By GRAY WHITSETT – COLUMNIST
The “Centre bubble,” as we all know, is a very real phenomenon. And as we also all know, it cuts us off from the world at large. I couldn’t be guiltier of this. As such, when the recent government shutdown began I hadn’t properly followed the story and short of a general picture, I wasn’t terribly knowledgeable about it. So I took the best action in times of ignorance – I asked. And it was the answers to my inquiry that prompted this article.
The most common (quite nearly the only) response I received was something along the lines of “It’s just politics” or “You know how Congress is.” When I pushed for more all I got was “There’s just too much gridlock” and “If you ask me they all deserve the axe.” Further questioning produced similarly shallow explanations.
Maybe this is true. Maybe Congress, and the presidency, and maybe the Supreme Court as well, are all compromised. Maybe the entire system of American government is fundamentally flawed, hopelessly outdated. Maybe we do need to fire literally every senator, representative, judge, cabinet member, and postman in the government. Maybe our model just sucks and it’s time to accept that reality. Maybe they’re right. But I don’t think so, and I don’t think anyone really thinks they are either, including themselves.
It’s become customary, acceptable, and rather encouraged to explain political issues by rejecting the enterprise itself. And I can’t stand this. Bashing politics, and being ignorant of the problems, is nothing new in America, or the world for that matter, but now it seems to be particularly popular. I want to be perfectly plain – I didn’t do anything remotely close to an empirical study or conduct serious interviews.
Without disclosing names, when I asked my peers about the matter, people whose opinions I respect and knowledge I trust, I was met with unsatisfying, uninformed, and unhelpful answers such as I’ve described. And even when I’m not seeking information about a specific event, this tends to be the attitude I’m presented with – a total dismissal. It’s not a conservative or liberal approach, it’s not certain age group or ethnicity, and it’s not based on gender. It’s arguably the most bipartisan topic in politics.
But nobody really believes this. It’s just become an easy way out of an engaging conversation, a method by which feelings are spared and peace is maintained. And that’s all good and well at Christmas dinner with grandpa, but when I’m genuinely asking about a national event like the recent shutdown, don’t give me some vague, halfhearted, screw-the-system answer, because you don’t believe it.
If we truly thought this, our incumbency rate would be slim to nothing and our two ideological camps wouldn’t be impenetrable bunkers. If we truly thought this, our government would represent it.
And that’s the issue with which I’m concerned. We live under a representative government, a government designed to emulate the people. If when an average citizen like myself asks a question of national interest and is met with useless answers such as “They’re all just too corrupt,” then what will our representatives represent?
If I can’t get answer, or even really an honest opinion, then how do we expect our leaders to debate healthcare, the Syrian conflict, and welfare reform? If our whole system is predicated on giving life and voice to the masses and the masses barely maintain a pulse and refuse to speak, then we will only result in precisely the chaos our Congress has become.
I guess we’ve developed a severe case of “hate the game, not the player,” and to a degree I understand. The representative from your district or the senator from your state is your guy. He or she is on your team, and you want your team to win.
I know the premium we place on individuality. I know the system functions by each taking care of himself, to a certain degree. I get that. But this logic falls in on itself quickly. Blaming “politics” or “the Republicans” or “Congress” is like declaring war on poverty or terrorism – it doesn’t mean anything. It’s shouting to the heavens, it’s punching a wall – it’s pointless.
If we’re going to obsess over individuality then let’s do it. Understand that Congress is made up of individuals. It’s made up of particular people making particular decisions at particular times. Be angry with them. Be impressed, be disgusted, be indifferent, be whatever you wish, but be it toward specific people. That is the only way any level of accountability, change, or progress will be had.
Unless we are seriously prepared to shut down the government permanently, write a new Constitution, or deport all our current leaders, I would suggest making some serious intellectual, emotional, and proactive investments in our current system.
If you think the shutdown was caused by Mitch McConnell’s gridlock strategy, then say it. If it’s due to Obama’s poorly executed healthcare plan, then say it. You don’t have to run for office or work on a campaign or even write a letter. But have some conviction.
Have motivation enough to have an informed opinion. And have the gall to say it. I’m not talking about Occupy Wall Street or the March on Washington. I’m not calling for “Give me liberty or give me death.” I’m advocating for simple public discourse. I’m just begging for some serious conversation.
In all actuality, my point boils down to a reversal of the adage I’ve already used – hate the player, not the game. The game is here to stay. It might need some editing, but we’ll deal with that as it comes. For now, it’s the actors on stage, not the theatre itself, that need critiquing.