Gabby goes to Washington

Gonzo Meets the Press #18 August 4, 2011

America and the world are in debt to one member of the House of
Representatives, who showed her fellow politicians that courage means taking a
stand even when you’re unsteady on your feet.

One of the few dignified moments in the whole US
debt debacle was the arrival of Representative Gabrielle Giffords on the House
floor to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
The members of the House erupted into spontaneous applause when they saw the woman who had been shot and
critically wounded in an attempted assassination attempt at a rally in her home
district of Tucson, Arizona in January.
Rep Giffords, still looking a bit fragile, decided she had to come to Washington. In a statement, she said she’d
been “deeply disappointed at what’s going in Washington.” Join the worldwide
club, Gabrielle!
She added: “I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for
the good of the American people is more important than party politics.”
Wonderful stuff, Gabrielle.  She went on to explain: “I had to be here for this
vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our
economy.”
After weeks of politicians behaving badly, Gabrielle Giffords’
presence was marvellous to behold. The minority leader in the House, Nancy
Pelosi, called Giffords the “personification of courage,” summing up the
feelings of Congress: “There isn’t a name that stirs more love, more admiration,
more respect … Thank you, Gabby.” (Full story here: http://bit.ly/nU7SrW)
Yet that profile in courage was the only beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless Congressional
debate. The respected New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, who is
visiting Australia, told Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM on Tuesday it was
“one of the most shameful episodes in American history.” (http://www.abc.net.au/classic/throsby/)
And the Pew Research Center in the US found a staggering number of Americans
polled – 72 per cent – found the process “ridiculous,” “disgusting,” “stupid”
and “frustrating .” No wonder Congress finally passed the bill, when your
constituents think of you in such terms!
Barack Obama is celebrating the  passage of the bill and his 50th birthday today, but he didn’t miss the
opportunity to blast the Republican opposition after the Senate vote: “Voters
may have chosen divided government, but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional
government.” And he repeated his argument that wealthy Americans need to accept
tax rises to lift the burden on the poor: “We can’t balance the budget on the
backs of the very people who have borne the brunt of the
recession.”
Meanwhile, the stock market fell, and we in Australia who have
worked hard all our lives are watching and waiting for our superannuation to
disappear again while financial advisers tell us the GFC was only a
once-a-ten-year event. And then when you suggest you’d like to move to a more
conservative profile, they say okay, but remember there will be a brokerage fee.
Still, it’s not as bad as a previous financial adviser. I told him if I kept
losing 15 per cent of my super every year, in five years, I would have nothing
left. “Yes,” he said, “but you’d still have your house.”
If I had my time over again, I would have left my payout in the bank and it would still be
earning four to five per cent interest, and I would have a lot more of it. I
think the superannuation industry, and both the Liberal and Labor governments of
the past six years, have a lot to answer for … as they sit on their fat super
funds (or should I say “fat super bums.” Both apply!).
I won’t leave you on such a cynical note, but a recommendation. If you haven’t read any of Thomas
Friedman’s books, you can start with From Beirut to Jerusalem, which
was published in 1990, but still has much relevance to the Palestinian Israeli
conflict and offers a solution – Friedman adding an epilogue with an
imaginary speech by a future Israeli Prime Minister. Here’s an excerpt: “… we
will never really be able to feel at home here in Palestine, we will never
really be able to end our exile, unless the Palestinians, our neighbours, feel
at home as well. I wish this were not the case. But the truth is we cannot save
ourselves unless we save them, too. And they cannot save themselves unless they
save us too.”
Friedman, born into a middle-class American Jewish family in
Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the UPI Bureau chief in Beirut from 1979 to 1981,
and then became the New York Times bureau chief in the Lebanese capital
from 1982 to 1984 – during the country’s deadly civil war. The NY Times
broke an unwritten rule and sent Friedman, a Jew, to be their foreign
correspondent in Jerusalem; hence the title of the book: From Beirut to
Jerusalem
.  Friedman is very much into empathy, which as regular readers of
this blog (all three or four of you) will know, one of my favourite hobby
horses.
The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner has also written four other
best-selling books, with another to be published next month in Australia,
That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How
We Can Come Back
. Co-authored by Michael Mandelbaum, the book is about the
challenge of globalisation, the information revolution, deficits and energy
consumption and what America needs to do about it. Here’s a link to his official
biography: http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/about-the-author
Friedman has been writing about globalisation since his second book The Lexus and the
Olive Tree
was published in 1999. He got the idea for the book after he
visited a Toyota factory in Japan where they were building the luxury car Lexus
with robots, and on a bullet train, he read an article in the International
Herald Tribune
about how people in Beirut and Jerusalem were fighting over
who owned which olive tree. Friedman then realised that the Lexus and the olive
tree were pretty good symbols of the post-Cold War era: half the world was
intent on building a better Lexus in order to thrive in globalisation, while the
other half was still caught up in the battle over olive trees.
His conclusion: “A healthy global society is one that can balance the Lexus and the
olive tree all the time, and there is no better model on earth today than
America.”
Thomas Friedman wrote that in 1999. Now he sees the debt crisis
debate as evidence America has lost its way as a country. Let’s hope his new
book can point the way back for America. To people who ask if it has a happy
ending, Friedman and co-author Mandelbaum answer: “ … we can write a happy
ending, but it is up to the country – to all of us – to determine whether it is
fiction or non-fiction. We need to study harder, save more, spend less, invest
wisely, and get back to the formula that made us successful as a country in
every previous historical turn … That used to be us and can be again – if we
will it.”
My suggestion: if Gabrielle Giffords is healthy enough, get her to
run for president. It’s about time the United States had a female president –
one with courage and conviction who believes that putting people first is more
important than party politics.
Go Gabby, Go!
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have
been.

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