Policy or Feeling?

Eleanor Clift in Newsweek has a new column, Dem Feingold Tosses GOP a Life Raft, in which she points out that Feingold’s bid to censure Bush is not good political strategy. It certainly is not, and especially for any politician or political party that is trying to reach out to the center. I’m a passionate moderate, and this kind of thing makes me run looking for someone else. Unfortunately, we are very short on “someone elses” in politics right now.

I think we need to look beyond the politicians to find out what the problem actually is with government in this country. In the same article, clift points out that 50% in a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey indicate that they would like the democrats to control congress. I think there is a big problem with that number, or any number that simply states what party we want to control congress. Because the parties are so diverse at this point, it can only be the result of a vague feeling we have about the two parties, and not a principled choice of particular candidates.

In my own congressional district, I’m never sure which party I want to hold the seat until I know who has been nominated. My feeling about the national Republican or Democratic parties (usually very negative) doesn’t really play much in the decision. The question is whether this person will represent me and this district well in congress. But there is clearly a body of people in this country, large enough body of people in this country to sway elections, who are going to vote based on how they feel about a party. I say that because the politicians keep on winning, and they keep on playing games. The Republicans did it with Clinton, and now the Democrats are doing it with Bush.

I’d like to be able to say that if either party wants to truly win the center, they will need to start behaving responsibly, as a party. In fact, however, I’m afraid I’d probably be wrong. The evidence is that politicians get elected by behaving like politicians. Both parties engage in this type of petty behavior, and both continue to have success with it. The primaries continue to produce the same type of candidates.

That pushes the problem back to us, the people. Why is it that we allow our opinions to be swayed so much by the latest shenanigans of either party? Why is it that a politician that manages to smear his opponent best with negative ads can win? Why is it that politicians must avoid specifics about what they would do in office, resorting instead to vague generalities?

I believe it’s because we, the people, don’t have the patience to really study the issues, and then choose the person who has the best grasp of them, and who reflects our values. What we vote for is the person who can give the best impression of supporting our values without tying himself down too much.

That’s how we get politicians who promise major educational reforms without ever spending more money.

That’s how a politician can say with a straight face that he will increase services and decrease taxes, and what’s more, get re-elected after failing to do it!

If we, the people, don’t spend more time studying the issues, making intelligent choices, and then expecting our politicians to do likewise, we will continue to get the type of government we currently have, in which politicians spar over petty things instead of grappling with serious issues in a serious way.

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