With the Republican National Convention history and the Democratic conclave underway, the 2012 campaign season is spinning -- literally -- toward the Nov. 6 general election.
This has nothing to do, of course, with the Earth's natural rotation and everything to do with the sad state of what passes for civic discourse these days.
You want facts? You want understanding? You want truth? Sad to say, but the sound bite, YouTube world in which we live rewards glib one-liners and punishes thoughtfulness and thoroughness.
In fact, two of Oklahoma's top elected officials -- the governor and the mayor of our state's largest city -- contributed to the dumbing down of American political speech when they delivered GOP convention remarks long on rhetoric but short on reality.
Too harsh? Only if you consider plain-spokenness quaint, reasoned debate passé or intellectual integrity an oxymoron.
To hear Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett tell it, Oklahoma is the envy of the civilized world -- or should be.
The narrative goes like this: Rugged, visionary individualists built this grand land with brains and brawn, not some damned government handout. It's a simple recipe: get the feds out of the way and watch us prosper!
The message dovetailed nicely with that night's "We Built It" convention theme, a swipe at President Obama's mangled attempt to point out that successful American entrepreneurs are successful because Americans, together, created an environment in which they could be successful.
"We Built It," of course, was red meat for the uber-conservatives filling the Tampa hall. At best, though, it's only part of the story. At worst, it's the kind of intellectual dishonesty that has given politicians lower approval ratings than journalists and televangelists.
You would expect Oklahoma's governor to promote her state, to emphasize its strengths and sidestep its weaknesses.
But Fallin also bragged about Oklahoma oil and gas magnates and the jobs they've created, asserting that "President Obama wants us to believe that Oklahomans owe that success to the federal government -- to the Department of Energy, to the EPA, the IRS or maybe even to him."
It wasn't government, she declared, it was individual risk-takers. "Today," she crowed, "Oklahoma is one of the nation's key energy producers and job creators."
An absolute triumph of unfettered, free enterprise capitalism?
What the governor failed to mention -- surely it was just an oversight -- is that Oklahoma taxpayers helped make this latest energy boom possible, via hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks that socialize oil and gas industry losses and privatize profits.
Can you spell c-o-r-p-o-r-a-t-e w-e-l-f-a-r-e?
According to OKPolicy's David Blatt, state coffers were tapped for $294 million in tax credits in 2010 and 2011 for horizontal and deep well drilling alone. So, conservatively, taxpayers are pumping well over $100 million annually into private, for-profit energy businesses. And the amount is expected to grow higher as more production shifts to horizontal drilling.
Yup, pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps alone!
Mayor Cornett, meanwhile, rightfully cheered about Oklahoma City's renaissance, stressing "we have not done this by creating large amounts of debt ... we paid cash."
It is accurate to say the civic improvements that revitalized the capital were pay-as-you-go, but it wasn't solely Oklahoma City's "entrepreneurial" spirit.
It was the citizens, uniting behind a common goal, agreeing to pay higher taxes in order to create a better way of life. H-i-g-h-e-r t-a-x-e-s!
Of course, higher taxes don't fit into the Republican (Grover Norquist) playbook these days. Frankly, the idea is DOA in most political quarters.
But that is part of the fallout from the demagoguery that dominates political discourse in 21st century America. Emotion trumps reason.
We have lost sight of the fact that we're all in this together. We pool our resources (tax dollars) in pursuit of better roads, better schools, better technology, better health ... all in hopes of creating an environment in which all -- not just a privileged few -- have an equal shot at the American dream.
There should be raucous debate about how we should spend our tax dollars and what our priorities are. Left, right or center, surely we all agree we can do better.
It's not enough to demand our political leaders and candidates jettison the sloganeering and spin and speak in complete, thoughtful, reasoned paragraphs. We, the people, must be willing to invest in the process ... which means taking time away from college football and American Idol and the Kardashians.
Only the fate of our republic is at stake.
Perhaps we could begin by agreeing on two things: First, the government is us, not them. Our government is what we will it to be. Second, it's harmful to our body politic -- and to reasoned discourse -- to condemn government one moment and open our palms for government (taxpayer) help the next.
The governor has proven a master at this. One week she is harrumphing that the feds turned down wildfire disaster assistance for three Oklahoma counties, calling the decision "bureaucratic" and "cruel." The next week, she is addressing the Republican National Convention, arguing in effect that government is the problem, not the solution.
These are not isolated incidents. They are part of her political DNA. Isn't hypocrisy typically punished, not rewarded? Not in Oklahoma, where Fallin's approval rating sits at 65 percent, according to the latest Sooner Survey.
The anti-government screed is laughable, given Oklahoma's reliance on federal aid.
According to U.S. Census and Internal Revenue Service data, federal spending in Oklahoma in 2010 was $37.5 billion -- well above the per capita national average (we're 19th). Among our neighbors, only New Mexico and Arkansas attract more per capita federal spending -- Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Colorado are well below us.
Moreover, Oklahoma is 28th in population, yet we're 17th in the number of federal employees.
And for every dollar we send to Washington, we receive $1.30 -- in effect, a 30 percent dividend on our tax payments.
You think the state's largest employer, Tinker Air Force Base, was built by rugged individualism? Or the state's largest lakes? Or our airports? Or highways? Or schools?
No, they were built because we pooled our resources and built them. And because they were built, the Chesapeakes and the Devons and the Bank of Oklahomas and the upscale restaurants and the resorts could become Oklahoma's icons of the American dream.
Pay attention. Vote. Debate. Complain. Demand better. Just don't pretend any individual achieved success all by his lonesome.
John Donne had it right -- No Man Is an Island.
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