"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." -Anne Frank

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

American Politics: A Marriage on the Rocks

You may be wondering why I am tackling this subject.  I see this topic of incessant discussion as one of the most heated and poisoned.  And because of its contentious nature, it also prevents much of the good at heart from ever being recognized or even remembered.  So I’m going to tell you what is wrong with the state of America’s politics and how I feel it should be corrected.

America is like a marriage.  In a marriage you have two unique people coming together with varying viewpoints and experiences.  Since the predominant political viewpoints are Republican and Democrat—these two will represent the experiences and opinions each spouse brings to the marriage.  You can decide which spouse takes which viewpoint.  I know who I think each is, but that would defuse the point of my writing this blog…so I leave it to you.  So, here we have a marriage of two seemingly different entities, from completely different backgrounds, families, sometimes station in life, and even many cultural differences.  And their marriage contract—the thing that holds them together and holds them to their promises to keep their entire family (still America) safe and strong--is the Constitution.  Like all marriages there are ups and downs, there are miscommunications, childish tirades, the silent treatment, and hurt feelings.  But as any couple knows, the only way to keep a union working and strong with so many differences is through compromises.  Compromise seems to be a swear word in the political world these days.  And yet, it is still important.

Viewpoints are so polarized that no one can or is allowed to compromise without compromising their political hierarchy.  I watched this conundrum in full play during the last two Presidential elections.  I did my homework and did research on each candidate.  The candidates’ political views began extremely moderate—great compromising material for a polarized country.  But as the campaigning continued (and in the President’s case—through both elections) I watched as their respective parties made each man pull away from middle ground.  By the end of this last election, both men were by then—at least on paper—polarized.  But they started with the ability to find common ground.

Compromise is a necessary component to any working relationship—especially ones as important as marriage…or the upholding of a great country.  In fact, it was compromise that made THIS country possible.  Every year on the 4th of July I watch A More Perfect Union: America Becomes a Nation, a great movie to remember how, miraculously, a group of highly opinionated men with varied backgrounds could come together and create the Constitution of America.  If these men didn’t understand how important this Union was, they would never have been able to reach common ground.  But they did.  They knew that America—not their own opinion—was worth fighting for.  Now, that doesn’t mean they weren’t fighting to protect what they truly felt was important.  They did.  They tried to find common ground for 4 months before the Constitution was complete.   Most relationships that are lacking any true commitment would not have survived such a long and grueling debate.  But again, they knew the significance of what they were creating together.  After much back and forth the Great Compromise of 1887 was reached and the Legislative branch was formed—mostly as we know it today (there was more tweaking later on).  Since this is not meant to be a history lesson—just a lesson to learn from history—if you’re interested in learning how it all went down in the simplest terms, check it out here on Wikipedia: 


Or the whole kit and caboodle:

Now what are the consequences of a stubborn and polarized country?  Remember a not so little thing called the Civil War?  I sure do.  What started this war?  Poor compromising resulted in a climactic death toll of fellow Americans.  Technically, the issue of slavery was addressed in the Constitutional Convention 74 years before the Civil War began.  And then again with the Slave Trade Act of 1794…and again with the Slave Trade Act of 1807.  However, none of these Acts ended Slavery.  They didn’t even manage to stop the slave trade.  Here we have an excellent example of what NOT to do when compromising.  The husband and wife couldn’t see eye to eye on this issue.  Here we had a newly married country and instead of addressing their state differences head-on and finding a solution that worked—they continued doing what would ultimately lead to a separation.  Luckily—there were some great marriage counselors who worked it all out—with a lot of death and carnage in the process.

What can we learn from this tragic example of poor compromise?  For starters, both political sides need to be 100% devoted to making the compromise.  They need to give what they know they are willing to follow through.  Politicians need to find common ground and solutions and stop searching for ways to dismantle what little compromise is eked out of this so-called political process.  Imagine if the Southern states had looked and found other means of economical increase in the time allotted to them by the Constitutional Convention and then stopped slavery of their own accord.  The civil war damaged the Southern economy in ways from which it has never fully recovered.  If the states had made a true compromise, lives may have been spared, homes left undivided, and once great cities would have remained.

This leads to another pressing question that needs answering.  Who should be doing the compromising?  Well, we all SHOULD.  But, who runs this country?  Better yet, who do The People think run this country?  Every Presidential election year, the people of America finally start paying attention to candidates.  “We’re electing the most powerful man/woman, we’ve got to make sure we choose the best person.”  Well, it is true that we need to choose the best person for the current needs of America.  But the President is not all that powerful.  What about Executive Orders?  Eh.  Lots of presidents have given executive orders.  According to the National Archives, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave over 3,000 executive orders, President Bush only made it to 291 and President Obama has a lot of catching up to do with only 199.  So, the president can issue an Executive Order…as long as it isn’t contested by the Judicial Branch.  This really isn’t that much power.  The most powerful branch of government is Congress.  If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe the words of one of our Founding Fathers:  "...[I]t is not possible to give to each department and equal power of self-defense.  In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates."  (James Madison from The Federalist Papers #51).  The legislative branch is Congress.  Congress, which is a supposed representation of The People, holds the most powerand rightfully so.  However, in recent years, Congress appears to be less about The People and more about politics.

According to Ron Elving of NPR, “The heightened partisanship cemented in Congressional district lines has created safe havens where most Republicans and Democrats no longer worry about pleasing anyone other than primary voters.  If the primary voter goes with the incumbent, the incumbent is almost certain to go back to Washington…The audience that must be served is the far narrower one that cares about party and policy and issues—and works to elect candidates as devoted to their ideology and as hostile to the other party as they themselves are…Republican districts are now more Republican than ever, and most Democratic districts are more Democratic than ever. [Please forgive the biased superlative somewhere in the middle—and focus on his take-home message.]  As fewer and fewer members have “swing districts,” the necessity of constant partisan emphasis grows worse and worse.  Even the notion of compromise becomes hazardous.”

Compromise is the essence of a working country, and yet, we’ve created a congress where compromise is the enemy?  This is wrong.  Since Congress doesn’t always feel the need to listen to the Regular Joe voter like you and me, what can we do?  It seems a hopeless case.  Nothing is hopeless, especially, not in this great Country!  We need to whitewash Congress.  (Not going to happen—but a girl can dream)  We need to start voting for the Jeff Smiths of this country (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), both the male and female versions (this can and should happen).  Let’s remind congress who really runs this country…and no, it is still not the President (although they’ve all looked really great on stamps).

Compromise in not a luxury; it is a necessity.  Polarity is destruction; it is not a solution.  We have to find common ground.  We have to.  No relationship has ever survived the inability to compromise.  Not a marriage and definitely not a Nation.  While I don’t feel we have another Civil War looming ahead of us, I do feel we are living a civil war of the minds.  We live in an America where hostile politics are the norm and Boy Scout politicians are destroyed publicly.  It’s time that ‘We the People” filibuster congress.  Let’s not sit down or stop talking until they start listening.  And what should we say?  That we’re tired of these childish shenanigans.  We want a country that prides itself on being able to compromise and not on being a bunch of donkeys…or elephants.

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