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Terry Bracy: Coming of age in life and politics

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

“I woke up one day, and somebody had poured fat all over me!” my college friend Charlie told me, explaining his new pot belly.

My buddy’s joke is a good summation of getting old. One day you wake up and there you are. Neither arthritis nor a knee replacement nor the rods in my right shoulder sufficiently made the point: They just took me back to the weight room and a personal trainer. I made peace with dressing room mirrors by tightening the towel and puffing my skinny frame into its most muscular look.

And then one day I couldn’t think of the name of my favorite movie star, and Nancy had to remind me it was Denzel Washington. Soon we were challenging each other to come up with famous names. A new senior game!

I don’t know when the young guys in the locker room began calling me ‘sir.’ I’ve given up asking to be called Terry. Another sign of advancing age comes in the form of unintended compliments. As we walked into a fancy new movie house to see “Don’t Look Up,” a middle-age couple in line behind us whispered, “Aren’t they cute!” Yikes! We smiled politely but were tempted to give them the finger.

My Dad used to call the obituaries the Irish sports page, but I find little humor in them these days. In the last few months I’ve lost Dave Stewart, a loyal friend and golfing partner for 40 years, and Chris Helms, who generously mentored me in TV news and so much more. When people like that go, part of you leaves with them. Now my eyes cautiously surveil the obit section as though it’s a hazardous waste site.

Age comes to you with a hundred hints and a thousand cuts. One morning you awaken, look at that wrinkled face in the mirror and realize that you are indeed an old man. A long life and wisdom are not synonymous but frequently related conditions. Over the course of decades I’ve seen patterns emerge which might help make sense of the byzantine miasma of our contemporary politics.

Allow me, if you will, to make five observations drawn from more than 50 years working in government. I may be past my vintage, but in politics there is nothing new under the sun.

First, you can’t compromise with crazy.

Before we had the big lie, the right wing was pushing the nutty Q’Anon conspiracy theory which, according to a Forbes Magazine poll, 56% of Republicans believe in whole or part. The “theory” holds that Donald Trump is defending the planet from a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles (e.g. liberal politicians and Hollywood celebrities) buried deep within the federal government running a child-snatching operation. You used to find believers of this kind of chimera in mental hospitals; today you can meet them on Capitol Hill.

Second, the filibuster is a bad rule and must go.

The Senate was designed by the founders to cool the passions of the House, but not to stop the progress of the country. Most senators privately love the filibuster because it vests each member with enormous power, the ability to stop legislation in its tracks. Sens. Manchin and Sinema are making a mistake of historical proportions if they choose their personal power over the good of our democracy by siding with Republicans in opposition to the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill.

Third, the Democratic Party turned its back on union workers.

President Clinton did many good things for the poor such as the Refundable Income Tax Credit. But he left the working class high and dry when he advocated for NAFTA and deregulated Wall Street.

Whole cities were thrown into bankruptcy when the assembly lines went to Mexico and the jobless had nowhere to turn. There was no recovery plan. The historian Tom Frank has written brilliantly on the subject, and the resonances haunt us to this very moment. Failure to meaningfully reinvest in the working class will lead to more resentment, division and chaos.

Fourth, the Republican Party is leading a coup.

There is an eerie silence in Washington as GOP operatives move from one red state to another advising Republican legislatures on how to rig elections. Their justification for this sedition is that the 2020 election was stolen. That may be the biggest deception in American history, snake oil sold to the Republican faithful by the former commander-in-chief. This effort must be stamped out by federal legislation and if necessary police enforcement. The burglar is at the door!

Fifth, vigilance is crucial, despair is counterproductive.

One lesson I have learned over my 50 years in elections and government is that the future is always full of surprises. As the great Texan, Speaker Sam Rayburn, observed: “Six months is a generation in politics.” As I’ve outlined, we are experiencing legitimate and meaningful threats to our system that must be addressed.

But these are neither the first nor the most acute challenges the American project has needed to overcome. So, be worried, sure. But don’t be paralyzed with anxiety. We are a resourceful people working with an imperfect system that nevertheless has sustained us for nearly two and a half centuries.

That’s the thing about getting old: You learn not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And you recognize the unique opportunity presented by every new year.

Terry Bracy has served as a political adviser, campaign manager, congressional aide, sub-Cabinet official, board member and as an adviser to presidents.


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