The man in the arena

Cross-posted from The Obama Diary.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

—Theodore Roosevelt, in a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910
If one were to read the usual—and not so usual—quarters, one would be led to the conclusion that President Barack Obama orchestrated the entire deal which vacated the sequester on the FAA, while leaving intact the sequester on every other segment of our government. One would be forgiven for thinking that Obama signed legislation which had been passed in the teeth of stern Democratic opposition, siding with Republicans and perhaps a rump of conservative Democrats.

One would not learn from reading in these quarters that the FAA “fix” passed by unanimous consent in the Senate.

Now, this is more Senate Newspeak, so what does it mean? Simply put, the measure was put before the Senate, and not one single Senator voiced an objection to it. Not Bernie Sanders. Not Elizabeth Warren. All the paragons of the Left signed off on the bill.

The quote which begins this essay is from a speech Teddy Roosevelt gave in France. Its title is “Citizenship in a Republic”. It’s worth a read if you have the time; Roosevelt was one of the greatest orators of our Republic.

But I will focus on the most famous quote from it, because it is most germane to the time in which we find ourselves.

This flaccid, whining, infantile culture in which we find ourselves did not come about by happenstance. It was quite deliberately thought out. Get voters disgusted with DC politics. Break the government and then cry “See, government is useless!” Depress voter turnout. Take over on the state level with small electorates and hamstring any progressive initiatives to come out of the Capitol. Accrue more privileges to those with wealth and power, deny them to the majority, but still—through a thoroughly corrupt and corporate media—sell it as “freedom”.

The FAA fix is but the latest assinine expression of this culture of complaint. It won’t be the last. And if Obama had “stood firm” against the Senate, all he would’ve gotten for his trouble is a veto override. And, oh yes, being accused of risking traveler safety for the sake of “politics”.

Am I upset that every single damned Senator couldn’t run fast enough to spare the FAA from sequester, while programs which aid the poorest among us get decimated? Of course I am. But, let’s not forget, fixing the FAA also spared thousands of workers from being furloughed. Millionaires in their private jets aren’t the only ones benefiting from this action. And, heaven forbid that somehow Obama was able to block the bill, and then a mid-air tragedy occurred. That would be the end of his Presidency.

The problem lies squarely in TR’s quote. We have a culture where it’s far easier—and more remunerative—to complain loudly about any subject than to get into the meat of the matter and effect change. Barack Obama was mocked by Sarah Palin in 2008 for being a community organizer. Mocked for doing real work at a grassroots level by a woman who would, soon after her defeat in that year’s election, resign her post as Alaska governor for the more rewarding territory of a Fox News pundit, reality show star, and political action committee grifter.

Very few in the media or in Congress have had to do much real work in their lives. Very few have looked in the face of poverty and thought about how to ameliorate it. Politics, like much else in our society, has become mere entertainment. Solutions to real problems facing real people don’t sell advertising. Ginning up outrage and controversy keeps the eyeballs of the few people who still watch news or write to their representatives focused on the next ad, or the next fundraising letter.

And I’m not letting us, the citizens, off the hook. Yes, life is tough—made so by people whom we keep re-electing. But the duty of a free citizen in a republic is to be engaged in everything which affects the community. There shouldn’t be a separate “political class”; if you’re upset about an issue, and do nothing save gripe on message boards, then you’re part of the problem. If you can’t be bothered with the simple act of writing a letter to your representative, or—heaven forbid!—voting, then you enable those who are making this country ungovernable.

Of course, it’s obvious that I’m going to say that at present the only “man in the arena” is Barack Obama. Thank goodness we have him. But it’s also a damning indictment of our times that only one person stands between a civilized life and the abyss. And he does it with almost no help.

We have only three more years of Obama’s leadership. After that, what? Unless we change the trajectory of our politics, a post-Obama America promises to slide into even greater dysfunction.

We must all enter the arena if we’re to save this Republic.

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