Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A New Political Party?

How have we come to this? How have we Americans created such a dysfunctional government, and come to this point where we can’t even agree that it’s dysfunctional? If you listen to CNN, then switch to Fox, you would think that two entirely different realities are being described.

I am a lifelong, left-leaning voter, who can’t remember ever voting for a republican. I was a supporter of Bernie Sanders and have never for a single moment given Donald Trump any credit or respect. Yet, I know that a lot of Republicans – even some of those who haven’t given up on Trump – are reasonable, caring citizens who want the best for our country. Some of them have probably never voted for a Democrat in their lives, and yet, we could probably agree on a number of things, like, for example, that everyone should have access to decent health care, and the ability to send their children to a school in which they have confidence. And yet, the politics of our time has turned health care and school choice into wildly divisive issues on which it seems nearly impossible to arrive at consensus.

Why is this? And why – despite how inflamed and partisan and sensationalized politics has become – do most eligible Americans not even bother to vote anymore? And why – out of desperation – have we turned our government over to a man with no political experience, whose substantial short-comings even his supporters acknowledge.

Increasingly, I’m beginning to wonder if the United States might manage what the French have somehow managed – to create and put into power an entirely new party.
Today, I was exposed to three individuals, who identify as either Republican, or conservative or both, whom I would gladly support as active partners in reshaping our country and government. Not because I’d agree with them on specific political measures that are currently on the political agenda. But because they each expressed powerful and reasonable ideas about our current predicament and what will be necessary to move us in a better direction.

I heard a bit on NPR this morning about Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, who has written a book about “The Vanishing American Adult”. What I heard from him that I liked are his thoughts about how our culture undervalues work and struggle, and how these things serve to build character and develop self-reliance. I liked hearing this because, as a lifelong social service worker, I have seen how our programs and institutions sometimes provide support and assistance to the needy to a point beyond where it actually helps them. It’s true that policies sometimes encourage dependence and discourage individuals from developing a healthy sense of responsibility for their own outcomes. The trouble is, in the language of our politics today, one is either for social services or against them. It is hard to find a middle ground that one can hold. Because our politics is so much about spin and over-hyping our own partisan position while totally discrediting the views of the opposition.

The second conservative voice I heard, was that of Peter Wehner, of the Ethics and Public Policy center, also on NPR. He argued that in the public/political forum, we’ve lost our respect for objective truth. We manipulate, we countenance lies and distortions, and we refuse to hold to a standard of truth for those we are allied with, nor to respect the truths of our opponents.

The third rightist voice I encountered today was that of Ohio Governor John Kasich, in a live debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders on CNN. Another voice of reason, Kasich argued that we must be willing to listen to, respect and consider the views, values and concerns of our opponents. He spoke of the pounding he’s received from fellow Republicans for failing to stand behind Donald Trump, but said, quoting John Kennedy, that “…sometimes, your party asks too much.” I love what Bernie said tonight, of course, but he spoke more directly to the hot-button issues that are so inflammatory these days: the total economic dominance of the 1%, the incompetence of Trump, etc. Kasich spoke more broadly about the divide, and how to bridge it, how to get people communicating with their opposites, to overcome the extreme partisanship behind our current crisis of government.

There was some mention at the end of the CNN “debate” of Kasich and Sanders sharing a ticket in 2020, and of the failure of the current two parties to meet the needs of the citizenry. I love that idea. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a Congress where debates took place with an eye toward finding the common ground for including the concerns of the opposition, rather than simply winning a vote? Wouldn’t it be fabulous if all the lying and accusing and spin that dominates Washington was replaced by dialogue aimed at cutting through rhetoric to get at the shared needs and values of the vast majority of us who simply want to live well and support others in doing the same?

How to bring such a state about? I think a big part of the answer must lie in directing less attention at the politicians and more at becoming responsible voters. We have to reject the politicians who seduce us into their zero sum games of good versus evil, us versus them, destroy or be destroyed. And we have to shut down the politicians who make prolonging a career more important than serving, not just their constituents, but the entire, diverse communities they are part of. We voters have to hold ourselves more accountable. We created this mess, and only we can fix it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kirby! This is Shadow in Naples. Love your blog and have been reading it here and there. I have been trying to contact you, lost your email. Could you please email me at deerspeak@yahoo.com. S-gi!