There’s an outtake from a Beatle recording session where they are trying to lay down vocal tracks for “One After 909” and someone keeps messing up causing them to start over. Finally, after John Lennon stops one more time, presumably to correct the others, Paul McCartney jumps in (laughing), “It’s you, John, it’s YOU!”
The American public is similarly asking for Washington DC to start over in order to get things right by ending political deadlock and corruption. It occurs to me, however, that a more realistic evaluation of the problem might have us pointing at each other saying, “It’s you, it’s YOU!”
How many times have we heard a politician say, at their constituents behest, “I am going to change the way we do politics in Washington!”?
How long have we been complaining about Washington corruption, or the inability of Congress to make progress?
How many times have pundits, columnists and voters said, “Let’s get rid of the bastards, give them terms limits and end career politics!”?
And yet…nothing changes.
Could it be because we are trying to change the wrong part of the equation? Could it be that we need to change first?
The men and women in Washington are there because we put them there. They rose from our ranks, and now that they are there they bicker, fight, stall, boast, cajole, bribe, and lie….just like the private sector.
Sprinkle in a little slanted messaging and we have a political conundrum we cannot seem to escape.
That was illustrated when a bill to require a background check regarding firearms fell just 6 votes short of passing the Senate, even though a clear majority of Americans were in favor of such a measure. The deciding number of Senators were swayed by a very powerful gun lobby because the NRA made it clear that they would use their vast financial resources to defeat any Senator who didn’t. The Senators (and the NRA) know that money buys media and media sways voters.
Media saturation works because many people have developed (over decades) a passive relationship with information, allowing their decisions to be swayed by repetitive, clever, even false, messaging.
Senators want to keep their job. Understandable. The NRA wants things their way. Doesn’t everyone? The public wants better representation in Congress but allows their votes to be dictated by whoever spends the most money to inform them of where they should stand.
What needs to change?
Rarely, is it necessary to go much further than Thomas Jefferson to find grist for the mill:
“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”
“The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries…”
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”
What more needs to be said? As we have evolved as a country we have transferred power onto representation, when, in fact, we, as an aggregate whole, possess the power in a Republic. We are only capable of such leadership, however, when we are educated in the matters of governance.
Our Founding Fathers did not create a direct-democracy where the “majority rules,” rather their system of government was predicated on an informed electorate that chooses wisely from its ranks, the representatives, who are thereby empowered to collectively legislate for the Common Good.
So, how do we correct our faltering archetype?
We must have campaign finance reform. We must do away with Citizen’s United and make elections publicly funded. Each candidate receives the same budget and they debate, forum, talk, and listen among their constituents. Unfortunately (and paradoxically), there remains political division on this issue, fueled by the very money that should be taken out of the equation.
There remains, however, a more fundamental first step that can override this dilemma: We must prioritize public education. We must appropriate the dollars toward education as in investment for our future, and reduce the burden of debt placed on our graduates.
Furthermore, the current trend toward specialization needs to include the foundational disciplines that were once part and parcel with developing minds.
I just finished Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and Thomas Jefferson’s, as well, and I was consistently taken aback by what they would describe from their colonial educations; having learned Latin in order to translate many great works of literature. Reading Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and Seneca and the principles of logic, along with math were part of Grammar School.
Sorry, Senator Rubio (who said, “We need more welders and less philosophers.”), but you have replaced the survival matrix of our Republic with a myopic monetization of reality. Studying the “capital laws of this country” and philosophy were once part of basic education. The works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid and Ptolemy were recited by rote. The curriculum was intended to expand the mind to critical thinking and analysis.
When public libraries came into existence, Franklin noted how many a poor farmer, who could not afford to go to school, would seek the knowledge contained, therein, and one of the early principles of this country became to give every American child an education.
I support and respect our educational systems and the teachers who dedicate their lives to them, however, they are forced to pander to the will of a population that has evolved away from critical thinking. As our country has expanded I find it ironic that our interest in it has diminished; a public Attention Deficit Disorder, perhaps.
It won’t be until we collectively realize where the process has derailed and rise to correct the misfire, that we will consistently find better representation. Meanwhile, we will be condemned to repeat our mistakes.
“It’s you, John, it’s YOU!”