Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rules? What Rules?

"My, we seem to be a little short on brotherly love round here." 

-- Butch Cassidy, as played by Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I got into a Facebook Fight last week. Have you ever been in one? It's kind of like that scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You know the one where Butch has to get into a knife fight with a really big, scary guy. He asks him, "What are the rules?" Big Scary Guy replies: "Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!"  He no sooner gets the words out of his mouth than Butch kicks him in the groin. Well, there are no rules in a Facebook Fight either.

I use different internet tools for different purposes. LinkedIn for business; Facebook for personal stuff, pictures and messages to friends and family, etc. So, when I woke up at my usual 5 AM to a posting on my Facebook wall supporting the Wisconsin 14, I went off the deep end. Last year, I had de-friended members of my own family for posting their support of the Arizona immigration law. So, why am I waking up to some commie crap on my damn wall? By a so-called friend no less.

Now, 5 AM is not my best time of day. I could have deleted it. I could have blocked the friend from posting on my wall. I could have de-friended him. But, no-o-o-o! I responded aggressively.

My opponent was a very well read Ph.D. And worse, he was abetted by an old high school chum of mine with whom I haven’t spoken since graduation day. In fact, I am not sure I even spoke to him then. Two against one. That’s not fair! Oh yeah, there are no rules in a Facebook Fight. My H.S. buddy is a school psychologist according to his Facebook page. So, he is right there with the Ph.D.

Ph.D. hits me with Robert Reich. I parry with Freidrich Hayek. He’s never heard of him. Hah! Take that, Ph.D.

I am a fan of NY Times columnist, David Brooks. I never miss a column. He mostly writes about political and policy issues and represents a moderate voice that does not adhere to any political dogma. I guess that’s why I like him. His new book is called The Social Animal. I understand from the reviews and summaries that it is a fictional representation of the ways in which we form relationships and connect ourselves to ideas and social norms. Though not an expert on brain science, Brooks has written of our new understanding of it and how it has affected us. Think of all those bright business school grads on Wall Street and how they self destructed during the financial crisis of 2008/09.

So, here I am parrying the thrusts and jabs of my formidable opposition and it occurs to me that Brooks is right about all this. I am fairly well read myself and yet could not convince either of these guys of the wisdom of my thinking any more than they could convince me of theirs. It’s not that their thinking was irrational. Indeed, their thoughts might be considered to be a rationalization of their beliefs.

All their reading and learning had been directed to support their values and biases. So, were mine. There was no winning this Facebook Fight for any of us. No way, no how.

Isn’t that what’s happening across the nation? Don’t you get emails from your friends and colleagues that either reinforce your views or infuriate you? So, how can we solve the big national problems when we are all so enamored of what’s going on in our own heads that we can’t compromise?

A recent speech by Republican Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana to the Conservative Political Action Committee provides some insight on how we might answer that question. He counsels his right wing followers to put everything on the table including tax increases and defense spending to resolve the problem of our deficits and debt.

He reminds his followers that “big change requires big majorities” and that we will “need people who never listen to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean”. He also reminds us that the founders “made compacts and concessions and, yes, compromises” in the cause of creating one union from the 13 colonies who won their freedom from the British crown.

NPR called it a Grown Up brand of GOP politics. We need that from both sides of the aisle. A recent report from economist John Mauldin found that a “majority of voters incorrectly believes the federal government spends more on defense/foreign aid than it does on Medicare and Social Security (63%). Also, a similar majority (60%) incorrectly believes problems with the federal budget can be fixed by just eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.”

The President created his own version of Grown Up politics with the Simpson Bowles Commission aimed at resolving our national debt. Their controversial proposal is dying a slow death like those of most Presidential commissions.

Our debt problem is serious and addressing it will be painful. What is called for is the equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s dollar bill speech in 1981. He held up a dollar bill and opened with “This is a dollar bill…..”

We guffawed about it the following day on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs. But, that’s the kind of communication that is called for now. Reagan explained to voters how every dollar they earn is divided up. The equivalent of a PowerPoint pie chart.

The pie chart needs to be updated. If nothing changes, every dollar of tax revenue will go to paying interest on the national debt within 10 years. Nothing left for national defense. Nothing left for social programs. Nothing.

The only question is: WHO WILL LEAD?

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