Political Meltdown

By Chuck Gutenson 10-08-2010

It is very difficult to observe the current political landscape and not conclude that the process has seriously broken down. Congressional approval ratings reveal that the percentage of folks approving of Congress' work is around 20 percent. Further, when you look at the generic ballot for the fall, the Republicans recently had a 7-point advantage, but when you compare that to the approval ratings for the sitting Congress, the Democrats had a similar lead. It seems we like Democrats better, so we are going to vote for Republicans. Either we are pretty schizophrenic, or we are pretty confused. Go figure.

No doubt part of the high Congressional disapproval level relates to the fact that neither party seems capable of moving forward a legislative agenda that pleases voters. This is surely a sign that something is broken -- could be our expectations, could be the process. At the moment, one party has become the "party of no," offering virtually nothing by way of substantive legislative proposals, and apparently figuring vague and vacuous platitudes will garner the support they covet for this election cycle. At the same time, the other party seems bent on proving the old saw: "I'm not a member of an organized political party, I'm a Democrat." Sadly (disastrously?), there is not a single politician who is currently presenting us with a compelling vision of a future reality that the vast majority of us want to embrace and pursue. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us that, without a vision, the people perish.

On another level (or perhaps not) in spite of various calls for civil political discourse, we remain in one of the most rancorous and partisan periods of our brief political history. I cannot help but be amused when, a couple weeks back, Karl Rove got pounded for his uncharacteristically reasonable observation that a certain Tea Party candidate was pretty much unelectable. Seems you still get shot for pointing out that the emperor (or empress) has no clothes -- particularly if it is your emperor. You can still point out that their emperor has no clothes -- in fact, it's required that one make that claim, even if he or she is actually clothed. Sadly, the silliness meter pegged again when the candidate Rove criticized came out with her ad assuring us she "is not a witch."

It seems that far too many politicians pursue power for power's sake and have little to no genuine concern for what they are supposed to be about -- the common good. Both parties have too much invested in the wealthy and too little concern about what Scripture calls "the least of these." One wonders how many whisper in secret the words of Ebenezer Scrooge -- "well, if they (the poor) would rather die, they had better do it and reduce the surplus population." Harsh? Well, yeah, but a practical reality when we, as a people, even if we say we reject Randian "objectivity," appear to be poised to vote for those whose mobilizing principle is "every person for themselves."

Why are we in this shape? Why have record numbers of folks grown cynical and simply withdrawn? What can be done to fix things? Over the next few weeks, I plan to present a series of blogs aimed at taking on these questions (and a few more). Whether or not you have the time to join me, please ponder these issues. Too much is at stake to allow the broken system to continue broken.

Chuck Gutenson is the chief operating officer for Sojourners.

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