So I want to talk politics for a minute. Before you skim over the rest of this post assuming my usual take on the subject, let me assure you that this one is different from my usual fare.

There are good reasons why politics and religion are often barred from dinner conversation. Mostly, we get all hopped up on our point of view and that adrenaline or emotional overload can lead to the abandonment of what would otherwise be a reasonable conversation. But I would like to focus on the first of these taboo subjects, and why I believe our general misconception about the whole process is doing us more harm than good.

First, we’re all in this together; and by “we,” I do mean all humans, but let’s focus on the US for convenience’s sake. Wherever we land on the political spectrum (liberal through conservative), we all believe that our “side’s” way is the best way forward for our country. Otherwise, there would be little room for debate/discussion/arguments. We elect representatives that we think have our best interests at heart and will govern in a manner that will increase the prosperity (in all its facets) of the nation. And I’m sure some of the representatives believe they can do this, too.

But here’s the problem: the political machine (especially at the federal level) has become a nigh-immoveable object with the interests of only a few as its driving goals. These special interests are able to compete with each other since they have the resources (i.e. money) to be able to influence our two political parties, and consequently those parties’ candidates and representatives. Lobbyists from “K” street remain mostly hidden from public view, and yet spend billions of dollars influencing (and gaining access to) members of Congress. If you write a letter to your Congress person, and a lobbyist (who has donated millions of dollars to their campaign) writes a letter to that same Congress person, who do you think is going to get the meeting?

The other side of the problem is Gerrymandering: this entrenches one or the other party in their districts, making “free and fair” elections something of a misnomer. (Incidentally, a recent project has shown the ability of undergraduate to accurately and fairly draw districts to actually represent the people that live within those lines). The two parties have become so ubiquitous, that we, the citizenry, think that we can only have two choices in who governs us (even the Tea Party was subsumed under the Republican banner). This restriction to only two parties to address the many facets of our political issues is axiomatically (self-evidently) false. Sure each party tries to encompass a wide base (and thus range on any given issue), but that doesn’t mean that either one accurately represents its voting adherents. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; how many times have you heard someone vote for a candidate (or party) not because they believe in everything that choice stands for, but because it’s the lesser of two evils? That is not a good enough criterion to elect an effective government. Further, this dichotomy falsely divides our citizenry into two camps that hurl vitriolic invectives at each other, rather than seeing we’re all in this problem together. (Hence my opening quote by Hamilton in the first Federalist paper.)

Our current debt/budget crisis highlights the problems of our government. In a time when both sides should come together to do what is right and best for our country, they are not. There’s a blind adherence to party lines and castigation of the “other” side while we skate toward the edge of a disaster. In the midst of a global financial crisis (and all nations are financially interconnected), to have the US default on its loans would produce devastating consequences. And to use the threat of that as a bargaining chip in budget talks is abominable and in no way holds the citizenry’s interest at heart.

The bottom line is that our representatives have failed to effectively govern us. We were the most prosperous nation coming out of World War II and remained so for many decades. We had the opportunity to eliminate poverty and hunger in our own country. We did not. We had the opportunity to provide the best education and health care systems to our citizenry. We did not. We had the opportunity to create renewable energy sources and wean ourselves off the foreign-oil teat. We did not. And it’s not because we, the people, would not want these things. It’s because systems that were in place have broken down and have led to the stagnation of the public good at the expense of the self-interests of greed and power. Obviously there has been relative stability in the US, but stability is not the same as progress toward the good of all. We need to make some drastic changes to our system (campaign finance reform and Gerrymandering) and reclaim the voice of the “ordinary” people who bear the brunt of any hardships and crises that our nation faces.

So here, as I “pour my heart out,” I urge each of us to take a step back from our political views, and try looking at the larger picture. And not just for the next campaign or election cycle, but further down the road; for all seeds of our future solutions or disasters are being sown today, in these uncertain times. And we all need to do a better job of helping our country live up to those ideals (freedom, justice, progress) that it purports to represent.

“A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.” -Hamilton

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