The events of last week have finally spurred my commentary on our political scene. I guess I should say that it wasn't necessarily the events, per se, but the fact that while waiting for my wife to get out of the grocery store after Mass, my 10-year old daughter was asking questions and voicing her frustrations with our elected officials. I'm not pointing fingers; there's plenty of that to go around. But when a fifth grader can perceive the gravity of how flawed our political process is these days, we have major, major problems.
One of the most telling things she pointed out to me as I listened in awe, was that she could realize that we have "leaders" who are more interested in their ability to get re-elected than they are about running our government. I asked Emma where she was getting all this and she indicated that she has been watching the news and overhearing conversations, and it was pretty plain to her that while our representatives are supposed to be working to keep our country great, they instead are spending their days and hours accusing each other of who screwed this mess up.
Here's news for you: you all screwed it up. WE screwed it up. We allowed special interests, the media, and most of all, zealots on both sides of the aisle, to hijack our government. I was listening to something the other day that stated that the Federal Election Commission, which is made up of six individuals appointed by the President and with the "advice and consent of the U.S. Senate", has been pretty much limited to people from either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party for a long time. I tried to look this up to see if I could find if that were true, but did not see it anywhere. However, it isn't surprising to me that it, like so much of our government these days, is about whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.
Likewise, if you want to run for anything more than a local council seat these days, you need to be either a Republican or a Democrat, or plan on coming up with the money yourself. While that might sound like an okay idea, these days, the support for a run at political office requires funding that is grossly out of control. Media gets their cut, through advertising. There are consultants and poll interpreters, and people are needed to print signs and to make phone calls and to chat voters up on the Internet. Since that money has to come from somewhere, there is a certain amount of leverage that donors can exert in order to help a candidate get elected, and anyone who suggests that to be anything else but true is simply delusional.
And if that isn't enough, We, the People, aren't represented by people like us anymore. We are represented by career politicians, ones who have no idea what the cost of a gallon of milk is, or have never had to sweat out their bills themselves. They have people to do these things for them. The amazing healthcare and retirement benefits these federally elected officials get are way out of our league, which is ironic, because these are the same people who have been voting down insurance reform and banking reform. And who is getting stuck in the long run? Us.
Emma pointed out to me a big problem: "Dad," she asked, "So why won't they do the right thing and try to work together?" And I indicated that if they did, they'd likely alienate the people who voted them in there in the first place, and when they went up for re-election they would likely lose. She thought about that a while and said, "I thought you told me that leaders are supposed to make hard decisions sometimes, even if people don't like them afterwards. I thought you told me that leaders have to be brave and try to do what is right for everyone, even if it means that they have to sacrifice?"
I smiled a little, but since I'm not trying to raise a cynic, I explained to her that sometimes people get sidetracked, and even though they may have the best intents, sometimes the decisions are very, very hard. And I told her we need to pray that our leaders make decisions not based on what they gain out of the decision, but based on what is good for the Nation. But I also reminded her that we don't always know what is best, so we have to hope we remain open-minded and willing to work cooperatively, rather than to fight with everyone.
She seemed to like that answer and she was quiet for a while. But while I was putting on a brave face, inside I was wondering, what has become of our government? Why would supposedly mature individuals choose to take our nation to the brink of insolvency, then once done, stand around and point fingers at one another instead of working harder to try to fix this mess? I heard conservative political heads talking this morning about how this situation is President Obama's fault, and I remember (I guess that is a long time ago and hard to remember) that the recession started when President Bush was in office. Back when we had all the problems with the banks and insurance companies, I heard lots of blame going around, but my memory is that the fat cats have been getting fatter for not one, not two, not three, but at least four presidents ago when so much of the financial industry was deregulated. And likewise, there is plenty of pork going around and plenty of waste, but the things that get threatened for cuts are programs like Medicare and Social Security, but I don't hear suggestions like "stop funding for other countries, especially ones who hate us", or "cut funding to try to win the hearts and minds of those who would rather see us dead". Or maybe, "stop providing corporate welfare and get the big businesses to pay their taxes just like small businesses have to".
Our priorities have gone out the window. We, the People, are more interested in who wins "American Idol" than who our elected officials are going to be. The public is so under-informed about what our elected officials actually stand for and they could care less. It's too much trouble to click on individuals than to vote a straight party line because really, what difference is my one vote? If any of you can't see where we are going, we can go ahead and put it into perspective for you. Take the time to write your elected officials and make a suggestion for something you think is important, or in support of legislation that you think will improve our country. The test is actually that I'd be willing to bet that a significant percentage don't even know who their elected officials are.
If you REALLY are a patriot and REALLY care about this country, skip flying the flag on your car and do something really meaningful. Get to know your elected officials and make sure they are actually representing YOU, whatever political party or preference you happen to be. And by know them, I mean, be a total pain in their ass until they realize that they don't represent Acme Chemicals or whomever is hosting that huge fundraiser this weekend, but you, your spouse, and your kids. And call them and e-mail them frequently. If enough people do this, perhaps, just maybe, our officials will finally understand what their jobs are: to act like adults and work together to keep our Nation the greatest in the world.