At the end of the movie "The American President," Michael Douglas says of his opponent, "His problem isn't that he doesn't get it, his problem is that he can't sell it."
We seem to have both problems today.
There are 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators, and 1 president. They are our duly elected representatives and they are currently engaged in a great debate that, because of our 24/7 TV culture, has devolved into bad theater -- or, depending on your preferences, has become the best reality show on television.
Of these 536 men and women, it is estimated that approximately 40% are lawyers. For the data types among us, this indexes to approximately 700 vs the U.S. working population. When was the last time you asked your lawyer for financial advice?
I speak of the Great Debt Ceiling Show, starring President Obama, Speaker Boehner, Senator Reid and a supporting cast of too many to name.
The flaw in the story line is that we know how it will end. This week (or possibly next, if either side feels their TV interviews are going particularly well), there will be an "agreement." You will please pardon the expression, as the outcome will be more of a hold your nose accommodation to political survival than any intent to agree, or to serve the country. It has become, on all sides, about positioning for elections -- and little more.
What we, and the rest of the worldwide audience, are breathlessly witnessing is the Butterfly Effect, once again. To review from an earlier piece referencing the perfectly named Chaos Theory, when even small changes are made to complex systems (our politics and our economy for example), large, unintended effects often result. In our case, the metaphorical butterfly's wing is round-the-clock televising of our political discourse.
Historians tell us that the first "TV President" was John F Kennedy. He just looked better than Nixon, and folks around the country became enamored when he said "cahr" and they had to figure out he meant automobile.
Fast-forward to today, and we see that television has caused our most serious debates to be conducted in sound bites. Like the current one in which we hear, "Live within our means," and for the other side, "Everyone should pay their fair share."
Is there anyone who believe this represents a useful discussion of a serious issue?
Our Fed Chairman says the result of not raising the debt ceiling would be a "huge financial calamity." Thanks.
There has been little substantive dialogue on this ongoing TV show of the impact of default on each citizen from the resulting 40% cutback in government payments, little mention of the higher cost of money as interest rates rise on credit cards and auto loans. And little reference to the resulting severe stock market decline, or the real impact of another cycle of recession.
Maybe it's a disservice to say they don't get it. The stars of this show are intelligent. But I guarantee that neither side has been able to articulate and sell it, or we wouldn't be playing chicken at this point.
In an earlier time we'd be hearing, after the fact, about the "backroom deal" that was struck.
It's not an earlier time, and we should be happy about that. We have the means not only to practice advanced advertising today, but advanced citizenship. Let's use the MediaTech tools and channels we've created, and on which we practice our craft, to make our voices heard.
Let's take charge of the outcome and cancel the show.