Sunday, March 21, 2010

An open letter to Congressman Leonard Lance

Dear Congressman Lance:

I am a 19-year-old resident of Westfield, New Jersey. I graduated from Westfield High School last year, with a 4.0 unweighted GPA; I am currently attending the University of Chicago. Despite this, Westfield is still my home. I have never voted in an election before; 2010 is likely to be my first, if I choose to vote. But, to be honest, I need to be convinced.

Let us be frank. You, the Congressman, will probably not read this message. Instead, an aid will probably read it; even for him or her, its enclosed message will probably be ignored. It may not even be read at all. To be more honest still, I am a registered Democrat, and one who is furthermore very steadfast in his beliefs. We do not see eye-to-eye on many things. This email, belated as it may be, is about one of them.

If you hadn’t realized yet, this email is about Healthcare Reform. I have read your recent Op-Ed piece on the subject. My opinions are, not unexpectedly, quite different from your own; if it were up to me, this country would have a single-payer system. But it is not up to me. It is partially up to you. And so you and I must deal with the proposed bill at hand, one with many merits, but as you have aptly pointed out, many flaws. Some are excusable – the enormous price tag you cite, for example, is mitigated by the CBO estimates showing that the bill will reduce deficits over time. Some are less excusable, like the handout to Nebraska. Overall, though, I find myself in support of the bill. My true reason is very personal: my older brother is graduating from college in May. He will lose his health care, and will not, for many years, be able to afford it. And I am worried for him.

Let me acknowledge something further still. I have a tremendous amount of faith in democracy, unfounded though that belief may be. At my school, over the past months, a tremendous amount of energy has been devoted to debunking the idea behind democracy: from Plato’s Republic, which suggests society is in need of Philosopher Kings, those select few who are apt to govern, and even some of the writings of the founding fathers of this nation, frightened as they were of the common mob, we have been shown not to trust. We have learned, in our ivory tower, why the people are unfit to govern themselves, and the lesson has been taught well.

But all evidence to the contrary, I still believe. We are not unreasonable men, here. I still maintain that not only is it the right of the people to govern, but also that it is their God-given duty, and that democracy is one of the greatest goods the world has ever produced. I endeavor to believe, against the mounting evidence, that there are honorable and reasonable men and women in government, people who put the good of the nation before their own ideologies and careers.

And here is one last confession: I believe that you are one of those men. You are committed to reducing the deficit, and trying to ease the pain of the recession on all of us. You have proven yourself to be not fully orthodox, by yours stands on environmental issues. But you seem unwilling, despite this, to vote for this bill, despite the fact that it seems to support everything you purport to stand for, especially reducing the national debt. And while the Democrats have been less than loving to Congressional Republicans, your ideas, like the idea of pooling small business, have not gone unheard. In many ways, this is a more conservative bill than a liberal one; there is no single-payer system proposed, and long gone, as well, is the public option. This is for neither of us, our favorite bill, but it should be acceptable enough for us both. I am not deceiving myself in saying so; neither should you. It should be.

And so that brings us to our final point: if this fails, and especially if you vote against it, there will be one more piece of evidence, for my professors, for the ivory tower, who think that I am wrong.

I do not want to be wrong about this. I do not want my brother to get sick, and be crippled with debt for the rest of his life. I do not want to forgo my belief in democracy. I want to believe that reasonable men, like you and I, can come together and find solutions, solutions that perhaps do not make either of us joyous, but solutions that at least come close to solving our monumental problems.

And so that is the case. That is how it is. Show me that this can work. Show me, that in November, I should fill out my ballot, and do so with pride.


Joshua Simon Schwartz

University of Chicago, Class of 2013

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The What, The Why, and the Ugly.

George Orwell once wrote an essay called Politics and the English Language. It's an interesting essay, about the use of language to distort and hide meaning. Orwell focuses mostly on politicians and professed experts, though the idea can easily be more broadly applied. The point, really, is this: that people have a really unfortunate tendency to be deceivingly hesitant, in life and politics. And that's bad, for our language and political dialogue, alike.

So let's be direct, for once. This is a blog about those two things: politics and life. If you're not interested in either, maybe you shouldn't read it. On the other hand, if you're not, maybe this isn't such a bad place to start reading. I'm going to try to write for everyone who wants to read, from the most basic level, upwards.

This blog is named after the Athenian figure Themistocles, who many of you probably remember from academic texts of years past. If not, I'll refresh your memory: Themistocles was an Athenian general and politician during the Persian Wars. His chief contribution to the war effort, and maybe all of Western civilization, was to encourage the embattled Athenians to fortify their navy. This move eventually led to the Persian defeat at Salamis, and the triumph of Athens.

I chose Themistocles not because I'm a proponent of naval expansion, or a professor of military strategy. I chose him because of his foresight. That's, essentially, what I hope to accomplish in this blog - not in the future-seeing sense, but instead, by seeing beyond the fog of daily life, be it the cacophony of tabloid political news or the latest fad. I don't think I know everything, but I'm going to try to be measured in my analysis; I'd like to try to put events in their context, not in their individual moment.

Orwell ends his essay with six rules on how to write with clarity and purpose; here are the first five:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

These, I swear to uphold, as much as possible. The sixth rule is more interesting:

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I do not promise to uphold this rule. This is probably on account of my own arrogance; I'm assuming, if you're reading, that you want to know what I have to say, barbarous or not. I will attempt to be polite, but not to the point of concealment. This has gotten me into trouble before, and it will likely do so again.

Interestingly enough, Themistocles was also known for his arrogance. Eventually, it wound up getting him exiled from the very city that he saved. I would ask that you give me more time than that, and if, in fact, you choose to exile me from your browser, I'm sorry, but at least I know that I've done what's right by me, and you likewise.