Broke(n): Why Politics Is Fucking Up My Ping Pong Game

A friend of mine broke down and started crying at a bar on Saturday night. She was talking politics with another friend and the sheer emotional weight of the conversation broke through her tear ducts and turned her into “that girl.” Thankfully, the back room where I stood — ping pong paddle in hand, waiting for her to gather herself enough for a rematch — was mostly empty, so the only people she could annoy were in her immediate circle of friends. The conversation lasted through closing time; I did not get a rematch.

From what I gleaned during and after the conversation, this wasn’t a “Your Views Vs. Mine” kind of talk, which can lead to frustration and anguish even among close friends (if there are close friends out there with such polar opposite political views). They were both on the same side. It was more of a “Why are things so black and white, why can’t we find compromise, why can’t we see other perspectives, why can’t we all just get along?” kind of discussion.

Yeah, I don’t get it either. But the idealism on display was almost adorable, if it hadn’t been so out of place.

I do, in a sense, understand the emotional toll it took on her. Arguing is tiring. It gets old. It gets us nowhere. When it comes to politics, my views are only occasionally rational, or supported by straight-forward, undeniable Facts, but I know that they are always right, because I think them. That’s the thing about politics: They’ve become so personal that to talk politics is to talk everything from long-held religious beliefs to our views on race, gender, class, sexuality, life and death. And people tend to dig in when it comes to those topics, so “discussions” between two sides are often just two people taking turns saying why their views are the right ones, then pausing to “listen” when in fact they are just formulating their next point.

So while I know for a fact that there should be much stricter gun laws in this country, and that women should have the right to choose, and so on, I can’t possibly continue to belabor these points to people on the internet or in person, because then we will have more people crying at the bar on a Saturday and that sounds miserable. I am trying to get drunk and play ping pong and that’s about it.

Instead, I’d like to find some common ground, politically speaking, and think that I’ve found something that most people should be able to get behind. Of course, a lot of people won’t, for reasons I can’t comprehend, but I can’t keep operating under the premise that nothing I say is worth agreeing upon.

So here we go: Money is fucking up politics.

Donations to politicians, by way of super PACs and lobbyist groups, is the single biggest reason why so little common-sense legislation is passed nowadays, as well as the source of billions in pork-barrel spending that would be better allocated to our deteriorating infrastructure and our veterans, to name two things that politicians love to talk about but never actually address. Money has poisoned both sides of the aisle. I could go in on how the NRA completely hijacked the vote on banning people on the terror watch list from buying a gun, but an even more recent example highlights how no legislation is safe from the influence of those with money.

I haven’t read a more frustrating article in a long time, and I practically live on the internet. Here are the highlights, which expose how both Democrats and Republicans added unnecessary projects and loopholes to a tax and spending bill that simply HAD to be passed (or else there would have been another government shutdown):

“[Lobbyists] won support from the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, who responded to appeals from executives of casino companies, politically powerful players and huge employers in his state. And the lobbyists even helped draft the crucial language.”…

The real estate provision, released on Dec. 7, is intended to close a loophole in federal law that has allowed casinos, hotels, restaurant chains and other businesses to raise billions of dollars in cash by spinning off the buildings they own into a separate real estate investment trust, or REIT, without triggering a capital gains tax payment, a potentially big benefit.

And (emphasis mine):

The effort to close the loophole was among many provisions in the $1.15 trillion spending plan and separate $622 billion tax plan that had special patrons. Language inserted into the federal budget over the objection of the Obama administration by Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, directed the Coast Guard to build a $640 million National Security Cutter in Mississippi that the Coast Guard says it does not need.

“If we are funded for it and Congress says you are going to have a ninth cutter, I guess that is how it goes,” said Chief Warrant Officer Chad Saylor, a Coast Guard spokesman. “But we are good with eight.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cochran, Chris Gallegos, defended the change. “As to your question: Is this wasteful and unnecessary spending?” Mr. Gallegos said in an email. “No.”

And:

A third provision, which Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine,helped secure, appropriated an extra $1 billion for a Navy destroyer that is likely to be built at Bath Iron Works in her state. The Defense Department had not requested money for the additional ship in this year’s budget.

In all, thousands of extra provisions were sewed onto this giant spending bill — which, again, was almost certainly going to be passed, even if there had a been a provision stating “And by the way Obama is totally a Muslim from Kenya.” Neither side has the political capital right now to weather another government shutdown, so instead they both threw as much bullshit as possible onto this ship before it left the dock to see if it would still float. And it does, because that ship doesn’t ride over water but on the backs of the American taxpayers. These “candy canes for contractors” came at our expense.

Corporations, lobbyists and the wealthy in general have hijacked our political process. Billions of dollars that should be going towards funding our schools and caring for our sick and fixing our roads and helping small businesses survive their turbulent first years are instead being hoarded by those who already have billions and want more. Why so many people are afraid of socialism when they already live in a plutocracy — essentially the political opposite, which has none of the benefits for the average American — is mind-boggling. It’s enough to make me cry, though I try to do so behind my desk, at my computer, rather than into a Miller High Life at 2 a.m. while surrounded by others.

Is there really another side to this issue? Can someone explain the benefit of letting lobbyists — people who were not elected but hired by private interests — literally write our laws? Is Citizens United not, in some way, corrupting almost* every politician regardless of affiliation? Would we not be better served by a legislature that is actually for the people and by the people, rather than hamstrung by those who poured millions into campaign coffers who now expect to be taken care of in kind?

I can deal with people who support the Tea Party, or support establishment politicians, even if they do so for reasons I disagree with on a personal level. But I can’t stand to see the political process so thoroughly devalued and disrespected by the corrupting influence of money. Politicians are no longer beholden to their constituents but to powerful financiers with agendas that are actively harming the country as a whole. Anybody who can promise to pass meaningful campaign finance reform has my support.

*Bernie Sanders appears to be an exception, and a presidential candidate. So, shall we fight about it?

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I’m a freelance writer originally from Brooklyn. I write about travel mostly but also business and “culture.” I hope you like what you read. ericgoldschein.com

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