Repeat anything often enough and it starts to sound like a hard-and-fast rule. That's the game the Republican operatives are playing right now. Just watch Fox News and see how often all the talking heads repeat the same dirge about Obama and the bailout.
There's a lot of whispering about how we'll come to a terrible end. It's not exactly journalism as much as it is shaping the news. However, they didn't invent the game. It's part of human DNA to pick up the thread of a general discussion and adopt it as a rule. It's like we need some certainties in life, especially in the absence of faith, so we grab on to the current fads. The marketing geniuses amongst us noticed and now try to invent the discussion.
Those who can't win through creating lasting change that benefits the masses, otherwise known as voters, then adopt the scheme of winning through suggesting the end of the world. Make enough people afraid that doom is imminent and it's easier to introduce lots of rules about eavesdropping or holding someone in prison on a remote Cuban base without a trial.
Not exactly part of the constitution or a good way to maintain a democracy, but once fear is introduced, faith in something good tends to take a back seat. It becomes harder to do the right thing because you have to believe the guy next to you won't steal from your outstretched hand.
There also seemed to be certain economic rules of life that actually turned out to be true for over sixty years. In the scope of human history, that's a pretty good run.
That was when the Great Depression ended, and ever since we closed the chapter on those hard times, each subsequent generation has lost a few more of the details of just what happened. My grandparents who lived through the crisis would mention it with reverence and reel out a story or two about the creative ways people found to just survive. That instilled in us certain humility about spending and saving for a little while.
But then we took over as the adults on the scene and credit cards became easier to obtain and lots of shiny new gadgets were being invented. It became so much easier to live in the moment.
Not looking back also made it so much easier to believe that it's even possible to have hard-and-fast monetary rules that will always prove to be true.
That idea is what made it easier for a series of presidents from both parties to strip away all banking regulations post haste without a lot of outrage from any quarter. It was as if we suddenly believed that the behaviors that lead up to the economic crisis at the beginning of the last century were an anomaly.
Then we repeated most of the mistakes all over again, and here we are cleaning up the mess, yet again. The only surprising element is how many people are crying foul and saying it isn't fair. They did everything right by saving their money and investing in a retirement account and only buying stock in the better companies and it all went poof anyway. They're right, it does seem unfair.
But, sometimes that's life. Follow all the rules and still end up starting over from scratch, which leads to the second and more surprising observation about American ideals. We actually, eventually do practice what we preach about to the rest of the world.
This would have seemed like a perfect opportunity to react in fear and vote for the guy who was offering more Big Brother and less bailout. A kind of, every man for himself, idea and yet we went the other way in droves. We chose optimism over cynicism and decided we wanted to try to fix things as a group.
We chose the ideals of democracy, which require including lots of people who don't look like us or act like we do, and may have even made a few dumb mistakes lately, rather than saying we were going to protect what was left of our stash, go get your own. After all, that would have seemed fair. Not creative, or a community builder or even faithful, but definitely fair.
Instead, we chose to believe that we are all better than such a lowly standard. That's a much better definition of the American people anyway.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.