Row, Row, Row your boat..gently down the stream.... or better yet...row the boat in the wrong direction, head downstream while the other guys are paddling upstream, and maybe, after the boat gets done spinning around in the rapids, you will come to your senses in time to avoid going over the falls! As the old saying goes, this is no way to run a railroad, or captain even the sturdiest of boats .I It is certainly no way to run a National Legislature.
One of the axiomatic principles in our American two party system used to be, First..”Do the right thing”, and secondly, if you can’t do the right thing, at least..”Do no harm!” This principle appears to have been abandoned by the zealots and ideologues who have taken control of the rudder of the Republican party, and who are bound and determined to run the craft of government aground, if they don’t send it careening over the nearest falls. They are determined to do what is best for their short and long term political goals, regardless of the consequences to the Commonweal. It wasn’t always thus. In the good old days of GOP stalwarts like Everett Dirksen and Gerry Ford..a point was made, but cross aisle communication was maintained, and after the debate was over, they would raise their glasses in fellowship, and toast the next encounter. No more, sadly. Politics has become a bloodsport, and principle has been auctioned off to the highest bidder. Politics in America has become what Ambrose Bierce cynically characterized it as many years ago...”The strife of interests...masquerading as a contest of principle...!”
Our two party system has become anachronistic and dysfunctional, and seems to be haplessly unable to heal itself long enough to care for the long terms fortunes of our country. Partisan advantage has become the goal, in and of itself, and without a parliamentary system to allow the ideologically marginalized to marginalize themselves...without a mechanism to prevent them from throwing monkey wrenches into the government’s grist mill, we can do little but watch the blood spill forth while the game of political brinksmanship and gotcha is being played out on the national stage, like a Harry Potter style field game, to everyone’s disadvantage. How did this happen? Where did we go wrong? How do we reverse course? Can we?
First...the two party system depends on a kind of national consensus, which we no longer have. Historically, the two large tent parties had different approaches at the margins...but the goal of both parties has been the same...life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, the goal of one party has become to save the haves from any more giving to the have nots, in the name of job creationism, and to shrink the monster they now view as government. This has become the approach, and the method is to remain unyielding, uncompromising, and to take no prisoners.
As a result, our government is being held hostage by the pretenders to the throne, who have won one parliamentary skirmish, and think they have won the war. The method of governing has been to use any tool, hold anything hostage, and do so by any and all means necessary. “Starve the beast” is the modus operandi, and strip the bark off the tree after eating all the fruit has become the way of life for those who have the political and economic hegemony in the GOP.
How do we fix it? Well, here are at least three ideas..whose moment may have finally arrived. First, perhaps it is time to allow third parties to flourish, and to change the terms of our national legislature to coincide with the election of the Chief Executive, so that, as with most parliamentary democracies, at least one faction would be in control, and able to form a government which is not working at cross purposes with itself. If everyone were rowing the boat in the same direction, we might even begin to solve some of the thornier problems like job creation, and debt reduction, while still maintaining a social safety net for those unable to care for themselves. We need a government that is boldly able carry out an agenda. We need government to fix what needs fixing, to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and to invest in new forms of energy production, and the insuring of educational access and achievement. We need new incentives for job creation that will turn our failing fortunes around, and insure our prosperity for the generation to come. We need a government which will insure opportunity, promote community, and reward responsibility, not feed upon itself, and cannibalize the very institutions which have been created to insure a level playing field.
Second, Another way to insure that the public interest is preserved by the government is to fund election campaigns with public dollars, and to rid the system of the special interests which dictate to the fiddler what tune shall be played. This reform would go a long way toward healing what ails us. Without it, we are doomed to be disadvantaged. Every day is like Groundhog day, and we seem unable to shake making the same mistakes over and over again.
Finally, It is time to re-introduce and restore the “Fairness Doctrine” in Broadcasting, to insure civility and evenness in our public dialogue on the public airwaves. Since that doctrine was abandoned, we have been on the proverbial downhill slide politically, and we desperately need to get back to being able to have an adult political conversation, without labeling and dismissing one another. Our current crop of radio talk hosts need to be put out to pasture...and our airwaves, which are owned by the public, need to be recaptured by the public, with free airtime to electoral candidates who will appear on camera themselves to state their goals, positions, and platforms, without benefit of clever Madison avenue 30 second Zingers designed to enrage, not enlighten, and to befuddle not bear witness to truth.
These are ambitious goals, but they are achievable. Perhaps a litmus test could be concocted wherein any candidate for public office could be called upon to adopt the pledge of civility, courtesy, camaraderie, and advancing of the common good. At least this would move the Commonweal forward, and we could begin rowing our oars in the same direction, toward common goals, once again. It’s worth a try!