Bob Franken: Political cruelty

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, December 16, 2014 1:23pm
  • Opinion

Enhanced interrogation techniques, or even worse, EITs — why can’t they just say “torture” as the apologists try to pretend that the CIA and our post-9/11 leaders didn’t shame America? Instead, they come up with sterile terms to describe their monstrous policies.

Another one is the term that two psychologists created to describe the state of mind they wanted from U.S. captives subjected to that torture: “learned helplessness.” The intent of their brutal interrogation tactics was to create a belief by prisoners that it was pointless to withhold information, that there was no hope of doing anything about their plight except to cooperate.

Come to think of it, the concept of “learned helplessness” might well describe how most of us feel as we watch the goings-on in Washington. It’s easy to conclude that it’s futile to wish that our Congress could do its fundamental job, which is to fund the government, without selling out to the bankers and the big-money contributors. Those who say they oppose the new goodies doled out to the high rollers, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats, raised a last-minute stink only after Republicans had made these handouts to the rich their condition for keeping the government open for business.

It’s not that this cheesy move surprised anyone. Warren and the rest knew these riders would be attached to the legislation, so their protestations were feigned, like the character in the movie “Casablanca” who exclaims, “I’m shocked, SHOCKED!” You don’t need to teach at Harvard to know this kind of thing always happens. It’s Politics 101.

Of course, Warren is going through the running-for-president stage where she claims that she’s not running, not even interested. But each time she gets the chance, she makes sure we know that she wants to take on the fat cats, leaving an impression that Hillary Clinton is too cozy with them. Warren is trying to decide whether there’s any chance whatsoever that she could be nominated. Usually, the first real step is when a prospective candidate announces that he or she is creating an exploratory committee. Warren is exploring whether to form an exploratory committee. Hillary isn’t running either, officially, but at least she makes it clear that she’s thinking about it, meaning she’ll make her announcement, maybe in the spring, after she’s made a few more $300,000-a-pop speeches.

Here’s the learned helplessness part: By now, we’ve learned that we’re helpless to influence this charade. We know that sooner or even sooner, the bankers, the corporate types, all of them get their way. We are well aware of Mark Twain’s description of “best government money can buy.” It was true in the 19th century, more so now. And there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

Oh sure, we can vote, but is it any wonder that so many of us don’t bother? There are probably a few politicians who seem to stand for the right things, as opposed to those who knowingly make the usual empty promises. But even if they get past the onslaughts from the special interests, once they’re elected, they get sucked into a system where if they don’t cavort with the bad guys, they get frozen out. Just like those who put them into office, meaning us.

In order to keep the government up and running, the members of Congress had to swallow some changes in the law that tightened the grip of the wealthy on our government. We can expect it to be even worse when Republicans control both the House and the Senate. President Barack Obama will be in his full lame-duck mode as the nation somehow manages to drift and start lurching toward the next election at the same time. Now that’s torture.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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