I went to a relatively large high school, which was predominantly white, blue collar to middle class in upstate New York (well downstate depending on where you’re from in NY). Up until a few years ago, it was as red as Texas with only a few districts or seats going to the other party. More recently, since the economy was a wreck and we had a charismatic leader named Barack Obama appealing to a younger demographic and other diverse citizenry, Poughkeepsie went blue. I mean FDR couldn’t even win his district just north in Hyde Park. Let’s be honest though, Poughkeepsie is more of a light sky blue that has grayish watercolor tones peppered with Independents. What color are they again?
But colors don’t dictate our political leanings, do they? Do we associate with a party before family? Before friendship? Before country? Remember when blue and red were changed around every national election? Now we have organizations with colors in their names like Blue State Digital. I’m baffled at the divisive nature of the whole American political palate.
My friend is running for Congress and one of my other friends wrote me a letter on his behalf, which asked for money. My candidate friend is a Republican and we don’t agree on much other than music and when to drink a beer. If I were a Republican it would be much easier to contribute to his campaign. I probably wouldn’t think twice about giving some of my income or savings to his district’s cause, which is ultimately all of our cause. If I were a Republican, I wouldn’t have to think about how to support my friend because my views are in direct opposition to his party’s goals and penchant for obstructionism. I should have been a Republican because then I could buy into his view of the old, fleeting American Dream that once helped inspire American citizens to do great things.
I’ve had a miserable year thinking about this subject and how to express my overall lack of enthusiasm for the political process. I used to be idealistic and worked for a time in campaign politics for Democrats in different parts of the country. But now in my 30s, the first thing that crosses my mind about “broken promises” and “broken political systems” and “broken hearts” is how formulaic it has all become. Churchill said you have “no brain” if you’re not a conservative at 40. My view is that leaders should be more interested in solving problems than identifying with a certain color scheme.
“Families are always rising and falling in America” said Nathaniel Hawthorne. The reality is that if you are a politician, you are more likely to fall into political scandal now than ever. We all know why—the 24-hour news cycle, access to digital photography, Twitter (which “amplifies” your ascent to or descent from the political mountaintop), and of course our country’s absolute tabloid obsession with drama. For example, we all play games in politics, entertainment, sports or even our own lives as we use social media to expand our relative social network clout. It’s ironic that the Democrat in me is decrying the multitude of voices in the political process. But, like I said, I should have been a Republican.
With many viable candidates fearful of not having a grounded public life, I do believe this means more “brain drain” from politics (don’t laugh) because people don’t want their lives on public display, every day in every way possible. I have friends that left lucrative careers in technology consulting for more money in investment banking and private equity. This seems to be a trend that has become more prevalent among elite college graduates that possess hard skills. It could only mean fewer people are interested in public service in their 20s and 30s, right? I don’t agree. But where have all the statesmen and women gone?
Making real adjustments to our political process and government has never been easy. But I believe that as we continue to spend millions and sometimes billions on elections, there must be an easier way to field a better team of politicians on either side of the figurative aisle. There is simply too much money in the political process. Citizen’s United doesn’t provide us with a solution to the problems in “broken” Washington. It was a decision made by one branch of government, which a lot of people happen to agree with. But that decision is a real problem, which is holding us back from serious, rigorous debate on policy and the future of government structures that are woefully inadequate. It’s a step towards believing in something greater than our short-term political dramas and old-school tactics and offering something that meets our “American reality”.
I think that we need to elect real leaders who know how to solve problems, not create them. We need political leaders who attempt to find new ways of working with diverse choruses to make harmonies, not abandoning relationships because they’re expendable. Reformers are generally open-minded people, but it will be up to new leaders to help reform systems from immigration to education to safety nets like social security. The debate shouldn’t be a drama played out in the digital socio-political ether-sphere, but something that engages citizens and promotes real solutions.