When I was a kid I was enamored by all that was politics. I read about it, watched TV news and enjoyed the conversations around our dinner table about the important events of the day. It may have been my lack of experience and my naïveté, but the senators, congressmen and governors all seemed dignified, well-spoken and sincerely concerned with the needs of their constituents. Of course, the president was in a space all his own representing all that was good and strong about America. But what stood out to me most of all was the formality and respect with which all of them spoke to and treated each other. I don’t mean to imply that during those years all was sweetness and light. After all, it was the time that the Civil Rights Movement was picking up pace and there was plenty of hatred to go around. The violence of those who objected to that movement was on TV for all to see. We were also beginning to hear about a far off country named Viet Nam where over 55,000 Americans would ultimately lose there lives. While the 60’s were certainly a time of upheaval it felt different from today. There was disagreement about many issues confronting our country, yet there was not yet the feeling of “them” and “us” that is so pervasive today. The polarization that exists today is different because it cuts more deeply than ever before.
The differences between groups today are based on things that are values-based, religious-based and class-based. It is a fact that if you tell me where a person lives, what his religious affiliation is, where he places himself on the economic ladder and what his ethnic background is, that I can probably tell you with great accuracy where he stands on any issue. For a country that has always prided itself on being above all of these labels, where anyone can rise to the top, this is a tragic reality. What is most tragic is that the politicians of today are feeding fuel to those differences and feeding off of them as well. No doubt that there was hatred coming across the radio waves of yesterday. However, technology has provided us with a massive increase in the opportunity to spread hatred and falsehood around. The altering of the news cycle created by first the cable news networks and now Twitter allows inference and accusation to stand unchallenged because of the sheer mass of information coming at us. That respect and formality of yesterday has been buried by the weight of special interest funding and the desire to win at any cost. Politicians today are not “the best and the brightest”, they are simply the most ruthless and ambitious. They are no longer responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents, but rather those of their financial supporters. This is evidenced every time we see polls that show overwhelming support for a position and see that the house and the senate votes opposite that support. It is quite simple. Those that pay get to play. Most of us are mere spectators.
Our system of government is not working out as the framers of our Constitution planned it. We are no longer living in a representative democracy, but rather an oligarchy. While I do have respect for President Obama and I hope his successor, Hilary Clinton, politicians of this caliber are too few and far between. This is particularly true on the local and state levels. Naturally it is that way because we allowed it to get that way. That’s right, all of us took our eyes off of the ball and it got away from us. The election booth is where we get to change our system back to where it started. This requires that the candidates that we support understand who they are responsible to. But for them to be elected we must get off of our couches and work on their behalf. Wouldn’t it be nice to again respect those who are elected?