29 September 2013

An open letter to The Honorable Tom Price, MD

Dear Dr. Price,

I assume this is being read by a hard-working staffer who will categorize it to receive a specific boiler-plate response. To help that process, here’s a summary: I’m an ex-Republican who is outraged by what the far right has done to the party, a constituent who knows that the debt ceiling is a sham issue, and an American who believes that over forty unsuccessful attempts to reverse a single piece legislation seems, well, a little pathetic. Sadly, not as pathetic as a voter who spends a couple of hours crafting a letter knowing that it will do no absolutely no good.

For about thirty years, I consistently voted Republican; the first vote I ever cast was for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have been extremely fortunate; I don’t apologize for being part of the infamous “1%”. I pay taxes from the very top bracket. I am a libertarian and a fiscal conservative.  I am now nearly embarrassed to admit that I was a member of the Republican Party. Its rhetoric has become so toxic, some of its positions so incongruous, that I struggle to find much common ground with the party to which I once proudly belonged. 

I can't know, but I desperately want to believe, that you know the difference between reining in spending and refusing to pay the bills. If you want to pass a balanced budget, by all means go ahead. But refusing to pay bills we’ve already accrued is irresponsible. Pretending that it’s fiscal discipline is disingenuous. Threatening to do so for partisan ends is unforgivable.

I understand that you oppose President Obama's initiatives; I’m not crazy about some of them myself. But like you, he was elected by the majority of his constituents. The Republican obsession with reversing the Affordable Care Act is perplexing. Five years ago, the Republicans had many opportunities to address a broken healthcare system. Instead of presenting an alternative or negotiating with the opposition to find a compromise, they tried to kill the legislation; betting on an all-or-nothing outcome. Once the bill passed through the constitutional process, Republicans have spent the intervening years acting like petulant children who don't accept that they can't always get their way. You had your chance and you lost. Move on; there are other important issues.
I know that there is nothing I can say that will make any difference. As an independent in your district, my vote is moot. There is no chance that I can have any effect on policy. Even if you had a moderate impulse (and there have been occasional signs), the right wing either in your district or in your party would undoubtedly punish you mercilessly if you showed it too often. It’s just the reality of the size of your constituency, but I think it is a shame that writing a feckless letter on a Sunday afternoon is the full extent of my influence as an American voter. 


06 September 2013

On Syria

"Fool me once...", the saying goes.

Any government insider (I'm looking at you, Rumsfeld) who argued that invading Iraq was a moral imperative because of the threat of chemical or biological weapons is disqualified from arguing, well, anything at all. Sorry, I can only see two explanations. One is that they knew the intelligence was crap and lied about it. The other is that they allowed the country to send its young men and women to die, to kill Iraqis, to spend trillions of borrowed dollars without making absolutely sure that there was a real threat to America. That makes you incompetent. Either way, it's criminal.

James Fallows has written a few articles, and I find them persuasive, especially these two. They're long, and frankly depressing, but life isn't always strawberries and cream. Seriously, you should read them. I'll wait.

I have a friend from Syria; he thinks Assad is, well, pretty much what everyone else thinks he is. But he also thinks that keeping him in power is probably the best outcome for Syria, for Syrians, and for the region. If you read the articles, you know why he might believe that.

The moral outrage over chemical weapons feels artificial; it seemed to be lacking when it was just 100,000 dead to conventional weapons. Because you know, killing children is OK, as long as you're using bullets. Each cruise missile costs millions of dollars, money which would do everyone more good if it were spent relieving the human suffering of millions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and especially Jordan.

Anybody who reduces this situation to a sound bite is doing you, the victims, and history a disservice. Demand better.

What do we want to accomplish? If you think slapping a despot on the wrist is better than reducing human suffering, well, you and I have a different view about how we should conduct ourselves in a civil culture.

To the absurd argument that we lose credibility, I say, do you really think that one event (one where the details are decidedly less clear than the headlines might suggest) means that every tyrant now thinks they have open season on dissidents? That not bombing precludes future actions? That bombing is the only possible reaction?

Look, do I think the world would the world be a better place if Assad were not in charge, but the people of Syria were peacefully coexisting in a safe, multicultural way? Sure. But that's not the choice before us. We're unlikely to topple Assad, and if we do, the outcome is not unlikely to resemble Afghanistan. How's that working out for us?

Maybe it's always been this way, but it feels like American politics have moved to a place where both sides are unwilling to accept that the other roughly 50% should get anything at all. We're right and you're wrong; we control the house/senate/white house and therefore you get nothing. Not a voice, not a seat at a table, not civil dialog. Two year-old children act that way. And American politicians.

I weep for the future.