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Accepting the aphorism Ars longa, vita brevis, I veer this week from art into life (although to me they are the same) to include a few thoughts about the recent mid-term elections.

In my state we were voting for a governor, several state legislature seats, a number of other state offices and a few propositions. In the mail I must have received at least 40 glossy flyers from both parties, dead trees all, slickly advertising this or that point of view and attempting to sway my thinking based on images of smiling wives and children at the sides of clean-cut, square jawed men. Large letters and bold type declared this or that LIE being told by the other guys. Even more disturbing were the telephone calls, which started a good month before the election. Even though our home telephone lines are on the national do-not-call list, the robocalls were thick and fast. I got calls from the candidates. I got calls from other politicians. I got calls from celebrities. I got calls from a candidate’s mother, for goodness sake. And there were live calls too, from earnest young volunteers who really wanted to let me know how wonderful their candidates were. They inevitably called during dinner and I so wanted to tell them that a respect for my family’s dinner time would have been a more convincing plea than incessantly ringing telephones.

Taking the long view, politics has probably always been cynical, self-serving, power mad, deceitful and annoying. Must we have this corrupt process, soaked in money and prone to exaggeration and outright dishonesty, in order to maintain some kind of elected civil government? Abraham Lincoln and Frank Capra notwithstanding, it is doolally to expect honesty and idealism to thrive in this foul stew.

This leads me to the Republicans. How odd it is that a code language has developed that allows the members of the far right to make statements that appear to be straightforward, ideological representations of their conservative mission, but actually function as code for racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious and ethnic intolerance and greed. No immigration reform! translates as, we don’t want any of those people here with their dark skin, strange religions and different languages. Our country is for ME. Repeal ‘Obamacare’! translates as, why should I have to pay taxes or extra money so poor people get health insurance? Make them work for a living! My money is for ME. Enact voter ID laws! translates as, we don’t want those people, black and brown, poor, disenfranchised, undereducated, to vote, because they won’t vote for ME. Marriage is defined only as between one man and one woman! translates as, queers are not fully human, and don’t deserve to have the same rights and powers as ME. Repeal Roe v. Wade! translates as, women’s bodies must be controlled (see queers, above), women need to be put back in their place and the world’s decisions should be made by ME. ME!

And so it goes. Justification runs deep towards biblical texts, certain religious teachings, and incessant misrepresentation of the Founding Fathers. The most simple of facts, which I think I learned in the 4th grade, was that those 18th century men of property who dared to defy the English king and set up our country separated church and state. Doesn’t that mean that civil discourse should set aside those religion-based prejudices? Even if they are believed to be true, if the Founding Fathers’ plan is to be followed, then those beliefs should be separated from government.

In December I usually buy my Christmas tree from a young couple from Quebec who sell them on the corner nearby. They are working people who spend one month sleeping in a camper on the streets of New York, selling their trees in order to support their family. By the condition of their hands it is clear that they are not strangers to hard physical labor. Last year I had a conversation with them about the virulent reaction in the U.S. to the Affordable Care Act, and these two young Canadians were bewildered. Why, said the woman, would people not want to, you know….she searched for the word, share?

Indeed. I return to Hippocrates, who gave us the quote in the first paragraph, often taken out of context: Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile. Nec vero solum seipsum praestare oportet oportuna facientem: sed et assidentes, et exteriora. Translated by Francis Adams, this reads as: Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.

He is speaking of Medical Arts, the skill set needed to address the body’s difficulties. This came from the same man who gave us, first, do no harm. How wonderful if we could apply this ancient wisdom – and sanity – it to our system of electing government.


©Poets Sinews, 2014. Reuse with permission.