Thursday, October 02, 2008

Politics in America

I subscribe to CNN.com's general news feed and they always include Glenn Beck's nutty ramblings.  Most of the time I skip it, but every now and then there is a headline so outlandish that it piques my curiosity and I head on over to hear him rant about keeping out the Mexicans.

Today I decided to click over.

I was surprised by what I found.  Aside from the ridiculous device of him writing this message from the future where America is a socalist state, he makes two good - and very important - points.  The first:
"Stop worrying so much about who runs the country and start worrying about who runs your towns, your states, and your Congress."
"Presidents are like captains of a large ship: They can map out a course and shout out orders, but without the trust and hard work of the people who actually move the rudders, their commands mean nothing."
YES!  Yes, yes, yes!  He's not saying that the President isn't important, but he's saying that the President can't change things all by himself.  He can come up with all sorts of great policies and programs but if Congress doesn't pass them into law, those policies and programs are worthless.  Beck also acknowledging that your local leaders have a much greater effect on your personal situation than our national leaders.  They can also affect direct change much more quickly.

So please stop ignoring your local elections and go out and cast your votes.

The second point he makes is something I often bring up when talking politics with friends.  I'm glad to see it getting some play in the media (even if it is this nut). 
"Looking back now, it's pretty obvious that our trust in government declined at about the same rate as our partisanship increased. People became so concerned about getting their party into power at any cost that the truth didn't even seem to matter anymore.
 That's probably one of the reasons why George Washington hated the idea of political parties so much. Here's what he said about them in his 1796 farewell speech:

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."
I know that George had a habit for using big words, so allow me to translate into 2008 English: Political parties that put their own success over that of the country's will be the death of America."
Again, I agree.  I've had this discussion with my Dad (a State Senator) and his friend Jeff (a State Representative).  I cited George Washington as well and they both looked at me thoughtfully for a second and replied with, "But how would we (meaning legislators) get anything done?"  I told them that it would probably slow things down at first while people figure out who stands for what, but eventually things would work even better because the party titles would be gone.

My argument has been that the political parties provide too many easy shortcuts for both voters and legislators.  Voters can quickly make a decision on a candidate based on the animal next to the person's name.  They don't actually have to learn about what the candidate actually believes in or figure out if he or she is a good leader or not.  It allows too many people to participate in the political process without much thought.  Legislators can use the party as a cop-out as well.  A controversial bill is up for a vote?  What do I do?  Should I read the fine print and forumlate an opinion?  Nah, it's much easier to vote with the party.

Eventually, I would get around to the point that Beck makes about the idea that people become so concerned with getting their party into power that the truth gets lost.  After making this point, my Dad and Jeff would nod in agreement but assure me that the two party system still has its positives and that their experience in the Indiana Congress was that people were willing to cross the aisle for the right issues.  I felt better but told them that I didn't have the same confidence in our U.S. Congress.  They admitted the same - and then mentioned that it was the Democrats' fault (they are Republicans).

I don't know what to do about changing the two party system.  The only thing I can think of is to tell you to vote.  I've made this point a thousand times, but your vote makes a difference.  If you vote early (in the primaries - the local ones) you'll be able to find candidates that you feel you can trust to work to represent you and do what's best for your area.  You can vote for candidates who will realize that the party title is just that - a title - and maybe we could start to see some real change.

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