This column marks my first year’s effort to make sense of our American life and try to convey those observations and analyses to my readers. I recently attended the Highland Lakes Women Democrats Christmas party and was informed by many people I had never met that my column gave them the voice that had been missing in Burnet County for many years. I had no idea.
That realization was both flattering and humbling. Here, I just thought I was getting a lot of crazy things off my chest.
There are subjects and columns in my computer and head that I cannot and will not publish, but there are many more that will be written and published — especially in these most uncertain times where left seems right and blue seems red.
Making sense of anything this past year has been challenging for my limited access and abilities, especially in view of how many people are trying to do so much with so little.
As the holiday season makes its annual visit I am deeply sympathetic with those families agonizing over their chronic unemployment and how some professional politicians use them as pawns in their loopy games of "gotcha." I wonder why government employees at the national, state and local levels are greeted with pay and benefit cuts as the season of joy and giving comes over the horizon.
Is it some perverse coincidence that fiscal years end in the middle of the celebration season so that bosses and politicians get to play Scrooge to the working person’s Bob Cratchett, or was it planned that way?
The most visible and inexplicable of these was the public announcement by our president to freeze federal employee wages for the foreseeable future. The money saved by this move is a speck of sand on a beach of debt compared to the money the most wealthy have "saved" by not having their taxes increased by a mere 3 percent, or what it was before George Bush took office. Worse, this tax cut that was supposed to create jobs didn’t.
Now those tax reductions are being used in a shell game to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
What? So much for campaign promises.
But the pea under the shell was the continuation of unemployment insurance for one year more. Yes, the middle and lower classes who are still employed will get a modest tax break. On the other hand, this "deal" shows how craven our political environment is in this country as we slip further behind the rest of the world in industry, education and health care; to name but a few.
We have right-wingers telling us how exceptional we are because we are Americans while every other indicator in the sane world says we are just middle of the pack and sliding.
To this writer the major indicator why this social decline is accelerating and our political environment has become increasingly toxic and disconnected from the people it’s supposed to serve comes from the people themselves: Almost 30 percent of those eligible to vote aren’t registered to discharge their civic duty.
In the last election 53 percent of Burnet County voters stayed home. Nationwide, 47 percent of the voters didn’t head to the polls. Even during the 2008 election, almost 25 percent of the voters failed to honor those who defended their freedom to do so.
In local elections, less than 20 percent turn out to vote.
One of my favorite columnists, Leonard Pitts, summarized the situation and defines the malady better than I could.
He wrote, "We are infected by a view that we are not a nation with a nation’s sense of mission, but a loosely affiliated collection of interests willing to do anything to advance themselves. It says we are afflicted by an acute tendency to regard difference of opinion as defect of humanity. It says we are suffering a false belief that argument is its own reward."
If I am still writing this column next year, I hope I can say that we’ve turned the corner of Apathy Way and headed down Progress Expressway. At the end of this expressway is a bright star that lights a Field of Dreams for our children and their future.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company.