OPINION COLUMNS

The great American smokescreen

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, February 22, 2014

Quite a few years ago, a new family came to our church. They had three boys who were then about 12, 10 and 8. I met the mom and dad in class and learned the boys’ names, so as they walked into the auditorium I stuck out my hand and greeted them.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

The oldest muttered a shy “Hi.” The youngest grinned real big and gave me five. The middle one looked at my hand suspiciously, narrowed his eyes and said, “You don’t know nothin’!”

My first thought was, “How did he know?”

We’ve laughed about that often over the years. It became part of our family’s vocabulary – the way to end an argument if you were losing. “Oh yeah? Well … you don’t know nothin’!”

Nowadays, it comes to mind when I hear a political ad.

It’s the way I believe most politicians would greet the voters, if they were as honest as that 10-year-old boy.

They seem to think we “don’t know nothin’.”

I can think of no other explanation for all the pandering and posturing.

Our country faces enormous challenges: the need for economic stability, the looming federal debt and budget deficits, what to do about health care, what to do about immigration, crime, energy, growth, water, the environment, terrorism … the list goes on and on.

These problems are not black-and-white. They’re complicated and so are the solutions. They didn’t arise overnight, and they won’t be fixed quickly.

We elect our representatives to get together, negotiate in good faith and come up with solutions. They need to be able to absorb a lot of information and think creatively. The solutions may never please those at either extreme, but they should meet the needs of the majority in the middle.

That’s politics.

Yet most politicians behave as if we don’t know that. They spew sound bytes with quick-fix, black-and-white, my-way-or-the-highway solutions.

Blaming the other party and claiming to have a simple solution are the old stand-by approaches to getting elected, or re-elected.

Lately, I’m seeing another approach: the smokescreen.

Basically, the tactic involves making lots of noise about issues that really aren’t on the table.

If someone from another planet landed here right now and listened to a few speeches, they’d think the most urgent matters facing our country are whether or not someone can wear a gun in the open or marry a person of the same gender.

I know those things are important to many people – but am I the only one who senses that the politicians are just using them to try and distract us? They hope if they continue to pound on those social issues, we’ll forget that they’ve spent their entire careers kicking the can down the road on health care, budget reform, spending caps, immigration, tax reform, school finance, Medicaid, etc.

Want to get re-elected? Ignore those issues. Just get everybody all riled up about guns and gayness. Keep stoking those fires, create as much smoke as possible, and hope the voters don’t figure this all out until after you retire.

I think more and more voters are figuring it out. Personally, I’m going to vote for people who talk about the issues we expect them to address – things that are central to government’s job description.

I believe the United States of America has the genius to solve our problems if we’ll just focus.

It’s hard to believe most Americans don’t realize that.

Surely we can recognize a smokescreen when we see one.

Bob Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.

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