As 2021 began, we found ourselves still grappling with a global pandemic, political division, and the psychological toll of riots on the Capitol. And then, my wife, a public school teacher, even in this time of remote learning, had a snow day. Two in fact.
Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t good in this world.
That being said, while I truly believe snow days are one of childhood’s great rites of passage, I must admit I don’t love snow. It’s pretty for about 12 hours before the shoveling and slush make you wish you had a Space Laser to get rid of it all. Notice how I didn’t say “Jewish Space Laser”, a thing a genuine member of Congress actually thinks is real. I’m staying nondenominational because while I am Jewish, I was raised in a progressive home where my parents never pressured me to only settle down with Jewish Space Lasers.
In any event, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who calmed some unwanted attention this week by taking the controversial position that, yes, 9/11 is a thing that actually happened, has blamed California wildfires on Jewish Space Lasers. As a Jewish person, this led me to the simultaneous reactions of, “…Huh?” and, “How come Rabbi Gershon never told me about those things?”
As Lyndon Johnson might have said, “What the hell is a Bar Mitzvah for?”
In truth, the closest thing to a Jewish Space Laser I’ve ever encountered is the character Lazar Wolf from Fiddler on the Roof, and I doubt he could start fires from space, because if he could, Anatevka might not have been so unpleasant in the winter. He also probably would have ended up with Tzeitel.
But even if I didn’t learn about ethnically-unique space lasers while reading from the Torah two decades ago – and remain skeptical of their existence – I’m sticking with that whole “good in the world” business. And why? Well, after a tumultuous start to the year and much angst surrounding the transfer of power, life and government have been…. fine?
Yes, the pandemic continues to frame our lives and body politic in a dire, unpleasant way, but we now know there is light at the end of that tunnel. Yes, Greene’s removal from her committee posts is perhaps underrated in its historic significance. But unless you’re a politics dork like I am — and even in that case, maybe still — the news out of Washington has been, well, sort of procedural and boring. And I’m cool with that.
At one point last week I saw Joe Biden delivering a press conference, and I paused for a second and thought, “Oh, right. He’s the President now.” We are less than a month into his term, but most of that time has been dominated by humdrum policy discussions on Covid relief and reconciliation, with wonkish minutiae that could put an overstimulated toddler to sleep. Gone are the urgent push notifications of what totally insane, typo-riddled claim the President made this morning. After four years of adapting to that steady stream of alarmism, the calm is almost destabilizing, as if we’re all slowly emerging from Stockholm Syndrome.
Just to be clear, this is a good thing. Presidencies aren’t supposed to be interesting to the average person. Yes, the President will impact your life through executive orders or his or her negotiations with congresspeople. You probably should have at least a passing awareness of how. You may not always like the choices the Commander-in-Chief makes. But you also shouldn’t have to be notified that the President might endanger national security by courting international campaign support. You shouldn’t harbor concerns that he might access the nuclear football in a rage when someone mocks his hair.
An entertainingly eventful presidency is not a boon to your life. A boringly eventful presidency, on the other hand, could be great for you.
Instead of outrage fuel, most news coverage has revolved around the finer points of crafting a significant Covid stimulus bill. There has been conspicuously little grandstanding from either side, and while there is opposition to the nearly $2-trillion price tag, the Republican strategy has been to prepare an alternative bill for consideration rather than throwing verbal molotov cocktails on C-SPAN. The response from the Biden administration? The President essentially said, “Come on over! Let’s talk about it!” And the Republicans? They said, “Sure!”
Is Biden going to take any ideas from this team of Republican senators? Well, uh, probably not. But the meeting still signals a willingness to hear contrary ideas and to talk with one another as we pursue solutions to our pressing problems. Those discussions won’t always be pleasant or agreeable, but they should happen. This is how partisan freeze begins to thaw.
This is how government is supposed to work.
Consequential bills don’t always need to pass with bipartisan support for us to feel good about them, but if you take time to listen to the other side you might find some of their ideas aren’t so bad. Republican Senator Mitt Romney wants to implement a generous social welfare initiative that could end child poverty? Great! Let’s talk about it. Maybe our political philosophies have more overlapping shades of gray than we think.
Start debating these ideas on the House and Senate floor and we might get more dull proceedings like the Vote-A-Rama, which is basically the equivalent of an all-night rave if instead of music and booze you talked about small business tax credits. If your eyelids are getting droopy, that’s the idea, but the things making your eyelids droopy might also make your optometry bills more affordable.
So far, no matter how much certain outlets attempted to make Burisma a thing, Biden’s tenure has been short on major outrage or scandal that could directly impact you. Yes, the idea that someone with views like Greene’s could reach Congress is alarming, but an individual freshman congressperson is unlikely to have any type of unchecked influence on policy. Though, on the plus side for Greene, she apparently found all the celebratory face masks that go to charity when one side loses. In reality, the only “scandalous” political news of potential impact since Jan. 20 might be the abrupt firing of Lou Dobbs, which came amid the shocking revelation that broadcasting blatant lies about private corporations or individuals on television has consequences.
None of this is to say our world is now perfect. Lengthy debates over Covid relief will have a significant domino effect if they delay passage and implementation. And while infection rates have dropped significantly, the specter of another Covid wave and the pace of the current vaccine rollout are of constant concern. These are ills no snow day can cure. But, broadly speaking, it looks like the federal government just might be getting back to governing. Governing is hard by necessity, and passing bills and implementing change in our constitutional system is deliberate and arduous by design. But you can’t help people if you don’t engage in serious policy debate and wonkish process.
This is not exciting or entertaining for most of us. But it’s how things should be done, and, at least so far, it’s how things are being done. That our President is making such little day-to-day news that I had to remind myself he was in office is probably the best thing for us. Hard, boring work should allow us to move decisively toward the end of the pandemic, and it just might allow congresspeople of varying stripes to work together and improve our lives by focusing on the things that matter.
First on that list? Space Lasers, and not just for Jewish people. This is a rich, diverse country. Every ethnic group deserves to have one.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque