Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Honest Politicians and Other Mythical Creatures


Politics. The very word strikes anger, suspicion and doubt in many Americans. An Associated Press poll of 1,060 people nationwide (2016) shows almost four out of every 10 Americans have "hardly any" trust in the U.S. political system. The same poll found that only 1 in 10 have a great deal of confidence in the system.

To so many people, elected leaders are public servants who seem to spend most of their time and money serving themselves and their party or support group. Of course, they should do the will of the people by prioritizing compromise and solution to enact bipartisan answers to pressing problems.

The fact remains that the billionaire class and its rigged economy are parts of the topsy-turvy political system. Senator Bernie Sanders has given voice to the mounting anger of millions of young and working-class Americans who want a denunciation of class inequality and corporate power. This outcry is nothing new – review Jesse Jackson in the 1980s, Ralph Nader in 2000, and the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in 2011.  


The political establishment was quick to use the “s” word to label Sanders and cast him in a highly questionable light – he was widely branded as a socialist for his platform against wealth inequality and corporate greed. Yet, Sanders flatly disavows the very heart of socialism as defined by Karl Marx: “I don’t believe government should own the means of production.” In actuality, a better description of his belief that working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal is social democracy.

Sanders lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton. And, all of us who have lived through desperately needed reform like the civil rights movement understand a sea change progresses in small, measured steps. It will take considerable time to change politics into something more like what Sanders envisions – less money and more people.

Getting money out of the political process and bringing more people into it will require some way that the poor and working class, those without significant resources, can confront those in the political system with seemingly unlimited money and support systems.

Patrick Barrett, Ph.D and administrative director of the A. E. Havens Center for Social Justice at the University of Wisconsin, says ...

“All of this underscores what is perhaps the most serious strategic shortcoming of the Sanders campaign -- despite its implicit condemnation of the political system, it has, to date, offered no real plan for transforming it, or even the partisan composition of Congress. For example, there is no army of Sanders allies running for the House and Senate, and even if there were, they would run up against the extraordinary power of incumbency.”

(Patrick Barrett. “Can We Change the Political System? Strategic Lessons of the Bernie Sanders Campaign.” Truthout. March 25, 2016.)

Although …

People desperately want change in politics. The constant chatter on social media underscores the unrest of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. Despite this discontent, the parties seem to offer nominees that do little to satiate the public's dissatisfaction with the system. In a cycle of “same old, same old,” the partisan candidates are beholden to those who fund their campaigns. So, over and over, the people find choices who support politics over substance.

Two glaring problems with "people representation" are voter registration and voter turnout. The website “Statistic Brain” puts the total number of Americans eligible to vote at 218,959,000. Of these, 146,311,000 are registered. The total number of Americans who voted in the 2012 Presidential election was 126,144,000 or 57.5%.

How amazing it is that 42.5% of American citizens do not exercise their most basic democratic right of voting for the President of the United States? In the age of communication – with cell phones, ipads, tablets, and pc's constantly processing volumes of information – you would think the vast majority of eligible voters would take the time to mark a ballot -- the most direct way to express opinion.

I think the propensity to complain about the corrupt American political system without committing the slightest effort to help make changes is an attribute of a large number of  Americans who simply scapegoat others for their own inadequacies. With the rights and freedoms they possess, these people simply exercise their political voice by blaming opponents, never intending to seek real solutions or to find unbiased answers. They truly enjoy venting without supporting.

Do I believe the political system needs vast reform? I do. However, words of condemnation are cheap and often used as nothing more that emotional outlets of disgust. I have seen so much hatred, name calling, and prejudice in the 2016 campaign. Ugly describes the entire process. At times the juvenile behavior of candidates and their supporters showed itself to be worse that that of young kids on an elementary playground.

And, yes, I am aware of the long history of contentious political practices. Yet, you would think history, itself, would encourage positive changes in political behavior. You may use the cliché “It's the nature of the beast” to justify the horrid behaviors. To that, I would say that beastly behavior is very counterproductive to a working political process.

Derrick A. Bell, the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School, once said, “Education leads to enlightenment. Enlightenment opens the way to empathy. Empathy foreshadows reform.” Doesn't politics need to put a much higher premium on both education and empathy? To me, these qualities are often poorly lacking in candidates who say they intend to represent us – we, the people striving to form a more perfect union. 


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