Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unwinnable debates

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer there was a commentary about Sarah Palin and her ability to frame a debate, in this case the debate over American exceptionalism, so that it is difficult if not impossible for the opposition to "win" the debate; how did you win a debate in America where you argue against American exceptionalism?

The main point of the article was that Ms. Palin was displaying exceptionally good politics. The writer's counter point to Ms. Palin's skill was to recount President Obama's mishandled answer to a reporter's question on this topic when he was in France when the president said that he believed in American exceptionalism just as he suspected Brits believe in British exceptionalism, Greeks in Greek exceptionalism, etc. The writer also took a poke at the president for his belief in a nuclear disarmament.

The following is my response to the editor who wrote the column.

Dear Sir:

I read your commentary "Exceptionally good politics" which was published in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

I assume you used the phrase "good politics" in discussing Sarah Palin's clever use of American exceptionalism to trap liberals into arguing the unwinnable because that is exactly what it is; politics. It doesn't solve any of the problems of the day, doesn't improve the employment picture, address the budget deficit, offer insight into halting climate change, suggest ways to solve the immigration question, etc, etc. No, it just proves that she is adept at sound bites and misdirection. I guess if that is all it takes to plow fertile political ground, we are all in trouble.

What is truly ironic is that Ms Palin is idolized by the Christian right. (She recently spoke at a local Christian school where she touched on the concept of American exceptionalism). My understanding of the teachings of Christ indicate that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Perhaps, it wasn't that President Obama failed to understand the question about American exceptionalism, but that he understood fully the lessons of his Christian teachings concerning pride coming before the fall.

Sadly, Ms Palin and those who swim in rose colored memories of the past, are the very people who prevent America from solving our problems. They wrap themselves in the flag, blame gays, poor people and foreigners for our troubles and never once look in the mirror at the real culprits. We are all at fault for the problems of the day and only by working together can we solve these issues.

As for the fairy tale of nuclear disarmament, I feel sorry for you that you don't believe in it. Truly exceptional people dream the impossible and strive to make it so. To me, the vision of planet earth without war achieved in part by the example of the United States makes the goal of "good politics" seem incredibly average.

Joe Pugnetti

Monday, December 6, 2010


It was announced today that Jason Werth, a baseball player who helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008, signed a free agent contract with another team. The deal was for 7 years, $126 million dollars. Reaction has been diverse, but the consensus is that Jason, having already won a World Series ring, signed with a perennial losing franchise because they offered the most money, period. While the sheer volume of money seems surprising (Jason was a very good player, but not a great player), most comments give Jason (and his agent) credit for getting his big payday. After all, who wouldn't try to get the most money they could if someone wanted to overpay for their services?

Perhaps that is the root issue of our problems. We believe so much in capitalism and the opportunities that it provides that we are blind to the shift in priorities that have taken place in the recent past.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy sports. In fact, I probably spend too much time watching sports on TV and I enjoy talking sports with my friends. When I was able to attend Eagles games through my previous employer, I did so happily. I appreciated seeing a game in person and participating in the cheering, booing and general camaraderie of the moment. Clearly, I am as much at fault as anyone in driving the value of professional athletes' services through the roof.

But I would also like to think that I have this part of my life properly prioritized. Proof can be offered that with my recent early morning work requirement, I missed many of the Phillies playoff games and the 2nd half of all of the Eagles prime time games this year. As this happens more often, I find that it is becoming easier to walk away from the games. I would hope that I have and will continue to walk away when my family needs my time, as opposed to the "fan" who can't be approached by their spouse or children when the game is on.

Flash to the current debate over the tax cuts and unemployment compensation. Republicans want tax cuts for everyone, even those earning in the top 5% of incomes. They don't think it wise to raise anyone's taxes in a recession despite the added billions of dollars this will add to the deficit. Extending unemployment compensation however, is not OK with them unless we cut spending somewhere else to compensate for the added cost. Democrats want to raise the taxes of the rich but continue giving unemployment to people who have been receiving this aid for 99 weeks already. Each political party uses the rising deficit as a defense when the spending is for something they oppose but what do they value?

I believe that there is plenty of money in this country but that it is being disbursed in an extremely inequitable fashion. It is documented fact that the standard of living for the middle class (as defined by an income in the $40-90K range) has stagnated, while the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer. What does that say about our values?

I don't consider rich people immoral or greedy bastards. I don't think Republicans are stooges for the wealthy or unfeeling for the plight of the less fortunate. Nor do I believe that Democrats are only concerned about the downtrodden and don't legislate with an eye towards those that control the purse strings of business. Neither party is consistent in how their values decide their policies.

In the end, the problem lies in the answer to the question; who wouldn't go for as much money as possible? If we all agree that we would do the same as Jason, then the fault lies squarely at our feet. When we begin to demand that decisions be made with regard to people and not just profit, when material possessions and obsessions become prioritized behind a happy family, good friends, strong neighborhoods, equality for all people regardless of how they might be different from us, then perhaps, contracts like the one Jason Werth just signed and debates that pit aid for the less fortunate against less taxes for the super rich, might be a thing of the past.