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.