Ed Markey, Time Lord

Congressman Joe Kennedy III scrambled Massachusetts politics last weekend by announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2020, setting up a high-profile—and high-cost—Democratic primary contest between himself and the incumbent, Ed Markey, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, four years before Kennedy was born.

While I leave my fellow Bay Staters to make their own decisions on this potentially agonizing race, I will not be coy:  Come next September 15, I will be voting for Markey.

Not just because he is the lead Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal (partnered with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House). Not just because of his unmatched zeal in defending net neutrality against corporate internet giants and the FCC. Not just because he is a more galvanizing public speaker than Kennedy—or, for that matter, his Massachusetts comrade-in-arms, Elizabeth Warren. Not just because I once sat directly behind him on a JetBlue fight from Washington, D.C., to Boston. (Who knew senators still fly commercial?)

No, I’m voting for Ed Markey in 2020 because he alone among U.S. senators has altered the laws of time and space to make the days longer and the nights shorter from sea to shining sea.

How’d he do that? Simply enough: By extending Daylight Saving Time by a total of four weeks.

“Through 2006, the clocks changed on the first Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October,” explained MassLive in 2013. “But as part of a 2005 energy bill, Markey, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sponsored an amendment to extend Daylight Saving Time beginning in 2007. From then on, Daylight Saving Time started the second Sunday in March and ended the first Sunday in November.”

That’s right, people of Massachusetts and beyond: Midway through the Bush administration, back when he was a mere congressman virtually unknown outside his home district, Markey was co-responsible for giving America an extra 30 hours of late-afternoon sunlight per year—including on Halloween!—by tinkering with the Daylight Saving calendar for the first time in two decades.

(Fun fact: In 1987, when Congress moved up the start of DST from May to April, the effort was then spearheaded by a young representative by the name of…Ed Markey!)

I don’t know about you, but few things bring me more joy than being able to go for a bike ride after dinner without strapping a flashlight to my helmet—and few things more depress me than the sudden encroachment of premature pitch blackness by the first round of the baseball playoffs. While autumn is, in many ways, the most lively and enjoyable season of the year, is it really too much to ask that, on Thanksgiving, we not be forced to choose between eating a fourth slice of pumpkin pie and tossing a football around before it’s too dark to see?

Research shows a clear correlation between prolonged exposure to natural light and one’s overall well-being—a conclusion generally borne out by common sense—and any effort to keep the sun shining deep into the evening gets my personal seal of approval 10 times out of 10.

Ed Markey has done more than any other public official to make Daylight Saving cannibalize as much of the calendar as possible. Quite apart from his many other accomplishments—and particularly in this era of near-total obstinance by both houses of Congress—Markey deserves enormous kudos for the immediate, concrete difference his work on DST has made in our daily lives.

And if he wants to ensure his own political survival against the electoral steamroller that is the Kennedy family, he should take the logical—nay, inevitable—next step by drafting a bill to permanently stretch Daylight Saving to all 12 months of the year, so that Americans will never again need to biannually tweak their clocks—and their circadian rhythms—for no good reason, nor be subjected to 4 o’clock sunsets and all the seasonal ennui that goes with them.

There’s a campaign platform for you:  “Ed Markey: Candidate of Light.”

Taking the Bait

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

So said Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French polymath, with what can only be described as masterful understatement and timeless wit.

Indeed, the more time passes, the more I’m convinced Pascal’s words should be framed on every wall and stitched into every pillow in America. That way, the message might eventually sink in, ushering in a new era of cooperation and world peace.

Speaking as someone who has absolutely no trouble sitting quietly in a room alone—on my trusty couch, reading a trusty book or watching my trusty TV—I find myself perpetually annoyed by my fellow citizens’ penchant for raising a ruckus and making an unholy spectacle of themselves in the name of whatever supposed injustice is befalling them that week.

In the final days of August, that injustice turned out to be the existence of odious heterosexual trolls and their “Straight Pride” parade through the streets of my hometown of Boston.

That event—announced several months in advance and very obviously meant as a snarky, cynical provocation—achieved precisely what it intended: To compel members of the LGBTQ contingent to overreact with hysterical, self-righteous rage and—in some instances—actual violence.

The resulting brouhaha—a counter-demonstration several times larger than the actual demonstration—yielded some three dozen arrests on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assault and battery, some of it against Boston police officers, who themselves resorted—unnecessarily, perhaps—to the use of pepper spray in subduing the supposedly rambunctious crowd. The subsequent arraignment of the offending protesters has led to a veritable circus of legal maneuvering on the part of prosecutors, defense attorneys and the presiding judge.

And all because a few thousand queers and their allies couldn’t sit quietly in a room alone while a gang of homophobic idiots had their fun.

Before we go any further, let’s get something clear: As previously stated, this whole so-called “Straight Pride” march was, in every sense of the word, a joke. Organized by a group calling itself Super Happy Fun America and headlined by the über-obnoxious (and über-gay) Milo Yiannopoulos, the event was little more than an exercise in ironic, “owning the libs” tomfoolery. In claiming the mantle of victimhood as heterosexuals—a manifestly ridiculous claim by any measure—this ragtag band of misfits was hardly the Klan or the Nazis or the multi-pronged menace that terrorized Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

At worst, SHFA was a right-wing internet message board come to life, and there was no compelling reason to take them seriously or to respond to their idle silliness in any way. They posed no particular threat to LGBTQ rights specifically or to public safety in general. They obtained permission to march from the city through the proper legal channels, despite the mayor’s personal disapproval. They weren’t carrying torches or chanting anti-gay slurs.

They could’ve easily been ignored from the get go, and their entire existence would’ve been forgotten within a day, if not sooner.

But that’s not what happened. What happened, instead, is that the right laid the bait, and the left took it. As it always does.

One would think—some 30 months and 9,000 tweets into the Trump era—that liberals could distinguish between a battle worth fighting and a total waste of their time. That not all moral slights are created equal. That there is more to life than being outraged 24 hours a day and loudly expressing said outrage in the most conspicuous environment possible.

Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley seemed to catch on to this dynamic in July, responding to President Trump’s tirades against “The Squad,” of which Pressley is a member, by saying, “I think we all have to not take the bait, and get off the ride that the occupant of this Oval Office has us on,” adding, “Every tweet he sends is meant to be a distraction from the real problems that this country is facing.”

True enough, but then Pressley and her three counterparts didn’t exactly brush off Trump’s (appalling racist) taunts to “go back” to where they came from, did they? Is holding a joint press conference—and, later, a formal condemnation on the House floor—really their idea of ignoring the president’s petty cruelties and moving on to more important issues? If turning a single tweet into a major news event is an example of not taking the bait, what would the alternative look like?

The rejoinder to this, of course, is that the Squad simply had no choice but to respond with force to an act of overt racism by the most powerful man in the world.  That silence would’ve equaled consent. That any act of ugliness in the public square must be pushed back against, lest the offender be granted both the first and last word on the matter.  In the words of John Stuart Mill, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

While one argues with this high-minded philosophy at one’s peril, I return to my original contention—borne out by my experiences in middle school—that ignoring a bully’s taunts is nearly always preferable to confronting them head-on.  Insecure sociopaths that they are, strongmen crave attention and feed on conflict but are utterly bored by indifference, eventually concluding that if action X fails to provoke reaction Y, perhaps a shift in strategy is in order.

You may well argue that some bullies—and one in particular—are so irretrievably juvenile that the silent treatment would have no effect whatsoever and cost you the moral high ground in the process.  To which I would politely retort that, in the case of Donald Trump, this hypothesis has yet to be tested—not once in 73 years—and it may well be high time to give it the old college try.