How long can you go without solving your problems?
A lot of people attach all sorts of happy adjectives to the word "pragmatic." There are pragmatic progressives and pragmatic idealists and assorted other pragmatists with a bounce in their step and a song on their lips. Not me. I'm a pragmatic pessimist. I think we're operating within a broken legislative system that's housed in startlingly polarized polity and served by an often counterproductive media. That forces all sorts of compromises people shouldn't have to make, and that this country really can't afford to make. Which is why I wish Tom Friedman had gone a bit further with this:
The more I listened to the Danish minister, Lene Espersen, the more I thought of my own country, where I’ve been told time and again by U.S. politicians that proposing even a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in gasoline taxes to make America more energy independent and to stimulate fuel efficiency is “off the table,” an act of sure political suicide.
Not in Denmark. So I asked the Danish minister: “Tell me, what planet are you people from?”
Espersen laughed. But I didn’t. How long are we Americans going to go on thinking that we can thrive in the 21st century when doing the optimal things — whether for energy, health care, education or the deficit — are “off the table.” They’ve been banished by an ad hoc coalition of lobbyists loaded with money, loud-mouth talk-show hosts who will flame anyone who crosses them, political consultants who warn that asking Americans to do anything important but hard makes one unelectable and a citizenry that doesn’t even ask for optimal anymore because it believes that optimal is impossible.
At the end of the op-ed, the difference between Denmark and America gets ascribed, in large part, to Danish courage. I don't know enough about Denmark to say whether that's true. But the basic problem in America is not courage or cowardice, but systems that are no longer suited to the needs of the country. At this point, structural reform of the legislative system should, I think, be the main priority for people left, right, and center who want to see action on the problems facing the country. It's all well and good to try to get the best outcomes possible given the existing constraints. But if those outcomes aren't good enough, then at some point you have to turn your attention away from the problems and toward the constraints that are keeping you from solving them.
December 23, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
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