Mt. Vernon Register-News

Z_CNHI News Service

July 3, 2014

Declare your independence from empty slogans

Editor's Note: If you're not a weekly subscriber to Taylor Armerding's column, you can publish this one if you notify him at t.armerding@verizon.net

Welcome to an exhortation to embrace a small shred of independence.

I’ll get to that momentarily because I should first acknowledge the reality of our post-modern society. I hope you had - or are having - a nice, safe, environmentally conscious Fourth of July weekend.

I’m pretty much done calling it “Independence Day," since not only are we voluntarily surrendering our independence, we’re growing increasingly hostile to the concept. It’s so old-dead-white-men. So last century.

Our president chides the few remaining voices that call for personal accountability and responsibility as uncompassionate and anti-community. He contends that they simply want to tell everybody in need that, “you’re on your own.”

Instead, we celebrate “Julia,” the individually fictitious but collectively very real young woman who’s every stage of life is supported by central government programs, and whose primary relationship is with that government. Even when she decides to have a child at age 31, there is no mention of a husband. Better to depend on government than on a man.

The “Julia” ad, produced by the Obama campaign, came out in May 2012. We all know what happened over the next few months. Republican Mitt Romney was eviscerated for suggesting there was a problem with 47 percent of Americans being dependent on government. Romney told voters that if they wanted more “free stuff,” they shouldn’t vote for him. Sure enough, a majority of them didn’t.

So, the debate over independence is over. That phrase in the preamble to the Constitution about government's duty to “provide” for the common defense and simply “promote” the general welfare has been flipped. It's now seen as the government's duty to provide everyone with their “right” to an education, health care, a good job, a secure retirement and more.

I’m not proposing to take us back 80 years to those dark days before Social Security. (Did you know that the United States survived for more than 150 years without Social Security?) This is just tinkering around the edges – mostly symbolic.

I’m proposing a Declaration of Independence from bumper-sticker political slogans. I think it would be good for all of us, no matter which side of the partisan divide we inhabit, since it would require us to think a bit longer than the length of a “Sesame Street” skit about what we claim are the important issues in our nation.

For the media, that means no more “sound bites.” You have to present a “sound full-course meal” or we change the channel and look for somebody who will.

I was introduced to this pernicious trend as a green reporter way back in the 1970s when Michael S. Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts. A soft drink truck pulled up in front of our building, with a huge sign plastered on the side that said, “Gov. Dukakis wants me to lose my job!”

Big story, I thought. I grabbed my notebook and ran out to interview the driver. I was especially curious to know how he’d gotten inside the governor’s mind.

Of course he hadn’t. It was that the governor was in favor of a proposed “Bottle Bill” that would encourage recycling of containers instead of dumping them in landfills. And, if you re-use a product, that means not making so many new ones. Hence, the governor “wanted” the makers of bottles to lose their jobs.

You know, just like Al Gore and the president, who advocate for alternative energy, “want” coal miners and pipeline construction workers to lose their jobs.

There are substantive things to debate about the wisdom of both recycling programs and alternative energy, but issuing a blanket accusation that a political leader is hoping to put people in an unemployment line is absurd and an attempt to duck a real argument.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become standard in political campaigns. Instead of having a sober discussion about whether taxes are progressive enough, we simply hear that the wealthy aren’t paying their “fair share" and that the only “patriotic millionaires” are those in favor of higher taxes.

Instead of a substantive debate about the wisdom of armed conflicts, we hear that Candidate A doesn’t “support the troops,” as if that had anything to do with the question of going to war.

And, of course, we are witnessing it today in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the owners of Hobby Lobby cannot be forced to pay for several contraceptives that, in their religious views, amount to early abortion.

This has produced the absurd charge that the court majority, in this case all-male, declared a “war on women.” Another “men controlling women’s bodies” outrage.

It’s bad enough that this trivializes the real war on women in parts of the world where females undergo genital mutilation, are forbidden to be educated, are forced to cover their faces in public and are essentially slaves to their husbands.

It also ignores the fact that this company’s insurance covers 16 other contraceptives, plus the fact that an all-male court handed down Roe v. Wade, the ruling that made abortion legal.

People moan about the “divisiveness” in politics, and with good reason. We don’t discuss things, we just hurl slogans back and forth.

Let’s declare our independence from that, at the least.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net

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