Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I can see (too) clearly now -- Oct. 30, 2014 column


Lost in thought while shopping solo on a Saturday afternoon, I suddenly became aware of a voice.

“You are very brave,” a woman said in a thick European accent. Who? I looked around. The sales associate was addressing -- me. “You are very brave,” she said again.

What on Earth was she talking about?

I was a shopper in a discount store, heading to the checkout. No heroics there. She gestured toward my intended purchase, a box containing a lighted magnifying cosmetic mirror that promised to show my face 10 times larger than normal.  

“Why?” she asked. “Why do you want this?”

I was speechless. None of your business, I did not say.

“What good will it do?” she persisted, “to see so much?” She obviously thought she was saving a sister from buyer’s remorse.       

“Well,” I said, knowing I couldn’t win, “you’re probably right.” I turned, walked the mirror back to its home on the shelf and slunk out. 

But this is America and we are not easily parted from the objects of our desire. I drove straight to another store and bought a nearly identical mirror – OK, with less magnification -- at a higher price.

I can see (too) clearly now.

Some mornings I can’t take the magnified me. I flip the mirror over to see my imperfections merely as they appear in real life. The flaws seem less daunting and more fixable then.

These days, most of us seem to be looking in mirrors that magnify imperfections, especially those of our government, country and culture. It shouldn’t be a surprise.

We’re subject to a steady stream of skeptical, if not cynical, talk from politicians and the media. We have a full-blown case of the malaise President Jimmy Carter worried about. Nobody uses the word, nor did Carter, but nobody’s singing “Happy Days are Here Again” either.

You know we’re in a sour mood when a mostly rising stock market is viewed as the prelude to a plunge. We resist good news.

Consider the difficulty President Barack Obama has in convincing people that we’re better off than when he took office in 2009. Many people simply won’t believe that the economy is improving and the Affordable Care Act – a.k.a Obamacare -- is finally working.

Neither is perfect, of course, and we have a long way to go in both areas. But we seem unwilling to see bright spots. Unemployment is at its lowest levels in six years and jobs are coming back at a decent clip of more than 200,000 a month. 

Ten million Americans who were uninsured a year ago now have health insurance. Health care costs nationally have moderated. Premiums are rising more slowly for the people who get insurance through their employers – that’s most Americans. And for those who buy their insurance on the exchanges, premiums are falling in some markets.

“While good, affordable health care might seem like a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on Fox News, it’s turned out it’s working pretty well in the real world,” the president said at Northwestern University the other day.

And yet, more than half of Americans surveyed by Gallup still disapprove of Obamacare. Attitudes are “frozen in negative state,” Gallup reported.

Why? For one thing, the midterm campaigns have been especially bitter. Republicans demonize Obama for failures, real and imagined. Democrats run from the president, even after they’ve voted with him almost all the time. Tea partiers lash out at everyone.

News has always had a bias toward conflict and confrontation, but only recently have we all had front-row seats for every disaster anywhere in the world, whether it’s the rise of the Islamic State or fear of Ebola.

Fortunately the campaigns are nearly over. Whatever the outcome on Election Day, winners will be vested in change and a new start. 

We can stop magnifying our flaws and problems. They’re big enough in real life. We need to see clearly. Then we can begin to fix what’s wrong.

© 2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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