The American public has once again succeeded at doing what it does best. Frustrating the hell out of political scientists, hill staffers, election junkies, Wednesday morning armchair quarterbacks, and anyone else who tries to explain their behavior. So, there we have it, a house divided against itself.
In a stunning shift from two years ago, the republicans have gained 50 seats in the House, and the majority. Madame Speaker will soon become Congresswoman Pelosi, and Minority Leader Boehner will become Speaker Boehner. The Senate seems to be safe for Democrats, but I don’t see how 51 or 52 is much better for a body that was unable to get anything done with 58. Then again, it’s not much worse, either. But in watching Boehner’s speech tonight I was reminded of something that’s often forgotten in American politics. As easy at is to think that it’s us vs. them, left vs. right, sanity vs. fear, death panels vs. real americans, that kind of thinking doesn’t help anyone but campaign fundraisers. It’s really people against problems. And the source of all this animus, ultimately, comes from people proposing different solutions to the same problems. But we see the same problems, we agree on the problems. We know change needs to come, it’s the how of it that seems to drive this engine. It’s as if the parties have turned into “Rock Em, Sock Em Robots,” doomed to pummel each other for all eternity, the reason for their epic contest long forgotten.
It’s nothing new. Government is serious business, and people have always argued with passion, disagreed violently, and resorted to name calling and mud slinging. The argument has been that the ends, gaining political office to enact policies that benefit the country, outweigh the means, i.e school yard name calling and bullying. The problem is that campaigns are now permanent. In the age of internet watchdogs, 24 hour news networks, and gawker/tmz, you’re always running. Running as fast as you can. You can never put your guard down and get to the governing. And even if there was a media blackout for the first 18 months of a two year congressional term, it’s not like the guy-your-buddy-was-running-against-but-lost-to has forgotten that you called him an ungulate lover in order to score a few cheap votes.
The problem is that no one in Washington respects anyone else. Gone are the days of the “collegial” senate. Republicans and democrats would spend 9 to 5 debating, and 5 to 9 getting shitfaced together. Even if they disagreed, violently, vehemently, on policies, they still respected the man across the aisle. Where did that respect come from?
An acknowledgement of the other guys commitment to public service, a commitment to fighting most for what they truly, honestly believe is the best course for their country. No one who earnestly argues for their policy of choice is worthy of scorn, but in these sound-bite ridden decades, it is much easier to deride your opponent as a looney, gun toting, tea bagging, god clinging moron than to have to debate each of their policies. This political short hand has given the country short shrift.
And I think this election demonstrates one thing pretty well. The public isn’t happy with the way things are going, but no one has shown that they know how to fix it conclusively. It’s not punishing the democrats for moving too slow by slowing them further, nor is it an embrace of tea party politics. It is pure frustration with a system that has been hamstrung by a media that amplifies discord and deaden’s harmony. When the perception is that government has ground to a halt, that no one in Washington is willing to work across the aisle, then nobody has to.
Say what you will about Boehner. God damn it, that mother fucker loves America. He loves the shit out of this country. Whether or not I agree or disagree with his policies, he’s doing what he thinks is right. Don’t like it? Convince the people to vote for you, next time. This kind of passion, this kind of dedication, is something to be praised, no matter the brand of the aforementioned impassioned politico. People get into politics, usually, at the local level, which means they’re not motivated by greed, but rather by a desire to positively change the lives of their children or their fellow citizens. They are answering the call to public service. It’s arguable that those who start out at the higher levels of politics aren’t motivated by greed either, since they’ve got to be independently wealthy. On the road to higher office, which they seek in order to affect more peoples lives in larger ways, they are consistently and constantly battered during these permanent elections. Mr. Smith starts out on the road to Washington, but Mr. Hyde is the one who gets there.
If we want candidates to stop campaigning and start governing, then we’ve got to somehow let them put the gloves down. A Mutually Assured Destruction media strategy leaves the public with representatives that nobody likes too much, who don’t like each other, and who can’t get anything done. Until we figure out a way to stop the MADness, that’s how it’s gonna stay.