Everyone, it seems, is exhausted these days.
We're exhausted from struggling with a crumbling economy and trying to remain profitable at work. We're exhausted from fighting traffic and keeping up with the personal needs of children and aging parents. On a personal note, I'm exhausted every time I look at the runaway grapevines in my yard that would have been so manageable had I found time several months ago to install a trellis or two.
But Velma Hart brought the word "exhausted" to a whole new level of meaning last week.
Hart is the articulate and polite chief financial officer of a veterans service organization who stood at a town hall meeting in Washington and told President Barack Obama she was one of his supporters in 2008 but now, "I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for."
Did I mention she also is African-American? Race certainly shouldn't be a factor when describing participants in a public meeting, but given what the first African-American president represented to many black Americans during the 2008 election, it undoubtedly was a factor in how quickly Hart's comment launched her to celebrity status.
No sooner had she handed back the microphone than she became the latest high-demand personality on news programs across the dial. Not only the media, but the groups that thrive off the energy that comes from splitting American political philosophies, like so many atoms, jumped on her as if she was a human isotope. Politics thrives on slogans, and it adores regular folks who can be reduced to a sound bite.
The next few days were spent trying to figure out into which pigeon hole Hart most easily could be stuffed. She had spoken of her exhaustion on a week when the Federal Reserve announced it was standing ready to buy government debt if unemployment didn't improve. It came as the National Bureau of Economic Research announced the recession had ended in June of 2009, touching off sarcasm from coast to coast. The New York Post put Hart on its front page beneath the one-word headline, "Betrayed." Conservatives tried to use her as an example of how the president's policies failed his own supporters. Liberals noted Hart still has faith in Obama. The whirlwind of incivility kicked in, as usual. One blogger said he hated Hart and "rich" people like her who "like to think they're middle class."
Hart is not poor. She and her husband, both employed, have two children in a private school. But as she said later, they have had to economize and make sacrifices. What she wanted to know from the president was, "Is this my new reality?" It sounded like an invitation to a civilized debate over the role of government. Unfortunately, the president gave her a politician's answer, listing accomplishments. And the rest of the political world tried to strap her down, pour honey over her and pick at her like a thousand hungry ants.
It's up to Hart whether she allows herself to be eaten alive, of course. Unfortunately, prodding a serious, respectful debate across political boundaries seems out of the question.
Only a few days before Hart's moment of fame, another person who eagerly parlayed a question into enduring symbolic fame was speaking to a group in Grand Junction, Colo. In 2008, Joe Wurzelbacker, aka "Joe the Plumber," asked then-candidate Obama about tax policies. Obama made him famous by saying he wanted to, "spread the wealth around."
Now, Wurzelbacker says he's been drained by the fame. "I hate politics with a passion," the Daily Sentinel reported him saying. "But it's something I have to do because I'm an American."
He could, of course, quit whenever he wants. Unfortunately, so could all Americans if the parsing, nit-picking, empty sloganeering and bickering make them too exhausted to care about politics any more.