Several years ago, I read the book "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. He's a psychiatrist who wrote the best selling book based on his experiences treating patients.
There are several fascinating parts of the book, but one that has stuck with me was a discussion of some of his patients who would swing wildly through extremes because they never learned discipline. Parents who would alternate between complete license for their children or cruel, harsh punishments. One woman vacillated between sexual promiscuity and prudery, either inviting men to her bed on the first date or living like a monk. Always swinging between one extreme to the next.
Part of the problem is that living a realistic life is hard work. It's hard to have consistent, fair discipline for your children. I struggle with it. It's too easy to say "Here, kids, here's the TV shut up for a bit", then scream at them when they're too loud or they mess up their rooms. It's hard to pay attention to what really matters day after day, doing the little course corrections here and there with how you treat your family, your coworkers, your friends. When is it necessary to punish and by how much? Are you rewarding for a job well done or encouraging half-assed efforts? Are you putting in 20 hours a day at work because you spent the last 30 days slacking off?
Paying attention is hard. Which is why it's so easy to just swing back and forth between the extremes.
Which is why when I watch the Republicans in the last few weeks, all I can think about is that women who alternated between living like a nun and reenacting "Debbie Does Dallas."
You've got Mississippi Governor, Haley Barbour. First he started out by describing the bits of BP Gulf Oil on the beaches as looking like chocolate mousse. Not that dangerous! It's not that bad! Why are we beating up on BP?
And then - OMG federal government I need help right now this stuff is going to kill us all! Help me! Damn it, I could have called up the national guard but SOMEBODY HELP ME NOW!
It would have been the grown up, mature thing to say "Huh. Maybe I don't think we should worry, but maybe I should get my crap in order *just in case*. Spend some money. I know - government is evil, but I guess I *was* elected governor for a reason."
Then you've got the financial system reform. Remember 2008, when we learned that deregulating the financial market because they said "Hey, trust us, we'll stop doing stupid things before it gets to be a problem, because we're greedy - but we're not crazy?" And then the financial market collapsed, and even Greenspan, the Ayn Rand loving libertarian himself, had to admit that you know, maybe financial regulation was a good thing.
At the time, Republicans were screaming "let it die! Them them all fall apart and let the free market rule!" Granted, anyone who knew anything about history knows that's how the crash of 1929 happened. And while there should have been a better deal, "just letting them die" would have been far, far worse than offering them a loan to get them through. So it was Bush's team that pushed for the big bank bailout, and the Democrats agreed because it was better than nothing.
Now, we have a chance to do some regulation. To impose some boundaries so we don't have the complete and utter shit storm that happened last time. Nothing too crazy - how about some transparency in credit default swaps so we don't have people making tons of bets that things will fall apart and then they have every incentive to see it fail - crazy thought, but maybe people should know that. And maybe the big banks should pay when one of their own falls apart, instead of the American taxpayer. So how about a fund kind of like the FDIC, but bigger, where the money sits in an insurance fund and when someone like Goldman Sachs blows up - they get bailed out with big bank money.
And the response from the same Republicans who whined and complained about the bail outs? We should trust Wall Street. They built the economy. Sure, it was only 1.5 years ago that the thing came melting down like Chernobyl - but these are smart people!
Look at the whole war on terror. You have records about how people like Clarke warned about al Qaeda over and over again, and it wasn't until November 12 that it because something to care about. And then it was Patriot Act and illegal wiretaps and torture.
It would have been better to have a consistent, even, measured, mature method of checking a little bit here, a little bit there, and course correction as need be. It might require you don't see government as "evil", but a necessary component to keep the powerful from preying upon the powerless. It requires that you don't see "the invisible hand" as the ideal for how people interact, but just a term used to describe how prices normalize, not morality.
Sadly, after apologies to BP for having to take responsibility for fucking up the planet, candidates coming out saying that God has a plan so rape and incest victims shouldn't be allowed abortions and Texas rewriting history to fit their ideals - I don't see maturity as something to expect anytime soon.