It’s not every day that a witty quote about alcohol can be seen as a political aphorism, but when six months into office the American president and his presidency seems more joke than substance, and Congress — despite being under the control of a single party, the same one that runs the White House — can’t seem to get the one thing the majority promised voters for more than six years done, maybe we could all use a drink.
And yet there stands the wisdom of American poet John Ciardi: “There is nothing wrong with sobriety in moderation.”
Admittedly, I know little about passing legislation; but I do know something about facing the evil choice of two opposite extremes. I’ve seen the tempting allure of feeling that the only choices available are to go all in or otherwise capitulate in the face of utter defeat.
It’s as if on one shoulder sits the devil of vice, on the other the angel of abstention, both in different ways representing complete and total surrender. It’s precisely at those times, in the space between the rock and the hard place, that the path of moderation seems so nonexistent.
But as Americans, regardless of our party affiliation, we better hope that our representatives in Capitol Hill discover the path that has proven so difficult and yet is so obvious before them. Should they fail — and I write here about both improving and guaranteeing health care for all, and at the same time reducing an overall cost that makes ours the most expensive care in the developed world — then not only will the extremes of fiscal pain or going without insurance prove the reality for more and more of our middle class, but the electorate might discover a new choice between the extremes of either party and throw them all out of office.
In the interest of full disclosure — for those of you who haven’t been able to tell from my previous columns — I am no fan of the path our politics has taken in electing a president who scoffs at constitutional norms and declares open warfare on the press. I am not a fan of the social warfare that has defined so much of the Republican Party, and I abhor the right wing’s current attempts to dismantle our nation’s environmental protection regulations and the federal Department of Education. That entity’s creation was endorsed in 1978 by none other than the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
But neither am I a fan of the maximalist strategies employed on the Hill by much of the Democratic Party, or of the class warfare practiced by a growing segment of the left wing and the downright anti-Semitism advanced on the extreme left. National polls released July 17 bequeathed President Trump the lowest approval ratings of a sitting president in 70 years, but at the same time, a mere 36 percent of Americans believe that the Democratic Party stands for something other than opposing Trump.
Don’t get me wrong: The ongoing failure of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and of the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, is not bad news. Too many Americans — the poor among us, as well as the otherwise uninsurable with preexisting conditions — depend on the policies made available by President Obama’s signature achievement to cast them off the rolls, as the latest proposal reportedly under consideration in the Senate would do.
Now that the bill being quarterbacked by McConnell seems destined for a legislative death — the announcement by two more senators late July 17 that they could not vote to bring it to the floor seems to guarantee just such a result — the deliberative house of Congress has the opportunity to fix those aspects of Obamacare that need fixing without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
Doing so will require the participation of Democrats.
I can understand the reticence of these senators to cooperate with a party that has demonized them and thrown the entire country into bed with an administration by all accounts the most inept in modern history, but if the two sides of the aisle cannot find a way to cooperate and rise above the morass that gets worse with each revelatory drip from the investigation into Russian electoral meddling, then third-party alternatives might actually seem viable options for those contemplating their votes in 2018 and beyond.
I remember one particular flight I took as a beginning pilot between Florida’s coasts. Flying east toward the end of a hot summer day, fighting against the clock to make it back before Shabbat, I encountered a line of thunderstorms over the Everglades. I didn’t have an instrument rating, so I couldn’t fly in the clouds, but it wouldn’t have done any good. A tiny Cessna 152 is no match for the turbulent updrafts and downdrafts of summer squalls in the Sunshine State. Turning around would have meant spending Shabbat away from my wife and kids.
I could have pressed forward — a common lure for many pilots, some of them now dead from unintended flight into instrument conditions — but I wisely decided against succumbing to what many refer to as “get-there-itis.” As I was above a tiny airstrip, I decided to put the aircraft down and wait it out.
As it turns out, had I turned around, I would have encountered another developing line of thunderstorms. It was only by my waiting 45 minutes that I discovered a path through what were then dissipating storms, a clear shot back home to Fort Lauderdale. I made it home in time for Shabbat.
Granted, piloting an aircraft is probably nothing compared to surviving in the hornet’s nest that is Washington and still managing to get something done, but I’m sure every single one of us can point to those times in our lives when the rocks and hard places of our own choosing seemed to dissolve with the moderating passage of time.
Just think of the problems that could be solved if the moderates of both parties took a step back from the partisanship, took a deep breath and a pause, and joined forces to really improve the lives of every single American.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.