Woo hoo! We raised the debt ceiling! Time to celebrate!
Here’s my problem with the way this whole debate played out, and what’s about to come. This whole debacle is Exhibit A in the case of the American people failing to hold its government accountable. Before you start to worry about some random anarchy post, don’t. This isn’t about how government is bad or oppressive or evil (sorry to all you K believers out there), but it is about how we’re letting it get that way.
In the 2010 midterms, the American electorate failed themselves by allowing shoddy communication smoke and mirrors to rally them into a fervour that knew neither logic nor, truth be told, reality. Frustrated by a floundering economy, the people lashed out against their nearest representatives, and in their stead, installed a group of politicians so nauseating that words are insufficient: the Tea Party.
The Tea Party is an interesting political phenomenon, because, despite the best efforts of PR folks around the nation, it’s largely decentralized. The basic belief of the party is that the government is too big and not reflective of the people. That might be a fair assessment, but the warrants used to support this super-generic platform vary more widely than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe from state to state, and even county to county. Some members are probably more Libertarian in nature than anything else, but, fed up with the way 3rd parties have failed them in the past, have aligned themselves with the ever passionate Tea Party. Go a hundred miles in any other direction, and you may find jackasses like this one:
Anyway, this lack of decentralization, with vague claims of populism fueling the charge, ushered in an era of toddler governance- and I don’t just mean on the conservative side. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party and Flying Spaghetti Monster Reps, for all I care, all need a major reality check. Listening to CSPAN yesterday made me sick. The speeches taking place were simply sound waves echoing around the chamber from which these candidates will pull soundbites. And yes, I said candidates. They may be elected officials, but the way they carry out their business, they are perpetually running for office.
What we’ve witnessed over the past several decades is a political transformation from public service to public scintillation. Dramatic antics have replaced the genuine drama of making significant, impactful decisions, and PR punchlines have replaced meaningful debate.
And we let it.
The thing is, we can complain and whine and kvetch all we want about how politicians are running this country into the ground. We can vote out every elected official in this country and bring in young guns (or at least new ones). It won’t matter. Until we start demanding accountability from our elected officials, none of it matters, because each time we go through this, the results will be the same.
In a conversation with a good friend of mine today, we discussed whether or not Bush is to blame for much of what happened during his presidency. Both of us agreed that Bush made some very poor choices, but as we continued to talk, we found ourselves perpetually coming back to the same conclusion: we let him. We fostered a system that not only allows this sort of thing to happen, but encourages it.
So how do we fix it? I mean, some people reading this may think otherwise, but I know I’m too poor to donate enough to sway a campaign one way or another… and money doesn’t really solve the problem if all of the candidates are using the same dark magic to bewitch the people. Donating is good… but if you’re drinking the Koolaid as a foot soldier, I’m not sure how much change you’ll propagate, either.
But you are a constituent. And you do have a voice. In fact, due to my experience in the world of forensics, most of the people I know have excellent, well-cultured, well-informed and persuasive voices. So use them. Call your representative’s office. Write letters. Write emails. Send faxes. Write letters to the editors of the papers around you. Engage the person next to you in conversation. Engage your family in conversation. Write a blog post. Comment on a Facebook post. I mean, I have had some of the best conversations over the past week on Facebook about the debt ceiling.
In short, we need to engage. We need to force our elected officials to actually talk with us- not at us.
Is this easier said than done? Absolutely. Does that make it any less necessary? Ha. Nice try. The debt ceiling debacle was only the latest in a string of dysfunctional near-crises happening on the Hill. Next time, we might not be so lucky. If we can do something to avert that- and by that, I mean do the right thing, our civic duty– by taking politicians to task for their performances worthy of nothing but a cancelled soap opera pilot, I’m game. Are you?