March 23 • 12:36 PM

Sausage or politics?

July 11, 2007
Somebody once said you don't want to know how they make either sausage or politics since both activities can be pretty messy given the rough and tumble nature of our democratic process. Watching the state of political partisanship in both Washington and Lansing and the gridlock in leadership, I suspect, if I had to, I would much rather see sausages being made than laws since at least the sausage makers have to follow Department of Agriculture standards— unless of course the stuff is made in China. Politicians on the other hand seem to ignore just about anything that stands in the way of their image making and cloud their inaction as a failure of the other political party's leadership. It's enough to make you wish for a parliamentary form of government again where regimes can change by a vote of no confidence.

I know we gave that up in 1776 and it's probably a good thing since it doesn't really fit the American character. It was of course another Englishman by the name of Churchill that once told us that democracy was the worst form of government except for all of the rest. Now I would have to agree with him there, but from time to time I have to ask myself, does our form of government really have to be as divisive and polarizing as it has been in the last few years? The answer is no, it doesn't have to be. But given human nature and the level of partisan bickering that has been going on of late, I suspect it will.

As columnist Stephen Henderson wrote in The Free Press recently, "It's about how we discuss the issues, and what (the) role of reason plays in the conversation." After all "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," to quote Jefferson, should demand nothing less.

Having been a something of a political junkie most of my life I have seen instances where the dialogue of democracy has been both rational and sophisticated and once in awhile even risen to the level of statesmanship. Lately though our democratic conversation has become more divisive, the level of rhetoric, though louder, far less rational and the posturing at both ends of the political spectrum so phrenetic that it is almost impossible to decide just what constitutes good public policy and work out a compromise that will benefit the greatest number of people.

As one editorial writer in USA Today put it, we "have a society of decent individuals who usually do the right thing—but a culture nonetheless marred by violence, greed and politics that often display a hard-heartedness unbecoming a country like ours."

In a novel I have been reading one of the characters sums up the situation by saying, "Too many humans would gladly trade a rational world for a superstitious one if it calms their fears, gives them status, or gains them an advantage over their fellows…integrity is always a prisoner of vanity, and common sense is easily eclipsed by greed…What sets our species apart is not just what men will do to other men, but how tirelessly they justify it."

The divisiveness America has experienced in the last six years has done nothing to encourage a rational discussion of issues on the nation's agenda. A few which, in my opinion, should be examined. In our extended presidential campaign might be the following, though no doubt the reader's list of choices may well be different in order of priority.

The Constitutional questions which the Patriot Act has raised along with such policies as extraordinary rendition.

The Justice Department, where appointments are made not on the basis of merit but whether a candidate passes some kind of ideological litmus test.

The environment and global warming and the repudiation of the Kyoto treaty should be re-examined.

A transformation of strategic vision for the military in dealing with the various threats terrorism poses, as well as a re-evaluation of our foreign policy to restore America's moral and political leadership in the world.

Added to these problems which must be addressed are those of health care, Social Security reform, the economy, immigration, abortion, stem cell research and perhaps most important, raising a debate as to the type of society and people we have become since 9/11.

All of these issues are much too important for shouting and rhetoric, nor will they all be solved within the next generation. But for the time being at least my plea in an election year is for all of us, voters and politicians alike, to shout less, listen more, and think quite carefully about the consequences of our actions. Politics, after all, does not have to be a blood sport—though no doubt some will be shed during the next 18 months—and we can hope those running for elective office will not lose their integrity in the process.

Castle Creek
03 - 23 - 19
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