“The Ship of State, however leaky should be bigger than any one, or indeed any group of self seekers, but lately it seems they have tried their level best to sink her… or at least run us aground.”
I live in the land of recounts and shutdowns. In 2008, while the rest of the nation lauded the victory of the first black president, we in Minnesota spent months in suspense as election officials rifled though hundreds of thousands of ballots to determine the winner of the senate election. The crown would go to either incumbent conservative Norm Coleman or liberal SNL-alum Al Franken. It was painstaking to listen, day after day, to updates on NPR only to hear that, essentially, no progress had been made. We, as a state, could not decide what we wanted – almost evenly split between the far left and the far crazy…
I mean right. Sound familiar? It gets better. In our 2010 gubernatorial race, THE SAME THING HAPPENED! DFL former senator/trust-fund baby Mark Dayton was tied with bona fide crazy republican Tom Emmer, whose faves on Facebook include braised gay-chops. This one ended efficiently (though not without incident, with the R side again calling foul on ballots clearly intended for the D, spending our money on expensive challenges that were obviously, according to a panel of judges and the state attorney general, “frivolous”). Then came this summer, when an unforeseen side-effect of the longest ever government shutdown was the closing of all, sigh, STATE parks. No camping, no hikes, no swimmin’ hole. Why? Why else? The far-left and the far-from-right could not agree on a budget. The R’s refused any new revenue sources. The L’s cried, and eventually gave in, giving us a lukewarm compromise that, finally, everyone shared an opinion on: it sucked. Now…does THAT sound familiar to you?
The recent, much-publicized standoff between Congress and the White House was reviled around the world as a sign that American politics is overrun with immature morons who are incapable of taking their place at the big table of global affairs. Almost all politicians are egotistical attention-seekers who care more about getting time on Rachel Maddow than they do about spending time with their own constituency. (They also know more about Rachel Maddow’s personal life, finances, and governing philosophies than they do about their own districts’.) Proof? Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen your representative on TV. Then ask yourself how many times you’ve seen your representative.
There are good ones, to be sure, but even they get so bogged down by the logistical nightmare of bureaucracy and the general, well, politics of it all that, despite their best intentions, they are consumed by the 24-hour news cycle. Today’s politicians fall so far to either end of the spectrum – blindingly narcissistic or helplessly idealistic – that it is impossible for them to accomplish anything by way of meaningful policy or positive change. And despite the disproportionate visibility of the gangs flanking either end of the population, most Americans aren’t like their reps. Most Americans are “middlers”: grounded yet forward-looking, cautiously progressive and also proud of their own accomplishments and those of their community. You see, most Americans don’t live in “America” – they live in small gatherings of buildings, roads and sewers and their primary concern is not the national debt, but their own. Yet we pluck lunatics from the far left and right to go to the Hunger Games in Washington; we’re optimistic, but certain that little will be accomplished. But I’m not so sure it should be any other way.
I care deeply about the direction of our country, equal rights, and liberty and justice for all, but I am so thankful that their protection is not my job. However, I see it as my patriotic duty, and my duty to myself and my household, not to be an idiot about public goings-on. As a voter and community member – as a middler – I believe in “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Now, none of my friends are elected officials and, aside from a few ego-heavy lawyers, none of them plan to run. It’s a shitty job, and only those whose self-images are damaged to the point of retardation or those who are cripplingly idealistic would ever seek such a life. But someone has to do it, and we need to both hire them (after a thorough interview and background check), and then manage them, providing relevant job coaching along the way. Call it “middle management.”
Politicians are the janitors of the country – the difference being that politicians get the “glory” of hearing their names chanted by thousands of like-minded “supporters” (aka people who love you AS LONG AS THEY GET THEIR WAY), while janitors go home at night, enjoy their loved ones, watch Modern Family, and sleep soundly. That is exactly as it should be. Those poor suckers in Washington have to fight for their own popularity day after day, stuck between wanting to be liked and trying to be productive, while the rest of us express our frustration that these dummies never seem to get anything done. We also get to watch them not doing it, and critique them for it. That is both our right and our job.
I propose that maybe we aren’t doing it very well. Perhaps we need some motivation and re-training so we may better supervise, instruct, and inspire those we pay to represent us in Washington. Because I don’t want to run for office. It’s an icky job, and most of the time politicians are too busy trying to raise money that they have very little time (or energy) left over to actually work. Imagine trying, every day, to get people to give you money so that you can buy advertising to prove that you should keep your own job. And then to be asked to get some actual work done – with people who explicitly disagree with you about everything – on top of it. It’s no wonder that the people who end up running are at the far ends of the spectrum; they’re the only ones who can conjure that kind of insane energy. But they do our dirty work for us. And trying to get them to agree, putting them in a room together to make it work and find a way forward, well, it’s a big ol’ mess. And that’s exactly what our system depends on.
Oh, it’s frustrating. Think back on the disputed 2000 presidential election. Sometimes the results seem unfair, but to be quite specific, fairness is the one attribute we can depend on in the USA. Often it’s ridiculous. Often it’s disappointing. Rarely is it productive. But it is, generally, fair. It’s designed that way. Our job in the middle is to ensure that. To supervise, evaluate, and take action if we don’t approve of our employees’ performance. It takes effort, education and critical thought, but it’s important. Think of the extensive paper trail of good-faith performance improvement efforts required before terminating even the most entry-level employee within your own company. Should it be any easier on us to design our own representation?
Many of us wish that our country could thrive as efficiently as Germany and Denmark. Careful what you wish for. In small European countries, it’s easy to enforce policies that raise the level of debate at the same time as the treasury balance. They are countries filled with like-minded (and like-looking) people who don’t argue because LIFE IS GOOD. They are rich and homogenous xenophobes who benefit from systems that would invoke riots in the US. There isn’t much in terms of diversity or extremism. The fact is, whether we liberals like it or not, many of the romantic policies (UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE) that we love the sound of are, to quote Sarah Palin and her coven: SOCIALIST. We should debate them, but we really shouldn’t get to have them. The trade-off is: we get to be the boss. The frustrating thing is, the system does work. The 2000 disputed presidential election (that in other countries would certainly have led to a bloody coup) it is evidence of how our flawed, wasteful, corrupted system is the best democracy in the world and, as such, is worth every effort we make to defend it.
It is actually a beautiful thing – and the triumph of democracy – that a crazy, homophobic hillbilly with a gay husband can run for president. In some confusing way, I thank her for it. So let them all run, give them all a voice. From the Frothy Mix to the Black Pizza Guy, from the Mormons to the Newt to the Crabby Old Doctor to the Governor who wants to prick your little girls. Give them all a chance. Those of us doing the hard work in the middle will take them and all the shutdowns and recounts that come with them. The salary for our job well done? Freedom and democracy. And that is worth the effort.