Mar 25, 2010
I hate this. I get very upset at my friends online when they use their Facebook status to post inflammatory comments - or to insult other people. I remember this happened with disturbing frequency during the last election - to the point where it severely damaged friendships outside of the virtual world. I have lost so much respect for people based on their statements. It isn't what they believe that bothers me. I understand that people think differently - that is kind of what America is founded on. It is the intolerance and outright hatred for the other side that really gets me irritated. I remember reading during the election that one of my friends posted that they wish McCain had died in Vietnam. I don't care what you think of the person, that is just vile. And now, with this latest smackdown, we again get to see the hatefulness emerge.
More and more, I just shake my head at our political system. It is not even close to what was intended by the Constitution. Putting all political stances and beliefs aside for a moment (yes, for this that is necessary), we really need to examine what happened if we ever can hope to fix things. This can't be fixed by switching ideology or party affiliation. It affects every American. And it is something that all of us need to get behind.
Our government was built with checks and balances in its foundation. It also was created in a way to to ensure for an open exchange of ideas. There was never supposed to be a class of "professional politicians." The Congress had two Houses. One was the House of Representatives. This was supposed to be make up of the leaders of their communities who would come to Washington to serve their country for a short period of time. The term was only two years for a reason. It was so that doctors, soldiers, lawyers, accountants, ministers, teachers could take a short time away from their duties to bring their perspective to the nation's government. It was not a stepping stone. It was an end in itself. This constant turnover was to help reflect the changing and growing needs of the country. Person A would be elected, bringing a fresh perspective on his region's needs. Two years later, Person A would return home and Person B would take his place - bringing with him the current perspective. This allowed for a contant refreshing of the government.
It also brought constant turmoil and turnover - a complete lack of continuity. So there was a second House - the Senate - which allowed for the upkeep of tradition and long term perspective. These terms were six years long and rotated so the entire Senate never left at the same time - only 1/3 left at any time. The Senate was the closest that we were supposed to have to "professional politicians" in DC. These were elder statesmen who could bring a more knowledgeable perspective. But they were not to lord it over the other house. Maybe a particularly gifted Representative woud later move to the Senate. But, again, it was never intended to have people site there for fifty years. In addition, it was easy to get rid of some incompetent yahoo that managed to sneak into the mix. He could just get removed on the next cycle - just two years away. And it was hoped that by the time they hit the level of Senator, the boneheads would already be gone.
Committees were established to deal with particular issues. My guess would be that these were filled by the people who understood those issues. They would debate it and then present their bills and findings to the group as a whole to process and vote. Fill the budgetary committee with business minded people. The foreign affairs committee would have former military people with international experience. It made sense. I am not going to understand some things as well, so don't put me in that group.
The Supreme Court was the truly long-term check. The judges didn't have term limits. They would stay there until death or retirement. This allowed for one branch to be very stable - no turnover to speak of. It guaranteed that there would be security that the Constitution would not be ignored with the constant changeover in the legislature. The President was to help the operations and enacting of laws. He gave leadership and vision. It was a brilliant system that was established.
But the problem didn't take long to emerge. People like power. They like to be in charge. And once they got it, they weren't too keen to give it up. When this happens, the free flow of ideas and needs stops. Instead the people in charge become more concerned about staying in charge, instead of helping the people they are representing. Ambition takes over. People come up with a plan for reaching their ultimate goal - state legislature to state cabinet to state governor to President. Or state house to US House to US Senate to President. Instead of taking a stand on an issue, you have to protect your position. Taking a stand will make people angry. So you hedge your bets - change your position so many times in different speeches that no one knows what you believe. Or, better yet, never really say what you think. Just offer cliches and platitudes and promises with no concrete plans at all.
Is it any wonder nothing gets done? I mean, seriously, everyone is worried about job security. People don't fill committee spots with the best people - they get filled based on favors and consideration for how it will help future elections. Legislative members try to land on committees that will give them the experience and appearance they need for their future steps. It is almost impossible to get an incumbent out of office. They have to do something really stupid, or face someone with a ridiculous amount of money at their disposal. It is less important now to have good ideas or a good mind. You need to look good on camera, speak well, and manage your constant nauseating presence on every media source there is.
And with our party structure the way it is, things get more muddled. I wrote about this before - how strange the combinations in different parties are. Sometimes if you have a certain stance on a moral issue, you end up siding with people whose ethics make you ill. This was true in the Republican party recently. They had a huge rash of scandals that took down a bunch of their up and coming members. It became obvious that these people were picked due to their stance on abortion or their ability to win an election - while completely ignoring the fact that these guys were complete dirtbags with no ethics. With the explosion of media coverage and the ease of becoming a celebrity, being elected is a quick way to fame. And fame is a quick way to get elected.
I just finished reading Game Change by John Hellemann and Mark Halperin. It was a fascinating book about the 2008 Presidential election - and an amazingly well written one. It was as exciting as a novel. There were some points where I didn't want to put it down because it was so intriguing. It also was very fair. Honestly, it made everyone look like a complete idiot and/or jerk. The best of them came off as self-absorbed and petty and vulgar. The worst were incompetent, untrustworthy, delusional, and clueless. Obama won due to his incredible organization and preparation, his mind boggling amount of money, his celebrity, and his gentle treatment by the press. Clinton lost because, for some unexplained reason, a lot of people didn't like her - and because she couldn't shake the spectre of Bill. And McCain lost because he was the worst Presidential nominee since they used to campaign by horseback. (Seriously, it is embarrassing to see what passed for a Presidential effort by the GOP.)
Is that the way to choose our leaders? I know that by even writing that last paragraph, some people will be in an uproar. "Obama won because he was the best choice! He is going to bring change!" I am not insulting him, I am just commenting on the process. He always had a plan to get elected - and he executed it brilliantly. And, I do give him credit because he recognized the futility caused by the Congressional logjam - even going so far as considering leaving and becoming Governor of Illinois to be able to "actually get things done." I just think that we have missed the boat. Fine, we want Obama to be the one to cast vision and execute. But think about the fact that in the last fifteen months he has really only been able to pass two meaningful things - the bailout and the health care reform. And this was even though he had a super-majority in Congress for most of that first year.
Congress has become reliant on parliamentary tricks - like the filibuster and rider amendments and death by committee. Nothing really gets done. And it doesn't matter what side you back, you can't be happy with this. I really wish that the anger generated in our country by the handling of the economy, the war, health care, and ethics will cause us to look differently at the people we are putting up for office. We should actually hold them accountable for their actions. They should represent US. There is no way that legislation that is opposed by SEVENTY PERCENT of the populous should pass. And there is no way that we should be giving money to save the butt of some multi-billionaire who stupidly wouldn't improve his business and grow with the times. If the elected officials do a crappy job, vote them out. Send someone who will do it right. Don't get swayed by a name and a commercial and a fake tan (Charlie Crist, I'm looking in your general direction). Do your homework. I would love to see some real Americans take Congress back by getting rid of the professionals. Let's have a return to how it should be. Don't let these guys and gals get rich and fat off our tax money, their campaign funds, and lobbyists. Use the tools at our disposal to elect quality people - use the internet, social networking, grass roots efforts. Stop being so vicious with each other. It isn't that the structure is broken - it is that the execution is not there. We don't even know how it should look, since we haven't seen it done right. So let's reclaim government. If not, we will just keep going in circles and fighting with each other.