Essay by Martha Quillen
Politics – February 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
As last year waned, I fantasized about all the things I would do to make 1996 a better year. In 1996, I would eat better, exercise more, and get organized. I would keep current on correspondence, and I wouldn’t get behind on housework. My desk wouldn’t be piled with unread newspapers, and I would actually read all of the review books sitting by the bed.
I would paint the kitchen, patch and repaper the hallways, replace the broken medicine cabinet in the bathroom, recaulk the tub and sink, and clear out the upstairs closets. I would learn a brand new bookkeeping program, and finally master Ventura Publisher. I would get more graphics on my machine, and conquer the art of scanning.
I would write more, do more freelancing, and interview some of the people I’d always meant to interview. I would get out more, meet more people, and attend more community functions. I would dig up all of my gardens to disentangle the rootbound bulbs. And the dream went on.
— Except by January 1st, I felt more inclined to get on the first flight to wherever I could live in indolent indigence by scavenging coconuts.
Unfortunately, by the new year it had dawned on me that these resolutions were exactly the same as my 1995 resolutions, and to make things worse, I couldn’t even pretend they were lofty ambitions. These were all things I had intended to do long ago; these were things I was supposed to do.
In retrospect, however, my time-problems are fairly trivial. The media regularly present couples who are juggling two careers, with toddlers, business travel, and housework, by rushing from breakfast, to day care, to work, to the grocery store, to dinner, to dishes, and to bed — daily.
And families with several teenagers at home usually have to accommodate four, or more jobs. With varying work schedules, after-school clubs, athletic practice, and overtime, many families can’t even catch a meal together. And if they do get together, the phone solicitors ring all night, because there’s no one home during the day.
Yet apparently they manage — although they don’t always manage everything. A few weeks ago, the TV show 20-20 featured married couples who had given up sex, and spotlighted one husband who claimed he just didn’t have the time. Recently, celibacy has become a hot topic for the press, and experts are citing lack of time and stress as contributing factors.
At this point, I should admit that I can always find fifteen or twenty minutes to fool around. What I can’t find is an hour or two a day, every day, to systematically learn something, or a few days in a row to revamp the hall, or the kitchen. Yet, I suspect, by modern standards, I have it easy.
I find that absolutely terrifying.
No wonder people are getting madder. No wonder the politicians are getting meaner. No wonder our courts are harsher, our prisons are packed, and our radio commentators are raving. No wonder so many people think that the Apocalypse is at hand.
Life in the United States is getting harder, not just for me, but for everyone who doesn’t own a congressman. The paperwork required just to pay taxes is incredible.
And the knowledge it takes to be an informed citizen/consumer is insurmountable. For a surgical operation, you need a first opinion, a second opinion, and if those opinions don’t match, a third opinion, plus enough knowledge to evaluate those opinions. And that’s what you need to buy a telephone system, a computer, or an automobile, too.
As for the knowledge it would take to vote intelligibly — forget it. The opinions of most candidates aren’t worth evaluating.
To hear the Republicans tell it, the country is in debt because of tax-and-spend Democrats. How soon the Republicans forget that bank deregulation, promoted by Ronald Reagan and backed by them, turned our multi-billion-dollar deficit into a multi-trillion-dollar deficit. Run-a-muck stock speculation, currency manipulation, and junk bonds put us where we are today — even if the Republicans don’t seem to remember the bank failures.
The Democrats, on the other hand, insist that wolves, Head Start, and day care are what we really need. Those things might be nice — but in a country where high-paying manufacturing jobs are being replaced with low-paying service jobs, where corporations are getting meaner and leaner, where Christmas lay-offs are standard, and jobs are a leading export, it might be more relevant to address what should be done about the decline in job opportunities and wages.
While our representatives fight about whether the budget should be balanced in seven years or nine years (when it almost certainly will never be balanced again), many Americans are worried about whether they’ll still have jobs next year. And statistically, even those who aren’t worried are probably working harder for less.
Even worse, as the gap between rich and poor grows, the chasm in our justice system widens. While the rich can afford to buy better counsel and hire celebrity expert witnesses, the poor must struggle to cover fines, and pay for expensive, court-ordered drug, alcohol, and domestic abuse treatment. While the rich can often avoid retribution by employing a bevy of high-priced attorneys, the innocent don’t have enough resources for a proper defense.
Yet the candidates seldom seem to address gross inequities in our justice system. Instead they offer us more — more police, more arrests, and more quibbling over what essentially is a non-issue. The budget must be reduced; on that, both parties agree, just as they’ve agreed not to acknowledge the serious financial difficulties that menace working Americans.
Now, there’s sex in the movies, sex on TV, and sex in advertising, but no sex in the marital bedroom where it belongs. Of course, if you asked the politicians, they would say that’s because of the media’s obsession with sex and violence. After all, there must be some connection — since candidates on both sides now contend that the media’s presentation of sex and violence is ruining America.
This year, candidates will once again tell us that affordable health care, Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and quality educational facilities are beyond our means.
The Democrats and Republicans will rail about budget items, and largely ignore homelessness, job losses, wage reductions, the growth in our prison populations, the unconstitutional excesses spawned by our failing drug war, police brutality, corporate tax exemptions, the growing prevalence of tuberculosis and other treatable (but often untreated) communicable diseases in our cities, the inadequacy of our mental health care systems, and our deteriorating water quality.
Candidates will pontificate about laziness, licentiousness, poor values, homosexuality, divorce, marriage, parenting, and a dozen other things that really aren’t their business.
They’ll insist that anything they’re put in charge of will run as poorly as the post office (which actually runs much better than congress ever has).
And they won’t even blush.
Perhaps Americans should thank their lucky stars that they won’t have any time to listen to such drivel.