Solutions and Optimism

Believe it or not, I really am a cheerful and optimistic sort, but the reaction to some of my latest blogs brings up several points that bear repeating, although some of my readers clearly don’t need the reminders, because their comments show understanding.  First, a writer is not just what he or she writes. Second, critical assessment, particularly if it’s accurate, of an institution or a societal practice is not always “negative.”  Third, solutions aren’t solutions until and unless they can be implemented.

Readers can be strange creatures, even stranger than authors, at times.  I know an author who writes about the experiences of a white trash zombie.  She’s a very warm person and not at all either white trash or a zombie.  And most readers have no problem understanding that.  Yet, all too often, some readers have great difficulty in understanding that just because a writer accurately portrays a character with whose acts or motivations they disagree it doesn’t necessarily mean the character represents the author.  I’ll admit that some of my characters do embody certain experiences of mine – especially those who are pilots of some sort or involved in government – but that still doesn’t mean that they’re me.  Likewise, just because I point out what I see as problems in society doesn’t mean that I’m a depressed misanthrope.

As I and others have said, often, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing it exists. On a societal level, this is anything but easy. Successful societies are always conservative and slow to change, but societies that don’t change are doomed.  The basic question for any society is how much and how fast to change, and the secondary questions are whether a change is necessary or inevitable… or beneficial, because not all change is for the best.

One of the lasting lessons I learned in my years in Washington, D.C., is that there is usually more than one potential and technically workable solution to most problems.  At times, there are several. Very, very, occasionally, there is only one, and even then there is the possibility of choosing not to address the problem.  And every single solution to a governmental problem has negative ramifications for someone or some group so that addressing any problem incorporates a decision as to who benefits and who suffers. Seldom is there ever an easy or simple solution.  And, of course, as voters we don’t get to choose that solution; we only get to vote for those who will, and often our choice isn’t the one who gets elected.

For that reason, my suggested course of action is almost never to vote for any politician who promises a simple or easy solution.  If two candidates promising simple solutions are running, vote for the one who incites less anger or whose solution is “less simple.”

This electoral emphasis on simplicity has always been present in American politics, but in the past, once the campaign was over, politicians weren’t so iron-clad, and didn’t always insist on a single simple answer/solution. I saw the beginning of the change in the late 1970s, and it intensified in the Reagan Administration. For example, when I was at the Environmental Protection Agency, there was a large group of people who were totally opposed to hazardous waste landfills or incinerators – anywhere.  In addition, and along the same lines, to this day, we don’t have a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.  I’m sorry, but in a high tech society with nuclear power plants, you need both.  The waste isn’t going away, and the products we use and consume generate those wastes.  Right now there is NO technology that can generate high tech electronics without creating such wastes, and to make matters worse, the cleaner the technology, the more expensive it is, which is why a lot of electronic gear isn’t manufactured in the USA.  Likewise, the immigration problem won’t go away so long as the United States offers the hope of a better life for millions of people.  We can’t effectively seal the borders.  Nor can we deport all illegal aliens, not without becoming a police state along the lines of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. There are no simple solutions that are workable.  Period.

The current legislative gridlock in Washington, D.C., reflects the iron-clad insistence by each party, and especially, I’m sad to say, the Republicans, that their “solution” is the only correct one.  It’s not a solution if roughly half the people in the country, or half the elected representatives [or a minority large enough to block legislation], oppose it, because it’s not going to get adopted, no matter what its backers claim for it.  In practice, in our society, any workable solution requires compromise.  When compromise fails, as it did over the issue of slavery, the result can only be violence in some form. Unhappily, as I’ve said before, the willingness to work out compromise solutions has declined. In fact, politicians willing to compromise are being branded as traitors.  So are politicians who try to forge alliances across party lines.  So… my suggested solution is to vote for officials who are open to compromise and vigorously oppose those who claim that compromise is “evil” or wrong, or un-Democratic, or un-Republican.  No… it’s not a glamorous and world-shaking solution. But it’s the only way we have left to break the logjam in government.  Until lots of people stop looking for absolute and simple solutions and start agitating for the politicians to work together and hammer things out… they won’t.  Because the message given to every politician out there right now has been that compromise kills political careers.

So we can all stick to our hard and fast principles – and guns, if it comes to that – and watch nothing happen until everything falls apart… or we can reject absolutist politics and get on with the messy business of politics in a representative democratic republic.


5 thoughts on “Solutions and Optimism”

  1. Tim says:

    In the UK, recent compromises adopted by our government have been viewed by the Labour (Democrat) opposition as U-turns. Sadly, the same stance has been adopted by the BBC an gives no credit to a government which listens to public concern or adopts its policies to the current economic conditions (not good in Euro land in case you missed that, given my experience of the US press).

    All I can add to LEM’s closing statement on absolutist politics is that in Northern Ireland, the Queen will shake hands tomorrow with Martin McGuiness, an ex-IRA leader and who is now deputy first minister of that land. So it is possible to compromise, and it can succeed..

  2. rehcra says:

    Most of my potential comments were eliminated when you added that the known author was also not a zombie.

    But… I am optimistic enough to think our government has enough time to come up with a solution to the potential zombie out brake across North America. although most of that optimism probably comes from the fact that zombies aren’t real.

    (Incidentally, have you written any books that display your since of humor in a stand out way?)


  3. Wine Guy says:

    Simplistic solutions are quite often brutal. Discussion and compromise (apparently now being turned into a dirty words like discrimination and rhetoric) both help ensure that the most workable solutions come to light. Even if they’re not the ones finally picked (are they ever?), the issues are dealt with in a more comprehensive fashion.

  4. From my limited 38-year-old perspective, the big question seems to be: how to get big money special interests out of Washington D.C? Both the Democrats and the Republicans spend a good deal of their time appeasing or pandering to big money interests, whether it’s banks, “green energy,” environmental lobbyists, corporate lobbyists, etc. Those with money to burn, get the legislative attention. The actual interests and well-being and liberties of the electorate don’t seem to matter very much.

    Likewise, is anyone else bothered by the fact that people go to Washington D.C. to get rich? That’s a public office. These people still claim the title of public servants. But who serves who? I do not think the Founders would smile on the fact that our President, our Senators, even many of our Congressional representatives, are getting financially independent at the expense of the tax-payer and/or via climbing into the pockets of big money interests.

    I would like severe term limits. I know we’d lose a lot of experience that way, but really, since D.C. seems to be an intractable honey trap, the less we expose people to it in the long term, the better I think. 12 year cumulative. That’s what I think we should try. And bar “job hopping” where people slide in and out of non-elected government roles, back and forth, extending their stays by decades. D.C. is an incestuous swamp of conflicting interest. Somehow, there must be a way to limit the damage?

  5. Term limits won’t do much good by themselves. Far more dangerous is the current media coverage that turns every instance of political cooperation by representatives and senators into a “gotcha” moment, where the media immediately trumpets that member’s “defection” from his or her principles. In effect, the media has made bipartisanship and seeking cooperative solutions on controversial issues almost impossible except in absolute crisis situations. This “media-ization” of politics, in turn, has led to the need for representatives to raise more and more funds for election and re-election, and that leaves them more beholden to their contributors.

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