What’s missing in Washington? Well it’s not rent seekers. There’s no scarcity, no limit to the number of those who are asking and receiving favors from our politicians.
What’s missing in Washington? Well I would say that it’s truth tellers. In Washington it does seem to be that no one is telling the truth.
Certainly among our politicians themselves, there’s no one. And certainly no one of the tens of thousands of hangers-on and lobbyists is telling the truth. Perhaps among the press corps?
We might on occasion attribute bits of truth to one or more of them, Robert Samuelson, George Will, for example, but here my “truth tellers” would probably not be yours.
Now jump with me to the world of Shakespeare’s plays. And imagine this world without its truth tellers, a world where the actions of the powerful kings and princes are never seriously questioned or contradicted, where the powerful are all powerful. This of course is not Shakespeare’s world. But it is the world of Washington.
Shakespeare’s world has its truth tellers, be they clowns, little people, common soldiers, lunatics, or fools, a Lear or other King with a Fool alongside, a Kent or Cordelia, an Antony with an Enobarbus, a Mistress Overdone or Pompey in Measure for Measure, in other words, an endless array of truth telling characters who prevent the all powerful kings and princes, the lords and ladies, the high and mighty, from being taken too seriously, either by themselves, or by the reader.
Well, Washington has nothing of this. In Washington the mighty and powerful simply take themselves very seriously, and worse are taken seriously by others, are all puffed up with their own importance.
Who in Washington is ever heard saying in the presence of the President, or Senate or House leader, as the Fool when speaking to Lear, that “Truth’s a dog that must to kennel?” Or, as Enobarbus when speaking to Antony, “That Truth should be silent I had almost forgot?”
Now the Washington politicians, including the President himself and the president’s men, are men themselves and consequently by their nature possess their own versions of the truth. But whatever these are, whatever they may believe and believe it the truth, we never hear it directly from them. What we hear is by and large what they think we want to hear, or what is the same thing, what they think will get them re-elected.
Too bad that there can’t be the truth telling “fools” in Washington as in Shakespeare. Too bad there can’t be those that would speak out when their betters are silent, those that would tell the truth about what’s really happening.
And there are many truths that these Washington “fools” could tell. Truths that are never said by our elected representatives. Here are just a few of them, and perhaps by speaking out now I’ll play the part of the fool myself.
Take Thomas Jefferson’s words, those about all men being created equal. The truth is that we are not equal, and if we would really do something about the various inequalities among us we would do well to start from this fact. There’s probably no chance of changing anything for the better if we go on ignoring it. The “inequalities” will only get worse.
Take Immigration, that word calling to mind the millions of the now mostly Mexicans along with other Latinos from Central and South America, many of whom are either here already, or continue to come here, illegally. The truth is that we, all of us, and all our forbears of the past 2 or 3 hundred years, were at one time or another either undocumented or illegal immigrants ourselves.
And the truth is that these people, the millions who came here in waves in the past, are not too different from the Mexicans who are coming here today, they came here looking for better lives for themselves and their families, and have made this country what it is today, that meaning for many of us, that they have made this country great.
And we want to stop this from happening, we want to put up a fence? Where is the “fool” who could tell this truth to our politicians that they listen?
Take education, and all that is being said of the failure of our public schools, and the need for reform, for national standards, for more testing, for holding teachers accountable, and all the rest. Here the truth is that schools don’t and never have worked. Schools have almost never helped kids to realize their own individual potentials, to grow into what they could be.
How could they? Twenty five kids or more, all of the same age, together in a classroom with a single adult teacher for some 40 to 45 minutes, a situation repeated hour after hour, day after day, year after year, until the kids turn 18 and can leave school, get a job, vote, serve in the armed forces, whatever, until they themselves can be a part of the real world that school has kept from them for so long and without good reason.
Actually there have been “fools” who have said this, but probably not in Washington, and not within the hearing, or more important, the understanding of our politicians. Fools who have said that learning is not something, anymore than drink, that can be imposed on someone from without. Knowledge of languages, of mathematics, actually knowledge of anything does not come from being in a classroom, even from being a good listener, from being obedient, from doing what one is told to do.
Real knowledge of these things, of anything, is always the result of individual effort and probably most often an individual and private, rather than team or communal effort. For without that effort, without being motivated, interested, and most of all without hard work, new skills and greater knowledge will not come.
That is why so many who spend their youth in school classrooms can show so little knowledge and understanding of the subject matters that they have been supposedly “taught” during all this time. By and large they never made that private, individual effort.
While this truth is not being said in Washington, at least within the hearing of the President and his education advisors, it has been said, and in my own experience, over and over again. Why hasn’t it been heard? Why didn’t someone tell George Bush and Ted Kennedy, when they fashioned the No Child Left Behind Act, that this reform, no more than an interminable succession of earlier school reforms, wouldn’t change anything at all?
Why weren’t the Senator and the President told that school itself was what was wrong. But only the “fool,” because he is kept out of sight and mind and not listened to, could have said that.
Finally, take health care. My last example of truths that are not being told. Put simply the cost of health care, at least of all the care that is currently available at some price to alleviate ill health and sickness, especially during old age, is just more than the country can afford.
And the cost is probably much greater than any amount of new taxation of the rich and even the upper middle class could meet. We have to do with less, and that’s a truth that no one wants to hear. In Shakespeare’s world that truth would be told. In ours it’s not.
That’s one truth about health care. There are others. Here’s one that relates to what we were saying about education. Just as learning only comes about through individual effort, motivation and interest, so good health probably only results from the same. Schools and hospitals are only sterile venues. Compared to what the individual can do for himself they contribute little to that person’s acquisition of knowledge or good health.
The truth is that we have come to rely too much of on being governed, being educated, being brought to good health, and not enough on ourselves. If there were more tellers of this truth in our world, as there were in Shakespeare’s plays, forcing the high and mighty of his dramas to look deeper and question themselves, perhaps we might look more closely at ourselves and begin to find solutions to some of the problems that we face, all of which now seem beyond our reach, especially beyond the reach of our politicians in Washington.