Saturday, June 24, 2017

On Death Taxes and Life Taxes

My friendly readers, this will be a quick post.  I have far too little time for much of anything this weekend except doing my duties -- to my “day” job, to my 501(c)(3), and to my mom. 

Sadly, my beloved mother is battling a serious setback in her health and I find myself unable to spend a day without seeing her.  She’s less than six weeks away from her 96th birthday and for the first time in her life, she’s becoming mentally docile.   That’s not my mother.   She’s a fighter.  But serious health setbacks at her age are a tough thing to fight.

My mom’s condition is forcing me to think about other people I’ve known with nonagenarian parents who don’t exactly live swimmingly until the day they die.  Year after year, they weaken -- sometimes dramatically, sometimes gradually, but ever so naturally.  It can be difficult to watch, but it is also compelling, for there is nothing like seeing a great old soul laugh or smile.  And if that great old soul happens to be your mother and you’re able to spend time helping her remember things or making her beam, you know that for that one moment in the universe, you are where you belong.

This is a time when the nation is thinking about health care policy, or at least it ought to be.  If you’re not spending at least a little time these days focusing on the topic, you need to question whether you belong in a democracy like America.    I won’t bore you with my ruminations on “The Bill” – either its substance or its process.   I will instead simply share with you my perspective on a single health care issue, a perspective born from the fact that I am the only child of a woman who has lived to the age of nearly 96 ... and counting ... and who has for the past few years required health care assistance from a facility.

Frequently, I hear people object to estate taxes as being a so-called “death tax” that inappropriately taxes the same income not once (during the years the income is generated) but twice (when the patriarch or matriarch dies).   According to those who decry the “death tax,” double-taxing an estate of $10 million, $100 million, $1,000 million or even $10,000 million is morally wrong and “unfair” to all families that generated such wealth.

Well, let me say that I am not so privileged to be worried personally about death taxes affecting estates that large.  However, nor am I so cursed to be worried personally about losing my entire inheritance to health care providers who are caring for my mother.  Fortunately, she retired with a government pension, which covers the cost of much of her care.  By contrast, most Americans with mothers who live as long as mine and require long term health care are not so fortunate.  After their health bills are paid, they inherit absolutely zero.  Not a penny.    And what does that do but penalize the patriarch or matriarch for taking care of their body and living too long.   Call it a “life tax” – one that is imposed on many, many more families than would ever pay an estate tax.

I believe that every American is entitled to health care.  And that every American matriarch or patriarch who lives to a ripe old age and has retained at least a modicum of net assets is entitled to the dignity of passing on some of that wealth to the next generation.   We shouldn’t impose a tax on a long life.  That would be far less humane than telling a billionaire that his children or grandchildren won’t have quite as many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to play with.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

On Visions of Extreme Ugliness and Extreme Beauty

Driving down I-95 in Northern Maryland this past Monday, I was reflecting on what had surely been one of the best weekends of my life.   It mostly consisted of partying and praying, but there was also a little 2 ½ hour ceremony during which my daughter Hannah and 13 of her classmates were ordained as rabbis.  It was the culmination of five years of post-graduate schooling and a whole lot of soul searching.  Believe me, I was proud of Hannah’s entire class.  It thrills me that these freshly minted Reconstructionist rabbis are being thrust into the world to reinvigorate Judaism and become a “light unto the nations. “ 

Driving my jalopy with “Spinoza” license plates, I was feeling my oats.  I had just passed the beautiful Susquehanna River and Cal Ripken’s baseball stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland and was looking forward to going to a retirement party for one of the jewels of the U.S. Department of Justice (and one of my beloved mentors), Joyce Branda.   Life was good.  So I asked my wife’s permission to indulge one of my guilty pleasures – listening to right-wing talk radio with her in the car.  To my surprise, she said yes.  

Strangely, though, we couldn’t find any suitable stations – at least not until we crossed the Baltimore Harbor.  That’s when we began to hear WMAL, the powerful DC station that has graced us with such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and, in this case, Chris Plante.  

My wife’s patience lasted all of five minutes.  During that time, Plante hurled just about every insult imaginable at Democrats and liberals.  You would have thought he was talking about cockroaches, except that Democrats and liberals are people, or at least I tell myself that we are.  That afternoon, I sounded less like a person than a laughing hyena.  That’s the only way I can cope with programs like Plante’s – by laughing hysterically at the sheer idiocy of his hate speech, speech directed at folks like me and everything I hold dear.  I feel compelled to listen to Plante because I need to know what America thinks, and Plante, Limbaugh, Levin and Company are the rabbis to roughly one third of this country.  

By Wednesday morning, I was back to the rhythm of a normal workweek as the highs of last weekend had begun to fade.   Listening to the morning news, I was shocked to learn about a different form of hate speech.  This time, the speaker communicated not with words but with bullets.  He opened fire on a group of Republican Congressmen and staffers who were targeted solely because of their political views.  It was reminiscent of the January 2011 attack in Tucson, except that this week’s shooting involved a so-called “progressive” hunting down conservatives.   Immediately, my fellow liberals tended to write off the shooting simply as the product of mental illness – a lone lunatic running amuck.   But for me, that excuse is overly glib.  We’re dealing now with an ever-deepening internal conflict in America that is reaching dangerous levels.  Not only are we seeing its outgrowth in politically-motivated homicides but also in terms of policies that reflect utter contempt for large swaths of Americans.  Think about it – how else can we explain why Senators are holding secret meetings to determine how to strip millions of Americans of healthcare insurance if they didn’t think their political base holds the uninsured (i.e., working class Americans) in complete disregard? 

Yesterday, the New York Times led with an article entitled “Partisan Relations Sink from Cold to Deep Freeze: Democrats and Republicans Have Lowest Regard of Each Other in Decades.”  The article featured a graph showing that Democrats’ attitudes about Republicans has largely paralleled Republicans’ attitudes about Democrats throughout the period from 1980 to the present.  The graph also showed that while those numbers had dropped gradually from 1980 to 2000, they’ve dropped precipitously ever since.   Less than a quarter of us now view the “other” favorably – down from 40 percent at the turn of the millennium.  Whoever coined the motto “e pluribus unum” is surely turning in his grave. 

After the terrible shooting in Alexandria, there has been talk of the need for unity.   I’m not feeling it though.  I think this nation is hopelessly polarized at the moment.  I see things getting worse before they get better.   But last weekend, I did see the antidote – on that stage in suburban Philadelphia, where the 14 graduates of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College Class of 5777 were assembled.   There, in that tiny class, I saw white people, black people, men, women, openly gay, openly straight, openly trans.   I saw the faces of love, not of hatred.  Of hope, not of fear.  Of anonymity, not of celebrity.  Of self-effacing service, not of grandstanding hubris.  Of singing and praying, not shouting and demeaning.

I had a vision in which humble, hard-working and committed people like the RRC Class of 5777 stopped deferring to the politicians and media personalities who have collectively driven our national car into the ditch.  In my vision, these young men and women would then take responsibility for identifying leaders from their own generation who wouldn’t suck up to the Chris Plantes or the Rush Limbaughs – or, for that matter, to the snide, liberal analogues who similarly spew hate from the other side of the aisle.   They will take to heart the Jewish precept that “lashon hara” -- speech that is disparaging, even if true – is truly evil and difficult to forgive.   They will, in short, teach my fellow Baby Boomers that it is time to back off and let a gentler, smarter and more humane generation lead us out of the wilderness.

As the Class of 5777 can tell you, our Biblical ancestors wandered in that wilderness for 40 years and never did enter the Promised Land.  Sadly, it has been nearly 40 years since 1980 – when we started turning our political rivals into true enemies.   My sense is that things are going to get worse before they get better.  But maybe, just maybe, in a few years, the spirit of the Class of 5777 will turn things around.  At least that’s my dream.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

One Sad Week


That’s how President Trump frequently ends his tweets.   And if this past week could be summarized in a tweet, we’d surely end it with that same word – thanks, in large part, to President Trump himself.   

Admittedly, my view of this week is colored by my personal life.  The family matriarch, who is now 95 years and 10 months old, suffered major blows to her health.   Every day after work, I’ve made a bee-line to either a hospital or a rehab facility and watched her fight to recover.   It’s inspiring to be the son of such a tough resilient woman.  But it’s also gut-wrenching to see a loved one labor to perform basic functions – like trying to sit up, stand up, and walk a few feet. 

One of the things I like to do with my mom is turn on the TV and watch the news.  The poor woman must be convinced that she’s totally losing it, because the reports have been truly unbelievable -- and not just impossible to believe, but incredibly sad. 

First, we had the sorry spectacle of Tiger Woods, an athlete I’ve supported passionately ever since he left Stanford and joined the PGA Tour.  Just last week, we read that his back surgery gave him “instant nerve relief” and saw him say that “I haven’t felt this good in years.”  But this past Monday, he was found asleep at the wheel, unable to walk a straight line, and slurring his speech.  He blamed it on a cocktail of pain killers and, indeed, the tests showed that he hadn’t had a drop of alcohol.  But it’s difficult to believe that he wasn’t bullshitting fans like me when he raved about how well he was feeling last week.  Once again, Tiger has proven himself to be someone you can never trust when he speaks to his fan base.  Leaving aside whatever mess he has made of his physical or psychological health, his consistent lack of honesty has been worthy of a politician.

The next spectacle to chronicle was provided to us by the boisterous, self-obsessed comedienne, Kathy Griffin.  Somehow, she decided it was funny to depict the President of the United States as a severed head covered with blood.  Funny?  No.  Juvenile, disgusting, contemptuous, and creepy?  Clearly.  Unlike Tiger Woods, who can aptly be called a golfing genius, Kathy Griffin lacks any discernable talent – other than the ability to self-promote.  Fortunately, it looks like Griffin’s 15 minutes are just about up.  Even for a comedienne, she crossed the line.  And if you don’t agree, just imagine what you would think of a conservative “comic” who turned the first black president, Barack Obama, into a severed, bloody head.  Griffen has stooped to a lower level than even the worst of Obama’s most racist critics.  And that, indeed, is sad.

True to her narcissism, Kathy Griffin isn’t leaving the scene easily.  She’s blaming other people for her self-inflicted wound.  According to Griffin, “there’s a bunch of old white guys trying to silence me and I’m just here to say that it’s wrong.”  Actually, what is “wrong” is when a person doesn’t have the class to say “I screwed up big time” and leave it at that.  That’s called taking responsibility.   It’s a lesson that Hillary Clinton could also use a little help in.  If Monday belonged to Tiger and Tuesday belonged to Griffin, Wednesday belonged to Hillary.  Speaking at Recode’s Code Conference in California, Clinton said that "I take responsibility for every decision I make -- but that's not why I lost" She then went on to say that “I'm now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party," Clinton said. "It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong. I had to inject money into it -- the DNC -- to keep it going."

Personally, I’m getting dizzy trying to figure out exactly who Hillary wants us to blame for her inability to defeat a reality TV star with a record-low approval rating.  I thought the fault belonged to Comey.  Or Russia.  Or the media. Now it’s the DNC.  She apparently believes that everyone is at fault other than the candidate who, in a change election, never explained what she felt compelled to change, and who was so cocky about winning the upper Midwest that she barely bothered to campaign there.

If Hillary’s latest outburst wasn’t sad enough, when CNN interviewed the chair of the DNC and invited him to respond to Hillary’s attacks, he repeatedly refused to do so.  Essentially, he gave the interviewer the old Washington Dodge -- something to the effect of, “I want to focus on the future, not look at the past.”  So, my friends, the new Democratic Party is going to look a lot like the old one – big on smiles, small on candor.  Kind of like a Tiger Woods press conference. 

And that brings me to Thursday.  That’s the day when President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Accords.  It’s also the day when Vice President Pence said, on Fox News, that “for some reason or another, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left in this country and around the world."

How can I respond to that?   Is this really just an issue for those on the “left”?   Well, perhaps it is.  After all, in 2012, in his Democratic National Convention speech, President Obama devoted only about 20 seconds to the issue. Lord knows that the media hasn’t seemed to be terribly interested in climate change.  It isn’t nearly as sexy as topics such as terrorism, police killings or plane crashes.  But let’s not kid ourselves – according to people with PhDs, climate change is easily the gravest source of danger on planet Earth, and I’m not just talking about environmental dangers.  What this country did on Thursday isn’t just sad – it’s devastating.  And now it’s time for those of us on the “left” -- and the center -- to figure out a way to make the powers-that-be care about this issue once and for all.  We owe it to Mother Nature, to our children, and to our own legacies.

So, my friends, this has been one depressing week.  But things had better get better, and I mean quickly.  Next week, the Empathic Rationalist will be on vacation as I head up to Philadelphia for my older daughter Hannah’s rabbinical ordination.  None of this, even my beloved mother’s health setback, can get in my way of enjoying Hannah’s incredible accomplishment.  So ... I pray that this week, happy stories will replace the sad stories of this last week.  Maybe we’ll see some amazing feats of athleticism in the French Open or in the NBA Finals.  Maybe we’ll see a politician or Hollywood star actually assume some responsibility, rather than blaming others or dodging questions.  Or maybe we’ll just see a slow news week during which we can relax and re-charge our batteries.  Come to think of it, that wouldn’t be so bad.  In fact, after this past week, anything would be an improvement.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflections on the Meaning of Progressivism

In this week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the show’s host debated with Cornell West, the public intellectual and social activist.   Maher criticized West for creating a dangerous false equivalency between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which essentially encouraged progressive Americans either to vote for a third-party candidate or no candidate at all.  In the end, Maher claimed, lefties like West are responsible for the election of Donald J. Trump.   West, by contrast, indicated that while he always preferred candidate Clinton to candidate Trump, that doesn’t mean he should find her acceptable.  According to West, a progressive is obliged to speak out against Democratic candidates as long as they remain agents of the status quo, rather than finding solace in the fact that these individuals are less right-wing than their Republican rivals.

Score one for West.   If you are a progressive, you need to fight for the party you want, rather than settle for the so-called “lesser of two evils.”  You need to fight for authenticity.  You can’t satisfy yourself with limousine liberalism.  The Democratic party, West would contend, will continue to lose as long as its sole theme is “They’re Crazy and Evil. So Vote for Us.”  Democrats need to stand for, rather than against, something; and that “something” had better include a significant measure of change.  Hillary’s campaign did not clearly enunciate what significant transformation it was looking to make, and that – more than any other reason – is why she is not president today.

Allow me to channel West in a different context by moving forward in time by 48 hours – from Friday, when Maher’s show was taped and aired, to today.  Here we are on the verge of the first momentous foreign policy speech of Trump’s presidency.  He is in Saudi Arabia and is expected to talk about how America respects and honors Islam and hopes to work seamlessly with the Saudis and other Muslim regimes.  Yet surely, nanoseconds after he walks off the stage, mainstream liberal Americans, the ones who praised Hillary throughout her campaign, will return to their regularly-scheduled us-versus-them mockery.    Trump, they will claim, has shown himself to be a typical politician – saying one thing (bashing Islam) in front of his base, and the diametrically opposite thing (praising Islam) when traveling abroad.  Within hours, if not minutes, we’ll be watching montages of Trump’s greatest hits on the subject, showing a Muslim-bashing statement one moment followed by a Muslim-praising statement the next.   Here in Blue America, everyone will be in good spirits laughing at this Zelig of a President.   And, of course, the undercurrent of all this mockery will be a single theme: that Trump was elected by a group of stupid bigots who despise Islam as much as they love Trump, and who will rationalize today’s speech as an example of a shrewd businessman and statesperson sweet-talking his enemies into making the concessions that advance his blessed America-first agenda.

Like West, I am not here to defend what Trump has said about Muslims in the past.  Nor am I here to defend his base.  It consistently refuses to hold the President accountable for his words.  And let’s face it – that base is ridden with Islamophobia.   But the question is, for those of us who feel differently about Islamophobia – who wish to eradicate it as a scourge – is it enough simply to bash the Republican base and the politicians who cater to them?  Or do we have an affirmative obligation to embrace Islam and those who practice it?  In other words, is it appropriate to sit on our couches and mock candidate Trump for demagoguing on the issue or do we need to stick our necks out and publicize to our family and friends what is uniquely beautiful about Islam?  

I don’t always agree with Cornell West.  On the subject of Israel, for example, I would surely find myself to be far more on the Zionistic side of the spectrum.  But what I appreciate most about West is that he is an activist who fights FOR the social transformation he believes in, rather than simply fighting AGAINST the politicians he dislikes.  West has a vision of reform and he is looking to join with other change agents, rather than simply to join in mockery of those who would reform the world in the wrong direction.

On the issue of how the West must deal with Islam, I’ll be blunt: it isn’t enough to condemn Islam-inspired violence (which we must condemn) or to attack the scourge of Islamaphobia.  We must work together with our Muslim cousins on social causes and in fellowship activities.  Plus, we must dialogue with our Muslim cousins, exploring the many profound similarities among our respective faiths and cultures, and embracing the many profound differences among these faiths and cultures.  We must discern what makes Islam special – not just a tributary off the great “Judeo-Christian” river, but a faith that builds masterfully on its Jewish and Christian antecedents.  And we must study the challenges that Islamic extremism presents to the world – challenges that are in some respects far more stark and scary than the challenges we’re now experiencing from Jewish and Christian extremists.

Late in 2016, I helped to spearhead a new initiative in the Washington DC area that is known as JAM-AT:  Jews and Muslims Acting Together. Members of JAM-AT will be meeting this afternoon at a home in McLean Virginia with one goal in mind: to take Muslim-Jewish engagement in the greater Washington DC area to the next level.  

In contemplating today’s meeting, I have pictured Cornell West and Bill Maher attending such an event.   West, though a Christian, would fit in wonderfully.  He has great respect for both Judaism and Islam.    He would be what we in Muslim-Jewish circles refer to as an “Ally.”  And indeed, in the last JAM-AT meeting, everyone who was neither Jewish nor Muslim was asked to stand up so that we can applaud our “Allies” – who are invariably among the most righteous in the room.  

As for Maher, when I imagine him at a JAM-AT event, all I can envision is his discomfort and cynicism.  Most likely, he would view the rest of us as a bunch of stupid religious people, clinging to our primitive superstitions (or, in the case of Spinozist Jews like me, to our contorted rationalizations for embracing organized religion).  Maher has saved some of his meanest mockery for Islam.  He of all people can ill-afford to get on his high-horse and criticize President Trump for Islamophobia.
When I look at a Cornell West, for all our disagreements, I find a fellow traveler.   He loved Heschel as much as he loved King.  Indeed, he is a dreamer far more than he is a hater.    I’ll grant you that his rhetoric against mainstream politicians can be hyperbolic, but that is the way prophetically inspired progressives often speak.  At least I know that what he stands for is more important to him than what he stands against, and what he stands for above all else is universal human dignity.

If you find yourself inspired more by a Cornell West than a Bill Maher, then do me a favor.   Find a mosque in your area, pick a night when it is holding an Iftar that is open to the interfaith community, and break pita bread with them.  Next weekend, you see, is the start of Ramadan.  The Muslim community will be fasting from sun up until sun down throughout the month.  You don’t have to fast – just come one night and honor your hosts with your presence.  Come with an open mind, an open heart, and an empty stomach.  You will likely encounter some of the kindest, most generous people you’ll ever meet.  And if the alternative is to turn on cable TV and watch comedians pull out montages that mock Islamophobic politicians ... trust me, experiencing an Iftar is far better for your soul. 

[Note – The Empathic Rationalist will be on holiday during Memorial Day Weekend and will return on the first weekend of June.]

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mid-Term Grades for American Democracy

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Six years ago, I quoted the above passage in this blog.  I cannot quote it enough.   Ironically, for all its wisdom, it contains one of the most patently false statements in the history of oratory, the clause that “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”  Thankfully, the world has indeed noted what Lincoln said in Gettysburg in 1863; his entire Address has become immortalized, and for good reason.  Few can forget that it began with the words “Four score and seven years ago.”  But perhaps the Address’ most lasting portion is its ending – a plea that “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people [] shall not perish from the earth.”

I keep finding myself reflecting on those words.  As both a small “d” democrat and a small “r” republican, I feel that Lincoln was setting the standard by which a country’s governance should be judged.  Sometimes, I even envision him as one of my professors.  Lincoln is looking at me and all other future American citizens and proclaiming that we’ll be “graded” based on the extent to which our government truly measures up to the standard he has set – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  It then becomes our job as students/citizens to assess our success level and actively work to ensure that failure is no longer tolerated.

I don’t know about you, but right now, I’d give us a failing grade.  And part of the problem is that while we may well remember the words Lincoln used, we seem to have forgotten what they mean and why they must be respected.

Let’s begin by analyzing the “of the people, by the people, for the people” formulation.  The first of these three phrases refers to the source of governmental power.   It was explained well by John Marshall in his famous Supreme Court opinion, McCulloch v. Maryland: “The government of the Union [...] is, emphatically and truly, a government of the people. In form, and in substance, it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit."

To further illustrate his point, Marshall could have pointed to the introduction to the Preamble to the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”   “We the people” are thus the source of our government’s power – not a work of Scripture nor a set of sovereign states, and certainly not a kingdom across the ocean, but “we the people.”   In this regard at least, I’d say that the American democracy is alive and well, for we haven’t seemed to have forgotten that the source of our government’s power resides in the citizenry.

Next, if you would allow me, I’d like to skip ahead for a moment to the third prong of Lincoln’s formulation, the idea that our government is “for the people.”  Now, we’re not talking about the source of governmental power but its beneficiary.  I hardly need to cite 17th or 18th century documents to explain this concept.  Indeed, every politician in Washington invariably claims that she acts for the betterment of “the people.”   Whether it’s the people of her district, state or nation, it’s always “the people” for whom she selflessly works.   Allegedly.

But do you really believe that’s true?  Do you really believe our politicians are consistently putting “the people” over their own party or their personal re-election chances?  Just look at the way they handle government scandals.  Whenever their party is in power, they become mum; by contrast, if the other party is in power, they become publicly outraged.  Is that what “the people” would want?   Or how about those times when Congress considers an extremely popular bill that everyone knows is going to fail because the lobbyists won’t let it succeed?  Consider, for example, gun-control legislation that is favored by 80-90 percent of “the people” but opposed by the highly-organized gun lobby.   Why do you think those measures fail?  Is it because our politicians believe that they are voting in the best interests of the (ignorant) public, or because they are taking care of their own hides?  To ask the question is to answer it.

I’ve saved for last the second item in Lincoln’s formulation: “by the people.”  Now, we’re not talking about the source or the beneficiary of government power but rather the agent of such power.   Who is doing the actual work of exercising political power?  A limited number of social or economic classes?  Or ALL the people?  My sense is that when it comes time to assigning grades, Professor Lincoln will place a special emphasis in this domain.  Why?  Because it is precisely by broadening political participation among all the people that we can best guarantee that our government will operate for the people in actuality, and not just in lip service. 

Fortunately, when it comes to grading us on our political participation, Prof. Lincoln would have actual facts and figures available to judge us.  And what he’d find is that we seem to be failing miserably.   Roughly nine of every 20 eligible Americans choose not to vote in presidential elections.  In mid-term elections, little more than one in three eligible Americans vote.  So even though we included the right to vote in the Constitution and amended that document four different times to extend that right, only a small portion of this country seems to feel strongly about exercising it.   If that’s not an F-U to Lincoln, I don’t know what is.

But don’t just blame the problem on “we the people.”  “They the Government” aren’t exactly encouraging the people to vote, now are they?  Recall that last Sunday the voters in France went to the polls.   Here in America, we vote on Tuesdays, and we don’t even get a day off from work.  It’s as if the powers-that-be are saying that “voting is a privilege, and we expect people to go out of their way to prove that they’re worthy of it.”   The result is anything but a government “by [all] the people.”  It’s a government by that portion of the people who tend to be relatively well-educated and well-heeled.  It’s not what Lincoln had in mind.

Personally, I think that there is no set of duties more sacred than those of citizenship.  Those duties include voting, but that’s just the beginning.  A citizen’s duties also include marching, canvassing, debate watching, poll watching, you name it.   Plus, they include taking stock in those societal forces that undermine civic interest and working to confront those forces.  I’d suggest that we all begin by focusing squarely and passionately on our woefully inadequate level of voting participation.  This needs to be addressed by our schools, our media, our government, and yes, by concerned private citizens like you and me.  And until this issue is addressed, we have to stop talking like we live in a functioning democracy or that “the majority” voted for this politician or that one. 

Somewhere up there, Professor Abe is waiting to grade us on how we respond to this voter-participation crisis.  And believe me, even for someone as kind as Honest Abe, 36 percent (the percentage of eligible voters who turned out for the 2014 mid-terms) merits an F.