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Inside Politics: In this year of 2017 be it resolved

After the clocks count down their final leap second. After the neon globes descend skyscrapers to the adulation of street revelers. After the confetti, tinsel and streamers flutter their maiden and final flight. After the booze is guzzled, the bands pack up, street barricades come down and the armies of mechanical and human street sweepers have swept their sweepings. After all of that, the most tedious ritual necessary to validate the New Year remains.

It’s a loosely choreographed mental ritual. It can flash upon one’s consciousness like lightning or creep into our awareness like the well-ripened contents of a torn garbage bag oozing up through a hole in a shoe.

I refer, of course, to our annual adoption of remedial New Year’s resolutions.

Let’s be honest. These resolutions generally tend to be somewhat penitential. They arise from misbehaviors or the agony of defeat, not the thrill of victory. They are spawned in the previous year’s orgiastic consort of all our personal and societal demons — hubris, sloth, dishonesty, cowardice, blindness, denial, arrogance, ignorance, disrespect, greed, parsimony, lust, gluttony, narcissism, hate, prejudice, envy, anger, carelessness, mendacity, implacability, disengenuity, etc.

Thankfully, for most individuals, and for society at large, these faults are rarely if ever all present simultaneously. And seldom are any of them manifest to alarming extremes. Most resolutions are light-hearted, self-deprecatory nudges toward healthier behavior. Even when we formulate resolutions via more thoughtful introspection, we rarely see them as buttresses against genuinely dangerous behaviors or attitudes.


Politics locally, in Idaho, America and internationally have steadily become more strained, polarized and uncivil in my lifetime. Literally thousands of conversations in the past couple of decades have convinced me that’s a very common perception, at least using the post-World War II era as a benchmark. Sadly, most of the discussions I’ve listened to, participated in or read have devolved into pity parties, blame orgies, snark contests or stump speeches provoking greater division and rancor, rather than seeking true unanimity, understanding, cooperation, compromise, collaboration, accommodation or resolution.

America has had its grand and inglorious experiment with my-way-or-the-highway thinking. Dr. J. David Hacker’s recent historical research puts the estimated death toll of America’s War Between the States at over 750,000. Another 476,000 or more were wounded. Many tens of thousands went permanently missing and unaccounted for. Proportional to today’s population that would be about 12 million killed and wounded. Then there is the incalculable toll of economic loss and unfulfilled technological, intellectual, artistic, social and geopolitical potential that might have been achieved had the country’s differences been resolved civilly and humanely. Differences resolved rather than catalyzing a catastrophic squandering of human life and national prospects.

To the best of my knowledge no one has yet developed a DNA test for courage, love, generosity, wealth, foresight, sincerity, innovation, heroism, compassion, patriotism or party affiliation. Thus the blood, sweat and tears of all those that have lived, worked, fought and even literally slaved to make America the great nation it is today are indistinguishable. They all represent an immeasurable font of contributions and sacrifice that has pooled over the course of history to bathe us in security, prosperity, liberty and an unlimited and uncharted future that only we, the living beneficiaries of those gifts can fashion.

The acrimony of the 2016 election reached a scale I would have thought impossible in the United States of America if I hadn’t lived through it. I believe in factual, reality-based, and, if appropriate, even blunt but civil political discourse. And frankly I’ve come to recognize that many politicians are far less sensitive to the niceties of social discourse than most of their audiences. They are politicians because they have a talent for getting us all to respond to what they say, propose, do, and/or oppose doing. Ideally we respond intellectually first and foremost. Realistically we respond most fervently at an emotional level if the message is even remotely in line with our intellectual beliefs, convictions or instincts.

Regardless of how politicians connect with us, however, we as individuals, families, citizens, communities, the public, society at large, including our children and grandchildren will be the ones most affected by whatever our politicians ultimately do for us or to us. When the outcomes of the politics finally materialize in our workplaces, wallets, homes, environment, food, water, hospital rooms, or battlefields the vast majority of us will all be in it together for better or worse. In many cases the effects will be irreversible in our lifetimes and possibly our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes. And by the time we even realize what those outcomes are, we may have long forgotten what kinds of labels were attached to whom or what brought the outcomes about.

So, where am I going with all this?

In this winter of our discontent (or glee, if that is your current disposition) I am encouraging everyone, Democrats, Republicans, minor parties, independents, and politically estranged to make one resolution.

Be it resolved: that we listen to one another with open minds and hearts; that we hear each other out and be aware of when our emotions are engaged to the point they overshadow our intellects; that we remember America is the world’s greatest monument to cooperation and unified achievement in history; and that when public discourse reverberates with chants of “my-way-or-the-highway” that we all pause for another look at the map and find a road we can all take together to a destination we will all be willing to reach.


Letter: Alleged drunken driver blames state for election night boozing

As I look towards a new year and my upcoming court case, first DUI, misdemeanor, which states: State of Idaho, Plaintiff v. Barry Bruce Barton, Defendant Apprehended election night, Tue. Nov. 8, well, I think that usual denial thing: It was really the state of Idaho that bought my first drink!

Here's why:

Originally Idaho had a no-alcohol sales policy on election day. Then a while back they repealed the law allowing sales. I would bet polling numbers dropped and the "elected bunch club" stays mostly unopposed. Helping them keep on doing the same old social, secure job.

Well I got excited about this election! Because it was different, I became a campaigner! I had not voted in the last six elections. Two because of a felony relating to a marital misunderstanding, three because of the same old promises and rhetoric (they actually teach a class in that).

I watched the election unfold and went out for some buffalo hot wings to go, Tuesday night special, got caught up in the monitors — they were not too busy. I had one beer then another, etc. It got down to the last card, Idaho v. Nevada. At that point the manager folded the deck and cut me off. But he didn't offer to call me a cab, which I would have gratefully accepted! So in the words of one candidate: You're fired!

I wish I knew which counties voted to repeal the first original law? Maybe I can cross examine my accuser, Idaho?

Does this make me a political prisoner? 

Barry B. Barton

Twin Falls

Other View: If Republicans play winner-takes-all, everyone will lose

This appeared in Wednesday’s Washington Post:

For the most part, Tuesday’s opening session of the 115th Congress was about pomp and circumstance. Still, the prepared speeches and swearing-in ceremonies reminded everyone that—for all the ferment over an impending Donald Trump presidency—there is also a legislative branch of government in the United States.

Republicans control the Senate and the House as well as the presidency and are all but salivating over the power to enact dramatic changes to the course President Barack Obama charted during the past eight years. But some wiser GOP leaders are at least questioning whether exploiting their majority to maximum effect would be good for the country or, for that matter, the party.

Of course, on the merits we oppose some GOP plans, such as repealing Obamacare and replacing it with—what? It could take months of grueling legislative combat to answer that question; but we fear it could involve curtailment of the Medicaid expansion that accounted for most of Obamacare’s improvement in overall insurance coverage. The Republicans also have the votes to populate federal agencies and the Supreme Court with Trump’s picks, many of whom already strike us as doubtfully suited to their new positions.

Still, there’s no denying that the Republicans won in November and that they therefore have the right to enact as much of their agenda as they lawfully can. In his first speech as Senate minority leader, Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., gamely promised to exercise vigilance over Trump and to “resist” him when Democrats believe he has veered into extremism. Yet even with the power to filibuster ordinary legislation and Supreme Court picks, the minority party has limits to how much defense it can productively play. In some instances, Schumer may do better by standing aside and letting Republicans fight among themselves. Unexpected victory has helped the party sublimate its factional quarrels and the misgivings many still have about Trump, but those are bound to flare up again.

Republicans have an opportunity for a more positive form of self-restraint, however. GOP Senate leaders have pointedly reminded Democrats of how Obama’s party exploited its temporary control over Congress and the White House to enact his agenda in 2009, noting that voters have been electing Republicans to undo it ever since. That history could just as well be construed as a reason for Republicans not to commit the same mistake in the opposite direction.

They’d certainly be smart to view it that way. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the author of the resistance strategy that helped the GOP thwart many of Obama’s plans; it would be naive to take his calls for comity and institutional stability at face value now. Since the election, however, McConnell has stood out among Republicans for his warnings against overreach.

“It’s certainly no time for hubris, because all majorities are never permanent,” he said on a Kentucky television program last month.

Discussing the 2017 Senate agenda, he has played down more polarizing issues such as immigration in favor of potentially bipartisan ones such as tax and regulatory reform. If the GOP Congress is willing to proceed with caution, Democrats should be willing to respond in good faith.