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Evan Handler Headshot

Who Are We?

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So, we've killed a woman with an IQ of 72. Does that mean we've prevailed? Has justice prevailed?

"Who are we?" I wonder at a time like this. Who have we become?

And, according to many polls and many media outlets, the populace is "fed up," "angry," and we're going to get a new set of leaders - perhaps a newly (redundantly) minted party in power - come November. Because "the country" doesn't like "the direction" we're "headed in."

But "the country" didn't like "the direction" we were "headed in" in November of 2008. That's why "the country" elected Barack Obama, along with a Democratic majority (not that a majority means anything anymore). So, "the country" still doesn't like "the direction" we're "headed in," even though it's a very different direction than we were headed in two years ago. And, as a result of not liking this direction either, "the country" seems ready to head us right back where we were headed before.

This, my fellow Americans, is insanity.

What people don't like, I think, isn't so much "the direction we're headed in," as where we've arrived at. Yet, here we are, just the same.

I have a few questions for those who are disappointed enough to crave a reversal of course after less than two years of different tactics (less, because though elected in November 2008, the current administration didn't officially take the reins until January 2009).

1) Did you really think that undoing eight years of viciously one-sided, often inept, and largely misguided governing could be accomplished, painlessly, in less than 24 months? (Even with a fractious ruling party, and relentlessly obstructionist opposition? Really?)

2) Did you think that the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression could be skipped over, and rebounded from, with little cost, and less pain than has already been suffered, in less than 18 months?

3) Do you really think that anyone, anywhere, could solve the most crucial problems so understandably bothering you - horrific unemployment, outrageously bloated deficits, and a massive government bureaucracy designed to feed itself before serving you - any more quickly?

4) Did you really think that any new leader, or administration (without a 2/3 majority needed to overpower filibusters) could attack unprecedented problems without making compromises, without making any errors?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, I think you're either an infant, or a fool. (My guess is that most fall into the former category.)

My answer to the first question I posed, "Who are we?", is that we are a nation comprised significantly of children. (My working definition of "child" being "one who lacks maturity, patience, and understanding beyond his or her immediate needs and desires.") And my message today is, "Grow up."

We have one of the lowest tax rates of any westernized, industrialized nation - yet you think your taxes are too high.

You want your nation to be at war (at least most of you did when the wars started) - but you don't want to have to pay for those wars.

Many of you were delighted to buy houses that you had no realistic way to afford - but you don't want to be kicked out of them when you can't make the payments.

Many of you are angry at your neighbors for buying those houses they had no way to realistically afford, and you're angry at the government for offering assistance to them - but you also wouldn't tolerate watching the value of your own house plunge even more than it already has, which is what inaction would have allowed.

You want all the services your government provides, when you need them - but you don't want to be taxed for them; and you don't want anyone else to have them, before you get them yourself.

You want your groceries to be inexpensive (and they are among the least expensive in the world) - but you don't want any of those "illegals" in your area.

You want all the services your government provides, when you need them - but you also want your taxes to go down every single election cycle (and you'll vote for whoever promises that to you).

You want your government "out of your pocket," and "out of your life" - but as soon as someone or something bigger than you comes along to squash you (like a corporation spewing toxic material, or an insurer who won't provide coverage, or a terrorist organization targeting your airline), you want to be protected.

You're enraged that more jobs haven't been created - yet you've already called the president a socialist, and he didn't even create a government funded, WPA-style work program. (Which would put a lot of people back to work.)

And let's not forget, we (still) have one of the highest rates of infant mortality and avoidable adult deaths - but you believe the health care you have access to is "the best," and that it shouldn't be changed.

These are delusional contradictions. They are contradictions that exist only in the minds of children, and madmen.

Which one are you? Really. I'm curious today, America. I'm curious Americans, as (some of) you herald the newly hatched "Pledge to America." Which one are you?

Of course, there'll be anger at these statements and questions. There'll be those who leap to accusations of insensitivity. "Easy for you to say," some will contest. "You've got a good paying job, while we work ourselves to the bone (if we're lucky enough to have work) and are still unable to make our payments."

I don't mean to be insensitive to anyone, individually. But, as a group, I have to ask, what did you expect? Many of you voted for an insincere and incompetent administration two times in a row. Many of you wanted to be led into war in two separate, mindbogglingly distant destinations simultaneously. And many of you insisted on having your taxes cut, and your bosses' taxes cut (and his or her bosses' taxes cut) at the same time. Many of you want all those taxes cut again.

Did you think those things you voted for could be accomplished free of charge? Just how low did you imagine the cost would be, when you were told there would be a cost? How naive were you allowing yourself to be, if you thought there would be none, or that it would be paid by someone else? Who else, exactly, other than you and your friends and neighbors, did you think would be picking up the tab? The Bush family? The Cheneys? Blackwater? Halliburton? No, they were the providers of the services you ordered. On credit. The providers got paid long ago. Now the creditors have arrived to collect the bill. From you. With interest. That's the way it works in a grown up world. You pay for the goods you've received.

If you're unhappy with the cost today, I'd suggest you protest more strongly the next time someone wants to sell you a war. And a tax break. Simultaneously. Which is what the wretched "Pledge" is now offering, again.

Any buyers?

The 2008 presidential campaign contained at least some talk of difficult times ahead. I wonder what that means to most Americans. Apparently, if the current election predictions come true, it means less than 10% unemployment, for less than two years. I'm not an economist, but I've got got a prediction I feel pretty confident about. Things are not going to improve economically, to any significant degree, for many more years to come. And bouncing back and forth between the reasonable (though debatable in its details) emergency economic actions recently taken, and the same insane measures that led us into our recent disasters, isn't going to make it happen any more quickly. Of this I am certain.

Let's talk about that word I just used. Disaster. Do you agree that's what we've been through recently? A disaster? A series of them? (If not, please take a seat in the back of the room.)

If you do agree, then how severe, and how long lasting, do you think the repercussions of a disaster are likely to be?

If you said, "Hmmm... probably quite a number of years. Maybe even a couple of generations," then please stay where you are.

If you said, "Oh, a few months at most!", then please join the people in the back who don't think we've even been through a disaster in the first place.

Okay, where are you sitting?

If you're in the back, I think you've still got some growing up to do.

For God's sake, America. The bombs you wanted to drop (which were bought with credit cards), but don't want to have to pay for, are raining down on civilians across the globe from you. But you're crying because your very new president bailed out General Motors - saving the jobs of tens of thousands of your neighbors. (There were two choices: bailout with controlled bankruptcy, or uncontrolled bankruptcy. Do you think things would be better if they'd gone the other way?)

Your fury is uncontainable over the stimulus money spent. But, without it, we'd be in a depression right now.

You're irate that the government has "taken over" your health care. But yesterday was the first time in your life, or your children's lives (or your parents' lives, or their parents' lives), that you can't be denied health insurance on the basis of a preexisting condition; that your kids have the right to stay covered on your policy until they're 26; and that there will be no lifetime maximums for reimbursements of your condition. It's the first time insurers are required to cover your costs for colonoscopies, mammograms and immunizations without copayments. Is it free? No. But you are now better protected from further disaster.

I'm not claiming any of these things are perfect, or were accomplished perfectly. I've got plenty of complaints and disappointments of my own (someone please give the Democrats a few lectures on Salesmanship 101) . But does no one remember that the difficulties facing any new administration in 2008 were considered to be nearly insurmountable? Are you really going to claim, because oceans of problems still exist, that nothing has changed, or that change hasn't come fast enough? Are you really going to conclude that the new solution is to go right back to the same old ways? Or, to sit home on election day, and allow that to happen?

The fact is, as a nation, we have sustained. We have not thrived. Many have suffered. Many will continue to. But the country has not sunk. That, in itself, is a remarkable accomplishment.

Is it a good campaign slogan? "We Didn't Sink!" Will it be enough to get a majority reelected? Maybe not. But only children direct fury at those who've performed admirably, if imperfectly. All because they didn't get what they want, no matter how unrealistic their wishes might be.

Evan is the author of "It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive."
EvanHandler.com

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