The Country is increasingly divided. We have the 1% and the 99%; the 50% that pay federal income taxes and the 50% that do not. Income and wealth gaps have widened, but so have gaps between the educated and the uneducated. Inequality is said to be the issue of the day. Congress is polarized and has become increasingly ineffective. Media bias is blatant and contradictory. Perspective is lost in a sea of partisanship. Responsibility sinks as dependency rises. Not only do we opposite sides on issues, we never listen to the other person. If one is skeptical as to the causes of climate change, one is a “denier,” while proponents, who put most of the blame on man, are also “deniers” for ignoring an ever-changing Earth. Supporters of legalized pot are the same who want to ban smoking. Criticism has become vitriolic, instead of constructive. You are with me, or you’re against me. Fair is when we agree; unfair when we do not. Empathy, humility, civility are traits lost in an age of the “selfie.”
A double standard exists when it comes to the media. Mainstream media holds conservatives to far tougher standards than they do those on the Left. The IRS scandal centered on conservative groups that were singled out for extra scrutiny during the spring of 2012. According to the Media Research Center, ABC, CBS and NBC’s respective evening newscasts devoted 17 times more coverage, in the first 24 hours, to Bridgegate than it did to the IRS scandal during its first 24 hours – and 44 times more coverage in a week than in six months following the IRS’s revelations. Incredibly, a Democrat-led Justice Department chose an Obama contributor to lead an FBI investigation into allegations against the IRS. She concluded there was no culpability. This finding came despite the fact that many conservative groups were neutered in the months leading up to the 2012 election. One person, Lois Lerner, has been put on paid leave, which means taxpayers are still paying her salary. No one else has been held responsible.
As for Benghazi, a bi-partisan commission found that the attack was avoidable, that fault lay with the State Department and that al Qaeda affiliates were responsible, yet the only person punished sixteen months after the attack has been the producer of a video that had nothing to do with the incident. There have been no apologies, no firings and no resignations – and little curiosity on the part of mainstream media.
In contrast, besides attracting much more media coverage, a Democrat-controlled New Jersey Legislature will be investigating the political shenanigans that caused a four-day shutdown on two lanes leading from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge last September. I have no interest in condoning what happened, but perspective is needed. Bridge and tunnel lane-closings are common heading to New York. However, people were inconvenienced for what appears to have been a childish act of political retribution. Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse a Republican governor, Chris Christie, in his bid for re-election. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” is the “smoking gun.” The e-mail allegedly came from the desk of Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly. It was apparently sent to David Wildstein, a Christie high school classmate and assistant to the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee. Ms. Kelly was summarily fired on January 9th by the governor when it was found she had lied to him about any involvement in the lane closing. Mr. Wildstein resigned. Mr. Christie, in a press conference that lasted almost two hours, claimed no prior knowledge of his administration’s involvement. He apologized profusely, apologizing first to the people of New Jersey, and then: “I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some people on my team.” His 107 minute news conference lasted until the last question had been answered. Assuming he is telling the truth, his apology and forthright behavior are in stark contrast to our “Teflon-protected” President.
It should come as no surprise that politicians reward friends and punish enemies. Patronage is as old as politics and is practiced in every society everywhere. But that is no reason to excuse bad or illegal behavior. At bottom, the President and the Governor (and their aides) are both creators and victims of a culture which is self-centered, blindly aggressive and extremely biased. It reminds me of trading floors in the 1980s. But, it is one thing to be super-competitive in business; it is quite different when the culture of our society is at stake. Such posturing has lead to the radical polarization of views. It has become a “my way, or the highway” attitude that gradually wears down civil behavior. Taken to extremes, it will destroy our Country.
If this trend is to be reversed – which will prove difficult, if not impossible – it must begin at home and in schools. A solution should be easy, however. It is so obvious that it could have been offered by Lucretia Hale’s “lady from Philadelphia.” Yet, the likelihood for change seems slight, because of “political correctness.” Studies show what commonsense tells us – children that grow up in two-parent homes do better than those in single parent homes. There are notable exceptions, President Obama being the most obvious. But statistics show that children raised with a mother and father fare best. I am essentially indifferent regarding same-sex marriage, but the emphasis in Washington and in our State Houses should be on traditional families and values for the sake of our children. Out-of-wedlock births and broken homes contribute to inequalities.
Catering to teacher’s unions, as Mr. de Blasio is doing in New York, also puts poor children at a disadvantage. When the Mayor and his team reduce or eliminate charter schools, they hurt the poor and the disadvantaged. Mr. de Blasio can send his children to any school he chooses, but most City residents cannot. Their only option is neighborhood schools. There is a reason why acceptances to charter schools bring cheers to those that have won spots and tears to those denied. Pontifications to the contrary, arguments against charter schools are based on the fact that most of them operate with non-union staff. Additionally, bilingual schools do children a disservice. Multiculturalism may be a fine goal, but English is the language of the United States. Those that don’t learn it are at a permanent disadvantage. Commonsensical answers would work.
We should not be shocked that politicians reward friends and punish enemies. It is common and perhaps only fair to retaliate against one’s political opponents, but the consequence should never inconvenience people. Nor should laws be broken, or cover-ups allowed. Standards should be universal. While we may not be able to remove editorializing from reporting, we should all understand the difference. The press has an enormous responsibility. Passion in editorials is okay, but news should be served in a disinterested manner. We should support differences of opinion in Washington – it is through debate that the best decisions are made – but when conflict denigrates into battle, polarization is the consequence. We should be vigilant about anyone desiring more power, regardless of political affiliation. Our government is dependent on the rule of law and adherence to civil rights. But our society is reliant on a culture of civility and an understanding that a moral sense transcends all cultures and values.
“The thought of the day” by Sydney Williams
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
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