My high school English teacher was a spiteful, cranky, ok, I’ll say it, a down-right mean old coot of a woman. She had various aliases–“Iron Jaw” is the only one I can say in print without worrying about her ghost reaching out from the meta-sphere and crushing my man parts. But she taught me one thing I’ve not forgotten; if you express everything with equal levels of hyperbole—think Chicken Little and the Sky is Falling–or indignation, you will lack credibility when something truly outrageous came along that deserves an actual blood-curdling screech.
But we now seem to be living in a peculiar “Age of Hyperbole”, a period in which every political fight is Armageddon and every issue is either the key to national survival or the doorway to guaranteed ruin.
This habit seems especially noticeable in two instances:
- In how President Obama’s rivals treat everything he does, says, or at times, doesn’t do. It’s odd that so many continue to see Obama as a radical and a socialist even as the Dow hits record levels and the wealthy continue to do very nicely, nobody’s been threatened to have their guns confiscated, there have been no internment camps and no FEMA trailers hauling off those that disagree with him. If he is a socialist, he is surely the most inept socialist in the history of Marxism.
- In how the media, both network and especially cable news, have stoked the fires of hyperbole from Ebola—what ever happened to that coming epidemic?—to the disappearance of Malaysia Airline MH370, which CNN spent, quite literally, weeks wringing their collective hands over.
Now, the reaction to Obama is part of a larger struggle that involves the “news” media and politicians alike are insisting we Americans are philosophically far more divided than we are. In all of the prosperous democracies, even people who actually refer to themselves as socialists have ceased trying to express an overt alternative to the markets as the primary creator of goods and services. The margins on the left end of what’s permissible in the public debate have been pushed well toward the center. This renders the hysteria and hyperbole all the more perplexing.
And we can all breathe a sigh of relief because there have been only nine cases in the United States. That’s evidence that despite serious initial hiccups, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are up to the challenge.
My assertion is that we average Americans can embrace both flexibility and security, both competition and social justice. Wow, what a concept!
Who knew that universal health insurance and early education, extensive new help on job searches and training, a year of paid parental leave, an increased minimum wage indexed to prices, and the government as an employer of last resort could coexist with moderate conservative philosophies?
Altogether, these programs, worthy of the “last superpower on earth” would cost around 10 percent of our GDP, according to Lane Kenworthy in his recently published writings for the Council on Foreign Relations—which is decidedly pro-market. Now that’s a helluva lot of money and the debate about whether or not we should spend it would be customarily prolific. Yet would such a level of spending bring about the death of our constitutional system? Would it make us like, oh I don’t know, Venezuela? No, and hell no.
It might make us a little more like Germany, the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries. We can argue if we want to do this, but these market democracies happen to share with us an affection for freedom and enterprise.
Now, there’s nothing quite like our culture wars in which disagreements about social issues are seen as battles between freethinkers and bigots. There are many liberals who live quite traditional family lives and even go regularly to churches, synagogues and mosques. There equally as many conservatives who are feminists when it comes to their daughters’ opportunities and oppose bigotry against gays and lesbians.
My philosophical resolution—as my new year’s wish–is that all sides stop the incessant fighting and pool their energies to easing the marriage and family crisis that is engulfing working-class Americans.
This would necessitate my liberal friends admitting that, all things being equal, kids are better off with two loving and engaged parents. It would also necessitate conservatives admitting that many of the pressures on families are economic and that the decline of well-paying blue-collar work is causing huge disruptions in families and our overall economic health. But let’s put away the media hype and political vitriol and work in spirit of a shared search for actual, sustainable remedies.
Disagreement is one of the joys of freedom, so I am all for boisterous debate and tough political and philosophical competition. But our democratic system would be healthier if we reserved the harshest tirades for things that are genuinely horrific.
Like most New Year wishes, I won’t hold my breath hoping it comes true. The new info-news-frenzy being shoved down our throats by entertainment companies posing as news sources will surely not cooperate. After all, peace and harmony just doesn’t get people riled up enough to tune in t their professional wrestling-style “news and commentary”.
But it is the time of the coming of a New Year and hope still abounds…at least in my dreams.
Harvey A. Gold