Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
When Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, recently proposed a surtax that would pay for the Afghanistan War, the collective response from most of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle was, "Are you nuts?" Nancy Pelosi quickly put the kibosh on Obey's "Share the Sacrifice Act," and all talk of funding the war has been banished. Meanwhile, Democrats have spent untold hours debating how to finance health-care reform, all while Republicans carp about how doing so is just too darn expensive, what with our ever-climbing deficit.
In last month’s print issue, I wrote about the status of the newspaper syndicated columnist. Although it’s something of a complex picture, one of the conclusions you come to after examining the issue is that words on a page still have a power to bestow prestige that pixels on a screen lack. And in this age of ever-multiplying sources of news, information, and especially commentary, there are certain sinecures that bring unmatched influence.
We all define ourselves by our enemies -- but it can be taken too far.
While most politicians portray themselves as actors on a grand stage, others try harder to convince us that they are no better than we are, of middling station and modest self-regard. Republicans, always conscious of their party's white-shoe past and continued advocacy for the most fortunate, work particularly hard to communicate their folksy ordinariness. Some do it more convincingly than others, but all know it's a key ingredient of political success.
Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But if science fiction has taught us anything, it’s that any sufficiently advanced technology will inevitably rise up to enslave us. So if you want to get ready for the day when your Roomba declares that maybe it’s time for you to start crawling around on the floor sucking up dust, it might be a good idea to evaluate the Republican and Democratic approaches to this problem.
The last thing Democrats needed, with reform still not passed, was any kind of health-care controversy. Yet that's just what they got when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force came out with a new set of guidelines on breast cancer screening, pushing back the suggested age for regular mammograms from 40 to 50. The uproar over the recommendation demonstrates a lot of the problems with how we deal with health care. It shows how opportunistic politicians can be -- the GOP, champions of women's health! -- and how as a country we have an inherent bias toward more health care, whether or not it's better health care.