Summer Sale! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
News Opinion Op-Eds

Last week, debt; this week sharks … what else is new?

The beginning of August is a strange time in America. Children become sick of the activities that their helicopter parents have forced them into, the attention span for Major League Baseball drops off — especially in Baltimore — before playoff races heat up, and Congress prepares for its long recess. To rescue the American public from these melancholy circumstances, the Discovery Channel proudly presents … "Shark Week"!

For an entire week, Americans are seated in front of the television with a clear mission: to make sure that naïve seals can indeed be hunted in slow motion, and that steel cages provide sufficient protection to scuba divers (a concept that is a relief to some, and a disappointment to others). A noble cause, for everyone needs to see the wonders of nature and man's interaction with it. Though "Shark Week" piques both our fascination with the natural world and our desire for seafood for a short while, the week eventually ends, and shark discussions are put on the shelf for another 51 weeks. All the hype! All the love! All the drama! It gets swept aside more quickly than Jay Cutler in last year'sNFC Championship.

Sadly, this one-and-done mentality that we have regarding sharks also exists in the realm of American politics. What's considered an important issue today is lucky to be even mentioned tomorrow. Usually, this does not happen because the problem is solved (e.g. sharks are still feared, misunderstood, and several are endangered). Instead, something else has yanked the attention span of the American public (immediately following "Shark Week," perhaps Kim Kardashian will knock over an old woman at the mall, prompting a major PR campaign from the AARP against further "ageist, elitist attacks on the elderly").

Take the war (or nonwar?) in Libya, for example. Since March 31, more than 6,000 strike sorties have been conducted by NATO. This is no minor blip on the radar of international affairs, yet major media or policy attention has been brought to the issue only during the brief debate of the War Powers Resolution's affect on the administration's decision to intervene. There is no concrete policy regarding the mission in Libya beyond an opaque goal to protect civilians for an indefinite amount of time. Because the Libya issue has not received targeted attention from the American public, the stumbling in the dark will continue.

Additionally, the issue of national debt has not crept up on us. The house of fiscal policy was built upon the sand long ago. Entitlement spending for the high-powered elderly population — that is, automatic benefits such as Social Security and Medicare — has continued to grow, unquestioned, without monetary adjustments or eligibility requirements. It is a part of the discussion regarding the national debt currently, but its appearance on the radar will be brief. Once a "deal" is made to take a legitimate bite out of the debt, akin to what happens to the those unsuspecting seals during "Shark Week," the rest of the problem (still trillions of dollars) will fade away from the public's consciousness.

These issues gain attention — for a short while — before they disappear from television screens. These issues (and many more) do not disappear but get swept under the rug. Lawmakers at both the state and national level could not be happier with this. If the problem can be dealt with later, an incumbent is able to sleep more easily.

It is not our 'roided-up partisanship that prevents us from accomplishing real change. Rather, our indifference is the true roadblock. A divided nation with ideologies out on the table is a healthy and robust nation. When issues remain relevant, policies are challenged. Only then are actions taken by lawmakers to alter the status quo.

This is not a call for marching in the streets. Instead, this is a humble appeal to stay engaged. Old problems don't go away just because new ones appear. After all, it's encouraging to see dialogue taking place between the House and Senate regarding … hey, what's on E! right now?

Mark Martin Bednar is a master of public policy candidate at the Johns Hopkins University's Institute for Policy Studies. His email is

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Schaller fails to see danger of U.S. debt

    Columnist Thomas F. Schaller's analysis is incredibly myopic ("Avoiding Europe's austerity nightmare," April 18). To compare the economic condition of the U.S. to those of Greece or Spain at the beginning of the economic crisis is comparing apples and oranges.

  • Military spending is misplaced U.S. priority

    On April 17, I will be protesting war taxes at Baltimore's main post office. I realize that taxes fund many good programs — education, environment and diplomacy. But sadly when 57 percent of the federal budget goes to the Pentagon, the government's priorities are out of touch with the pressing...

  • A better budget remedy than the Buffett rule

    You end your editorial on the Buffett Rule ("The Buffett Rule backlash," April 13) with the question, "Where will the $50 billion come from to balance the budget, if not from this minimum tax plan?"

  • Skeptical of Buffett and need for higher taxes

    First, I'm an 80-year-old living on Social Security, and I know all the tax loopholes need to be closed ("The Buffett Rule backlash," April 13). But isn't it correct that Warren Buffett owes the IRS a great deal of taxes for a number of years? Let's have a true picture of Mr. Buffett.

  • The Buffett Rule backlash

    The Buffett Rule backlash

    Our view: Taxing the wealthy at rates others already face wouldn't solve the nation's deficit, but it would restore a modicum of fairness to the tax code

  • Godless Republicans turn back on poor and sick

    Some churchmen take exception to some of President Barack Obama's positions on matters of faith. I suggest these men of faith take a closer look at the true meaning of religion. All three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — have as their central theme the commandments to protect...