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Stephen Goldstein: Everything that’s wrong with America I saw at 30,000 feet

On Sept. 10, I flew from Boston to Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue just before 8 p.m. That meant we would be airborne during President Barack Obama’s speech at 9 p.m., outlining his plan to destroy ISIS (or ISIL as he calls it).

Well before the president began to speak, on the TV monitor at my seat, I flipped from MSNBC to FOX to CNN and back again to hear what pundits were saying. All of it was predictable.

For days, I’d heard from the administration’s friends and foes that he’s hopelessly thoughtful and deliberate or weak and indecisive. In the immediate run-up to the speech, pundits had a field day debating what the president should and shouldn’t say — “boots on the ground” or “no boots on the ground,” bombing in Syria or not.

What were my fellow passengers watching and listening to? I wondered. After all, it had been leaked that the president would announce our getting entangled in yet another military incursion that could mean lives lost, millions spent for years to come, and who knows what.

And it was all because we were facing a worldwide threat from beheading-happy terrorists. Surely, everyone realized that we were flying on the night before Sept. 11– from Boston, of all places — and might have been at least a bit concerned.

So, a few minutes before the president spoke, I got up and walked several rows down the aisle, behind where I was sitting. I had to move quickly because the broadcast was so close to starting, I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

Only four of the 35 people in 12 rows near me (myself included) were already watching a channel covering the speech. (I doubt that any more of us ever did so.) And I was the only one of the 10 people in the four rows immediately around me who watched the entire speech.

Instead, other passengers were riveted to sitcoms and sports. One especially manually dexterous matron was knitting while playing a video game.

Forgetfulness? Indifference? Hatred of President Obama? Disgust with Congress and politics in general? War weariness? Ignorance? Stupidity? I can only imagine why people weren’t watching — all of it disturbing, none of it excusable.

Their blinders on, TV talking-heads cranked up after the speech, predictably parsing the president’s phrases according to their partisan prejudices. It was as though he hadn’t said a word — and they didn’t have to listen.

Meanwhile, it was reported that some members of Congress appeared only too happy to flout the Constitution, and their oath of office, by not voting to authorize the president’s attacks on ISIS and Syria and God knows who and what else. (These are not going to be neatly circumscribed or decisive attacks like those on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

It takes getting above the clouds to see that, tragically, our collective heads are in them on terra firma and that our national perspective is infirm.

Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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