anxiety.
American politics is like e-mail without a spam filter. The obvious remedy is to tell us what the pols are doing, not what they`re saying, because they`ll say any damned thing. But that kind of reporting would cost real money. You`d have to actually read tomes of documents. You`d have to tirelessly follow the paper trail.
The New York Times and The Washington Post and a few other news organizations still do it, but not often enough. They don`t do it for the same reason we haven`t recovered from the 2008 recession. Their shareholders are more important than their readers. For the same reason the corporations aren`t hiring.
The public knows it doesn`t matter what Senator Blab says about Senator Grab. That`s why the press, like the pols, is held in such low esteem. But what is less clear is how to change all this.
Take any local newspaper or television outlet: the so-called news is he said/she said blather. The real news is sitting in the files of every town and city hall, every state capital, every public office. All the blather is just so much happy talk. The politicians are happy we`re not reading those records.
The public`s right to know is not being exercised by the nightly news or the daily blab. Reporting what someone said at a public meeting may or may not be enlightening, but what is really enlightening is in those public records almost no one is reading.
The news organizations rarely read them because it`s too expensive to assign reporters to spend hours, days, sometimes weeks poring through records. And there is always the danger they will come up empty-handed. So that is why what pretends to be news is so unhelpful, because it`s just a bunch of people getting het up, or being cute, or lying, or all of the foregoing. But the records matter, and they are exactly what the public so rarely gets.
The simple remedy is for the public to be nosier. I have said before that the situation begs for retirees to use their experience to examine these records and engage in discourse about them. It would improve the political climate across the nation immensely. It would do the one thing most politicians hope like hell the public won`t do.
It would be nice to have the Fourth Estate on board, but the public doesn`t need the press to find out what is really going on. Those formidable buildings built with tax money in our hometowns, state capitals and Washington belong to the public, lock, stock and barrel. And the records in them belong to the public. But as the decades pass the public has gotten the subliminal idea that they belong to someone else "to politicians, to employees, to security agencies.
When the public complains that it doesn`t trust government we should remember that it`s as much our own fault as the politicians` and the public employees`. It`s our fault because we have depended on a faltering Fourth Estate to do a job we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves. The problem does not start in Washington. It never did. The problem starts in town hall. And from there it just grows and grows.
There is hardly a town in America that does not secret some government scandal. This is not because we are a corrupt society. But we will become a corrupt society if we do not redress this problem. What is true of our town halls is true of Russia`s and China`s and India`s and Britain`s. It is an aspect of the human condition, and it requires vigilance. Vigilance we are not exercising.
Most Americans are trying to stay above water. They don`t have time to delve into public records. They don`t have time to make sense of them. But some of our citizens do, and we must find a way to encourage their inquiries.
Blaming Washington is a cheap ploy. We can reform the political culture of the nation by starting with our town halls, zoning offices, public works departments, and all the other offices and agencies that impact our lives for better or worse. None of them have a right to discourage us. And when they do, we can be sure they have a reason, and we can be sure the reason is not a good one.
We should put aside the tedious Democrat-Republican conflict, which is a decoy and a distraction, and focus our minds on the fact that corruption and deceit and laxity occur no matter which party holds the reins of government. Both parties are happy for us to watch this tiresome ideological ping-pong because they both know the real issues lie hidden in the files.
The kind of incitatory journalism practiced by cable news and even the networks gives a new generation of Americans the idea that politics is about conflict, not conflict resolution. It gives Americans the impression that politics is a horse race, that it`s about winning and losing. But a democracy is about consensus, about resolving matters so that everybody gives a little and consequently everybody wins. We are force-fed this kind of so-called journalism for the same reason we are force-fed violence. But in the case of television news the dirty little secret is that the journalism that sets us at each other`s throats costs less than the journalism that shows us how to resolve issues. Much less. So, ultimately, the same predators who brought the economy down are trying to convince us that American life is about conflict and the triumph of one ideology or another rather than the transformation of dissent into consensus.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com