June 10, 2012

Summer Reading List, Part 1; or Books, Check 'em Out

The first part in an occasional series of book recommendations:

Does anyone remember this PSA from circa 1991 featuring those claymation darlings, The California Raisins?
"Check out" those sweet dance moves and killer graphic design.  Totally rad.

This is the textbook example of well-intentioned, earnest adults trying to connect with youth on their level, and then utterly failing.  Remember that basic theme for later on in this post.  And by the way, how does this clip still exist?  Did someone save it on Betamax and then digitize it 20 years later?  Hilarious!

In that spirit, here is a book that I recommend "checking out": Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.
This is a book chronicling most of the intriguing people and events from the112th Congress thusfar.  What?  You're not familiar with the 112th Congress?  You know, the one with the all the freshmen Republicans who were brought to power on the wave of anti-Obama, tea-party fervor during the 2010 mid-term elections?  Still not ringing any bells?  It's the one with the 9% approval rating.

Basically, this book will mostly just reinforce what you already knew or suspected: Republicans are a bunch of bumpkin ideologues who believe their own lies1 and think everything can be solved by cutting spending and taxes, while the Democrats are a bunch of earnest and well-intentioned schmucks that are so ineffectual and spineless that they are destined to an eternity of getting doused with gasoline by the R's then flicking their own Zippos2 in a pathetic display of tearful self-immolation.

There were, however, some good take-aways, at least from my perspective.  First, the word irony is not in Republican Whip, Kevin McCarthy's vocabulary.  There is a telling point in the early chapters when the life of McCarthy's firefighter father is relayed.  Homeboy chose to leave a high-paying job to become a public servant solely to get the excellent health insurance provided to the Bakersfield Fire Department as won by the collective bargaining of a public employees' union.  There are myriad other examples of the slash-government-at-all-cost-to-society Republicans fighting for a piece of Federal largess for their own districts3.

Yes, we all could rattle off a laundry list of wasteful government examples, but the societal benefiting dividends that the vast majority of public programs produce is one of the fundamental strengths of our country.  A big problem in the current political climate is those dividends are going unnoticed (as they should, if they are to be the framework that an egalitarian society is built upon), often willfully ignored, and being taken entirely for granted.

Second, the Democrats are playing the game wrong.  In fact, they aren't playing the same sport as the Republicans.  Even though I alluded to it in the rather tortured metaphor above, it bears repeating.  It's more than a little heart-breaking to see a bunch of public servants sincerely trying to make people's lives better get their necks stepped on by the more organized, better disciplined, and massively more ruthless Republican caucus.  The only episode in the book where they didn't look like a bunch of boobs, was in their skillful actions around the passage of the Ryan-budget.  It's a shame to see them generally flail about haplessly, because there is still (that window is rapidly closing as the partisans retrench for another silly and inessential campaign) a big opportunity for one of the two main political parties to step up and truly be the representatives of the majority.  The Dems were so close during the 2008 elections when Obama sold the country on the idea that he and his party understood the needs and challenges of the Vast American Middle Class.  The very way that he raised campaign funds from a wide base of donors seemed to represent a "New Democratic Party".  They have proceeded to take the mountain of goodwill earned in that campaign and piss it away in an endless series of infighting, distractions, and tone deaf rhetoric.  The R's pay lip service to the notion that they are helping the middle-class, then turn around and sell them out to Wall Street and Big Oil.  Opportunity lost.

Third, and most poignant, is the further realization that I know precious little about what is really going on in Congress specifically, and in the government in general.  It's this vast machine silently grinding out sausage by the mile.  There is so much going on that it would be a full time job just to watch C-SPAN and know what is happening on a day-to-day business.  Who has time to stay abreast of every issue, form a reasoned opinion, and then have the stones to vote one's conscience?  The general public has long ago stopped paying attention, so it's no wonder the lobbyists hold sway.  They are the one's whose full time job is to watch C-SPAN all day and go push the mostly ignorant legislators to do their bidding.

And, we shouldn't blame Congressmen and women for not being expert on every bill, rider, and amendment they are asked to vote on.  P.J. O'Rourke writes more eloquently than I in his 1992 book, Parliment of Whores about the monumentally impossible task we ask of our Representatives.  I suspect that in the 20 years since its publication, the problems faced by our government are even more intractable.  Anyone who walks a mile in Congress' shoes, let alone a freshman Representative, would have more than a little sympathy for the folks arguing for smaller government.  But I digress...

To put a bow on this lengthy post, I recommend giving this book a read.  Even if you are not a political junkie, there is lot to learn from a peak behind the scenes in Congress.  It shines a light on the humans that are representing the country.  It turns out none of them are the silly caricatures they seem to be on cable news.  Now, sure you can go borrow this tome from your local public library4, but if you prefer to grease the wheels of commerce rather than suckle on the public teat, you can purchase a copy by clicking this link:

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives

In fact, your intrepid blogger may even realize some small revenue split from the proceeds of each book purchased through that link.

1See also: The coining of the term "fiction-based truth"

2Speaking of Zippo lighters, there are lots of fun anecdotes about John Boener's smoking habit in the book.  Hilarious!

3Page 158: South Carolina Representative, Jeff Duncan visits a Bosch auto parts factory.  Hilarious!

4Who knows?  By the time this post is published the "tea baggers"5 may have cut funding to all public libraries, liquidated the media at fire-sale prices, and converted the buildings into luxury condominiums with sub-prime mortgages that have already been collateralized by JP Morgan and sold to European banks as AAA-rated bond securities.

5Page 12: Michigan Representative, John Dingle, refers to the "Tea-Party" as "tea-baggers" oblivious to the double-entendre meaning, causing his staff to clue him in before appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  Hilarious!

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