A wish list for 2012 and beyond touches on issues global, national and local
No matter how naughty or nice you have been, no matter how carefully you listen, on this New Year’s Eve you will not be able to hear the delicious licks of a Clarence Clemons saxophone solo live. This will be our first year greeted without The Big Man, who departed the earth this year, leaving the Temple of Soul vacant and stage left at any and all future E Street Band concerts aching and empty. Word has it that the band plans to resume touring, beginning in Spain sometime in the summer, but there is no word on how Clemons’ singular presence and heavy-handed sax playing will be replaced.
We will see in 2012 how Bruce Springsteen answers his own question, posed in the aftermath of 9/11 on The Rising: “How can we live broken-hearted?” Not that the Boss is given to taking my suggestions, but I would humbly offer this idea for paying tribute. In each live show this year the band should fall silent when a sax solo is called for and mark the time off in mute tribute. That would give the audience a chance to hear Clemons as he was and always will be in our hearts and minds.
In another reminder that we are all, in the end, visitors here, this year the world also said goodbye to Vaclav Havel. I readily admit that I have never actually read a Vaclav Havel play, never saw one produced on stage. I understand from those who have read his essays that he can be a little dense. The gems of his philosophy, one pundit offered, were floating in those treatises like jewels in a sea of warm molasses. Havel was one of those figures who bridged the world of art and politics, taking both his passions, but never himself, too seriously.
Havel was a European Nelson Mandela, a Solzhenitsyn without the scowl, rising from a Prague prison to the presidency of the Czech Republic and eventually occupying a place on the world stage beyond politics. This was a man who slipped the bonds of Communism without thumping his chest, whose insistence on freedom of expression compelled him to criticize frenzied consumer capitalism at the same time. Next year on Black Friday, think about Vaclav Havel, and stay home. And each time you see protesters brave police violence in Cairo, or Bahrain, or UC Davis, think of Vaclav Havel.
Each of us spends some time around New Year’s thinking about what we have left behind, and then we turn to what lies ahead as we start another trip around the sun (yes, Rep. Bachmann, it’s true, it’s true).
Here’s my wish list. Let’s make this the last year that we let someone buy the presidency of the United States. Whoever wins the election in November will have spent more than a billion dollars to do so. Winners of federal elections at all levels will immediately plunge into fundraising for their next campaign, a pursuit that many politicians say takes up half or more of their time.
This year the Supreme Court decided that government attempts to limit the amount of money spent on campaigns are unconstitutional. They make the argument that writing a check to a candidate is a matter of free speech, and as such is protected by the Constitution. This is absurd. Occupy Syracuse has it right.
The limitless spending on campaign commercials is the opposite of free speech in both senses of the word “free.” It’s not free; it’s very expensive. And the noise generated by all this paid speech drowns out the voices of the majority of us who don’t have the resources to engage in what can only be called legalized bribery. Candidates of both major parties protest the need to beg for money, but they do it in self-defense, because if they let their opponent raise more money and run more commercials, they risk defeat.
Many analysts and scholars are coming to see that campaign finance is at the root of our inability to deal with problems as diverse as the environment, the deficit and job creation. Office-holders perpetually campaigning for money are not given to long-term thinking. Let’s make it easy for them with public financing, and in the process take our democracy back.
Locally, I dream that this is the year that families start to Say Yes to the Syracuse City Schools. Say Yes still offers great hope and promise to families in the city who can get their children the help and resources they need to succeed in school. And it offers a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Wherever you travel this holiday season, tell young families this story. Tell them that there is a town where you can buy a wonderful house for far less than you pay for rent in many areas. Tell them that in this town every child who goes to public school is guaranteed a free college education. They may not believe you at first, so prepare to repeat yourself. This is no fairy tale. This is Syracuse in the Year of Say Yes.
Happy New Year.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at email@example.com.