Political discourse: We are the problem

By Stefan Herlitz

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Political discourse in the United States has become increasingly partisan over the last decade, to the point where the current 113th Congress has a dismal 14 percent approval rating and has only passed 22 bills since January, making it the least productive Congress on record.

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Modern politics has become a war of words, a public battlefield that leaves nothing untouched. As expected, this deplorable situation has been blasted by the media, politicians and citizenry alike. Every day there is another special about partisan gridlock and how it is hurting the country.

Many Americans recognize the situation, but rarely discuss the true cause: us. While American citizens have given today’s Congress its rock-bottom approval rating, they tend to think more highly of their own representatives. Voters are more likely to approve of their own representatives than disapprove and frequently reelect incumbent politicians.

This highlights the issue: we, the voters, elect officials whom we like or agree with, not those best equipped to do the job.

Being a senator or representative is not about being an ideological paragon uncompromising in your beliefs – it’s about leading. Leadership requires reason, debate and compromise, not unwavering adherence to a specific set of principles. The legislative branch primarily serves to address and fix the problems of the day; what current legislators do is much more akin to the behavior of a petulant child going home and taking his ball with him.

The current gridlock is not the fault of individual politicians. After all, we were the ones who told them they’d be good at their job when we voted for them.

If a mailroom performs poorly because the workers can’t speak or read the language, should the blame fall on the workers? Of course not: they try the best they can given their limited knowledge of the language. The blame should fall instead on those who hired the wrong people for the job.

As a society, we overinvest in the oversimplified, perpetually conflicting political system we have created for ourselves. Nowhere in the Constitution is it written that politics must be a battle of red versus blue with less complexity than a simple game of football.

The Democratic and Republican parties themselves are meaningless. They don’t stand for anything except for the fact that they oppose the other party. Neither has a unifying set of beliefs or principles: their values can and do change. Yes, Democrats tend to be more liberal and Republicans more conservative, but no issue exists in which all Democrats hold one position and all Republicans hold another.

Just like football fans, Republicans and Democrats root for their respective teams at each election. Both celebrate when their teams win, and both call losses flukes, all the while knowing that there will always be another election. The game never ends.
The media devote incessant coverage as to which side is winning the game of politics, but they never acknowledge the fact that it doesn’t matter which side wins. As long as the competition is what we care about, everyone loses.

While our society looks down on politicians who make backroom deals, barter and compromise, we must acknowledge that this is the only kind of politician who can actually do the job. Hyper-partisan grandstanding and conflict is not a characteristic of a world power; it is the hallmark of a failed state.

After the revolution that successfully ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians elected the Muslim Brotherhood into power under Mohamed Morsi. However, none of the parties were willing to work together, which caused tensions to rise between rival factions, resulting in a military coup of Morsi and his followers.

Egypt’s example, bolstered by those of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and other such states, demonstrates that good politics is not about beating the other side and holding power for as long as possible. Good politics instead involve working together to better the nation as a whole.

So every time you hear someone say, “Republicans this” or “Democrats that,” remember that the “fundamental differences” they describe are a ridiculous fantasy. Our nation can only succeed through thoughtful debate and reasonable compromise.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]