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“I got a rock.”

Spent some time feelin’ inferior – Rod Stewart / Ronnie Wood

They say that kids today are way ahead of those of my generation, and having a niece and nephew who are competent in both Japanese and English, I’m inclined to agree with them. But today’s kids are also missing something. This occurred to me the other night in the middle of watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. This animated show, along with the gold standard A Charlie Brown Christmas, set a realistic tone for adulthood pointedly absent from anything Zac Efron could ever deliver. (Actually, I’m too out of touch to even know if Zac Efron is a relative current example, but I do like writing his name.)

You couldn’t get away with a character like Charlie Brown today. His realistic appraisal of the world around him and repeated “I’m depressed” assertions would be seen as excessively negative and damaging. For Charlie Brown, depression was merely the by-product of an accurate assessment of his state of affairs; not a skewed view of the world and result of misfiring synapses and depleted serotonin levels. He sucked as a pitcher, couldn’t score with the Little Red Haired Girl, and was eliminated from the class spelling bee for misspelling the word “maze.” (And this only because of his singular focus on the greatest San Francisco Giant, and perhaps greatest baseball player to ever play the game.) At Halloween, his scissor skills were so poor that his ghost sheet more resembled Swiss cheese. When the kids compared their trick-or-treat haul, he always got a rock. Not just once, but at every door.

Still, I kind of liked the kid.

Which leads me to this year’s election. A basic principle of economics, as it was once explained to me, is the exchange of information. You know more about you than I do, and I know more about me. How well we come to understand or misunderstand each other is related to the exchange, accuracy and interpretation of these facts. By this standard, economics has a lot to do with words. This is likely why they’re chosen carefully when it comes time to talk about the state of economic affairs.  Both presidential campaigns reflect distorted verbal economic management. It’s absolutely intentional, misleading, and designed to attract the most votes possible. Obama associates with terrorists. There are no differences between McCain and Bush. These statements are easily challenged with even cursory examination, yet are leveled with repeated conviction. A friend much smarter than I once remarked that the problem with democracy is that everyone gets to vote. I know that I’m far from qualified, and a simple ride on the subway or flip through the channels provides ample evidence to suspect that I’m not alone. Despite this, the level of rancorous exchanges currently being tossed between those with opposing views has reached epic proportion. The weaker or more poorly-based the argument, it would seem, the stronger and more bitter the conviction.

If Charlie Brown could tell it like it is, why can’t the rest of us follow suit? Perhaps the price is too high to pay. Robert Burns wrote “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, to see oursels as others see us” which, roughly translated, means: what a gift it would be to see ourselves as others do. It would also likely lead to years of therapy. Perhaps the more relevant quote comes from Walther Matthau as delivered to his troop of lovable losers in The Bad News Bears: “Never assume. When you assume, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” If we’re able to make some small interpersonal gains with this one, we might be ready to move on to national elections.

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  1. dick wrote:

    Plato felt the same way about democracy as your more intelligent friend….he thought it was far and away the worst form of government…if the upcoming election turns out the way it seems to be going i agree..
    good piece


    Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 11:33 pm | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    I had the feeling that this new comment-inclusive blog format would open up a hornet’s nest. As with all things political, I’m remaining neutral. But I’ve got to give the old man his due, having lived through more elections than I may ever see and having run a successful business for years in San Francisco’s ridiculously unwelcoming political environment. And also for picking up my lunch tab for about as long as I can remember ..

    Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

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