July 02, 2012

It's becoming... *gasp* ... political!

TPM tut-tuts that conservatives are looking to pin the blame for the Colorado wildfires on Obama:
Some of the same people who have bashed the president as a big government, big spending liberal now say a wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in the conservative stronghold of Colorado Springs can be blamed on the president because he has been too slow to spend money to beef up the federal fleet of air tankers.
Skipping the obvious irony of a bunch of libertarian religious extremists bitching that the fire department isn't big enough, let's just take a quick look at what those principled, apolitical patriots on the left are saying:
Is climate change to blame? No one around here in Colorado is talking about it, but it's the elephant in the room. 
The problem with this is that these people write the same article for every extreme weather event that occurs.  For those of us who are persuaded of the reality of climate change and the potentially horrific threat of ocean acidification these "I told you so" articles add no information.

In this instance, both sides are semi-right:  Obama has signed budgets that effectively implemented austerity in America.  As our friends in Colorado Springs point out, a better President would have fought harder to preserve vital services.  And global warming has been the elephant in the room for the past 20 years, including during several periods when Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, and did jack-shit about it.

So everything is political, right?

Google has not yet finished cataloguing all the books in the world yet, so I can't find the exact quote, but I believe I saw a book by Ernie Pyle in the Loussac Library a few years ago where he said something like:  "For a dedicated Stalinist, food is a weapon.  For a dedicated Stalinist, sex is a weapon.  Don't these people have any fun?"

As trite a line as that is, it has stayed with me for a long time, because I think there's a deep kernel of truth there.  There is such a thing a political ethics, and it boils down to this:  politics are there to make life better.  Good politics focuses on solutions, not just the worship or perpetuation of power.  When real life is just fuel for the next round of talking points, we're doing it wrong.  The real problem here is that the government - the only entity capable of doing something - is abdicating its responsibilities on both climate change and fire control.  The problem is pervasive - there are a lot of 911s that just don't work anymore - ask Harry Markopolos.

That's not to say it's easy.  The political scientist Peter Josephson comments:
[T]he hope for deep unity and a harmony of political interests turns out to be a false hope.  All political communities are fractured.  That’s the nature of politics – that’s what politics is.  If communities were harmonious and not fractured, we wouldn’t need politics. 
Bringing together those disparate interests is extraordinarily difficult, and the process itself can be  corrupting, a fact we dedicated liberals sometimes forget.  The sad thing for Obama is that his critics are "right" - he's been a good politician, he's worked diligently with extremists to find workable solutions, at considerable cost to his reputation and core support.  Josephson's analysis :
There’s a kind of classic story in that too – it comes up in popular culture a lot as well, and it’s something that I think and hope Obama is aware of, and that is the tragic character of the choice to be a statesman.  By that I don’t only mean that every act of a statesman is embroiled in paradox, and for every good we produce there is some concomitant evil that is also produced.  I mean that in placing the public concern first, there is a private cost to one’s own soul.  It’s  a really interesting choice.
So, yes, Obama probably did, in an indirect way, let those wildfires out of control.  If he'd been a dictator I'm sure he'd never had allowed something like this to happen - reflects badly on the state.  Instead he sought negotiated solutions, a process that imposed a cost not only on his soul, but on Colorado Springs as well.


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