Not getting it

Deval Patrick on Marian Walsh, Aloisi, etc.:

One of the challenges in life is concentrating on the meaningful and letting the trivial take a backseat.  And I sometimes feel like I’m in a profession now where that is completely upside-down.

Rahm Emanuel on AIG:

As angry as the president is at the news about A.I.G., which he learned Thursday, Mr. Emanuel said, “his main priority is getting the financial system stabilized, and he believes this is a big distraction in that effort.”

David Axelrod, also on AIG:

“People are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about AIG,” Axelrod said.

It’s more than passing strange for this particular crowd to be so clueless about why stuff like this matters.  No, the money at issue in the AIG bonuses, or Carol Aloisi’s job, or Marian Walsh’s special election, will not make or break the state or the country.  But the damage these kinds of things do is, while less tangible, no less real.  Here’s one way of explaining it, by a particularly gifted political orator:

“Cynicism is an opiate, too, a comfort drug,” Patrick explained. “It helps us brace ourselves against the pain of disappointment, to endure the letdown we have come to expect. Some of our politicians and some of the media, frankly, are dealers peddling cynicism by tearing down anything positive and hopeful…. It leads us to expect less and demand less of our leaders and of ourselves.”

A pretty good diagnosis, actually — insightful, in that it recognizes how corrosive cynicism can be to the cause of good and effective government.  But what the Governor, and Mr. Emanuel, and Mr. Axelrod, and maybe even the President seem oddly to have lost sight of, is how effectively the relatively small-dollar items like these feed the “comfort drug” of cynicism.  And the more cynical people get, the harder it’s going to be to get any of the “meaningful” things done.

So, Governor, they’re not trivial.  Mr. Emanuel, it’s more than a distraction.  And Mr. Axelrod, yes they are.

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49 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. What an excellent post.

    But I don't really feel like cynicism is a comfort drug, I feel like it is something I learned, I suppose, as a way to get through the last 8 years of the Bush Administration. But it doesn't make me feel better to be cynical. I think the more true feeling I have is the pain of disappointment. And I say this not placing the entire blame on the Governor or MA government officals, but it is the carry over from the last 8 years, it is the healing process from dealing with times when I was literally physically sick over things the Bush Administration was doing to our country.  I just said the other day that I still feel like I'm in the denial stage of the recovery process in my attempt to get over the horror of 2001-2009. So I'm afraid my need for accountability and wise governing is at an all time high. It really is a shame that it has to be the Democrats to take the kick in the butt for it, but they absolutely do have to rise to the challenge, and show us that we can have faith in our government once again.  I know they can do it, I just know it.  Thanks for the great post, David. And thanks to BMG for giving us a voice.

  2. Our leaders are the great cynics. We're just the mousey kind.

    Isn't Mr. Emanuel's famous quote about not letting crises go to waste?  Interesting take on the goings on is here.  How much will you wager on the odds that an ex post facto tax increase applied to AIG execs will be applied to everyone in a couple years?  This is just a test.

    Were we really cynical, we would vote the bums out.  That doesn't happen here.  The Europeans are even taking to the streets.  You won't see that on your local news casts.  We sleep.  We trust in our elected officials.  We're not yet properly cynicized.  Heaven help us all when we are.

  3. tip of the iceberg

    Again, I think southshorepragmatist's post below this one gets it exactly right: Most people assume that if these are the things we're actually hearing about, that they are not exceptions, but simply the tip of an entire iceberg of waste, idleness and patronage.

    And as a staunch liberal, who believes that government is absolutely necessary to provide things that are absolutely necessary ... I can't say that those folks are wrong. This stuff makes our jobs as advocates for government action much, much more difficult.

    I am just baffled as to how this is even debatable.

    The question now is how much the governor wants to keep his job. Amazing to say, but true.

    • If there are voice coaches, how about $quot;cluefulness coaches$quot;?

      Seriously, Charlie, it IS like lstening to a bunch of tune deaf singers who don't seem to notice themselves going sharp, going flat, missing their cues, and dropping notes.

    • it is about trust

      This is a point where us lefites have been seriously outflanked -- on the virtue of an active government.

      We've allowed ourselves to become pinned down in a tough position that an active government means wasteful spending, higher taxes, government intrusion, a welfare mindset, etc.

      Somehow, one's credential as a good lefty has come to mean you can't demand accountability, fiscal responsibility (different from fiscal conservatism) or try to weed out those gaming the system. Personally, I don't think these demands should make me a bad lefty just looking to pick on public servants and poor people.

      You said it earlier (I think it was you) that there is a serious lack of trust among the citizenry and we aren't doing ourselves any favor by rationalizing or making excuses for our elected officials. And its because of this lack of trust that we're going to see $3 billion in service cuts next year because as Rep. Charley Murphy, the House Ways and Means Chairman, said, the membership can't support a tax increase.  

  4. AIG was the subject of my dinner table conversation

    Great post. What it really shows is (a) the isolation of power, (b) the power of wishful thinking, and (c) that the advisers to the chaps at the top (of course, Axelrod himself is an adviser) are slipping with respect to the part of their job which is to keep their bosses grounded.

    Of course, we do need to keep things in perspective. We've just had eight years of a chief executive that was almost willfully out of touch, and a Massachusetts governor who was embarrassed by the state and spent a huge part of his time away from it, telling jokes at the expense of the little people back home. Look where that got us. In comparison with Bush and Romney, Obama and Patrick are as real, in touch, and grounded as the pavement on the street.

    • Axelrod's statement did baffle me the most

      people - and not just including political wonks and addicts - are definitely talking about AIG at the dinner table. That's only made worse when they don't understand government, because suddenly they think this is government du jour, and the Limbaugh's of the world just feed into it.  

    • Memories

      Of course, we do need to keep things in perspective. We've just had eight years of a chief executive that was almost willfully out of touch, and a Massachusetts governor who was embarrassed by the state and spent a huge part of his time away from it, telling jokes at the expense of the little people back home. Look where that got us. In comparison with Bush and Romney, Obama and Patrick are as real, in touch, and grounded as the pavement on the street.

      Just take a trip down memory lane.  He comes to office, just as Romney makes some parting 9C cuts.  Rather magnanimously, not to spoil the epic innaugeral, Patrick reverses them all.  Bet he wishes he had that cash back right about now.

      Pension reform.  He gets rolled by the local politicians and plans so that practically none of the non-PRIT plans actually join the PRIT.

      GIC/Health insurance reform.  The unions get what they want and something like 7 towns join the GIC, blocked by the inability to get Union approval.

      Casino, casino, casino.  Yep, 3 of them.  Need I even bother to comment.  Sure I will:  It may have been a bad plan but at least he didn't put any effort into getting it implemented.

      19 Cent gas tax, roundly met by Legislature with a trip to the woodshed for the Governor.

      Property tax reform.  A total and complete failure.

      Close corporate loopholes: the Combined corporate tax is right now costing the commonwealth money, thanks to the 'loophole' closing.

      I'll credit the administration for insurance reform.  A guarded Bravo.  If GEICO is interested in the State, that tells me Massachusetts insurance might actually be competitively reforming.  Trooper reform, pension reform, transportation reform, ethic reform are on deck.  I can't criticize; you can't claim success.  They are pending nonevents.

      Sure, he's as grounded as pavement, and equally, thusfar as good at governance.

      • There have been a few

        admirable executive orders scattered among these.

        But, when it comes to working with the General Court, yes, it hasn't gone very well at all.

        Anyway, I think he is pretty much cooked now.  The "trivial" comment is going to be a millstone.

  5. do we really need to still be bringing up carol aloisi?

    There's plenty of things that her brother probably should be accountable for, but her job doesn't seem to be one of them. If "not getting it" is an important critique (and I definitely think it is), then we need to display the fact that we, indeed, "get it." Still focusing on Carol Aloisi isn't such a display.  

    • Ryan confronts the mob

      • it was an honest question

        Does the fact that you avoided it mean you think I have a point?

        If not, please explain why Carol Aloisi's job should be a part of this discussion, along with what evidence you have that suggests she shouldn't have that job and didn't merit it on her own.  

        • Re-read Charley's post

          And David's reaction. They are not complaining about Secretary Aloisi with regard to his sister's job. In fact, David specifically pointed out in the comments to Charley's post that the Secretary did not yet have his job when his sister got hers. Quite right, in my view, and directly to the point you raise.

          The complaint is with jobless jobs: "Her title was chief of staff, but she had no staff and reported to no one. That did not prevent Carol Aloisi from collecting a $60,000 State House salary for six months, until a state representative found her - literally - sitting in his new office and put her to work."

          And with anything less than an outraged reaction and immediate corrective measures by the Powers that Be. Lack of same is perceived, I think correctly, as "not getting it."

          You can pick up a torch at any neighborhood bar in the Commonwealth, apparently, if you change your mind.

          • That's fine

            and indeed I largely agree with most of what David said. That's why I made my critique. I thought referencing Carol Aloisi, amongst all those other, better points, detracted from his overall argument.  

          • fine with me too

            So why aren't we (and the Globe) piling on those responsible for the Carol Aliosi non-job, namely those in the legislature who allowed this to happen?

            Who might that person(s) be? It doesn't appear to be the governor, although he is taking all the heat.

        • PS: The view of the Phoenix editors

          Link here.

          The Phoenix trusts that Obama has the intellectual savvy and grit of character to quell, or at least tame, the nation's outrage in this time of crisis. As for the men and women who run Beacon Hill, there is little reason for hope. They live in a small world insulated from the realities that afflict their constituents. Unless their constituents exercise their anger in local elections for the legislature, there is no reason to believe things will change.


          • From that article

            [T]he White House must recognize where and when it is dealing with a gang of thieving pirates, and act accordingly.

            If only.  One of the strange fictions of our political system is that everyone pretends that the other side is acting in good faith, when it's obvious to everyone that this is not the case.

      • :) feelin' it!

  6. Great points

    In Gov. Patrick's case, I get the feeling that he doesn't really realize how he comes across.  Maybe it's wishful thinking: he believes these things are trivial and wants everyone else to think they are.

    In Obama's case, I get the feeling that he may understand  people are mad about AIG bonuses and misuse of bailout money, but that he doesn't know what to do about it.  He seems trapped by a belief that there's no other way to save the financial system.

    • the guv

      In Gov. Patrick's case, I get the feeling that he doesn't really realize how he comes across.  Maybe it's wishful thinking: he believes these things are trivial and wants everyone else to think they are.

      I believe that could be true. I also wonder about the following, and please don't take this as my making excuses - I'm merely curious if this is part of the problem.

      Remember early on in Patrick's administration, besides the car and drape distractions, the more credible critique was that he campaigned against "politics as usual" and therefore had a difficult time getting cooperation from the ("politics as usual") legislative branch. He and Sal butted heads multiple times and made-up in front of the press at least once or twice.

      But he finally seemed to figure out how to get things done, and I believe part of that was due to assimilation into the existing culture. Now, if he were to go after these ethics issues in a very public fashion (as many of us would like), might he be setting himself up for failure for any of his initiatives for the rest of his term? I don't like it if that's the case, and I don't think it helps him at all in the court of public opinion, but at least it would help me make sense of his actions.

      • Very reasonable analysis

        Jaisu.  I think assimilation makes up more than just a "part," but rather, the whole thing.  It's like when Danny DeVito's character tries to get Johnny Dangerously's brother to "play ball."  He didn't go for the washer/dryer combo, but Deval went for the whole shebang.

  7. Meh... Yoda was correct...

    Anger is the path to the dark side

    It's more than passing strange for this particular crowd to be so clueless about why stuff like this matters.  No, the money at issue in the AIG bonuses, or Carol Aloisi's job, or Marian Walsh's special election, will not make or break the state or the country.  But the damage these kinds of things do is, while less tangible, no less real.

    To the extent that people get mad, or even incited to madness, they stop thinking.

    Guess who wins in that instance...?

    To the extent that people stop thinking, they become automatons in the hands of manipulative bullies like Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh.

    I don't know about you, but I've watched over 30+ years of smart people doing dumb stuff because they lost their perspective and let their anger get the better of them.   And every single time this has happened the Republicans have clawed their way back into the arena, benefitting from the chaos and disorder the rage has engendered. You'd think that after Nixon, Viet Nam, Watergate, Reagan, Iran-Contra, The two Bushes, Whitewater, Clintons impeachment, Bush v Gore, The Iraq war, Abu Ghraib,  and Gitmo (among other things...) the very word 'Republican' would be anathema.  You would think that we'd have a lot of righteous anger built up...  Instead... What? We're mad that a bunch of pissant derivative traders turn out to be nothing better than pissant derivative traders?  You were expecting maybe Mother Teresa was writing swaptions?

    Are. You. F---ing. Kidding. Me.  ?

    I sure hope I didn't hold it together (barely) through the last 8 years of epic criminality and distinct evil only to see it fall apart now... over what? Money?  That's so blatantly lame I can't even begin to address it.

    Loss of perspective. Cognitive dissonance. Cacophony.  Rage.  Lose. Lose. Fail.

    DO FORGIVE me... but in a country that still hasn't done a single thing about the torturers and criminals in the past administration... I'm not going to get all in a huff over a bunch of pissant derivative traders or a few shadow patronage jobs.  Let them have the money.  If that means they go away. GOOD!   But the level of anger over this, as opposed to the far more troubling things seen, now and in the past, smacks of manipulation and entropy and dissolution. And... yes, DISTRACTION.

    The smartest, most effective, and moral thing that we all can do right now is to keep calm and in control.  Don't. Lose. Perspective.  

    • Don't. Lose. Perspective.

      Perfect. Thank you Petr. It only reinforces Charlie's rough and reality based comment posted above  

      This stuff makes our jobs as advocates for government action much, much more difficult.

      I spent most of my day at the State House yesterday talking with activists managing 4 different lobbying days and with a dozen or so Legislators going to and fro between a formal session and a hearing on Federal Stimulus bill. (Yes they are working.)

      The advocates were offering documentation that their proposed reform of a particular public program would offer one incremental solution to a pressing community problem. And they were perfectly comfortable supporting the need for the additional taxes needed to repair the entire network of related programs in their communities.

      The Legislators I talked to were perfectly aware of how the long list of ethics scandels and hiring "distractions" in the MSM and the blogs, exacerbated by the curious and unexpainable fall of the Governor's approval numbers had affected their work.  

      "A giant time and energy suck, but we're figuring out how to leverage the anger instead of let it get in the way of get some stuff done -- like transportation, revenues, ethics reform and pensions. Lot to do Lot to do." said one as he scurried away like the giant white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

      As I typed that I realized I amy be setting myself up for some cynical comments about Alice. Or Wonderland. Or rabbits. Go for it

      • Ok I will bite Judy

        So what did you take before you entered the rabbit hole on the hill one pill makes you large and one pill makes you small?

        I was up hounting the halls my self yesterday sorry I missed you

        As Usual just my opinion

        by the way I took the large pill LOL

        • I was way behind the baby

          on the front page of the Globe. No strange drugs, thank you very much.

          I learned that from The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow who dropped off 8000 names on petitions and personal "messages in a bottle" demanding that the DPH immediately implement some regulations banning certain toxic chemicals that are used in lots of everyday products like sippy cups and baby bottles.

          A data driven campaign with a big diverse grassroots coalition. Great informative story by Beth Daley too.

          They all trooped over to the Governor's office and were sent  down another floor to the Constituent Affairs Office. there they met with some administration's health officials who say they're still evaluating the science. Trying to catch up with Walmart I guess.


    • Petr, you have a one-sided view of recent American history.

      You must believe in cowboys and indians, too;  in good guys and bad guys.  The fact is that almost all of the events which you cite as reasons to dislike republicans are a bit more complex than your emotional reaction would have us believe.  You have conveniently left out JFK's getting us into Vietnam, the high inflation and incompetence of the Carter years, the democrat appeasements of the old Soviet Union, etc., etc.  Life can never be as one-sided as you make it out to be.  Take your own advice: keep calm and in control.

      • pointing out continual and egregious Republican fail...

        ... isn't the same thing as saying the Democrats are perfect or that the world would be nothing but sunshine and starbursts without Republicans.  Why do you think it does?

        Under what system of logic does it occur to you that, because I point out the cowboys are malign, I therefore think the indians are perfect?   I left that logic behind in third grade.  Maybe when you graduate to the next grade, you can leave it behind too...  

        • Your system of $quot;logic$quot; is wholly consistent

          With the Puritans' logic vis-a-vis predetermination.  In other words, it makes perfect, obvious sense only when your worldview is extremely myopic and violently hostile to anything that challenges it.  You hide behind a cloak of pre-supposed "logic," but in my time on BMG, you seem to be the least logical person posting here.  You're nothing but a party shill.

    • You're laying Vietnam

      At the feet of Republicans?

      My, won't FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ be surprised to learn they were Republicans all along.

      • For a party politician

        Everything that ever goes wrong is the other party's fault, and everything that ever goes right is directly attributable to one's own party.

        Republicans do the same thing.  

        The scary thing is that people believe such bunk.

      • It was Eisenhower's fault!

        Just kidding, mostly. Republicans certainly did their part, but primary responsibility for the war in Vietnam, especially for its expansion into a major US conflict, should be laid at the feet of leaders who ran as Democrats.

        • distraction faction... what's your action...

          Just kidding, mostly. Republicans certainly did their part, but primary responsibility for the war in Vietnam, especially for its expansion into a major US conflict, should be laid at the feet of leaders who ran as Democrats.

          You'll note, I hope, previous comments where I point out the fallacy of logic wherein pointing out fail doesn't mean the 'other side' is perfect.   This logic is silly and, frankly, beneath you.  When people fail, they fail.  It says nothing about the people who opposed them.  It only says that they fail.

          Regardless of Democratic involvement in Viet Nam what Nixon and Kissinger did, following a throroughly Republican strong-man realpolitik they conceived, was egregiously wrong.

          There is no dichotomy here.  We can talk about Democratic fail till the cows come home and they'll still be more to talk about.  Knock yourself out. Get distracted.  That doesn't, in any way, mask repeated, cyclical, patterned  and  thoroughly malignant Republican fail part of which occurred during Viet Nam and, from which, a straight line can be drawn through to Iraq...  

      • dance, dance, revolutions...

        ... I knew you were going to mention this.  I was writing it and I says to myself " Ol Scratch'll be certain to try to distract us all with false rage over vietnam"   Typical Republican.

        Oh... yeah... and I rest my case.


        • Ah, yes, the ol'

          "I did it on purpose" defense.  Same thing, in theory, as the "it was a joke" defense.

          And the bullshit meter is pegged.

          For someone who claims intellectual superiority, I was quite surprised you faulted the Republicans, of all people, for the conflict in Vietnam.  FDR started it when he assented to allowing Uncle Ho to hold the SE Asia flank against the Japanese; Truman gave Uncle Ho the Heisman for all his troubles---and this kind of pissed him off, to say the least.  Ike pretty much did nothing, JFK escalated it with his advisors, and oh, that little thing like giving the OK for Diem to get capped, and then LBJ went to TOWN.  Nixon?  He actually started withdrawing American troops from the theater.

          Yeah, it was those rotten Republicans that screwed us over in Vietnam.

          Nice job, Einstein.  Try picking up a history book.

          And by the way, I'm not a Republican.  Strike two.  Still waiting for your thread, Socrates.

        • You're like a lefty Rush

          You have your rant, and you're going to spew your rant, nonsense notwithstanding.

  8. Democrats Suck at Outrage

    Two issues: how we should think and how we should act. Vennochi wasn't all wet yesterday, but she missed the key point: Democrats can't handle outrage politically.

    What struck me about Obama's anger was how un-angry he sounded. Never mind his words, he just didn't sound pissed off. He needs to channel the anger of the American people and turn it in a more constructive direction.

    Like it or not, we Democrats won't be fully effective until we figure out how to deal with the anger of the populace. It's not going away. It's part of our American fabric, and the emotional basis of the Republican Party.  

    • I don't agree...

      I think Democratic Leaders hear the cry and are focused on the issue at hand but instead of standing up and leading the mob we are like the sheriff in the old western who comes out and confronts the crowd and tries to calm them down and send them back to their homes. Leaving them with the understanding that justice will be done but the right way. Unfortunately we don't carry a gun so we have a tough time shouting over the mob so it takes time to get their attention.

      What Deval and Obama need to learn and fast IMHO is they need to make the changes at the same time they are dealing with the rage. By this I mean the cry for Reform before Revenue. Ok lets introduce a bill with just reforms and lets fast track that then as that is in process introduce Revenue enhancements and let that take it's course. In Obama's case why are we 3 months down the road 8 months into this collapse and yet to see any meaningful re regulation that will prevent the problems from repeating instead we are still running around putting out fires only. The mob mentality arises when they feel they are one not getting satisfaction and two have been doomed to repeat over and over the distasteful lessons they have just experienced thus the reasoning behind wanting to hang the problems and be done with it.

      Proactive government has been lacking for decades at all levels local state and national. We need to see politicians as our leaders ahead of the curve and charting the path not running around like AAA and a pothole crew trying to keep us moving forward.

      As Usual just my Opinion

      • And a worthy opinion, it is.

        I agree with everything you say about proactivity and the implication that the Democrats have to be grown ups.

        Politically, we sound less like sheriffs than schoolmarms. And remember the sheriff may have faced down the angry mob, but he always got the bad guy.

        Obama recognizes the anger, but he hasn't figured out how to convert it. Democrats haven't figured it out yet. If we don't control it, the Republicans will.

        • Schoolmarms is a $quot;nice$quot; way to put it,

          But the right generally regards you guys as "nanny staters,"  In other words, they believe you want total control of the individual from birth to grave.

          Generally speaking, the right favors liberty over security, whereas the perception is that your side favors security over liberty.  Now, of course, this general statement seems out of whack for the neocons, who most certainly favor security over liberty, but that's one of the main raps against them on the right:  they're nanny staters in sheep's clothing, not conservatives.

          • Not that I accept your categories

            completely, but the neo-cons had the best of both worlds until they had the worst of both.

            It's hard to see their "nanny statism" as a theory justifying their own power grabs.

            • It's hard to see, or

              You're just not looking hard enough?

              Both progressives and neo-cons believe in using the government's power to compel to re-shape society, forcibly, to align with an agenda.  Doesn't matter whether that agenda is the right to life or pro-rainbow-sexuality.

      • two hurdles - media and money

        The "money party" (Republicans and bought-off Dems, which IMO differ little) has the big advantage of control over the media and therefore the framing of questions.

        As long as all the anger is directed at Deval and Obama, these crooks have a chance to stay in the game.

        I see some hope in the demise of newspapers that have served as cheerleaders for the fat cats and neocons.

        I would like to see more attention given to the quiet obstructionists in the legislative branches. Bush was able to trash the country only with the compliance of Congress and the media.

  9. Geez

    You end addiction by attacking the root cause of an addiction, and if cynicism is an addiction (a position I find questionable at best), then minimizing the hackocracy is the way to end it.   If Deval is right that cynicism is a drug, then his form of rehab/therapy has thus far been to keep saying "stop being such a druggie!!"  

    sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
    • I agree, hard to relate cynicism to addiction

      More of a grief response, not a good feeling about it. Kind of like if your friend stabs you in the back 2 or 3 times, your going to be a little cynical the next time they come knocking on your door with smile and a hello.  

      • Cynicism v realism

        The line between the two is rather thin, and subject to change.  Given what's been dropping over the last coupla weeks, what Deval would call cynicism, many people would forgivably call realism.

        sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
  10. Well said

    Good post. I absolutely agree with your main point. I do think there is something to the idea that the AIG bonuses are becoming too much of a distraction. I do want them to understand why the bonuses are unacceptable and to act accordingly, but I don't want them dedicating weeks to an expenditure that is 1000x smaller than many of the other expenditures they are wrestling with right tnow.  

  11. Freefall Deval...

    Look out below!!!

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