Thursday, July 30, 2009

Changing the Subject

Almost 100 years ago, the president of Harvard University, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, resolved to establish a quota on Jews accepted to the university because, said the cloistered bigot, “Jews cheat.” When one of the most distinguished judges of the day, Learned Hand, a Harvard alumnus, pointed out to Lowell that Protestants also cheat, Lowell retorted, "You're changing the subject! We're talking about Jews."

As conveyed with exasperation in my previous entry on this blog, President Obama was expressly addressing national health care for a national audience tuned in to hear what he had to say
about national health care when a journalist who either needed attention, or didn’t truly know why she was at the press conference and wasn’t paying attention, changed the subject. With one question, she accomplished what the GOP and its cadres of cranks have spent millions of dollars, calories and their diminishing reserves of human resources trying to do.

The average American has the attention span of an inch worm. And the cranial capacity of one. That makes people who should be listening to discussion instead of sound bites putty in the hands of those who would manipulate them, i.e., anyone who has an agenda, i.e., politicians, propagandists, talk show hosts, hate mongers and so on down the low road.

Interrupting is no longer impolite, it’s the rhythm and tenor of our lives. Chris Matthews asks a question but starts speaking before his guest can answer because what he has to say is more important—to him. A New York dinner party is a game of conversational counterpoint only seasoned pros can play. If you don’t instinctively know when to cut in—and by “when” I mean on the precise opportune breath—you’re sidelined.

Changing the subject is the new dialogue. I speak while your mind wanders and you speak while I wonder if you’ve heard anything I said. If I ask you, you’re apt not to answer because you’re thinking of what you want to say next.

Background music, loud and incessant, is the social essential. Without it, what is there to say? With it, does it matter?

Changing the subject is tactful when someone’s getting to you, deft when someone’s boring you, and legitimate when you want to make your point or pitch before the lunch you’re buying the person you’re finessing, by changing the subject, is over.

Finally, changing the subject comes a lot more naturally to all those you have to cope with than changing their minds does….

Which, not to change the subject, brings us back to where we started. We should be talking about national health care. And should be listening.


  1. Personally I think it took a lot of intetinal fortitude on the part of the young lady to ask ANY question in a news conference that is not a news conference but a Public Relations ploy. NEVER in my lifetime has a President had a list of reporters to call on in the order that they appear on that list. No one is allowed to stand up any longer and ask a real question. So this young lady took a chance and probably ended her career at least at thw White House.

    What should we be listening to exactly? In January we were told that the economy would go bust and unemployment would reach 9.5% without a stimulus bill. Today unemployment stands at a shade under 10%. Barely 10% of the bill has been appropriated to the economy and yet there are signs, albeit weak signs, that the economy is improving; stock market up; banks carefully lending; housing starts re-starting; housing sales up. The economy is taking care of itself and the only money that has actually reached it is the TARP money of the previous administration, a great deal of which has been offered back to a broke government who has refused it!

    Barney Frank told us in 2003 that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needed no intervention from the government, that they were "fiscally sound". John McCain said tax health care benefits. The President said it was health care reform and now it is health INSURANCE reform. So just what the hell should we be listening to!??!?!

    Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense to appeal to a toung nation on how it would survive and grow. Is there no Common Sense left? How do we save a country and a government that is failing when the arrogance of power is telling us only they know how to fix our problems? We are soon to be the economy of Nazi Germany where one required a basket of money to buy a loaf of bread. Why? Because we have an arrogantly power hungry political body in Congress who spends more and more money (on both sides of the aisle) not to fix problems, but to buy ever more power to make themselves ever more arrogant.

    We have been blinded by the arrongance of power because of their Robin Hood like approach to government. Take from the rich give to the poor. We are now at the point where if we take every dollar the rich have and apply it to the EXISTING debt we will still not even have paid off all the interest let alone the principal. Yet we have an arrogant political body telling us we can fix this by spending more!!!! Where is the Common Sense that asks, HOW? EVen if we became 100% Socialist or Communist or some fort of Banana Republic dictatorship we will never be able to pay our debt let alone provide for our people.

    What should we listen to? Certainly not the 535 in Congress. Not Hannity, Limbaugh, Olberman, Matthews, or Maddow. Not me. Why not try a level of Common Sense that says "Ok, I want to see my country survive? But how? Prosperous and Free? Or Poor and shackled to debt. Anyone listening?

  2. Steve: People are listening but some of us don't hear too much worth listening TO in the above rant. Do you know history? During the 1930s Depression we had to spend heavily to get ourselves out of it. I am not pro-debt, either, but there are times when debt does not becomes the be-all and end-all. Our current time is one of these. At least what we are spending on in THIS administration has to do with helping people, rather than killing them.

    And I think it will be quite awhile here in the USA before a basket of money buys a loaf of bread.

  3. There are many economic scholars who believe that FDR's spending during the 1930's only prolonged how long it took us to recover from the depression and unfortunately we are still suffering from the welfare state that he created that can never be dismantled. Now B.O.'s Administration only seeks to build upon this house of cards until it collapses. As for spending money to help people rather than kill them... FDR spent plenty of money to kill people just as GWB did, those people were and are called our enemies and killing them is defending ourselves and helping others who are suffering under tyranny. The government is charged under the the constitution to, "provide for the common defense" which means spending money to kill people.

  4. James VM, Thanks. Your point about me ranting is well taken. I meant simply that people are confused about who to listen to.
    James U "provide for the common defense" only means that we have a way to stop our people from being killed.
    Finally, my passion is never meant as a personal attack on anyone nor do I percieve comments made to me as personal. Please feel free to email me if you feel otherwise. Ray can give you the info.