I find comfort and inspiration in music — all kinds of music. So when I see how obsessed the media have become with the 2016 U.S. presidential election — barely a year after the last one — I’m reminded of the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” The chorus goes, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”
Indeed, and we are losing the present, overlooking things happening right where we live, eat, pray and work. Is it futile to speculate about an election three years out? Consider the retweet that Ron Fournier at National Journal sent recently: “2005 Tweet RT @thedailybeast: Poll: Clinton Popular in Iowa http://thebea.st/Jv26UT #cheatsheet.” Three years later, in 2008, Hillary Clinton placed third in the Democratic caucuses. Perhaps the futility does not deter the Sunday talk shows, the print pundits and media mavens because speculation is easy, melodramatic and without repercussions. A fluff-fest evades the serious conversations we should be having now — about the here and now.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln said, “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.” I would like to take a modest look at where we are, and whither we are tending.
We come at issues from different frameworks. But in the complex of our beliefs, we share many values — some mundane (garbage should be picked up), some almost spiritual (“I want to fly like an eagle”). Getting to those shared values requires consideration and deliberation, not the knee-jerk put-downs, labels, insults and dismissals that pass for “discussion” these days. Name-calling Pope Francis doesn’t change the facts he observed (trickle-down economics doesn’t work and hurts the poor and middle class); ad hominem vitriol doesn’t alter the truth that income inequality results from unjust ideologies. You don’t have to be a cleric to see where we are, and you don’t have to be president to embrace hope and change.
Barack Obama was elected on the theme of change; he ran on a platform to change the ways of Washington because he understands that we are changing as a nation on a daily basis. Cynicism will not stop the changes, but it may prevent us from choosing the best paths to change.
If we are to know where we are, we must pay attention. Just this month, President Obama gave a major speech declaring that he would devote the rest of his time in office to reducing income inequality. But no national dialogue emerged because the media did not engage with his proposals. The speech generated little discussion on the Sunday talk shows — most dismissing it with waves of cynicism.
American viewers were treated to views like, “Obama focused on income inequality to divert attention from Obamacare.” Did any moderator frame Obama’s speech by acknowledging the facts? Not from what I read or saw.
In the “this is old stuff again” commentary on Obama’s plan, was there any acknowledgement that, since 1980, the upper one percent’s ownership of the nation’s entire wealth increased from 10 to 20 percent? This financial windfall for the already fortunate wasn’t due to individual enterprise, but to government handouts: tax breaks and the like. This has been going on for three decades. Our basic ideals are at stake here, and we’re not giving them anywhere near the attention we’re giving 2016.
Nor are we yet discussing the fact that more jobs may not touch income inequality. New and current jobs are paying wages so low that taxpayers are subsidizing employee paychecks by paying for the food stamps workers need in order to eat. How beneficial are hundreds of Wal-Mart jobs when they pay so poorly that they add to, not subtract from, our welfare rolls? Yet, we’re talking about how Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton will match up in 2016 as if it’s a boxing match. Whither are we tending? The political pundits seem to think we have a foreign policy “crisis” because of a selfie or a handshake at Mandela’s memorial service. What of the crisis we’re not discussing — one that could cause increased warfare, starvation and financial chaos? A few days ago, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the Syrian government’s actions “threaten to take a humanitarian disaster into the abyss.” Whole cities face starvation. On Dec. 4, Valerie Amos, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator, warned that 7 million Syrians, reaching toward half its population, are displaced and in need of urgent medical assistance and food. Yes, some social media outlets chronicle the plight of refugees — a plight not limited to Arab countries. And yes, The Washington Post ran an editorial that is a must read. But are the “emerging global mega-trends, such as climate change … and food security” really, seriously, part of our national dialogue?
We all want to “fly like an eagle” into the future, but I want to focus on the lyrics of where we are: “Feed the babies, who don’t have enough to eat; shoe the children, with no shoes on their feet; house the people, livin’ in the street. Oh, oh, there’s a solution.”
Rather than speculate about three years hence, let us “better judge what to do, and how to do it” — now.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.