I’ve been struggling with the increasing polarization of my country. In a nation that was founded on the premise of E Pluribus Unum (lit: out of many, one), those with the loudest voice and the most outlandish accusation are driving a wedge into our national identity and inflicting all manner of harm, both imagined and very real. It’s not enough that we were divided to the point of civil war that took 600,000 lives and wounded another million 150 years ago. We’re picking fights about everything, newscasters and televangelists alike are proclaiming mayhem in the streets and that the ‘end is nigh!’ Are we beating plowshares back into swords? Did we not learn enough bloody lessons along the way? Civility? It’s becoming relegated to an entry in the dictionary. (For those of you who were born after 1984 when the PC was making its advent, the dictionary is a book with paper pages and it tells you what words mean and it uses all letters…no numbers…gr8!). Once again, families are divided against themselves and friendships are being tested to their limits. One more example as of late is the financial reputation of the United States—the richest nation in the history of the planet—being monkeyed with and putting us back on the road to recession or worse. And it’s all in the name of partisan bickering.
There was a time when I revered my elected officials as people worthy of respect. They cared about the people in their districts in the spirit of public service and patriotism. Rolled-up shirt sleeves weren’t done so for a photo-op, but because they were actually working long hours. Members of Congress stayed in Washington, worked into the wee hours of the morning, and actually collaborated with each other to forge alliances and create incredibly complicated projects that were the envy of the entire world. They came together and set an example for the rest of us common folk, making a way to send astronauts into space and ultimately to the moon; they worked to build the Interstate highway system; and they made it possible for imposing, gleaming edifices of American infrastructure to be built. Our federal government has made sure our air is breathable and our water is safe for both mankind and wildlife. It paved the way for groundbreaking medical research and made our lives immeasurably more comfortable. While you may be longing for the idyllic life of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, open that window and let the heat in. It’s the big, bad ol’ government that built the TVA and the Hoover Dam and offered incentives to make our electrical service grid support all those air conditioning units. And let’s not forget the countless millions of people around the globe benefitting from the philanthropy of the American people by way of foreign aid payments. That you’re reading this on the Internet is another benefit of US federal government innovation. The World Wide Web had its beginning as a military application. Would that kind of cooperation happen in today’s Congress? Sadly, I doubt it.
Of course, the same power that wrought such wonders of human achievement has also been the author of unthinkable destruction and irresponsibility on scales that boggle the mind. While both those extremes can coexist without imploding is something that will be one of those great unsolvable mysteries. Criticism of that same complex system is something as well that makes it all the more magnificent. I’m not the first to tell you our system of government has some flaws, but in total, it has the greatest potential of any in modern history. That is frankly because our system is, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It is our people whose character has had the right combination of bravery, humility, and ingenuity that has built a nation that is the envy of all others. That combination, however, seems to have been bought by special interests on both sides of the political spectrum to where we now have to major parties that I simply call, the party of “No!” and “No backbone!”
Republicans have raised the issue of unemployment and the economy as the key issue during the mid-term election and won handily in districts that have traditionally been considered “swing” areas. To date, they have focused on tightening down on social issues (abortion, gay rights, education, etc.) to placate the newly empowered, so-called “tea party” brand of conservatives. Democrats, on the other side of the aisle, could have passed virtually anything they wanted during the 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions, but tried to be all things to all people—an impossibility and a recipe for certain disaster. To their credit, they slowed the growing unemployment figures, but they’re stagnant as is the economy. So, rather than making a difference, petty partisan arguments and mud-slinging have become de rigueur and we are marching toward the day when the debt ceiling becomes our own financial Armageddon.
Let’s put aside for a moment the state of our fragile economic recovery. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that debt ceiling has been raised a stunning 74 times since 1962, with not even the batting of an eyelash by either party. Even if this were the first time the ceiling was in jeopardy of being reached, the consequences of doing nothing or standing one’s ideological ground to cut spending are so monumental, so disastrous, that to dance this close to the precipice of default is not only irresponsible on a scale not ever imagined, it’s criminal, especially in light of the fact that it’s a problem of the Congress’ own making…that they’ve known about for months. The headlines today read more like a parenting magazine than governmental politics as Republican leaders act like spoiled, errant children who didn’t get the right flavor of lollipop with the Democrats as the permissive parents. Democrats don’t fare much better, stooping to mockery of the President in his negotiating.
We don’t need any more posturing. We don’t need any more clever sound bites. We don’t need any more theatrical righteous indignation. This is not, after all, the World Cup. It is, to quote Bill Clinton, “the economy, stupid!” What we, the people, want and need is simple: leadership. We need our elected officials to do is lead. Representatives, Senators, Mr. President: that requires some cooperation on your collective part and if it means staying late and burning a whole lot of midnight oil like you used to, then you damned well better do it. That’s what we elected you to do and that’s what we expect. If you are unwilling or unable to do that, perhaps it’s time you resign. And when you’re on your way out and checking your badges in at the door, perhaps we should change the rules on benefits. Unless you’ve been with ‘the company’ for at least 20 years, you have no ongoing benefits…just like the rest of us.
So, please, come together and remind me why our system of government is better, why I entrust my livelihood and security to the people I vote for every November. Remember that we are the United States of America, not blue and red states, not Republicans and Democrats. Make a positive difference: LEAD!
This posting was originally published July 24, 2011. I've split my writing into different blogs: Opinion, The Leukemia Chronicles, and other Freelance Writing