Some years ago, a certain well-known public facility failed to open on time due to a single mechanical flaw. The facility twice missed rescheduled opening dates and became a running joke nationwide.
Though it opened 16 months late, today, the Denver International Airport is one of the world’s busiest, a vital airline industry hub, highly rated by travelers.
I’m reminded of this after Jerry Brown did something no California governor has done for more than a decade: unveil a new state budget with a multibillion-dollar surplus. Not for a moment does this suggest that a state facing countless billions in pension liabilities is out of the fiscal weeds, but it’s a far cry from the wave of town criers who declared Brown’s 2010 election to be California’s death knell. An act of economic suicide, they said; the signing of our own death warrant. Where are those petulant prognosticators now? Perhaps you were one of them. Are you not feeling a bit foolish?
Premature naysaying is nothing new, be it about elections or airports, but I prefer my father-in-law’s take: A longtime dentist, he likes to say, “When someone asks me what I think of Obamacare, I tell them, ‘Ask me in a year.’ ”
History bears that out. Social Security, Medicare and Medicare Part D all had their political apothecaries attempting to poison the well with panic. The early days of Social Security were burdened by the so-called “John Doe” problem: Employers forgetting to include worker names and new Social Security numbers in their earnings report left the government without the information necessary to calculate benefits and cut checks. The oversight was quickly remedied.
In 1966, propagandists led seniors to believe they’d have to give up their Social Security benefits if they signed up for Medicare. It took nearly three years to change the minds of 700,000 eligible seniors who initially wouldn’t enroll.
Guess what plagued Medicare Part D when it debuted in November 2005? Website problems. Twice delayed, when it finally launched, the website moved so slowly it took visitors two hours to access, and then moved no faster when the site finally came up. Sound familiar? But glitches were fixed, the website improved and by the end of open enrollment in May 2006, more than 16 million successfully enrolled in the program. Today, Part D is enormously popular.
Death panels, FEMA concentration camps, firearm confiscations, Shariah law takeovers, “birther” claims – take your pick. That so-called “ground zero mosque” opened more than two years ago: where’s the problem? Endless predictions that President Barack Obama would destroy America’s economy never materialized. Four years ago, I explained to my daughter that TV news stations came to her elementary school to cover the apoplexy of those fearing the president would use a nationally televised schoolroom address to pied-piper the nation’s children. She said, “Why, are parents going to stop raising their kids or something?”
She figured that out as a child. Why couldn’t we figure that out as adults?
Yet even now, Cassandras are parading false sympathies in the name of Jahi McMath, the Bay Area child whose brain death someone wants us to believe was a hospital’s fault when there is yet no evidence indicating that. But what do they care what props they use to manipulate the gullible so long as a proposition advancing their cause gets on the ballot? They’re hoping enough of us will march in lockstep, interested in neither facts nor levelheadedness.
Hindsight, sadly, is of little help. Given that much of what’s true now is exactly the opposite of what we believed then, you’d think Santayana’s sage epigram would resonate, but alas, the flaw isn’t failed memory, it’s failed will.
To wit, after a recent chemical spill led to a tap water ban for some 300,000 West Virginians, the federal government shipped millions of gallons of bottled water. Yet, on any local media website, multiple comments echoed the sentiment of one Charleston Metro News reader who wrote, “I’d rather drink stump water than Obama water.”
H.L. Mencken once wrote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
Maybe we just aren’t civilized enough, mature enough, evolved enough, to appreciate what the Framers gave us. But if we are to rise to the full height that’s demanded by the intelligence and dignity of our system, it would do the whole lot of us a whole lot of good to eschew the apocalyptic charlatans and give careful contemplation to the issues that confront us, rather than overreact to everything, jump to ludicrous conclusions and pronounce preposterous predictions that invariably make us all look as foolish as “end times” radio preacher Harold Camping.
Or am I appealing to the rationality of folks who ain’t got none?
Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.