How often do we solve the world’s problems? Or, if not the world’s problems – just the nation’s troubles? For me at least, it’s often an exercise in civility, normally conducted over a beer with an acquaintance, or a friend, who shares a different political perspective than my own – but there is usually one thing we can agree on, our system of government and our elected leaders do not meet our, already low, expectations for good governance.
With beer in hand, in an atmosphere of camaraderie, divergent schools of thought can often come together with acknowledgment that waste, fraud, and excess exist on both sides of the political aisle. Neither left nor right is a representative standard bearer of what is, or should be, the American ideal.
When solving the world’s problems there is a give and take – a recognition that neither political view is pristine – a compromise here, a concession there and wallah, problem solved. Raising a beer we toast to bipartisanship. But as soon as the bittersweet taste of malted barley and roasted hops pass and the glass lowers, the realization that our efforts are all for naught sets in. Our politicians will surely let us down, as they often tend to do. We’ve come to expect it as the by-product of our winner take all electoral system.
All too often, we bemoan the choice of candidates presented to us each November. Our two party system of government presents us a choice, more often than not characterized as the lesser of two evils. Common sense no longer applies in November. Not after months of being barraged by attack and counter-attack advertisements – all vying for the approximately 10 percent of the voting public that had yet to make up their minds.
The fact is, despite the common sense approach most people apply when discussing politics among friends, most of us have already decided how we will vote before a candidate emerges. Slogans, whether accurate or not, define the sense of affiliation we have with the party we will ultimately vote for. We may absolutely dislike the candidate a party nominates for office, but most of the time, people will vote their party and not the candidate with the sense that the candidate will at least conform to and toe the party line.
Additionally, where you receive your news will almost certainly define your political values. Avid listeners of Fox News and conservative talk radio personalities are vastly more likely to vote for conservative candidates in November. I don’t want to call it brainwashing – because it wouldn’t be fair; but it certainly doesn’t hurt reinforcing a political point of view.
I’ll be honest, I rarely watch Fox news, but I will occasionally tune in to listen to Glenn Beck, Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity just to hear how they characterize the issues of the day. It usually feels that I’m watching news in an alternative universe, with a spin (even in the no-spin zone) that is obviously intended for red meat consumption. It is, in my opinion, a portend of the death of news – not unique to the conservative news channels, where news and events are interpreted for you by “experts” that explain why you should be concerned.
Take for example the situation that unfolded over the weekend in Wisconsin. Nearly 100,000 Wisconsins (Wisconsinites?) turned out to welcome home the 14 absentee Democrats that had fled the state to prevent a quorum for the voting on the budget bill to cut salaries and benefits of public servants and denying collective bargaining to the union representing state employees. The Fox News maven commenting on the story opined that Republican state senators had to be in shock to see the turnout in support for democrats that fled the state rather than stay and do their job representing their constituents. That is certainly one way to see it. The other would be to see this for what it was – Democrats, knowing that they were outnumbered and bound to lose a key vote that would hurt their constituents, as well as a base of funding through the unions, took a pragmatic approach in attempt to force a debate and compromise on final legislation that would get voted on. Despite their efforts, the governor and republicans in the state assembly eventually ended up passing the legislation they sought all along. The only thing democrats were able to accomplish was to draw the nation’s attention to the situation in Wisconsin.
Now if we, you and I, were sitting in a bar having a beer and trying to figure out the union problem in Wisconsin, we might start by acknowledging that working as a state employee isn’t a bad gig. The benefits of being a civil servant, from health care to pension plans make employment with the state an attractive option – maybe even drawing decent talent to take a job in return for long-term financial stability.
We might also agree that pension benefit plans are an albatross around the neck of state governments and the long term financial health of state government might require a renegotiation of retirement benefits.
I would argue though that when an employee entered into employment with the state, the expectation – most likely the contractual terms of employment – was implicit at the time of hire and a change to benefits is an area where collective bargaining is essential for the long term health of the state’s finances as well as to the finances of the employees of the state.
This is, obviously, not what happened in Wisconsin. The governor, Scott Walker, staked a position from which compromise was never an option. His sole intent from the beginning of this process was to abolish the union, making his ability to balance the state budget (as well as to provide tax breaks to a select group in the state that shall remain nameless) much easier while depriving his opposition party of funds provided by said union.
Lost in the noise in this debate is whether public employee unions should be able to provide funding to political candidates – of either party. I’m not a pro-union guy, but I’m also not anti-union. I’m fairly agnostic on the issue and open to argument – but I look to arguments that are logical and factual – and unfortunately, when I see advertisements such as this one:
It simply makes me throw my support to the unions, not because they make a better case, but because it is clear that this is simply an attempt by Crossroads GPS – a conservative non-profit group, advised by former Bush strategist Karl Rove, to misconstrue facts and truth, or let’s just call it what it is – a big lie – in order to sway public opinion against state employees – not only in Wisconsin but throughout the Midwest where republican governors are attempting the same maneuver.
Karl Rove and company are smart cookies – that’s why they get paid the big bucks! They know that an effective 30-60 second advertisement denouncing those “fat cat” public employees will play to the base instincts of the average American – appealing to greed and desire to have more crumbs at the table than the guy next to us – and that very few Americans will take the time to research or dig whether the accusations made have merit or just accept the “truth” as they present it to you.
Raising our glasses, taking that final sip of beer, we both come to the same conclusion – it sucks, but what are you going to do? Another round over here please.