Monday, November 23, 2009

Our two biggest problems

So, our country is at something of a crossroads; we've been standing here for quite a while, being pulled one way and another trying to find direction. We're facing a number of crises but it's not all grim news. Just like JFK said, "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters-one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity." We are faced with a financial crisis, the magnitude of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression in the 1930's. We are mired in two wars that have bankrupted our nation, financially and morally. We have, for the first time in our history, and much to the surprise of the rest of the world, elected a man of color to the highest office in the land, giving us hope to move into a post-racial America.

But what are the two things holding us back?

Partisanship and Populism.

The election of Barack Obama was supposed to signal an era of post-partisanship. In his first hundred days he regularly invited GOP members of congress to the White House on a regular basis. In a Gallup poll taken during his first 100 days in congress, 66% of Americans felt that he was making a sincere effort to reach bipartisan solutions for the problems that we face. In stark contrast, only 38% percent felt that Republican congress were making the effort to reach across the aisle in the same poll. Many liberals, myself included, were banging our head against any available hard surface wondering why the hell he was even bothering. All the while the Republican party, in spite of the fact of naming members of the GOP to cabinet level positions, ambassador posts, etc., still cry foul - that the administration is incredibly partisan.

Like I said previously, we are facing daunting challenges. But we're not all doing the most we can to fix the problems. There is no denying that healthcare in our country is nowhere as good as it should be. It is safe to say that the inefficiencies, inequalities and the unethical practices that the insurance companies use are pushing this country closer and closer to the edge of an economic as well as moral crisis. ...unless of course you are so rabidly partisan that you think the white house is using the term "crisis" only so they can grab more power for themselves. We're never going to solve our problems if half the people working in government spend most of their time obscuring and distorting the facts, opposing any action taken by the majority, slow walking and delaying action, nominations, etc all in the name of political gain.

But our elected officials aren't the only ones to blame for all this. As long as the electorate is willing to be spoon fed utterly insane conspiracy theories, thinly-veiled racist hatred, off-base political commentary and accept it as "news" or "facts" we're going to be stuck in this mess. News companies, journalists, newspapers that lean to one side or the other keep on putting out sensationalist tripe in an effort to outsell their competition at the expense of neutral, factual, substantiated journalism. And as long as we are willing to allow them to do this the national conversation about the most pressing issues of the day will never rise above the most common denominator; no real progress will be easily made. If members of congress are able to gain political capital by telling lies about healthcare rationing, death panels, forced abortions any progress made will be hard fought and hard won. Much harder than it need be. If populism is allowed to have the upper hand over intelligent discourse, we become the biggest impasse to real progress in this country. We need to find a way to rise above the bitterness and bickering that has dragged our political process down into the mud.

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