Thursday, May 19, 2011

All Politics is Local

Since coming back to the US, I have resumed my addiction to politics...much to my family's dismay.  I am one of those people with whom discussions about politics, religion and processed foods should never be allowed.  So if you read any further, you have been warned!  I get very fiery about such things and although I have opinions, I do believe I have, much to learn, much to offer and the ability to build consensus...I have come a looong way since my college years when I thought I had the answer to everything.  Now I think I have the skill set to find or create the answers with the help of others.  I also know that is wise to agree to disagree from time to time and not see this as a win-lose scenario for participants.  I am not however planning on running for yet.

A few years back, I read Tip O'Neill's book, All Politics is Local.  I gleaned from this tome that one's call to public service is inspired by your home...your family, neighbors, and the values nurtured therein.  Political life and aspirations should not be limited to or directed by one's desire to be powerful or to be right all the time.  Life in public service should be motivated by the desire to DO right.  It is also important to recognize that who you are and where you come from matters...but so to is the idea that friends, neighbors and people who choose to support your service and sacrifice to a public life have placed trust in you to remember them, consider them and honor them when you make decisions for them and speak for them.  I think Tip would be disappointed with politics today.

Something has happened to public service and politics.  They are not necessarily nobly linked.  Sadly, I perceive a lot of "do as I say, not as I do", going on in politics.  Career politicians are just it for the job, the power, the perks and the local folks who got them to where they are, are long forgotten.  And this is happening on all levels of government...not just in the gridlock of Washington, DC.

As a student of history, I ascribe that politics and party politics in particular, is the necessary evil of the election process.  Vetting and platform building are elements required to understand who is seeking your trust and why it is deserved.  Politicking was a post-election tool in government to build consensus or at least move the minority and majority closer together.  The US Constitution was created through the power of compromise and in itself lays out the means to change/amend through compromise. Today, politics is like 16th century religious reformation of the ...each side firm in its view and laying claims of heresy to the other side.  I don't know when this happened, but the art of compromise has come to the brink of extinction. Too many elected officials have adopted the philosophy that being right is more important and powerful than doing right and to paraphrase Charlie Sheen, politics is all about WINNING the end, many of the folks back home lose...their trust is broken. 

At some point, the wheels of political progress got stuck.  Party politics became polarizing.  Generalizations and castigation have become de rigueur.  Conservatives hate children and seniors, secretly thrilled with global warming as the melting of the ice caps are providing the ice floes upon which they will banish the infirm...Liberals are socialist, tax sucking elitists who know better than any average citizen and will tell you how much your life sucks because you won't let the government run it for you...Independents lack backbone because they won't choose a side until it is clear which side will WIN. I won't even go down the Tea Party road...but does this sound kinda familiar?  Sound rather disappointing?  I was told after the last presidential election that the "R" after one's name stood for did we get here?

Aside from my addiction to politics and news, what prompted me to write today was what I perceived to be a bit of unfortunate politicking in my home town.   Tuesday was a local town election day.  There were 2 contested races, one for selectman and one for the parks commission.  All the rest were uncontested.  There were no ballot questions.  And although it may seem trivial, it was a cold and rainy perfect for sitting at home with a good book.  I voted.  At 4pm.  I was the only person on my street who had voted by that time.  I made a did those who didn't vote.  Some made an informed choice, others didn't realize it was election day...and others still didn't vote because in many cases it seemed to them the decision was already contests for most of the seats.  So, back to why I am opining...after voting, I logged onto my computer and I got an update from our local google list serve.  One of our elected leaders, in choosing to inform citizens of the election via the google email update informed the subscribers that by 4:30 pm, about 4% of the registered voters had come out to vote...and he labeled this pathetic.  He then went onto chastise many of the people on the list-serve that they would better serve the town by voting than by wasting time complaining about things like Town Meeting and other local issues in this open forum.   This post prompted quite a few replies and more than a few well meaning, well spoken and well respected citizens were concerned with the elected officials choice of words and way of urging people to vote...some asked that if voter turnout was a concern, wouldn't it be advantageous to see what ways might be employed in the future to get the word out was noted that the Town Election date was not posted on our Town Website's calendar of events. (The only notification I received was the mailing of the Town Warrant Articles for our Open Town meeting...there was a notice about the election included).  Others thought perhaps rather than relying on a subscriber list-serve and a banner over Main Street to inform the public that town representatives could come up with other ways of informing and reminding voters of important dates...the suggestions were, I as saw it, just that, suggestions, ideas to address a local issue that was concerning to some as prompted by an official...but rather than accept these, the original poster attributed the voter turnout as a major character flaw amongst our citizens and rather than thank people...constituents for support and ideas for hopefully making the process work better next time, he just reiterated that the situation was pathetic and seemingly dismissed the comments of his friends, neighbors and in many cases supporters. I have to admit that it can be easy to develop misconceptions about intentions via email and discussion threads...and this should be considered by those who post and those who does have limits.  Anyway,  I had to stop reading the thread because I became frustrated by the politics of "I'd rather be right than do right"...I am surprised by the number of politicians who forget that once elected they are public servants...that there is an obligation to remember who got you there, honor the ideas and values of your community and most importantly to represent all the people of the town, not just the ones who agree with you.  And public service is not about the elected is all about those whom you serve.

All politics is local.  As citizens of the greatest nation on Earth (I admit I am biased), we should accept this right and responsibility to vote, be grateful for the privilege to vote and respect those who make different choices.  It is every citizen's duty to be engaged and make every effort to do their civic is also the responsibility of those elected to represent to support that citizen's engage the citizenry in a call to action...and sometimes a choice not to act...I'll tell you a little secret, which the Constitution affords me the right to keep...when I voted in the 2008 Presidential election, I didn't vote for the offices of President and Vice President because I did not feel like those running represented what I hoped for in the future of this at the polls, I exercised my right not to vote.  I voted on ballot questions and for other offices...was my choice not to vote for president/vp pathetic?  I don't think was my choice. I exercised my right.  I just happened to do it at the polls.

With my vote, I express my opinion and desire for our future on the local, state and federal level...I trust that those who are elected to serve at those levels stay connected to the people.  We are after all a government of, by and for the people...thanks for sharing that Mr. Lincoln.

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