When I lived in Alabama, I dated a true-blue Communist for a period of time. Let me repeat that: When I lived in Alabama, I dated a true-blue Communist. Seriously. And I’m not talking the “It’s trendy to be anti-establishment” type of “Communist,” or someone walking around wearing a Che Guevara shirt without actually knowing who the man was or what he stood for. Those people will grow out of it, basically, when they get to their junior year of college or so without really knowing anything more than the sloganeering — the way God intended it. Those people will be fine, upstanding Republicans, Democrats or independents once they realize they like to keep as much of their cash money as they can. Don’t worry, parents: They will be the apotheosis of conventional political citizenry — voting infrequently and based on platitudes from candidates.
But this former girlfriend of mine was different from the meme. Basically, she made U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (R-OH) or William Ayers — remember him? — seem like they were nearly indistinguishable from Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. They were keeping the working man down, she thought, with their capitalist groupthink. She knew the works of Lenin and Marx and Engels and Castro and Che and Chavez and Mao like she knew the alphabet or her Social Security number. She knew political theory and economics and world history and labor — albeit, those subjects through the incredibly slanted lenses of Marxist and Leninist authors and scholars — and read voraciously. She really did want the capitalist system expunged in favor of complete state control of industry and wealth.
She was extremely critical of the United States — even the most liberal Democrats took serious verbal lashings often, but most frequently, Republicans of any stripe bore the brunt of her rhetorical wrath. It was really quite fascinating, and she and I had some very heated political debates. And I love political debates with a passion. So it was pretty fun sometimes. But a lot of the time, too, it was disappointing.
You see, I grew up in a house with a relatively liberal father and a very conservative mother. They didn’t talk politics around me or my two younger sisters — at least that I can remember — and that was probably for the best. But when I became more interested in politics and public policy as I grew older and went to college, and then started working at SCN, I learned more about their philosophies and developed an incredible respect for how they got along for as long as they did while being such political opposites, dare I say, “Rivals.”
So it is disappointing that, having grown up in a bipartisan family — Democratic father, Republican mother — and seeing that both sides have valid points to make (a lot of the time), we as a people often get into the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mind set and close off debate and compromise before it can even begin. We isolate, castigate, and distort. We vociferate. We too frequently err on the side of demagoguery and brinksmanship rather than cooperation and understanding. We become hermetic political animals unbending to reason. (Keep in mind, however, that this is far more prevalent in Washington D.C. than in, believe it or not, Lansing or, more locally, Pontiac at the Board of Commissioners auditorium – much to the credit of those elected officials.)
We always hear stories about U.S. senators being buddy-buddy back in the day, in spite of their political differences. They would have lunch together and their families knew each other. Granted, they of course didn’t caucus together and everyone knows there were intense political battles about everything from HUAC to civil rights to the Vietnam War. But the bickering back then is widely considered, by today’s standards, to be almost quaint. The District of Columbia is no longer – hopefully – a place where members of Congress rather regularly challenged each other to duels, but the nation’s capitol is raffish and federal politicians aren’t being economical with their petty imbroglios, misrepresented statistics (ahem, Jon Kyl), hyperbolic and fear-mongering diatribes intended to scare people about political opponents.
So I’m not going to plead with federal lawmakers to check their partisan egos at the door. I’m not going to beg for decorum and camaraderie and a common purpose in Congress – you know, making the country better. That would, of course, be silly and pie-in-the-sky. Instead, what I’m asking is that instead that lawmakers get an allotted amount of what I’ll call “Pinho Points” (because, well, I can’t think of a better name at this point… suggestions?)
Rather than scoring “political points” by winning a substantive, logical, reasoned argument about policy, for example, these Pinho Points would instead be doled out each legislative session. Congressional leadership would get a set amount because they are featured in television, radio and print more than rank-and-file members of the Senate and House of Representatives (Pinho Points would also apply to any written communication such as Twitter, Facebook and press releases, as well as non-public events) But each time a new independent panel – perhaps the editors of the five largest newspapers in the country? – determines that a cheap political point is made by a federal lawmaker, no matter the medium in which it is made, whether it’s Barney Frank or Michelle Bachmann, they are docked one Pinho Point, or more based on the severity or egregiousness of the garbage being spewed from the lawmaker’s mouth.
Once a lawmaker has “spent” all of his or her allotted Pinho Points in a given legislative session, they would be allowed to purchase additional points using their Congressional expense account, which is typically for their day-to-day office operations. However, if they choose not to purchase additional Pinho Points, they will not be allowed to espouse anything venomous or derogatory about the other political party unless previously cleared by the Pinho Points Panel.
Oh. And by the way, here’s a side note to anyone who thinks President Obama is a Socialist or Communist, or that the United States is heading down the road to being a nation steeped in either political ideology: I’m sorry, but that is really quite ridiculous. I won’t give you my ex-girlfriend’s name, nor where she lives now or what she does for a living, but I’m sure she would and does laugh at the very thought of that.
Actually, come to think of it, it probably makes her angry that her views are so misunderstood and attributed to someone who clearly doesn’t share them.