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Tavis Smiley

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What's the Matter With Washington?

Posted: 09/17/2012 8:46 am

Isn't it funny how politicians love to campaign against Washington, when the reason they're running is to grab a power seat in Washington?!

I was recently watching the Sunday morning talk shows, as per usual, and found myself sighing in exasperation. Now, full disclosure here, on occasion I appear as a guest on these same talk shows when I happen to be in Washington on a Sunday morning. But, in truth, I'm always a bit frustrated by the way the game is played in Washington.

Sure, every now and then we see a small dustup on the Sunday broadcast network shows, or on the weekday cable talk show circuit. But mostly we witness the polite exchange of ideas that are often times more nuanced than radical in their differences and distinctions.

The more I pay attention to the ways in which Washington dances around critical life and death issues like poverty, the more aggravated I feel. In Washington, it's more important to be in than out. More important to be relevant than real. More important to be looked over than overlooked. More important to preach ideology than to promote good ideas. More important to stake out left or right, than to talk about wrong versus right. So that the unofficial rules of the political parlor game trumps any sustained truth-telling about what really matters.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with President Clinton on this one, politics doesn't have to be a blood sport. But civility is the floor, veracity is the ceiling.

Let's be frank, not enough folk are free enough to tell the truth. Cue up the O'Jays, "Money, money, money, money, MONEY!!!" Too many politicians are bought and bossed. I used to live in Washington. I chose to get out because I loved the city, but I was starting to hate the way Washington works.

I think they're dead wrong, but it's easy to see why the Tea Party has been so successful at making the federal government (Washington) the enemy. Scoring points against Washington these days is like a basketball game of nothing but layups, no degree of real difficulty. As I suggested earlier, this is why even Washington politicians campaign by running against Washington. Imagine that. Winning high office by running against themselves -- they ARE Washington. That'd be like me running for office and my stump speech is, "Let me tell you what's the matter with Tavis!"

What's the matter with Washington is that our democracy has become unresponsive to the critical needs of the demos.

The recently released official poverty numbers remind us that there are nearly 150 million poor and near poor people in America who are not responsible for the damage done by the Great Recession. Yet they pay the price. The poor did not create the deindustrialization of America, unmatched corporate profiteering and greed, more than a decade now of foreign wars, and unregulated tax benefits for the wealthy. When the largest economic institutions in the world were brought to their collective knees, they went crawling to the government's doorstep in search of salvation. Our government obliged.

Now that everyday people -- the unemployed, underemployed, urban dwellers, suburban families, and the poorest poor -- are dangling and drowning, what will be the response from Washington?

Just as our nation was forced to diffuse the destructive language, negative stereotypes, and ingrained biases that allowed discrimination and oppression of black people, handicapped people, gay and lesbian people, and others; we must now recalibrate the poverty climate in America. Destigmatization of poverty and the acknowledgment of its existence is the first essential step toward genuine eradication.

But politics is not a spectator sport. It's time to suit up.

 

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