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Loving The Middle Of The Road
December 16, 2008 - John Whittaker
Fat Guy Trophy Lead Changes Hands
Who has two thumbs and can't get his friends' picks into his weekly picks blog?
My sincerest apologies. Saturday was crazy and the night ended with my picks box absent from the Friday picks blog. Since you're here now, I can tell you yours truly and Simon Teska posted the best record at 11-4, with Teddy and Sir Cumference finishing the week 9-6 and Finn, our Fat Guy Trophy leader, at 8-7.
Now, in the perfect example of burying the lead of a story, comes the best part.
For the first time since the second week of the season, we have a change at the top of our standings. Teddy, mounting a late charge, is 286-131 for the season, leading Finn (285-132) by a game and Sir Cumference (284-133) by two games. The Whitless Wonder is four games back at 282-135, and Simon is 39 games out at 247-170.
This thing's going down to the wire.
"As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours: 'We are not enemies, but friends … Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."'
-- Barack Obama, quoting Abraham Lincoln during his election-night speech
Gov. Eliot Spitzer was elected in November 2006 on a platform of fighting the good fight for New York residents.
He had fought big companies. He had taken on special interests. He would do the same for all of New York, he said. The age of special interests was to come to an and under Spitzer. The New York state budget process, the subject of ridicule across the country, was going to be reformed. Deficit spending was over.
Except for some changes to the budget process, few of those promises came close to becoming a reality.
Even had he not been busted in a prostitution ring and forced to resign, the chances are Spitzer's tenure as governor would have felt like a letdown. He talked a big game and choked, in part, the Whitless Wonder thinks, because he had the wrong personality to lead a fractured and bloated state into the 21st century.
It's a lesson Barack Obama and a new generation of politicians need to take to heart.
With the Age of Obama ready to start in mid-January and a slew of major problems on his plate, Obama's standing as the greatest pragmatist in the land will be tested over the next four years.
When you think about it, all the talk about veto-proof legislative majorities and mandates from the people are moot. They don't matter. Progress fixing the country's problems won't be made by the legislative brilliance from the left or the right.
This isn't a fight for the farthest right-leaning Republicans or the farthest left-leaning Democrats.
Instead, progress will be made by those who can best work the middle of the aisle.
Here are some guidelines:
1. You can't demonize one party to please the other.
2. You can't play the good cop, bad cop routine and expect to get anything done.
3. If you hear something that makes your blood boil, count to 100 backwards and don't call your favorite reporter.
4. Build a consensus.
5. Play nicely with others. Disagree without burning your bridges. Have debate without taking the argument to the extremes.
In a country as divided as the United States, where there are millions of groups with a million different competing interests, politicians have to find a new way to accomplish their goals -- fixing Social Security, improving access to health care for the poorest Americans, ending the recession and bringing prosperity back to the United States. I think we all agree those are worthy goals for the next eight years.
Take health care for an example of how not to do things.
Fifteen years ago, Hillary Clinton was convinced she had the answer to the nation's health care issues. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there was a crisis coming and that bold strokes were needed. The status quo would not cut it. Hillary and her advisers were right -- history has proven that.
History has also proven Hillary wasn't the person to deliver a solution to health care. The Clintons' failure to enact a sweeping health care policy change died because of their polarizing personalities. It wasn't a problem of policy -- there is a good chance that at least some of what Hillary Clinton wanted to do in the mid-1990s will be part of what eventually fixes the nation's health care crisis.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, for all their Ivy League book smarts and abilities to bring make a room full of people feel like each and every one of them was one of the Clinton's oldest and best friends, couldn't extend that personal magic to Republicans.
While Obama sparks animosity to those on the right wing, the key to his effectiveness as president will be mobilizing the right as well as the left, the poor as well as the wealthy, the white collar as well as the blue collar.
The problems the country faces are so great, Obama can't waste any political capital getting even with the Republican right wing, which some Democrats would love to see him do, for slights, real or perceived, during the Bush Administration. He can't demonize the wealthy, as the Clintons did when passing their economic plan in 1993. He can't reach too far to ideologues (a term, by the way, which gets far too much negative play these days) on the left or right.
History will not be made from the left or right, and the last 16 years have shown us that.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have proven, once and for all, that pandering to the left and right don't solve the systemic, lingering problems facing the nation. For all their gifts, and to be elected they had to have a few, here we are, at the edge of an economic abyss that could sink our nation, a divided people who can't make up our collective mind on any significant issue and even the most common-sense legislation is held up while we debate peripheral issues.
Politics has become a game of oneupsmanship, who can make the other side look the worst.
We've tried fixing our problems from the left and the right, and neither one worked.
Maybe it's high time we try to hit our problems dead-on, from the middle. Let me be clear - when I say Obama needs to work the middle of the road, I'm not saying he needs to shy away from issues. Boats will be rocked. Some will be overturned and sunk. Some people will end up upset. Changing the status quo means upsetting people who benefit from the way things are.
Christopher Hayes, writing for The Nation (see www.thenation.com for more) quotes Franklin D. Roosevelt who, in 1932, said, "The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.'
That kind of experimentation, and the potential for results, will not come from the left or the right. They will come from the pragmatists, those who can see both sides of an issue, sympathize with those on both sides of an issue, and then synthesize a result that attempts to help the most people.
Working the middle doesn't mean innovation and boldness go away.
It should mean the opposite.
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