By Lynn Ashby 7 March 2010
Have you read President Obama’s new budget? It explains how to spend $3.73 trillion, covering 2,000 pages, so you may need a couple of hours. I’ll wait. Then again, you were the person who railed against Obamacare without even opening, much less reading, that 1,200-page tome. But, like the budget, you knew all about it, didn’t you? Oh, how did you like the tax code? I loved the characters but the plot was a little tedious. There was page after page of: “If the lesser amount of line 45-Y is more than Line 199-P, deduct that amount and go directly to jail. Do not pass Go.”
At that point I reached MEGO, Mine Eyes Glaze Over. It’s all just too much to absorb. Add to these mind-boggling figures such terms as “deficit outgrowth,” “fiscal backhoes” and “debt-financed margins” and we lose interest. But when we read that our kids are going to be schooled in one big classroom, an abandoned airplane hangar, we come unhinged. Jack up the national debt? Who cares? Borrow another trillion from the Chinese? Big deal. But reduce the monthly Social Security check by $10 and there’s a march on Washington.
These situations underline Ashby’s Axiom of Anger: the simpler the problem, the madder we get. For example, once the Houston ISD had a superintendent under whose leadership SAT scores were dreadful, the dropout rate was terrible, facilities were deteriorating — the usual problems of most big city urban school districts. No one seemed to mind.
Then the superintendent asked for a new company car — a car and driver were part of her package. Why? Because her current car had 35,000 miles on it. Well, the town came unglued. Parents and taxpayers didn’t care that much about how lousy were their public schools, didn’t understand multi-million dollar budgets, TAKS tests and such. But everyone understood that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get a new car because the old one only had 35k miles. Her contract was not renewed. Last I heard of her, that super was heading up a small suburban district outside Chicago. I don’t know if a car was provided.
We will sit still for global warming, tax loopholes, the infield fly rule, anything so complicated we can’t understand, but we’ll exchange shots after being cut off while trying to merge onto a freeway. As we discussed once before, we get frustrated at seeing someone roll into a handicapped parking spot while that driver, appearing perfectly fit, jogs into the store. Forget Wall Street thieves and Enron frauds. We can’t comprehend subprime loans on underwater derivatives, but arrest that person for abusing a handicapped parking slot.
The pharmaceutically challenged actor Charlie Sheen, in a texted interview between rehabs, shamed the media and said it was “pathetic” that they cared so much about his personal life. He added: “BTW (By the way), two wars are in an endless state of sorrow. Egypt about burned to the ground, and all you people care about is my (deleted).” The man has a point. We can follow the on-again-off-again “Two and a Half Men,” but we change channels when the Muslim Brotherhood is portrayed as nothing like Glenn Beck’s explanation.
Some people can be disagreeable without disagreeing. Arrogant CEOs who lied and cheated their stockholders, employees and the U.S. government, who cost people their life’s savings, should be strung up, we think. But their explanations make so much sense, if only we understood them. Until then, we yell and honk at those rules-are-for-other-people people who zip along, alone, in a HOV lane reserved for three or more. Droughts, civil wars and the national debt don’t bother me, but I turn purple when parents pay no attention in a restaurant while their children run wild. I want to go over and hand a roll of duct tape to them — the children, not the parents.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s war-planning in Afghanistan was going nowhere; actually, intelligence reported the Taliban were stronger than ever. Marjah was supposed to have been pacified quickly so the troops could take Kandahar, a battle which had been put on hold. Allied KIAs were more than 1,000 — last June and July were the bloodiest months of a war that is already America’s longest. No one was upset. But when the general badmouthed his bosses in “Rolling Stone,” he was fired.
On the same day President Obama signed into law the most sweeping changes for Wall Street and the nation’s financial world in decades, the only Washington news anyone was talking about was the firing of Sherry Sherrod, the Dept. of Agriculture employee whose edited speech made her look like a racist when she was anything but. Black bureaucrats putting down white folks makes our blood boil. It didn’t happen, was a complete lie, but we were simmering in righteous indignation for about 24 hours. Meantime, we heard that somebody did something about the American economy.
No wonder Bill Clinton, an obscure governor of an obscure state, defeated a sitting President, with an 80 percent approval rating, by following one rule: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. The most watched TV show each year is the Super Bowl, while C-SPAN coverage of our government is so small its ratings don’t even register. We care more about Lindsay Lohan than Lara Logan.
It’s not that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We know a forest won’t fall on us, but we worry about the tottering trees. By the same token, it’s the simple things that make us happy: winning the Texas Lotto, discovering we are heirs to a Spanish land grant now called “Spindletop.” I didn’t know Bill Gates was my long-lost half-brother. Hi, Cousin Oprah. These serendipities are easier to comprehend and appreciate than being told the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the appellate court’s affirmation of the party of the first part’s ruling. Huh? Oh, it means I’m heir to Spindletop? That, I understand.
Ashby keeps it simple at firstname.lastname@example.org