By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
One upsmanship, name calling, gotcha, the ends justify the means, winning at any cost, my way or the highway.
Pick any of the above, in fact pick all of the above. Sadly that is what American politics has become. This is true in Albany, City Hall and especially in our nation’s capital.
Witness in Washington D.C. the sorry spectacle right at this moment of our Homeland Security funding being held hostage because a faction in Congress does not like actions that the President took on immigration reform. So instead of dealing with that issue head on, they threaten to disable the government agency charged with keeping us safe from terror attacks, hoping that will force the President to yield on his immigration policies. Of course this is an attempt to slap down the President which plays well in some portions of the country. Threatening to shut down all or essential parts of the federal government to get their way seems to be a favored tactic. Politics before the national interest, not a pretty sight!
Compromise has become a dirty word, and it is harder to find a statesman among the ruling class than to have the winning lottery ticket.
In my 40 years in and around government I have never seen our political institutions at every level reduced and debased to such a self-serving and morally bankrupt condition.
The ultra conservatives in Washington D.C. would rather see President Obama fail than see the country (they loudly profess to love) succeed. And the myopic and partisan members of the political far left are too often mired in sanctimonious rhetoric to be able to reach compromise and govern in the best interest of the people. Politics seems more rife with corruption than ever before. Increasingly individuals seemingly enter government as a way to enrich themselves either through money or power or both advancing good public policies? Well that comes in at the bottom of the agenda.
Political campaigns have become blood sports and winning is the only thing that matters. The truth often gets kicked to the side of the road. Why tell the whole truth when half-truths will better serve your political interests? Character assassination of your opponent has become the rule rather than the exception. Some justify this tactic by saying “well everyone does it these days.” Regrettably, that is largely true.
Is there a remedy for this sorry state of politics? Yes there is. It lies in an aware and an aroused electorate. When scarcely 50 percent of the voters bother to go to the polls in Presidential election years and half that in off year elections, change will not come soon. Citizens must make it their business to take politics and elections seriously, become informed and participate. There are multiple sources of information available these days for people to become familiar with the candidates they elect and the positions that they espouse.
Only when there is an aware and engaged electorate will politicians feel accountable. Even then change, real change, which causes elected officials to rise above pettiness or worse, will be hard to come by. But it must begin with Jane Q. Public. It is said that we get the government that we deserve. I say we deserve better! But that will only happen if we insist upon it at the polls.
Steven Sanders served in the State Assembly from 1978-2006. He currently is the executive director of an association of agencies that provide early childhood services to learning challenged or developmentally disabled youngsters.