Saturday, February 28, 2009

Can Hope Bring Progress?

I just watched "Right America: Feeling Wronged," an HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi. If the name sounds familiar, it should - she is the daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a democrat from California.

The description of the program read, "A documentary filmmaker talks with social conservatives, many of whom were very much opposed to the election of Barack Obama as president, on their feelings about the future of our nation now that he has taken the oath of office."

What the description should have read was, "A documentary filmmaker talks with rednecks, racists, religious fanatics and the right wing fringe in an effort to further political stereotyping and create a more divisive gap within America's two party system."

In 2009, America is a country defined by two things: Our past and our hope for the future. And why not? Who in their right mind would want to be defined by our present? We are a nation divided at every front, and a nation where division is introduced at an early age, encouraged throughout our youth, and embraced in adulthood.

No? Introduce me to an elementary school where the pudgy kid with glasses is picked first in kickball. Where the awkward girl with braces gets as much positive attention from boys as her doe-eyed classmate. Where it doesn't matter what kind of clothes you wear, what holiday you celebrate, or what kind of house you live in.

Find me a high school where the football coach tells his players that they're no better than the math team, and where cheerleaders want to date the guys on the debate team. How about a city that isn't divided by color and nationality? A Boston Red Sox fan who doesn't hate the New York Yankees?

Or maybe a democrat that has a single productive thing to say about a republican. Or vice versa. Politics are just another sickening example that we are a country bred to divide.

And that's what's wrong with America today.

It used to be The Cold War. The United States of America verses the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Russia was the bad guy, and it was us against them.

Now we don't have a common foe. We have nobody to unite against, so we unite against each other, and fueled by politics we have become more divided than ever before. Sure, we rallied against terrorism for a while, but as soon as the memories of 9/11 faded away, so did our united spirit of patriotism.

We live in a nation where it's the democrats verses the republicans. Blue verses red. Right verses left. Us verses them. You have to choose a side, because anything else is a wasted vote.

It doesn't need to be that way, and it shouldn't be that way. The United States was never built to be a two-party system, but it evolved into that as the political machine realized that the fewer choices people had, the less power people had.

But the real question isn't how much power we have as a people, it's what power we have as a people. Right now, we have the power to stay focused on the task at hand: Making America a better place tomorrow than it is today.

If every American embraced that responsibility, it wouldn't matter that the bulk of our elected officials are more concerned with political biases than they are with what's best for our population. On Capitol Hill, it's about advancing agenda over advancing change. From our vantage point, we just have to cross our fingers that the agenda is working for us, not against us.

As a people, we have to be bigger than the politicians who are blinded by partisanship, and smarter than the public who think that being a democrat or a republican makes you right or wrong.

Before we can hope for progress, we need to have faith in ourselves. Because if we can't have faith in ourselves, who will?

My brain tells me that the recently approved economic recovery package is flawed, but my heart wants me to be believe that the spirit of the package can prevail.

I'm not one to attack a problem with touchy-feely sensibilities, but we're faced by a problem that needs more than legislation. We're faced by a country so torn and divided, we need to mend its core before we can build for the future.

Are more food stamps, increased unemployment benefits, freezing foreclosures and a few extra dollars in every working man's pocket going to fix the problems that are inherent in our infrastructure? No, this country needs more than a cosmetic touch-up. But if they give the average American hope to feel like they can matter in the scheme of change, we might actually be onto something.

And that will be one hell of an accomplishment, because progress has to start somewhere...


Steve Morozumi said...

i agree with your opinion that there is more divisiveness in our nation than unity. i also think that human beings are wired that way. we're programmed to give ourselves additional struggle as if everyday survival isn't hard enough. well, for some, everyday survival isn't that tough, so i guess they need something to do. LOL! maybe they could pick some other outlet besides screwing up our nation? hahaha!

one of our contributors over at the fluxlife blog has written a post in a similar vein. come on over and check it out!

-Steve @ fluxlife

Todd said...

A few things. Obviously I can't dispute your premise about our country being divided but let me just start out by saying that partisanship is not arbitrary. There are really very significant ideological differences between the two parties; the D and the R are really secondary. Bush's party registration was the least of my problems with him. I didn't oppose him or John McCain because they're Republicans but because everything they advocated was antithetical to everything I believe: I'm pro-choice, I believe in government's role in leveling the playing field, whether it be regulating private industry so the free market does not run amok or increasing access to healthcare or investing in technologies that private industry has yet to find profitable; I believe humans have contributed to global warming and changing our behavior can reverse it; I believe we need to engage the international community, not treat it as an adversary; the list goes on...(although I will concede that McCain, Bush and I do agree on immigration oddly enough and I think McCain has been eloquent on torture and stem cell research, but I digress...) I'm a Democrat because of what I believe and the people I share these beliefs with and only through advocating for Democrats can I advance the values that are important to me. Under Bush, I felt these values under constant assault.

Having said that, I'll add a couple of things. When I became politically active, much of the frustration I and others had was with an ineffective Democratic Party; ineffective at messaging, ineffective at challenging the Republican majority. I wanted to strengthen it from within, which I think the blogosphere has had a role in doing. So, I'm not going to pretend the party or the 2-party system is perfect by any means.

In addition, I would not even be absolutely opposed to a mainstream third party; I think competition has the potential to make the Democratic Party better still. But the potential for a spoiler effect is where I have a problem. If you have a liberal third party candidate get 20%, a Democrat get 39% and a conservative Republican get 40% and the Republican wins, that victory would be antithetical to the wishes of the country from an ideological and policy perspective. A majority of the country voted for someone left of center but in the end it gets someone right of center. There is a solution to this: Instant Runoff Voting, which not surprisingly has not gained much traction because the interests in Washington are aligned to make a stronger third party MORE difficult to create, not LESS, which I actually do think is too bad. The best thing the parties can do is to nominate people who reduce the demand for a third party and I think it's pretty clear that's what the Democrats did in 2008. Four left-leaning independent friends of mine who, among them, voted for the Democrat once between the 2000 & 2004 elections, all voted for Obama this year and were excited to do so.

I think you're right about the responsibility our leaders have to unite us and I think Obama has done a good job of that, I really do. But the thing is there are going to be fights because people disagree passionately. That's not inherently bad, it's called debate, it's called democracy and elections have consequences. In November, the country gave Obama and Democrats in congress a mandate to advance his agenda; I don't think that should be compromised for unity's sake. It's what the people voted for. I understand the spirit of what you've written but in practice, I just can't get behind writing legislation to please everyone in the name of unity.

Anyway, I can go on and on about this as you know. Just thought I'd weigh in...

Paul Gargano said...

Steve: I'll definitely check it out, thanks!

Todd: My point was simple: The documentary sucked, and it represents everything that is wrong with politics today--A divide and conquer attitude where everyone is either right or wrong, and nobody is entitled to a dissenting opinion.

What I find most ironic is, while I don't agree with most of what you believe politically, when you do come to point regarding what I actually wrote about, you and I essentially agreed:

"There is a solution to this: Instant Runoff Voting, which not surprisingly has not gained much traction because the interests in Washington are aligned to make a stronger third party MORE difficult to create, not LESS, which I actually do think is too bad."

While I did imply that it should be a function of leadership to unite us as a people, I very clearly went on to say that they don't always do that, and it should be OUR obligation, as a people, to unite ourselves. If we do that, the politicians will have to follow.

I don't think Obama is doing a bad job of trying to unite. As I mentioned, I don't think everything he's doing is best for the country, but that's just my opinion, and everyone's entitled. My opinion is no less right or wrong than yours, it's just not the same.

Regardless, I am extremely eager to see him stand strong behind many of the principles and ideologies that he details in his books. He hasn't done a good job of that yet, as far as I've seen, but there's still time...

Todd said...

Did you see what Michael Steele said recently about bipartisanship? Thought you'd appreciate it:

Do you think bipartisanship can work?

No. [pause] Look, I’m sorry, I know this is, you know, la-la land and Rodney King time and we all wanna get along, but that is not the nature of American politics. That is not the nature of politics, period.

I don’t know if refreshing’s the word, but to hear someone say bipartisanship doesn’t work—

It doesn’t work! I mean, I understand the ideal of it. But at the end of the day, this is a game of winners and losers. This is zero-sum. Your winning is my losing. My winning is your losing.