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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

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Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
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Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Statistics Don't Bleed; Humans Do


Numbers do not have emotions. Data does not cry. All the economic statistics from Washington and New York — no matter how discouraging they may be — do not bleed. Human beings feel pain. Human beings live with heartache.

Never was this more obvious to me than last Monday night in Philadelphia, while watching a two-hour focus group of 11 area voters conducted by respected pollster Peter Hart for the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. It is truly a shame that the nation's political and financial leadership was not there to hear for themselves the heartache and the fear in these voters' voices.

The words of two married mothers, Patricia Mitchell, 45, who tends bar and voted for John McCain, and Cheryll Darby, 36, who was laid off in July from the company where she had worked for 11 years and who voted for Barack Obama, were both honestly painful and painfully honest. Asked by Hart about the economy, Patricia spoke of her tips being "way down" and about her husband, a carpenter and former Marine, who every day seeks work unsuccessfully: "On Craigslist this morning, there were over 100 postings of a blue-collar tradesman looking for work and there was one posting for a carpenter."

How had she had been affected personally? "My family is facing homelessness right now, which I never imagined could ever happen ... sorry." Patricia answered with understandable emotion.

Cheryll, who told of one of her brothers being laid off and another finding a job after nine months of looking, expressed her deepest concern for her father, soon to be 59, whose unemployment benefits are about to expire. He looks for work, but employers "can hire someone who's 25 or 30 and will work for less." As the oldest of five, she's grateful that "our parents struggled our whole lives to provide for us ... look they could live with me, but I don't want them to have to lose their home."

No doubt touched by the emotional candor of Patricia and Cheryll, the men in the group spoke of their own economic setbacks — of being forced into early retirement, having work cut from full-time to part-time, of clients unable to pay them and reducing their standard of living.

The group, seven Obama voters and four McCain supporters, strongly agreed that unemployment is the nation's most urgent problem.

There was virtually no enthusiasm for the sending of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Bill Kelly, 62, an independent and retired shipping supervisor who voted for Obama, spoke for many. "I guess we didn't learn anything from Vietnam," he said, comparing Afghanistan to the war in which he, himself, served.

The villains in our contemporary drama? The Congress — both parties — and Wall Street — especially AIG. Republican John Rounce, 63, a small business consultant, criticized the Obama administration for the financial bailout "throwing money at the same people who caused the problem."

But Congress, both parties, has political halitosis. If health care reform, which was overwhelmingly favored, fails, the blame will not be on the president who proposed it, but rather on both parties in the "dysfunctional" Congress, whose members are faulted for being "self-serving" and consumed with "self-interest." When Hart asked whom they saw as "the face" of Congress, Lisa Romantino, 44, a medical secretary and Obama backer, offered "Satan." With 11 months until Election Day, 2010 does not look like a good year for incumbents.

The Philadelphia group still mostly roots for President Barack Obama to succeed and continues to give him the benefit of the doubt. As Cheryll Darby summed up, "The excitement is gone, but the hope is not gone."

But more than any political story, the message from Philadelphia in these harsh economic times is of the real grief and personal sorrow these Americans and their families are suffering. Would-be leaders who ignore their fellow citizens' pain or who fail to respond will deserve the unemployment they could face.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...This is the most socially responsible article I have read anywhere in a long time...The fact that you take notice of the pain and frustration suffered by this people is remarkable...The press seems able with equanimity to hide their heads in the sand, or see above it all... For those who must live with the failures of their government to manage the economy we must all live on, the fact that government and press and parties and intitutions of faith don't get it, and that the financial powers go on apace with their stufface; such balance is impossible...Among all this carnage some people seek advantage... Having a frightened work force, they will work them to the breaking point, and then replace them with eager beavers from the unemployed...What they cannot see is the slow painful process of a people being disabused of their ideals... Nothing but pain will convince this people that our shining light of democracy has been a monumental failure...Nothing will show this people like pain how displaced was their faith that Free Enterprise will make every life happy...Right now, the people are stalemated by the people... We are divided, at logger heads, two blocked, bound up and constipated in struggle against our neighbors... Far from comfort; the government ought to live in terror of the moment when this people can agree, because the only thing we agree on is that the government has failed us... It is for good that governments are formed because that is the purpose of all human activity... This simple statement of fact has stood for longer than the cross... Well; no matter the goals for which our government was constituted, it is now an inhuman and anti human purpose for which it stands... It supports an ideal: Free Enterprise, as if free business equals a free people...And yet, what is free enterprise if it is not both equal and just, if commerce works against equality and justice and freedom for the people???... Government should do the people's will, and no one should confuse real democracy with the mob rule we suffer today...The people are deeply divided by government, and over government, -when one of the stated purposes of our government was to achieve unity, and perfect union... What should government do??? If the people are entrenched, left and right, party against party, so that a fraction of the people moving this way or that can swamp the boat, what sort of government will result???...The government by division of the people does not ensure our freedom, but ensures its freedom from the people, and from its obligations...We have not seen the end of this depression, and we may not have seen its worst, and the recovery will leave this people more hopeless and poverty strickened than before... And what can our government do??? No government can govern the tide... No government with its will alone can govern the weather, or wild rivers, or catastophes of nature... Yet; governments can bridge rivers and build leves, and keep people off the flood plane or the beach...To be legitimate, government must govern the nation's economy to make certain that enterprise does not destroy the people, empoverish them, and leave them hopeless, without defense...It is one thing to say your governemnt was formed to achieve justice, and another thing to resolve all differences between people and business in favor of human rights...People form unions for the very reason our national union was formed, and it is to provide an common defense of rights and lives... As we see our lives and rights disappearing with our dominance of the world economy, we look to government for rescue only to find it wearing a collar at the end of a leash...Ungoverned business is an ideal, and that ideal is supposed to shower this land and people with good...Our economy has long ago stopped supporting the people and the government, an it now feeds off the long accumulated capital of this people...Much of our wealth has been exported to buy slavery abroad for us to compete against here...We see ourselves reduced to desparation and heart ache... We have all been raised with hymes to our nation sung in our ears, and with endless truthless paeans to our economy repeated adnauseam...We will hate our neighbors and stab them in the back before we will ever change our form of government to one with the courage and intelligence to govern our economy...And yet we must change our form, reform our form of government, or institute a new form of government cognizant of the failure of ideals to serve mankind, and ready to serve up practical solutions to simple human problems...Ideals ARE wonderful things if no one tries to make anything of them...And let me be clear... The problem with this country is not the people...The problem is that we are governed by principals and ideals that have not suffered the fire of critical scrutiny...The courts, and the legislature decide every issue in favor of business out of principals in the belief that if it is good for business it is good for us; and nothing could be further from the truth...As a practical matter divorced from ideals, the government and the economy should serve all the people, and respect and defend their rights as practical, essential needs...We have not failed our government, but our government has failed us... We have not failed our economy, but served it with fidelity...Now; we must look to our own needs, and quit accepting insecurity where security should reign... It is revolution time, and we all agree on this fact because we totally disagree... It would be sweet if change could be kept quiet, and peaceful, and reflect some long forgotten memory of our national self respect....But no one should stand before the tide of change, or bother to get ahead of it... Go with the flow, or run for the high ground... Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Dec 5, 2009 10:11 AM
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