Early this summer my grandson Smith and I took a three-week campervan trip to ballparks in San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Reno, Denver and St. Louis. Along the way we ran a 5-K in Coronado and visited the USS Midway in San Diego; took a ferryboat ride across the San Francisco Bay; visited the Great Salt Lake and Temple Square in Utah; and explored the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
As we drove between destinations we alternately talked and listened to the radio: ESPN for Smith and (when he was napping) POTUS–––SiriusXM’s non-partisan political channel––– for me.
POTUS broadcasts political speeches, clips from congressional hearings, some of the daily White House press briefings, and interviews with journalists and advocates from across the political spectrum.
After several days of driving and listening I reached an understanding about our increasingly dysfunctional national government: There is not a common vision of America’s future that unites our political leaders, nor is there a commitment among members of congress to come together in search of solutions to the nation’s problems.
Rather, they quibble and quarrel and let problems fester, thus ensuring plenty of hot-button issues to rant about in their next campaign. A strict adherence to right or left wing purity trumps a quest for sound public policies.
As a case in point, when we were midway between the Rockies and St Louis, Smith was dozing while I listened to a congressional hearing about health programs for veterans. The bombastic rhetoric, absence of civility and dearth of substantive discussion by committee members was awful.
Instead of seeking information about possible solutions for some very serious problems, Republican members attacked newly-confirmed Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald with sarcasm, insults and hostility. They were more focused on making points with well-rehearsed sound bites than on improving access to healthcare for veterans.
I glanced at my sleeping grandson and wondered if this is the way our leaders will continue to approach the growing and increasingly complex issues facing America and the world. Such nonsense will not lead to building the kind of country I want him and his three siblings to inherit from my generation.
When I returned home I shared my frustration with an old political friend. “You” he said, “are being naïve if you think members of congress care about solutions to national problems. Their entire focus is on feathering their own nest. That’s just politics in today’s America. Relax and accept it.” Well, if it is, it shouldn’t be–––and, no, I will not relax and I will not accept it.
Politics should be about the art of governing, about reaching a consensus on what constitutes the common good, and seeking the compromises needed to reach that result. It should be about dealing with today’s problems with the goal of forming a better and more peaceful world for our grandchildren.
And so, as we approach the 2014 midterm election, I ask myself: What do I seek in a candidate for public office? I look for a person who has a passion for serving, a person who sees power as a tool for improving the lives of her constituents rather than as a lever for personal gain.
I want people in office who have an understanding of the increasingly complex and interdependent local, national and worldwide community within which we live; people for whom peace, equality of opportunity and a sustainable environment are at the center of their work.
The candidates I vote for should have the courage to: address hard issues directly, even when doing so could cause them political damage; take bold action when needed, even in the face of fierce opposition; build coalitions across ideological divides; and maintain the integrity to do all of this openly and honestly.
Common good rather than ideological purity–––substantive policy rather than pithy sound bites–––should be the goal of those elected to serve us. And their view of the future should stretch beyond the next election, at least as far out as my grandchildren’s grandchildren. They might consider adopting the Iroquois’ standard that all decisions be evaluated in terms of how people–––and the earth–––seven generations from now will be affected.
Naïve? Perhaps, but if people of my generation truly care about the world our grandchildren will inherit it is time we put aside blind allegiances to single issues and rigid ideology. Today’s world has moved far beyond the world we grew up in, and a new kind of politics is needed to lead it.
We should seek out and support political candidates who have the vision, courage and integrity to guide our nation into the future–––a future that enhances opportunities for Smith and his counterparts across the globe to live in peace and security.
Our elected leaders will quit talking and acting like fools only when we quit listening to and tolerating their foolishness. It is up to us.
How do we do it? We come together as a generation of grandparents–––both here and abroad––– ally ourselves with the millennial generation and form the largest, broadest and most powerful political coalition in history. Difficult? Yes. Naïve? Perhaps. Possible? It is a long shot, but one worth taking as our clock winds down.