Before we are thrust into whatever it is that’s coming next, I’m compelled to put a few personal thoughts out there. Just can’t help myself!
Politics is not entertaining, nor should it be. It’s not a “feel good” sport with “winners” and “losers.” It’s tedious, contentious and very practical. It quickly gets mired in details. It is not fun to watch. It’s even less fun to do, but it is absolutely unavoidable if we are all going to live together in limited space with limited resources and not be constantly beating each other over the head with sticks every day – or worse. The best practitioners know how the Constitution works, get a thrill wading through reams of data, and are masters of detail. They are rarely the life of the party (political or otherwise).
Showmanship, drawing eyeballs, provocative comments – our system was not designed for this. Participatory democracy is serious business, and only staggers and stumbles forward when every player does her or his part. Our part as citizens is to continuously communicate with those we’ve elected and tell them where our priorities lie and what we want them to do. Their part is to further our interests by lawmaking. They must always be beholden to their constituents. They have no reason to if they believe we are not paying attention to what they do. A drive for personal power or enrichment is in conflict with legislators’ obligation to the people they serve.
The Presidential election has gotten waaaay too much attention. Because news outlets are businesses and must appeal to the widest possible audience, they focus on the presidential candidates to the exclusion of state and local politics. This is a mistake. Your US senators and representatives, and your elected state representatives, have greater influence on your life. Voters cannot rely on mass media to find out what they need to know to vote for the people accountable to them and over whom voters exercise much more control. Presidential candidates set out their policy proposals, most of which have no hope of making it through Congress and into law. A candidate’s effectiveness as President will come from his or her skill in moving the dials and levers of a complicated federal machine. Leadership in this context is both art and science.
Washington does not need to be shaken up and is not “broken.” While Congress suffers a self-induced paralysis, the men and women who serve there all come from somewhere else. They are not infected with some contagious disease when they are sworn in and move into their Capitol Hill digs. We move no closer to solving the problem by failing to identify it correctly. And as a native Washingtonian, (second generation, in fact!) the charge rubs me the wrong way. The rest of the country has sent these people here! However, we do desperately need a return to civility, a spirit of cooperation, and a heightened sense of personal accountability. If constituents insist on these things, they will be restored. We must be better at our job if we want our legislators to be better at theirs.
Party politics now requires that legislators be seen to insist and compel, but the founders by design require compromise and flexibility. The men (and I do mean men) in charge of the country target the extreme ends of the spectrum rather than the more moderate middle. They thus put themselves at odds with the very institution they are charged with operating. The Constitution insists on compromise, and compromise in the current climate is reviled as a sign of weakness. When lawmakers are drummed to the sidelines by their own leadership for showing a willingness to talk to the other party, we go nowhere. Frustration and mutual finger-pointing ensue. I’ve seen better conduct in pre-school.
It’s as if you fill your turbo engine with apple juice rather than oil. Congress is the engine and compromise is the oil. No matter how exquisitely designed, the engine cannot go without the right lubrication. In a country of massive size and hundreds of millions of people, pulled by conflicting interests and diverging values, any legislative decision will fail to satisfy someone. The best legislative decisions will be less than satisfactory to everybody, for that is the essence of compromise – nobody gets what they want, and everybody settles for less than they’d hoped. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not sexy, but it works.
That’s it! I’ve said my piece. Moms have more skin in this game than anybody else. Now go vote.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington