Push the Envelope

Le Rouge or

the Inconsistencies of Gray

To Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the infamous Dany le Rouge (*) of the barricades of May 1968 in Paris, is attributed the maxim: “Be reasonable, demand the impossible” (today, it names a fashion brand, who knew?) Whether he was expressing the intransigence of his times remains a matter of heated arguments in France and elsewhere, among those who still remember.
But he had a point. You cannot approach the table of negotiations with an already compromised idea, whatever it may be. Either you start from a position of complete clarity about what it is that you need to have done, how it must be done and, above all, when it should be done, which is usually yesterday, or don’t bother showing up.

Washington 2009

Take the health care reform, for instance. It had the interest of the great majority of Americans, no question about it. But the debate already started from the point of view of someone who’s really not sure how to get through an ocean of opposing ideas, the mud of political interests, such huge storm of inertia, ready to blow it all away whatever way it’d turn.
We got something done, for the record, but a lot was left in the cutting room. Thus all these gaps left wide open in the law, ready to get stabbed by wrenches of all political colors, that may eventually take away even the modest advances it accomplished. We’ll get all we need for this legislation to become a positive factor in the life of millions, but it’ll take much longer than your garden-variety incurable disease takes to kill someone. Say, some 10 years longer. Public option, anyone?
Now, a lot of the same is being tossed in the big blender of the crooked political debate in this country against financial reform. It started strong, with a lot of inspiring rhetoric and senseless posturing. Now I’m not so sure that even minimal conditions for meaningful change (measure that by how many it’ll benefit from the get go and how many more in the years ahead) will be accomplished. There’s seems to be no question how many it’s already benefiting, whichever way it goes (you know who you are) and they all seem to reside several notches above my income bracket.
For those outside looking in (aka, the rest of us), what’s assured is the dubious pleasure of watching their months and not much else move, supposedly for our own good. We’re most likely not having any spinoff of swap operations from mammoth banks. Too expensive, say Wall Street and its minions. Nor will a consumer protection agency have any teeth, if it’s to exist under the umbrella of another institution that was once created to protect us all, the Federal Reserve, and didn’t when we needed it the most.
And let’s just skip all that talk about reigning on obscene compensation packages, or even tying them to long-term performance. Notice that hardly anyone talks about it anymore?
A congressional hearing here, a short-lived momentum there, even some hopeful summer rallies ahead may be all a far cry from seriously tackling issues such as fast-trading of stocks, to which proposed solutions are already being considered unrealistic and far beyond any regulatory framework. Or a federal immigration policy that’d include history and fairness in its terms, and leave out xenophobes and racist zealots.

Paris 1968

Ah, and about that environmental-sensible energy policy, the one that should’ve been in place since the late 70s, that’s rich. Never mind the thousands of barrels of crude oil being spewed daily in the Gulf of Mexico. If not even the insufferable reality of this disaster – already struggling to remain relevant in a world of headlne-churning 24/7 (fake) news cycles – can knock off the table talk of more oil drilling and coal mining subsidizing, I’m at lost as to what else could. (**)
So, go ahead, be unreasonable and demand the possible. They will most likely be scratched and shot by the track side like an injured racing horse. (***) But that won’t prevent pundits of all stripes from denouncing your radicalism, and making a name for themselves at your expense. You’ll be, of course, solely forgotten, unless you recant, along with whatever you demanded none too forcefully. For even that we don’t know what was that the Red wanted, we know that, 40 years later, he actually demanded something. He left the maxim if not the example to prove it.

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(*) So yes, he was a communist (the old communists used to hate him), a radical (really? even with that middle-aged girth?) and an anarchist (a bunch who’d probably never join a club that allowed his membership). But why not cast such an opportunist lout to wedge the public apathy in the dismaying debate over such crucial challenges facing America, circa 2010?
(**) I purposely left out crucial issues concerning terrorism, war in distant lands, Vet care (all intrinsically connected) and so many others (campaign finance reform anyone?), so not to mare the discussion with one too many branches.
(***) For those who still believe we can, and there’re many out there (you know who you are), I’d just say, don’t give up. Yes, politics is a bargaining art and, in the long run, persistence is always a factor. But don’t let one too many cogs screw the zipper. In other words, inevitability is, whatever way it heads to, also an illusion.

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