American Politics Needs Tough Love

….. How many times have you muttered to yourself on election day, …” is this thepolitical money best we can come up with out of all the eligible people out there?” You stand there realizing  that each of the candidates on the ballot are pitiful choices. Casting your vote ends up being an act of settling for as opposed to avidly supporting a particular candidate. Or maybe lately you’ve found yourself questioning everything any politician says as you wonder whether they’re telling you something simply to get your vote or because its true and they believe in it. How did we get in this position?

The sad reality is that in our broken political system it is seldom the politician with the best ideas, greatest degree of integrity and life experience that gets elected. The one that wins is the one who was best at raising the most money. Fixing healthcare access is actually a very doable proposition when compared to the task of fixing party politics……

 

After attending a recent workshop at Princeton University for military veterans interested in getting into politics I was convinced of two things. First, I confirmed to myself that I don’t possess the temperament or tolerance to either do what it takes to get elected or to act like a politician if I did. And second; our system of electing politicians is woefully broken.

If one submits that our healthcare system qualifies for some type of reform then one would also have to acknowledge that our two party political system qualifies for detox, overhaul, and rehab. Let’s be clear; our Constitution is not broken. What is broken is the way we have bastardized it’s methods and cull the herd of those that will legislate the Constitution.

Winston Churchill’s wit was uncanny when he said  “….democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. It’s an unseemly game and based on the way we select our leaders it should come as no surprise that we get the caliber leaders that can barely muster a 30% job approval rating after we send them to Congress or their state legislatures.

How many times have you muttered to yourself on election day, …” is this the best we can come up with out of all the eligible people out there?” You stand there realizing  that each of the candidates on the ballot are pitiful choices. Casting your vote ends up being an act of settling for as opposed to avidly supporting a particular candidate. Or maybe lately you’ve found yourself questioning everything any politician says as you wonder whether they’re telling you something simply to get your vote or because its true and they believe in it. How did we get in this position?

The sad reality is that in our broken political system it is seldom the politician with the best ideas, greatest degree of integrity and life experience that gets elected. The one that wins is the one who was best at raising the most money. Fixing healthcare access is actually a very doable proposition when compared to the task of fixing party politics.

We’ve tried to legislate solutions. The McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act in 2002 proved to be a feckless attempt to solve this money problem and instead created other unintended consequences, some with deep rooted constitutional issues.

Want to run for a state senate seat? Based on the state  it’ll cost you anywhere from $500,000 to over $1,000,000. A congressional seat – the ante starts at a million dollars and goes up from there. Not surprisingly the incumbent politician owns a heavy funding advantage over any challenger thanks to McCain-Feingold.  It seems politicians like their jobs so much after they get elected that they tilted the campaign financing rules in their favor. Thanks to them they have made  the entire problem even more untenable. Any mention of a third party to expand the options and dialogue is typically dismissed out of hand. The reasoning is not because of a lack of ideas or candidates but because of …. you guessed it, money. The lack of an established party financial base is a lynchpin to political success.

Today’s two party political system has reached a point where it will die under its own weight if radical changes are not made, very soon. At which point, we’ll really be in trouble. The recent weekend rally in DC, nationwide tea parties, and town hall meetings are a sign that things are not well. The short story is that a larger and larger percentage of constituents have awakened and realize they haven’t been very pleased with their representation for a long time.

The panel of experts at the Princeton symposium were both Democrat and Republican. They were campaign managers, financial guys, public relations gurus, and consultants. Also there were local, state, and national politicians that were more than happy to boil the campaign process down to fund raising, shaking hands, spinning your message, and dancing with the established party apparatus for the express purpose of …  what? … get more funding. To quote one panelist, “… if you’re not willing to spend 25 hours per week on the phone asking for money, don’t bother trying to get elected”. The rest of the expert panel nodded their heads in agreement. So much for bona fide leadership and purpose.

The military veterans in attendance had one thing they can leverage politically, an engrained set of leadership priorities that incorporates discipline, character, loyalty, results, and service. What the vets received was a tutorial in the underbelly of the political machine; kind of like teaching a child how to get his hands dirty. Sadly, these vibrant men and women that have spent a career living by a certain code of ethics became immersed in a civilian game with rules anathema to who they are. In many cases they are intellectually ill equipped to go forward in a political world that would benefit from what they have to offer.

I don’t blame the political experts invited to share their perspectives. They do what they do in the context of the system in place. They were incredibly intelligent, professional, and ruthless. They get paid to win. Period. The ideas, character, and experience of a politician are secondary to how they are packaged.

I don’t pretend to offer any prescribed steps to reform our two party political system and get back to what the 56 Founder Fathers had in mind. I cannot imagine it will ever be a legislated settlement. My gut feeling is that a movement will come from a certain demographic that is fed up with the political status quo. They will gain momentum and a leader will emerge at some point. While the current bipartisan tea party movement of disgruntled citizens may be gathering momentum, their leader is no where to be found in the current political landscape. This is a good thing though because what our society doesn’t need is a charismatic leader from the old school that plays by the old rules.

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