Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hard to tune it out

I have long been a news junkie. I remember as a child ... every time I walked into my grandparents house in Little Rock there was always a newspaper on the dining room table. My grandfather read the entire thing. My uncles all read the sports section. They are all big sports fans, and still are, as am I. When I began delivering newspapers at 12, I started reading the daily as well.

In the Internet and cable news age I have become fully immersed, and radio typically provides my biggest fix. I try to listen to talk shows in addition to news and features programming, both conservatives and liberals included in the mix. It has also led me to a huge dilemma, because the political discourse permeating the airwaves these days has become so hateful. It can be sickening at times, particularly from conservative broadcasters.

Things came to a head for me last week when President Barack Obama was heckled during a speech. This came shortly after complaints about Obama possibly trying to "indoctrinate" students in a speech intended to motivate youth in classrooms across the nation to excel. Can you imagine that charge being leveled against any other president attempting to enlighten school children across America? I listen to people who continue to insist the president isn't a U.S. citizen, is a Muslim, a socialist and too kind to leaders of nations that we don't necessarily consider allies.

At one of the most troubling times in our nation's history this divisiveness and disrespect for the president is a threat to the nation's stability. No matter what you might think about his health insurance reform or the economic policies he has enacted to fight the nation's recession, I find it difficult to believe Obama is anti-American or interested in anything other than what is just and fair for all -- particularly the most disadvantaged. Yet that is how he is being painted, by people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who have wanted him to fail since day one, and children and poor people are going to continue to suffer as a result.

I had an opportunity to hear Jeffrey Sachs speak on Thursday. Sachs is a leading economist and former head the Millennium Development Project at the United Nations, a groundbreaking social justice project aimed at reducing global poverty, securing environmental justice and curing other worldwide ills. He is now calling for a "revolution of decency," an effort intended to combat exactly what threatens to derail the nation's recovery at this very moment.

Debate in this country has turned angry. Angrily shouting is the new rational conversation. Just listen to Hannity, Limbaugh or Martin Levine. I like Sachs' suggestion of more decency, which would include greater respect for the Office of the President.

Former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday that Obama is receiving the treatment he has received because he is black. That ignited a firestorm and riled up the conservatives even more. He may have a point, given the fact that no president in recent memory has been disrespected as much, it's hard to say race hasn't factored into the strategy to build opposition to the president, even sublimely.

While I want to tune political coverage out, I want to see what the response to Carter's assertion leads to.

Sachs said the cost of the president's health reform plan would be roughly $90 billion, or .62 of the GDP. Not even a full percent or anywhere near what we're spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or gave to the Wall Street bailout. He also pointed out the fact that those Wall Street firms have paid out $33 billion in bonuses to executives. The point was that the anti-Obama contingent has blown this whole thing out of proportion in an effort to reclaim the White House, never mind the millions of people in the nation suffering who need a lifeline thrown their way.

I'm not going to follow my wife in tuning out news almost entirely, but I am going to dramatically cut back.

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