A cynical look at America’s sorriest institution
By Michael A. Matteo
Twenty-two years ago, the best selling book, Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, was published. The book contained heart-warming essays about life, how it should be lived and that just about everything learned in kindergarten could help us live well as adults.
Presently, when the smoke finally clears from the current financial debacle, the majority of Americans will limp away licking their pocketbook wounds. One thing you can bank on (even if you can’t bank on banks) is that members of Congress will maintain all of their perks, pensions, and the quality of their personal lives shall not be impacted anywhere close to what the average American has suffered. With this in mind I think we can all learn something from members of Congress about how we might want to live a successful financial life. Below is what Mr. Fulghum wrote as the introductory essay in Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten (in quotation marks), and how I believe members of Congress have demonstrated his examples:
1. “Share Everything.” Even if what you are sharing isn’t yours, give away millions of dollars regardless of the impact on the national debt, value of the dollar or deficit. The new Congressional motto is: Being a big spender is great when the waiter puts the check in front of someone else.
2. “Play Fair.” When in public view, behind closed doors lie, cheat, steal and do whatever it takes to maintain your power base and get re-elected.
3. “Don’t hit people.” Especially if you can ruin them by making accusations, ridiculing them or insinuating things to besmirch their character. Remember it takes a shorter time for a black eye to heal than to recover from having your character assassinated.
4. “Put things back where you found them.” Because anything found on you could be used as evidence if you are ever found soliciting sex in an airport bathroom.
5. “Clean up your own mess.” And if you can’t clean it up, deny you caused it and blame it on others, preferably from the other party.
6. “Don’t take things that aren’t yours.” However, if you do justify it by waving the flag and stating that you were doing it for the good of the country.
7. “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” America is still waiting for that apology. Is anyone listening?
8. “Wash your hands before you eat.” With all the mud slinging done by politicians combined with dirty deals that grease their political campaigns it is doubtful that their hands will ever be clean so this is one rule that won’t apply.
9. “Flush.” Since Congress has greatly contributed to the economy ending up in the toilet the least they can do is flush.
10. “Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.” But PAC money, lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions from large corporations with their hands out are better for you than cookies and milk.
11. “Live a balanced life.” We’ll never have a balanced budget so why not shoot for a balanced life? And the best way to achieve personal balance is to play golf, go to expensive dinners, fly first class and show up once in a while to cast a vote if it doesn’t interfere with important things like hair cut appointments or massages.
12. “Learn some and think some and draw and paint and dance and play and work every day some.” “Think” about how you can be re-elected. “Draw” erroneous conclusions that won’t be challenged by your constituents. “Paint” a rosy picture even when things are beyond dismal. “Dance” around the truth at every opportunity. “Play” with the facts and avoid taking any responsibility for anything bad and accept credit for everything good whether or not you had anything to do with it. “Work hard” to keep those campaign contributions coming in because it’s all about showing you the money.
13. “Take a nap every afternoon.” The best time for naps is when other congressmen/women are making speeches. You won’t really listen to them anyway because you will be voting along party lines. A great time for naps is during the state of the union if the other party’s president is speaking.
14. “When you go out into the world, watch traffic, hold hands and stick together.” Stick close to your fellow party members because we know that the philosophy on Capitol Hill is one hand washes the other and both hands screw the taxpayers.
15. “Be aware of wonder.” And a big part of this wonder includes the fact that Congress can have an abysmal approval rating, however, the members continue to be re-elected year after year by their constituents. Yes, we know, it’s other states legislators who are the bad ones. Apathy and ignorance of the voters are the greatest assets to career politicians.
These rules to live by may not be morally right, ethical or good for the country. But, how many Congressmen’s pensions are in danger from the current banking dilemma? How many of their homes are in foreclosure? How many Americans can vote themselves a raise when their customers continuously give them bad performance reviews? How many Americans can pursue a better job (campaigning) and continue to draw a paycheck even if fail to show up for work at your current job? How many Americans have free healthcare for themselves and their families? How many of us only have to work for 5 years to earn a pension or only have to work for 20 years to be able to collect a pension at age 50? (yep, that’s their deal, generous, isn’t it?) These rules might not be how good people want to live but when it comes to personal financial stability they seem to work. While everyone else may end up on Prozac, members of Congress will cry all the way to the Congressional bank (a bank they will most assuredly keep open even if all the others are closed).
Mike Matteo is a resident of Tampa, Florida where he was a public and private high school teacher who taught classes in economics, history, psychology and philosophy. Mike has written twenty full-length feature films, has taught screenwriting at the University of South Florida. He has also written or co-authored three books. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.