By Donella Meadows
–June 13, 1996–
Something about gardening gets me thinking about politics. Maybe it’s the bending over with the blood running to my head. Maybe making a tiny piece of the world beautiful gets me wishing the whole world could be beautiful. Maybe it’s sunstroke.
Anyway, as I was in front of the house the other day putting in marigolds, I found myself imagining that suddenly, as if struck by lightning, every candidate in the coming political campaign started telling the truth.
Yeah, I know, dream on. But it was a breezy day, the warblers were singing, the air smelled of lilacs, and into my head came this picture of competitive political truthtelling. If that’s too much of a stretch for you, imagine something more probable, such as Superman putting truth serum into the water supply of Washington D.C. Or take some kind of anti-cynicism serum yourself. All I needed was to be out in the garden.
As I snuggled Lemon Gems into the ground, I imagined the Republicans leading off, out of old-fashioned graciousness, or just because they lost the toss.
OK we admit, say the Republicans, taking a deep breath, that this Whitewater business 17 years ago was a minor Arkansas-size scam. Not much, really, compared to other scams we know about and even — ahem — (turning red about the ears) have participated in.
We admit, say the Democrats in return, that our president was involved in or hung out with the perpetrators of, or at least knew about and did not raise a finger against, an Arkansas-size scam years ago. He is, like most of the rest of us, a bit, shall we say, ethically challenged.
We’re sorry, say the Rs and the Ds together, buoyed by a wave of righteousness, that we wasted public time and money on this matter. We will drop it.
Hey, I’m not sure I want you to drop it, I interrupted, shifting to a flat of dwarf African doubles. What I’d like is for you to expose all the scams and put an end to them.
We agreed to tell the truth, not to clean up our act, say the politicians. But we’ll think about it. Now that you mention it, since we know how to do these scams, we are uniquely qualified to write and enforce laws against them. Could we come back to that topic later? We have some more truth to tell here.
Go right ahead, I said, pulling out crabgrass.
We’ve been making all this noise about taxes, say the Rs, but we haven’t really reduced your taxes. We’ve reduced OUR taxes — we who get paid (by you) more than $100,000 a year. We’ve shifted the bite away from high incomes and toward the payroll tax, which hits only the poor and middle class. Then we used the deficit we created to argue against those awful programs that benefit you but not us. It’s amazing that we keep getting away with it. You folks really think we’re a tax-cutting party. You never wise up.
The Democrats are quiet for a minute. Hypocrisy is a lot harder to admit than outright greed. Finally they come out with it. We denounce the Rs for taking from the poor and giving to the rich, but hey, we’re rich too, and we have rich campaign contributors. Most of us haven’t had our hearts in this matter. We slow the tide a bit, but mainly we go along with it.
So are you going to keep doing that? I asked, working on the tall Crackerjacks that go at the back of the garden.
Would you hold up on the doing? the politicians ask. We’re still working on the telling.
About health care, venture the Democrats. (The Republicans groan.) Some of us are actually worried about health care being out of reach for millions of Americans. We think the system is going terribly wrong, and we want to fix it. But, frankly, well, you do want the truth here, right? Well, um, frankly we don’t understand the Byzantine scheme our president came up with, and we have no idea whether it would have fixed anything. And our rich campaign contributors hated it. So we let it die.
The Rs say, To tell the truth, we don’t care about health care, as long as we and people like us have it. We think it’s great that our industry friends are making tons of money as the system gets privatized. That’s the American way. Anyone who can’t afford it doesn’t deserve it.
Is that really the truth? I asked. Are you that calloused?
An uncomfortable silence. Then some of the Rs say, hesitantly, We have to be. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Everyone has to grab and hold onto whatever he can and not think about the losers. If we don’t do that, WE’LL be the losers. But, you know? The truth? We hate it that the world is like that. We wish it weren’t.
Maybe it isn’t, I suggested, wondering where to fit in the big puffy Climax marigolds, my favorites. Maybe if you let go of that graspiness, that combativeness, that fear, maybe if all you Washington folk of both parties, stopped walling yourself from the world with piles of money and power, maybe you’d discover that out here things are more kindly than you think. Maybe there’s even enough for everyone.
We don’t believe it for a minute, they reply. But we’d like to.
You’d help make it that way, if you’d just go on telling the truth, I said. I bet if we all did that, if we called you on your posturing and lies, if we insisted on your honesty and our own, the scams would disappear. The tax system would work toward fairness. We’d find a way for everyone to have health care. The world might even turn into what we want, instead of what we fear. But we have to keep pulling out the crabgrass and planting marigolds.
A gentle rain started falling, just in time to water the newly set-out plants. Satisfied with the state of the garden and the nation, I called it quits and went in for a glass of iced tea.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1996