There was a time not so very long ago where the possibility of working closely with a governmental legislative body was a very real possibility for me. I was actually looking forward to being able to help my state and my country by plying my skills toward the noble and necessary role of the public servant. Not as an elected official, but in service to those who are. It could have been from the inside as a staffer or the outside as an analyst or lobbyist, but in some capacity I thought I could make a difference. Through the series of events and opportunities that have directed me instead to academia, I have serendipitously avoided what would have proven to be a very frustrating existence. The body politic is, by its very nature, adversarial, but it seems more and more that it is much more than that – it is down right hostile.
It might have always been that way, or, it’s possible that continuum is always in flux and we are currently just experiencing the flow towards the hostile side while the ebb of peace and harmony is only a matter of time. And then there’s this bridge in San Francisco I’d like to sell you… All cynicism aside, I have come to the conclusion that it takes a special variety of patience and perseverance to last very long in that role and although the strength of these qualities has grown as I age (as evidenced by my soon to be completed Master’s degree), these are not inherently my strengths. I admire more those who are working in the background than those for whom they are working – our elected officials. Those officials, presumably, are working for us. I would argue that they (as a body, all of them) have not done a very good job.
So instead of contributing in this more direct manner, my path has taken me down the road of education. I don’t teach my students what to believe, but how to form their beliefs. I don’t want them to think what I think, but I want them to think critically. Too many are buying the quick and easy, blindly parroting what on even cursory examination does not pass the smell test. They are jumping on board a bandwagon that is becoming more and more intolerant of dissent. We have a two party system in this country – it wasn’t designed that way, but that is how it evolved. Regardless of how it came to be, it serves a purpose; it is another form of checks and balances. The problem is that the evolution is moving away from compromise and toward an all or nothing paradigm. You’re either with us or against us – there is precious little middle ground. Politics has turned into a game of winners and losers and in the end we all lose.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Republicans blame the Democrats; Democrats blame the Republicans. Here’s the dirty little secret – it’s all of them, and, it’s all of us. Ultimately we have the power to send the whole lot of them home, but we need to be able to think critically. We need to be able to filter fact from fiction and make decisions not based on an “us vs. them” mentality. We have become so polarized that decisions that are literally life and death are being made based on party affiliation – an affiliation that often does not even reflect the ideology that a given party supposedly identifies with. I have said it before and although it is admittedly a gross generalization, there is some truth in it: The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is how they spell their name. So when is it going to end? When are our elected officials going to get back to work for us?
Obviously, this is a very simplistic assessment of a very complex problem. As the size and power of government grows, the structural intricacies that perpetuate and exacerbate the divide grow right along with it. The money involved is unimaginable and our debt, equally so. As optimistic as I usually am, this is not a pretty picture. There are signs that some things might be improving, but I don’t believe that a healthcare reform bill – one that I am not particularly happy with – is any kind of indication that the root of the problem has changed. The chasm is still there as the party line voting on pretty much everything shows. They don’t seem to be able to agree on much of anything and increasingly, we, the people, are following blindly along. We’ve got it backwards - we should be showing them how to behave, not the other way around.