I was in nerd heaven this Sunday at One Day University, which is a series of lectures from cool college professors at the Hilton Hotel. I knew I loved my “alma mater” when it was time for Joyce Carol Oates’s class, and I was sucked into a slow-moving stampede of senior citizens trying to get a good seat. This is nuts, I thought, as someone knocked me with a cane. But also: how awesome we all agree that proximity to Joyce Carol Oates is worth fighting for. Then I kicked an 80-year-old woman’s shoe by accident.
Anyway, the reason I went back to school (besides the name “Joyce Carol Oates” on the program), was because there were lots of neat-sounding classes about America. And indeed they were neat! One of my favorites was taught by Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, and it was called “The Future of American Politics.” It gave me some perspective on how to have good political conversations in the next year.
One of his main points was that our current political system is not producing enough solutions. Essentially we have a raging national debate about how big the government should be, but few ideas as to what it should do. Or, as he put it: “any jackass can burn down a barn, but it takes a good man or woman to build one.”
Cool. Which leads to the question: what, then, is the role of government?
His theory is that government is supposed to step in when something’s important to the people, but can’t get done privately, or through philanthropy. As he put it: do we want to be 310 million individuals in a dog-eat-dog world where it’s every man for himself, or do we want to be part of a cohesive society governed with the common good in mind?
I thought this was a useful question to use in future conversations, since I tend to not be very articulate when I try to justify federal-anything. Left to my own scripts, I get huffy and exasperated and no one wants to talk to me. And it gave me a mini-template for when I try to explore different political viewpoints. He also offered this gem: When people say they want to get rid of “big government,” what exactly do they want to cut? Military spending? Medicare? Medicaid? Public education? Again: useful.
Anyway, with time to reflect upon my day-long education, I am fired up about all this because it gives me hope for my ability to disagree in a smart way. I also realized that I should make an effort to listen older politicians more. Is there any field (besides surgery) where experience is worth so much?
PS. Can’t wait til 2011. MY SOPHOMORE YEAR!