Sunday, January 23, 2011

Part 2: Elected Officials

It wasn't so long ago that I believed that putting the right people into public office could make a difference in our lives. I was a fairly staunch Republican and a supporter of mostly conservative politicians. I was an advocate for voting for George W. Bush in 2000. And I voted for him again in 2004. But after that, I start examining campaign promises, agenda's, and influences of different politicians, including Bush. I didn't like what I was learning. I started seeing where most issues were considered cut and dry by both sides. Why was it that on nuanced issues like gay marriage, abortion, tax policy, welfare, and foreign policy always seemed to be split firmly along party lines? Where were the moderate Republicans? Where were the moderate Democrats? Why was it so rare to have one cross over to vote with the other?

I didn't have answers. So I began to re-evaluate and examine the things I believed and wanted to stand for. Who did I want to be? How did I want to think? I did some reading. I discussed things with friends, who were both like minded and differed from me. One big key, was watching documentaries on politics, religion, drug culture, military operations, big business, and human behavior. I learned quite a bit from putting in that time. I feel it was all well worth it. I feel better about who I am, because I came to conclusions and beliefs on my terms and not some predetermined set of principles based on a label (such as conservative or liberal). I began to find out that there is no "right" way to live your life. We are all different. We were raised different, by people with varied backgrounds and upbringing themselves. We all have been exposed to different sets of rules in regards to what is acceptable and what is not. So, how in the world could so many people just fit into a category and support, rigidly, the things that seemingly put you into that category? What happened to just being an American citizen and coming to conclusions about what you believe and how you will vote, on your own terms? Could that loss of mental independence lead us, as a society, to allow things to run off course? We don't seem to know much about why politicians vote, advocate, and go to bat a certain way on an issue, other than just knowing they are a Democrat or Republican. Really, I know where almost every member of congress and the senate stand on issues, simply by knowing their party affiliation. That's kind of sad.

Money makes a politician. If you don't have monetary support, you can't get elected to any position of substance in this country. After that, party support comes into play. And immediately after that, lobbyists and corporate support come into the picture. But, that's just the path to getting into position to be elected. Once in office, those pieces are still there, but they are in different orders at different times, due to an elected official wanting to keep their position. The positions many, if not most, politicians stake out have more to do with their own well being, than that of their constituency. Say, Sarah Palin supported gay marriage, but was conservative on everything else. Let's say (and this is really pushing it) she is highly qualified for the office of the presidency.....the MOST qualified candidate in the Republican party. Well, if she publicly supports gay marriage, no matter her staunch conservative positions on EVERYTHING else, she would not have a chance at being the Republican nominee for president. NO CHANCE. The party wouldn't support her being independent minded. She would lose support from religious institutions. So, if she wants to be president, she would have to "play ball". That's disingenuous and disgraceful. We've come to a point in our history that we will not allow someone to disagree with us on one or two issues, no matter what other things we are in lockstep with. Is it any wonder our politicians are cowards and money grubbers? We won't support the best among us, because they don't toe the line. We don't support the best among us, because they adhere to personal conviction and won't compromise to keep their position of prominence in a party. Would Obama have been the Democrats nominee if he had said he would continue the Bush foreign policy? Hell no.......not in a million years. But he has and to be elected, he had to say that he wouldn't. Would he have been the nominee if he said he would continue to support the Patriot Act and continued surveillance of phone calls and Internet use, as well as continuing to allow Guantanamo Bay to be open for business? Once again, hell no.  No matter that he was pushing health care, bailouts, gay rights and so many other liberal causes. He only could say what people wanted him to, or he would have been outta luck.

The worst thing about the decisions our "leaders" make is how tainted it looks, even if it's not tainted at all. Lobbyists and big business interests have continuous access to our leaders. They donate huge amounts of money. They push their employees to support certain candidates. Union dues are used to support candidates, whether the employee agrees with that candidate or not. Churches, even though they are not supposed to, are involved in getting certain candidates elected. If Senator Joe Blow is undecided on a gun rights bill, you can bet that the NRA is going to send someone to have a talk with him. Take him on a golf outing. Write a check for his campaign. Give him a nice 55" plasma television for his office. Anyone think that may influence Joe Blow? I sure the hell think it could. And even if it doesn't......if he votes the NRA's way, it will appear that it's what made the difference. We see vote buying and trading between candidates and parties all the time. Want Senator Blow's support on a tax bill or on a budget plan? Gotta throw in some money that he can take back home to his state, so he can crow about how much bread he's buttering. Never mind that he may or may not agree with an issue. It's about staying in office. Gaining support by going along with the gang. Gaining money for the re-election campaign.

And the campaigns spend LOTS of money. Depending on who you believe, our politicians spent between 4 and 6 BILLION dollars on the mid-term elections. You think any of that money could have benefited some people who are going hungry right now? You think any of that money could have gone towards beefing up our infrastructure? Candidates should be having televised debates constantly. They should have town hall style meetings. Visit local interest clubs. Go door to door. Press the flesh! They should be getting blocks of air time during a campaign to talk about their vision. The money involved is wasteful and it has the potential to corrupt. I don't want any of my leaders making a decision on an environmental bill if they got a $50,000 contribution from Dow Chemical last year.

Why can't this stuff be changed? Because our politicians are the ones who make the rules. Where are the term limits that have been talked about? Yeah, right. Would you vote yourself out of a job? Where are the real, lasting, and consequential limits on campaign contributions and gifts? These guys are not going to vote themselves out of campaign cash. Why don't our politicians have to abide by the same health care laws and regulations the rest of us do? Because they are not about to take away a sweetheart deal that is great for them. Somehow, it's not good enough for everyone else, though. We are told to air up our tires, turn off our lights, carpool, and recycle, while they fly around in private jets, scurry about in gas guzzling SUV's, and own stock in major oil companies.

So, what can we do? Well, we can try to accept that people make mistakes and not worry about whether you should vote for someone who partied too much in college or got a DUI 25 years ago. We can allow people to be imperfect like the rest of us. We can accept that a political leader may not agree with us 100%. Let's put the best possible people for the job in office. Let's let our leaders know that we don't expect them to be flawless humans, we just expect that they will be honest and incorruptible. The small, grass roots movements can help too. It's a shame that the Tea Party movement got invaded by conservative Republicans. The Tea Party movement was originally about taxes, the constitution, and government spending. Lots of diversity was to be found at its' formation in late 2008. The movement began to gain traction in 2009. People from all political backgrounds and walks of life were trying to speak up and make a difference. Then, Sarah Palin and others started draping themselves in the movement and expanded the agenda, to what was mostly a conservative one. If a campaign such as that would be left alone and allowed to grow without being taken over by ideologues we could find more moderate, serious minded people to run for office. People who were more interested in helping our country and less interested in helping their party or pocketbook.

Our system has just been allowed to run crazy. There is a constant barrage of rules and regulations added every year by politicians who are interested in retaining power and growing their personal wealth. Every time there is a take over by an opposing party in one of our states, they begin redrawing districts, so they can keep the power they were voted in to. That's so dishonest that it's insane. We allow political parties to set the table and basically take away the voice of a community, by shrinking or growing a voting block that is advantageous to one party or the other. I beg you to start paying more attention to yourself. I urge you to start critically thinking about your beliefs. Hey, I think not giving health care and welfare to illegal aliens is a great idea on paper. We'd save a lot of money. But, what about children of illegals? How are they supposed to eat? Why would we punish human beings for wanting to better themselves? So, in my heart and mind, I know that we need to change some things, but making changes that will hurt our fellow men, women, and children is irresponsible. And what does that say about us, if we allow people to be without shelter, suitable clothing, and food? Stop and think about it. We have to expect more from ourselves and then we can begin to expect the same thing from our leadership.

I am a lonely visitor
I came to late to cause a stir
Though I've campaigned all my life towards that goal
I hardly slept the night you wept
Our secrets safe and still we kept
Where even Richard Nixon has got soul

The Campaigner - Neil Young