It never should have come to this
"Hold tight to your anger, don't fall to your fears."
Bruce Springsteen, "Wrecking Ball"
It never should have come to this.
The first responders who, on a September morning 18 years ago, rushed into toxic clouds that once had been the World Trade Center never should have been put through bureaucratic hell. Sick and dying because they answered the call for courage, they never should have been forced to drag themselves repeatedly down to Washington to lobby Congress for medical care and compensation. Comedian Jon Stewart never should've had to use his celebrity to help shame lawmakers into giving them what they deserved.
It never should have come to this. But it did.
On Tuesday, it finally paid off as the Senate voted, 97 to 2, to finance the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for the next 70 years.
It was a good day, a day that merited the standing ovation that rocked the quiet of the Senate chamber and the hugs and cheers that followed. But still, it should not have taken so long. The fact that it did speaks volumes about how broken is American politics.
Granted, it would be naive to suggest there was ever a time when you could count on lawmakers to always do the right thing. No such time has ever existed, nor ever will. But wasn't there a time when doing the right thing -- placing the interests of the people above those of party or self -- was, if not quite the rule, as least not so much of an exception?
One thinks of Lyndon Johnson tallying the political cost to his party of signing the Voting Rights Act -- "We have lost the South for a generation," he reportedly said -- but signing it anyway, because it was right to do so. Can anyone imagine Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell doing the same thing? That kind of clarity, of moral courage, seems quite beyond them.
Instead, the Democrats, faced with the most lawless presidency in history and a growing demand for action, study the angles like Minnesota Fats, less concerned with what's right than with what's politic. Meantime, the Republicans, the party of "values," has become nakedly transactional, its ethics coldly situational, less concerned with what's right than with what works, whatever gives them the upper hand, at any given moment.