Tag Archives: Washington D.C.

Look Closely and You’ll See that America Values Philosophy and Idealism

About a month ago, I talked about the best kept secret to traveling – tours. Since that post, I’ve been back into DC a few times to visit the monuments and the other sites that there are to see. There was something that struck me as particularly poignant — the US values philosophy/ideals without even knowing it.

You wouldn’t know it to watch TV, go the movies, or listen to the radio, but deeply embedded within the US is a value of philosophy and ideals. What makes me say this? Well, in visiting the monuments, you can’t help but think this. All of these important people in American history and what’s the unifying theme (besides America) between them? They had an ideal or a philosophy and they remained steadfast in pursuing that philosophy. FDR, MLK, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, George Mason…

Speaking of George Mason: even though I just finished an MBA from George Mason University, there were some things I didn’t know about the man that I found particularly interesting. For instance, did you know that he was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson? How about that he was the smartest man that George Washington knew? Or, how about that he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights? And that Thomas Jefferson borrowed heavily from the Virginia Declaration of Rights in drafting the Declaration of Independence?

I wonder if there will be a time (again?) when these American values will be more apparent. That is, when they will be more overt.

~

After one of these trips into DC to see the monuments, I found myself sitting on a bench outside one of the stores in the Mosaic District. I was looking up at all the store fronts and thinking to myself how distracting consumerism can be. I had just spent the day steeped in American idealism — learning and reading about some of the important figures in American history and now I found myself dropped into consumerism. It [consumerism] seemed so small after FDR, MLK, and Jefferson. It seemed almost insignificant. The most appropriate word I can think of for my thoughts that day: distracting.

It really seemed like everything was distracting. That is, everything but the philosophy/idealism I had spent time with that day. The stores and consumerism — it was distracting away from the philosophy and idealism. To be fair, maybe it’s not reasonable to always be thinking about idealism and philosophy. Maybe it’s fair to sometimes indulge. I should also clarify that I’m not judging consumerism, no.

I was just noticing that after spending a day with idealism, consumerism seemed… distracting.

Could Washington, DC, Use a Little More Selfless Service?

During a trip I took earlier this year, I happened to pick up a USAToday. I don’t often read the USAToday, but that has more to do with the way that I aggregate articles. As I was reading, I came across an op-ed about Tulsi Gabbard, the newest member of the House of Representatives from Hawai’i. In the context of what had just happened with the drama of the fiscal cliff, there were some important points that I want to highlight:

The problem in Washington today is that legislators almost always act based on how they think their actions will help or hurt their political careers. An antidote to our epidemic of partisanship can be found in the “great tradition of conciliation” in which American statesmen from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy put the good of the country above the interests of self, party, or region. This tradition could be revived, if only we would heed the words of George Washington, who warned against the “mischiefs of the spirit of party,” or of Patrick Henry, who exclaimed, “I am not a Virginian but an American.”

It could also be revived by an infusion of the Gita’s principle of selfless service. If Democrats and Republicans could learn to cast their votes without first (and foremost) calculating the costs and benefits to their personal careers, Capitol Hill would start to look a less like a battlefield between rival clans and more like the arena of compromise and conciliation our Founders intended it to be.

Selfless service.

How often do we hear that phrase used in the context of politics?

The irony of this op-ed about selfless service is that a day later, I heard this same point echoed on conservative talk radio. Dennis Praeger and his call-in guests were opining that politicians weren’t concerned about the big picture — they were focused on what was going to get them elected and keep them elected. How interesting, eh? While I don’t know that the author of the op-ed is liberal, the fact that he’s writing about diversity in Congress (and about a Democratic House Member, in particular) might lead one to believe that he might be. There’s also the fact that he wrote a rather pointed post for CNN around election day last year. So, it’s safe to assume that back in January of this year, we had people on both sides of the ideological aisle talking about how important it is for politicians in America to start thinking about what’s good for the country rather than their district, party, or reelection chances.

While I’m totally on-board with a bigger picture perspective, I would wonder how to reconcile not keeping the interests of my district in mind when voting. Isn’t that how people get elected in the first place? I’m going to represent you in Washington… I’m going to represent what’s important for our town when I get to DC… How could one turn one’s back on one’s district?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but it’s a conversation worth having.

There Is No Fiscal Cliff: A Lesson in Metaphor

If you live in Washington, DC, you most certainly hear and read about the “fiscal cliff” on a daily basis — especially as the “impending doom” inches closer. If you don’t live in DC, you’ve probably still heard/read about the fiscal cliff because there are national implications. I wonder — did you stop to think about the “fiscal cliff?” That is, does the metaphor accurately represent what it is that we’re talking about?

From Matt Yglesias:

A salient fact about non-metaphorical cliffs is that falling over them is generally irreversible. If the cliff is high enough that falling off of it would kill you, then if you fall off you’re going to die and that’s the end of it. The “fiscal cliff” by contrast isn’t like that at all.

And from Steve Kornacki:

That’s not a good way to understand what we’re facing. The reality is that the “cliff” is really more of a slope. A gradual slope. It works like this:

If nothing happens between now and the end of the year, then on January 1, the Bush tax cuts will expire, the alternative minimum tax will reach further down the income ladder, and payroll tax rates will revert to 6.2 percent. (They’re 4.2 percent now — that was part of the big Obama tax cut that no one ever seemed to notice or give him credit for.)

But — and this is the critical point — this won’t all happen at once.

It’s not like John and Jane Taxpayer will wake up on January 1 and be socked with a bill for $3,000. Only the payroll hike would go into effect right away.

It would be months before most taxpayers were actually hit with higher income tax rates or the AMT [Alternative Minimum Tax].

Ditto for the big, scary spending cuts you’re hearing about, which will be phased in over the year, and even into future years.

And why is this important?

Because it means there’s time after January 1 for Congress and the White House to reach a deal — lots of time.

I’ve written about the importance of words, but when it comes to instances like this, the words we use are even more important. The fact that so many of us are constantly using this metaphor to discuss the impending changes to America‘s fiscal policy makes the metaphor that much more entrenched. And by extension, that also makes those people who only hear about these changes in passing that much more frightened (by the metaphor).

So, when you hear dramatic metaphors, especially from politicians, be sure to look into the details to decide whether someone’s using hyperbole to scare the public.

Oh — and in case you’re interested, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

The greater danger is that misguided fears about the economy going over a “fiscal cliff” into another Great Recession will lead policymakers to believe they have to take some action, no matter how ill-conceived and damaging to long-term deficit reduction, before the end of the year, rather than craft a balanced plan that supports the economic recovery in the short term and promotes fiscal stabilization in the intermediate and longer run.