Monday, November 5, 2012

How things are supposed to work

The election is officially over tomorrow. No doubt there will be analysis, discussion, and disagreement. More than one person will cry foul, say it was rigged, say something went wrong. There will be long, drawn out, and pointless dissemination about the effects of Sandy, of voter ID laws, of early voting rights and restrictions, among much else. This is all a given. It should surprise no one whichever way this thing goes. It's so close (on paper, anyway) that either candidate is in a good position. It all comes down to the numbers.

There are certain overtones to this campaign that we all recognize: negativity, hope, prosperity, different paths to the future. We are living, as we do every four years it seems, on the cusp of a new age in our history and a great change for the future.

In this cycle, unlike in many others, we have a very different political climate. From our founding, there has been the debate between federalism and American statism. Who should hold the power? Who should make the choices? How should those decision makers be appointed? Who gets to decide? These are fundamental questions about our governance that it is in our best interest to debate in a healthy and open way.

Our nation is meant to run on argument, the productivity that derives from a respectful and endless debate between two points of view, a kind of politico-Capitalist system if you will. The Liberals are reckless, bleeding-heart spenders. The Conservatives are cold-hearted, calculating tightwads. Together, when compromise, creativity, and partnership are used to achieve common goals, we have thrived. That is the story of our greatest moments in history. We became the greatest nation on earth because we gave power to the people and let their voices mean something in a national discussion for mutual benefit.

Now, that process is failing. There is no one party to blame, really, because all are involved. Whether it is Mitch McConnell saying that the #1 objective of the Republicans in Congress is to make sure Obama is not re-elected, or Maxine Waters saying that the extremists in the Tea Party "can go straight to Hell," we've lost a sense of understanding between our fundamental perspectives on government and politics.

Other observers like me see this trend away from cooperation as a result of extremist leanings to the Right. It is our view that conservatives have moved so far to the ideological extreme that they are unable to compromise, whether it be out of fear of losing support, or out of a misguided conviction that they hold all the answers. Still others believe that it is the Left that is unwilling to compromise, and has thus been the cause of our hardship. Both groups appear to have strong evidence to support their claims, and no one side is right while the other is wrong. Both groups are responsible.

This election, like so many before it, has come to represent this struggle, the argument as old as our nation between two courses of action: federal power vs. private power. It is the push and pull between these that has created such a fantastic web of Democracy in this country. And it is this push and pull that we must consider when we go to the polls each and every time we vote.

In my view, it is Obama that best represents the balance between these two systems of government. His policies have brought much-needed order and regulation to financial markets that brought our economy to its knees. He has laid the groundwork for steady growth, energy independence, strong education, and smart military all while working to balance our budget. His views are not that the government solves everything, but that the government can work to balance the power, keep things safe and fair, and give people a fair shot at leading productive lives.

Romney, on the other hand, has sided completely with the private sector and with state governments. He has advocated for a dismantling of our central government, with the exception of the military. He has called for ambiguous tax policies that, even in their most optimistic rendition would still overwhelmingly benefit the weatlhy and businesses of America. Romney has called for a restructuring of our social programs, which our best experts say would make them less effective. Finally, Romney has presented a vision of America that does not incorporate our legacy of compromise at all. He does not leave room for the ideas of his political counterparts in the Democratic party. Rather, he simply says he will "work with them." He lays out no plans for how he will do this; he seems to simply expect it. If there is anything that our recent experience with extreme, non-negotiable positions tells us, it is that they are no good for compromise.

We often hear from Republicans that Obama has failed to work with them, or that Democrats have refused to work with them. It is a lie. Republicans have been unwilling to bend on their policies (which they have cleverly renamed as "principles"). Time and time again, we have evidence that budgets, jobs bills, energy policies, stimulus programs, veterans support legislation, and much more have died in Subcommittee, or died to Republican filibusters in the Senate. It is part of the GOP plan to deny Obama his second term, as McConnell so eloquently explained for us. But what this does is causes the engine of our Democracy to break down, the wheels of progress to falter and halt, and our country to stagnate. If we are going to get back on the road to the future, we don't just need a strong President, we need a flexible one. And even more importantly, we need flexible lawmakers in Congress who are willing to work with each other.

There is a bumper sticker I have seen several times over the last several years. I don't remember seeing it before about 2010, so I believe it is a new creation. It states quite simply "Tolerance is for people who lack conviction." This simple phrase adequately sums up the problem with our political system, in my mind, and the crux of the issue with this election. More than anything else, we need tolerance of ideas in our government. Calling an opponent a socialist, communist, anti-American, terrorist, etc. does nothing except alienate people. It fuels destructive arguments, not constructive ones. We have to remember two very important concepts and demand that our representatives live by them. First, that every single person who represents their state or their party or America in government loves this nation. There is not a single person in Congress, the White House, or the Judiciary that does not want the best for us. Second, that each and every one of those individuals is entitled to believe what they believe, and cannot be judged for that. They have their worldview and interpretation, and that must be respected and accepted.

I hope that everyone who reads this will be participating in this election. I don't really care who you vote for, but I hope that all of you vote. Vote for whoever you believe will bring this country back to its senses, for the candidate that you think will start the conversation and get us back to who we are when we're at our best. Don't vote for the party, the person, or even the personal positions of the candidates. They don't matter. They're all talking points. Vote for the person that represents your vision of this country, that you believe will make us stronger, and that you believe is best. I respect your decision, and I hope that you respect mine.

America 2012.

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