We must come together if we’re to move forward


Heath Haussamen

Washington often fails to function these days regardless of who is in office, which party controls things, and how hard they’re trying to get things done. We – the majority who want to see more compromise – need to demand a functional Washington.

I originally intended this column to be about how Washington needs to buckle down and solve our debt crisis before the nation defaults. As I wrote, I realized that there’s a much deeper problem.

I’ve been watching the negotiations between President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others, and I really think they’re trying to come up with a solution all can live with.

I’m sure Democrats think Republicans need to budge on their pledge to not raise revenues. And I’m sure Republicans think Democrats need to accept more dramatic reforms to entitlement programs.

So they’re haggling and arguing and making dramatic speeches for the media to amplify around the globe.

It isn’t that Boehner or Reid or Obama wants the nation to default. It’s that they haven’t been able to find a way to stop it.

The problem is systemic. Washington often fails to function these days regardless of who is in office, which party controls things, and how hard they’re trying to get things done.

The results are pitiful. Decades ago we put humans on the moon several times. Now we can’t get to the International Space Station without paying Russia to take us there.

That’s not a Democratic problem, and it’s not a Republican problem. It’s a Washington problem, and beyond that, it’s a societal problem. The government put in place by We the People has failed to keep us at the forefront of space exploration. That could have all sorts of military, scientific and other consequences.

And now the government has taken us to the brink of defaulting on our debt. If that happens, we’ll be sending a message to the rest of the world that we really are a society in decline and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

‘No way to run the greatest country on Earth’

“This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth,” Obama said Monday evening. “It’s a dangerous game that we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now – not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.”

He’s right. But Obama, who ran on a promise to make these red and blue states the United States, has failed to do that. We’re more divided now than we’ve been at most times in our nation’s history.


Our politicians, and the two political parties to which almost all of them belong, are largely to blame. By dividing Americans they rile up their bases and preserve their own power.

But they’re not the only ones to blame. The media plays a significant role by reporting spin and counter-spin without sorting through it all to find the truth. It loves to amplify fights because they make good TV and sell newspapers.

Special interest groups contribute to the problem. Like the political parties and the media, they play up divisions to get their bases worked up. It helps them raise money and increase their influence.

Corporations play a role. Their influence in Washington is staggering. Republicans in the House are unwilling to budge on a key point in negotiations right now because of the influence the wealthiest Americans have over them.

We need to demand a functional Washington

But, ultimately, the blame lies with the American public. Our political system is divided and seeks to divide us only because we allow it. Our media sensationalizes and oversimplifies issues because that’s what we watch and read. Special interest groups and corporations have power only because we cede it to them.

Some 80 percent of those surveyed in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll said they are either “angry” or “dissatisfied” with the way Washington works. That’s the highest that number has been in almost 20 years.

A significant majority of those surveyed said everyone in Washington – the president and congressional Republicans and Democrats – hasn’t been willing enough to compromise on the budget deficit. Americans want our government to function.

So we have political leaders wanting to find compromise, and Americans wanting them to find compromise, but it still isn’t happening.

We – the majority who want to see more compromise – need to demand a functional Washington. It’s one thing to answer a poll question. It’s another to vote, to write or call your member of Congress, to picket outside his or her office, to send a letter to the editor. It’s another to buy the newspaper or watch the TV program that puts the news in context instead of the one that sensationalizes.

In other words, it’s another thing entirely to work for the change you want to see happen.

Turning this ship around

Americans have been compromising to solve serious problems for more than two centuries. That’s what our Constitution envisions: that hundreds of senators and representatives from different walks of life, who we elect to serve us, will jointly find better solutions to our nation’s problems than any one of us would on our own.

That core principle – that we must come together if we’re to move forward – is what makes our Constitution brilliant. We need to look to it right now.

If we don’t turn this ship around, I fear what the future will hold for our children.

Haussamen bio │ Commentary page │ Feed

12 thoughts on “We must come together if we’re to move forward

  1. The solution to the current political discourse and mess lies with each of us individually and all of us collectively. The problem when identified well is that our political system no longer serves “we the people.” The political system has been taken over by small numbers of people with power, influence, and money. Those people by and large are among the richest and most powerful and influential people in our society, including many politicians and and people who benefit from corporate greed for profit. How can this stranglehold of power and influence be broken. You can contribute, I can contribute, we can contribute to the solution. We, the 98% of the population, who aren’t rich and aren’t powerful can be influential if we want to be and will make the choices to be influential.

    Choices to be influential can include, actively participating in our government system by voting, communicating with our elected officials, talking with each other in a manner which respects others and their rights and privileges in our democracy. Support media organizations that present and promote an open and honest approach to discussing issues and actually help people become well informed to make intelligent decisions. Support corporations and businesses that are either politically neutral or support issues that benefit a majority of people. Do you bank at your local non-profit credit union or do you support one of the large corporate banks? If you believe the large banks were largely responsible for the countries recession why support them with your business. They can and will change if people don’t support them with business. The 98% of us make them successful, not the 2%. If your politicians don’t listen and do as the majority wish, march on them en mass. Look at the people’s response in Wisconsin this year to a governor and legislature bent on passing legislation the people did not want. They made their voices heard by taking over their capitol building and peacefully demonstrating. When that didn’t persuade their politicians they started petitions to recall legislators who they deemed unfit to serve them. Elections are forthcoming and results will quite interesting to see how the power and influence of the people can be mustered and used to make change.

    I think the question we must all ask ourselves is, what am I willing to give, to do, to sacrifice to change the corporate/political system that does not serve a majority of people? A positive answer giving some level of participation, some level of sacrifice is a powerful and influential answer. Additionally, open and problem solving discussion among people is needed to set the tone for our elected officials. Blaming, finger pointing, and disrespecting others is not useful to changing the discourse and the actions that invoke change in a system we have come to distrust.

    Look in the mirror to see who is responsible for creating a change. Each of us can do something to contribute. Some more and some less, but we all can make a difference.

  2. Heath, your article offers food for thought. Thank you. First, blaming does not solve any problems. When you stated” But, Obama…” did you forget that Constitutionally, the separation of powers requires that the president govern,while the Congress legislate? President Obama cannot direclty vote in many states to change votes in either red or blue states. He cannot govern effectively while the Congress does not approve his nominations for federal positions, such as heads of federal agencies, including the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or so many of the federal judgeships.

    Congress has progressively gotten more partisan in the last several decades. A president cannot change Congress’ attitudes by himself.

    Yes, Congress is dysfunctional, partisan to the point of not legislating even the most basic of their bills.

    Ultimately, yes it is us citizens who can change. However writing, talking only goes so far. My family has a saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” On that premise, what have you done lately? Not only you, Heath, but all of us? Have we voted in every election? Have we attended city council, county board meetings, gone to Santa Fe to sit in on legislative sessions? Have we canvassed for any politicians we feel can improve from the current dysfunctionality? How often do we communicate with our local, county, state,and federal electied officials? How often
    do we go to their public forums, to ask the hard questions? How many of us have tried to run for any offices ourselves? What can we do? Perhaps the better question is, how much more are we willing to do, beyond reading and writing?

    Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson who said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance? What will it take to get Congress back to actually being able to write appropriate legislation, discuss it, compromise, pass bills that actually benefit and further our country, that impact in a positive way our daily lives? We need to ask ourselves, how much can each of us do to bring back a functioning government,at all levels.

  3. If we put this conversation exclusivley in the context of raising the debt ceiling, who is it that’s refusing to do what was consistently done for Reagan, Bush and practically every other President? Simple, its the Republicans…no amount of spin or “we the people” tea party coded language can refute this simple fact. So Republicans want to demand some fiscal cuts with that vote, fine, but to actually refuse to a deal at all because you want the other side to make all the consessions, is not only immature, in this case its trajically reckless. And yes, its only one party, the Republicans…and how sad Heath you neglected to mention that force which really has the Republicans over the barrell, and thats the Tea Party.

    Say what you will about Obama and the Dems, in 2 short years, they kept the economy from going into a possible depression, they helped save major industries and millions of jobs with it, they passed needed consumer protections of credit card policies and wall street, and they helped to provide insured healthcare to millions who didnt have access to it while trying (with no help from yes, you guessed it, Republicans) to reign in rising costs resultant from insurance industry rip offs.

    Now flash forward, 6 months into republican House rule, and we cant even get these clowsn to agreee that America should pay its bills.

    Heath, what do we do to help solve this? My answer is simple and its backed up by 6 months of disaster, its time to once again fire the Republicans and get the team back on the field who showed they were up to the task of solving problems. Call me partisan if you want. I think the facts speak for themselves. Democratic control of Congress might have produced policies that some dont support, but at least it functioned…and thats a heck of a lot more that I can say about the new construct.

  4. I never believed in the concept of term- limits for our federal elected officials; but, this thirst for power, the lack of respect and disregard to find solutions by our elected officials in Washington has changed my mind. I think more than ever we need to clean house. The excutive branch is a term-limit position, it’s time for the legislative branch to become one.

  5. And dnl makes Heath’s and the others’ point quite well. Screw the country for the sake of what exactly? Similarly and previously, many had a similar attitude toward Bush. It’s a shame we don’t collectively act like educated adults more often. I wish I had a simple smart solution to make it better, but as others have pointed out, its pervasive and hard… and getting worse it seems.

  6. I have great appreciation from this commentary but I feel obligated to chime in from an area that is almost completely Republican. I think the Republicans purposefully decide to use their debt ceiling crusade so that they could corner the duly elected President for two years. I think they believed this was the only issue (that has to be decided) which could stall everything else out and become big enough to have an argument about for years. McConnell himself revealed that their top/only priority was to make sIure duly elected President Obama was a one term President. Now, they hide behind the Tea Party young souls just as they never apologized for Bush’s terrible administration. Last weekend someone stated that for the Republicans it is my way or the highway or expect chaos. I can catagorical state that in ther red area I live in, that is EXACTLY how these people live their lives. And let me also state, the racists are showing their slip and their zippers are down. They hate that a Black Man is in charge. Hate it I tell you, hate it. The culture here would be unbelievable to most Americans, simply unbelievable.

    I think the Republicans created this crisis and are, figurativily speaking, hold an AK47 to our heads. And I know for a fact that many people are liquidating their 401K and IRA accounts or moving the money to foreign investments today. The damage is done and I can already hear the spin the Republicans are going to put on it next year when they vie for the White House.

    I am all for honest debate, compromise and bi partisan decisions – but that is a two way street.

  7. I can’t disagree with most of what you wrote here. There are simply no easy solutions when you have people elected to positions of leadership that end up co-opted by the system, act mostly to benefit themselves, and suck up to big money donors and lobbyists. We no longer have statesmen or stateswomen – we only have mere politicians and all the negative aspects associated with that title. There are no good leaders left like the Roosevelts, Truman or Eisenhower, who could hold congressional leaders accountable and push through good legislation. We only have wimps and self-serving egotists who are running this country into the ground. Sound cynical? Yep, just like the majority of Americans across the country. Just like my Dad said – he has never seen it this bad, and he’s 95 years old!

  8. The majority of voters in this district (such as the ones in Catron, Lea, Chaves and Eddy Counties) are not wanting solutions or compromise. The priority of these folks is to defeat President Obama and nothing else matters!! Why do you think pearce is the congressman.

  9. I appreciate your frustration and your call for action, but I too don’t really know how to proceed. As you said, the problem is systemic, but it pervades all our systems. Yes, most of the media are vapid and reactionary, but so are most of our citizens. Most of the time neither group pays much attention to the real issues. Our schools are failing to help our children learn to reason, and their parents gave up on it long ago. Our corporations are no longer run by directors and officers who strive to make quality products for a reasonable price while helping their workers maintain an adequate standard of living. Now corporations are just roulette wheels and one-armed bandits that those who play with money can use to gamble with. I could go on.

    All of these systems have good people in them, but they are often thwarted by what I would call “mass inanity.” For every stock broker who is doing his best to help his clients preserve and increase their assets, there are several who see their clients as commission cows. For every politician who truly believes in certain principles, there are several who will sign any pledge that ensures them more corporate contributions. For every parent who truly cares about his children’s education there are so many more who see the school system as a provider of daycare, free lunches, and sporting events. I could go on.

    I think the best place to start is campaign contribution reform. I can see that that is a First Amendment question and I think the only way to do it is by yet another amendment. That takes time, but I think it’s worth the effort. We really need to reduce both the cost and the duration of campaigns for public office. Especially at the congressional level, the influence of corporations and lobbyists far outweighs the concerns of the populace. Being in Congress means running for office all the time, and that is the greatest threat to genuine liberty and representative democracy.

    The only other thing I think would really help is if our citizens were more rational. I have no clue how to bring that about.

  10. Heath: your statement “…ultimately, the blame lies with the American public.”; is a most accurate statement. It also could be said the reason most people don’t speak up is that most people are living off of the teat. I appreciate your time and effort in this commentary and I for one believe that sites such as yours are making a sufficient public awareness and making a difference and warrants being supported.

  11. I think the solution has to come from within each of us. We have to decide to support politicians who are determined to work together, rather than those who are not. We have to decide to support media that puts the news in context rather than sensationalizing it. If enough of us decided that we want a society in which people worked through their differences to find solutions, we would have such a society.

  12. Well said Heath, as usual you hit the nail on the head. The special interests (from corporations to unions, and left and right wing activists) run our country in a very divisive and polarizing fashion. The politicians act the same way, just read the Facebook pages of our sorry collection of DC reps. However, I see nothing in your article, or in anything from any media, that suggests a solution. How in the world do we “demand a functional Washington” by voting, writing, calling,emailing, etc.???? That is being done but we the people are just as polarized and divisive as the DC reps are, that’s where they get it. Could you really envision people voting for DC reps that loved compromise and functioning government instead of our typical way of supporting those who reflect our special interests? I don’t see any solution to changing us, do you?