(written January 22, 2016)
Yesterday, as I mentioned in the previous post, I met a neighbor — I don’t know her politics — and we had a pleasant exchange. This morning I woke up to some disturbing news coverage that made me wonder how much yesterday’s pleasant exchange was dependent on me not knowing my neighbor’s politics.
In the news coverage this morning, the reporter was asking why members of the national House of Representatives of Congress were supporting a particular presidential candidate, and one Representative explained,
“When I go on the other side of the aisle, and I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle…”
So far, it’s acceptable: I wish we didn’t so clearly have two sides of the aisle, but given that we do, thank goodness our elected politicians are actually talking to each other across that gigantic aisle. But here is what she asks her colleagues, in her words:
“Who would they least like as the GOP nominee.”
Fine. Maybe she wants to know who they would least like so that she can automatically disregard that candidate (there are, after all, at this point in the presidential campaign, at least a dozen candidates from her party), because they will all have to work together, right? Unfortunately not. Representative Mia Love from Utah explained that she is making her choice for whom to elect as President of the United States based on which candidate her colleagues least want.
Does this strike anyone else as absolutely absurd, a serious sign of dysfunction at our national level of democracy? This elected official, a member of the United States Congress, is selecting a candidate for the position of President of the United States — head of the executive branch of government, figurehead of the most powerful nation on Earth, arguably the most powerful person in the world — based on her understanding that her colleagues in the national legislative body do not like this candidate, who, if elected, they will be expected to work with if they are to do any governing at all, any positive political action. Evidently she has a very different notion than I do about what it means to be a colleague, and about how our political system should work, and in fact the only way a democratic political system can work, that is, by working with each other and not in opposition to each other.
There are alternatives to Ms. Love’s politics. One option is that she could ask her constituents their opinions, and she could choose to represent those who elected her to office in her choice of presidential candidate. Alternatively, and also validly, she could consider her election a mandate to act with her best judgment, and she could choose the candidate whom she personally feels is best qualified for the position. Finally, an effective alternative is that she could act in precisely the opposite way that she is acting: she could consult her congressional colleagues and identify the candidate whom they could work with, and she could choose that candidate because she might actually want to get some positive politics accomplished while she’s in office.
Instead, she demonstrates how entrenched we currently are in obstructionist politics, absurdly turning every issue into us versus them, as if there are two sides rather than the myriad aspects of any political issue that should be discussed, defended, argued, listened to, re-thought, and compromised on. Democratically elected, this representative has publicly proclaimed her disdain for democracy by discarding her own right to think and participate in government; she is, I think it’s fair to say, not making a choice, but has instead given her choice over to the too-common lie of Republican versus Democrat, to the stupid idea that citizens of the same nation and even members of its legislative branch of government are in opposition with each other.
She should be demonstrating how we can work together! What is she in politics for if not to effect positive change? Does she want the debate and compromise of a democracy, or does she want war, with its violence and its victories and its resulting totalitarian regimes that do not permit colleagues on the other side of the aisle?
(Quotes are taken from interviews on NPR’s Morning Edition program, January 22, 2016.)