Political ambivalence, and pondering the Porsche 911

By Jayson Jacoby August 12, 2011 06:34 pm

By Jayson Jacoby

I keep trying to whip myself into firm political fighting trim yet I can’t seem to escape the flabby state of ambivalence in which I have long ossified.

It must be pleasant to confront the great legislative matters that affect hundreds of millions of people and conclude, with the absolute certainty of the zealot, which is the only correct and righteous course.

I’m convinced, at any rate, that dispatching weighty topics with such conviction is a lot more fun.

My allegiance in college athletics, for instance, is as stolid as a granite monolith.

I’m an Oregon Duck.

On any autumn Saturday, then, my outlook is crystalline: I yearn for the Ducks to win. And this desire is not sullied by even the slightest wonder about whether, just maybe, an Oregon loss might be beneficial.

This ability to distill any situation to two answers, whether those be win and lose, or right and wrong, is quite liberating.

Yet I can’t transfer anything like that level of decisiveness into the sociopolitical arena.

I’d like to believe this is because sports are so trivial by comparison. The outcome of a football game, except for the rare gambling addict, is not likely to decide whether a person can properly care for his family, or pay the mortgage.

Yet the truth, I fear, is that I simply lack the fortitude to pick one side and cling to it, no matter how strongly or confused the political winds blow.

It’s not that I’m a weathervane.

My opinions don’t careen at the whim of every capricious gust.

What I mean is that sometimes north seems to me as compelling, or anyway as plausible, as south.

Or, to put it another way, that the notion of right and wrong are not necessarily absolutes — that vastly different solutions to a problem can each be right, to some degree.

Take the ongoing debates about the U.S. debt limit and the nation’s healthcare system, to name two prominent examples.

The debt limit deal has been criticized, and rather harshly, by both conservatives and liberals.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri, called the legislation a “Satan sandwich,” a phrase with definite political, if not gastronomic, staying power.

Meanwhile Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican representative who’s running for president, contends the pact, which President Obama signed, “spends too much and doesn’t cut enough.”

The compromise seems pretty reasonable to me — a common trait among compromises, I’ve noticed.

The federal government will spend less than it would have without the compromise, which seems to me a healthy trend for a country which has been measuring its debt in the trillions since the second year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Yet the scale of the reduction is so modest, as a percentage of America’s public fiscal largesse, that Rep. Cleaver’s  implication that the agreement will place in peril the country’s more vulnerable citizens, sounds rather hysterical.

The healthcare debate, though, is the one which reveals, as in the harsh glare of a prison searchlight, my precarious position astraddle the fence between pure capitalism and, say, Sweden.

I harbor an instinctive suspicion of the latter — or, rather, what it represents.

(I have no particular phobia about Sweden specifically, or of Swedes. I once rode in a Volvo without feeling especially anxious. And I rooted for Bjorn Borg.)

The notion that a nation ought to employ confiscatory taxation in order to provide for all its citizens a benefit which most of them are quite capable of acquiring through their own devices seems to me contrary to one of the core values which informed the creation of the United States.

That value being that the freedom of the individual must prevail — and in particular the freedom to parlay your skills and determination into the sort of life which fulfills your dreams, only without having to worry overmuch that a political party with majority power will brand your dreams as a trifle too ambitious.

And yet I can’t ignore that America’s tentative attempts to meld private and socialized medical care have produced a dish deficient in basic nutrition, and with a bitter flavor besides.

Nor can I blithely accept that swapping the current dog’s breakfast for a government-run single-payer system, a move that many liberals advocate, would automatically add the Scandinavian suffix “son” to all Americans’ surnames.

I have a great faith in the ability of my fellow citizens to devise clever solutions to our most vexing problems; and I see no reason to believe that cutting the cost of health care, while simultaneously insuring the millions of Americans who go without, is a conundrum that exceeds our collective talent.

At the very least I’d like to see us have a go at it.

If it’s a boondoggle we can always change our minds, after all.

I wouldn’t be shocked if we botched the attempt.

Like those conservatives who decry a single-payer system as the death knell of the American way, I am leery of turning over a significant chunk of the country’s economy to the federal government.

But then I remind myself that every month I turn over a decent sum to a private company in the hopes that I won’t be made destitute should I hack off my thumb while chopping kindling with a dull hatchet.

(Which I very nearly did recently in a moment of stupidity which was noteworthy even by my lofty standards.)

This sum has shown no sign that it’s likely to shrink, even as its purchasing power continues to dwindle.

(And I still have the hatchet.)

All of which leaves me stuck in the same old quandary.

I’d hate to see my beloved country abandon its principles.

Yet I refuse to concede that America is incapable of conceiving a system that insures all of its citizens but doesn’t manipulate the tax code so that rock stars and Hollywood actors move all their bank accounts to the Cayman Islands.

Surely we can fix our healthcare system without wrecking everything else.

Consider Germany.

The Germans started universal coverage barely a decade after they got around to creating a country.

Yet it is also home to the company that makes the Porsche 911 Turbo.

There’s no chance that a decadent, mired-in-a-socialistic-morass country could ever assemble such a machine as that.

The 911 Turbo oozes capitalism. And it’s the brand of capitalism that once defined America — brash without apology, and a prodigious consumer of natural resources.

The thing goes 195 mph.

And it has seats for just four people — two of whom better not be any larger than a typical 10-year-old.

If Germany can manage to produce universal health care and the 911 Turbo, then by God, so can America.

Have you checked the specs on the U.S.-built  Chevrolet Corvette ZR1?

And as I recall, General Motors recently had some help from the federal government.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.