Something occurred to me today as I was snowed in my house for the third consecutive day.
You see, that’s the curious thing about snow; a good lot of it will lock you down with your family, your books, your pen and paper. We’ve got a different kind of faith here up in the Snow Belt–a faith that’s just as strong as the Bible Belt and just as vibrant as the Sun Belt. The Snow Belt is nothing less than the center of New York’s existence and the heart of its politics. (Apparently, according to a bunch of richer people than I, the “brain” of such politics resides downstate on Long Island or Westchester County. Yeah, explain that–I don’t make the rules.)
After watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for the ninth time in three days (I just can’t get enough of Jean Arthur), something occurred to me–if we want to make politics a more honorable profession, if we’re going to make government more efficient, we have to absolutely root out the corruption.
Lots of attention has been paid to special interest groups lately–rightfully so–and their dangerous pull on the integrity of the political process. Then, of course, there are men like Rod Blagojevich, Tom DeLay, Richard Nixon, Randy Cunningham, et. al. who have made very public showings of their complete lack of integrity while holding elected office. But who lurks in the shadows? Who hides behind a legal framework that supposedly justifies their actions, claiming their commitment to “the people of my state,” yet engaging in a career that is more personal service than it is public service (OK, who besides Arlen Specter, Norm Coleman, and Mitch McConnell)?
Maybe one man, one Congress, one law–hell maybe even one nation can’t break the spell or get beyond the Hobbesian view of men and women in politics. But just like Jefferson Smith helped young boys “renew” themselves in the rural countryside at boys camps, maybe what we can renew the spirit of republicanism as it was meant to be. Maybe we can flush out the bad with an influx of good. Because the way I see it, the fever of corruption in American politics is breaking and there’s a whole lot of sweating going on around Washington DC and state capitols all around this nation. A golden age in politics is following, and we’d better shape it or risk another century of mind-boggling ineptitude.
Each prospective politician–regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, religion, or anything else–must answer the following questions, for self and for constituents, before asking for votes:
-Who am I?
-What do I care about? What makes me tick?
-Why am I running?
-How am I going to earn your vote?
If a candidate can’t answer these basic questions for self, or if you as a voter cannot answer these questions convincingly about a candidate, pause. Do not make a decision based solely on television advertisements. Do not make a decision simply because “everyone else is doing it.” Do not cower back to the party line.
What an idealistic solution I propose, right? Oh, I can hear the snickers and see the eye-rolling now–from the Old Guard, I’d like to call them. Well, I can’t let that get to me now, can I? You see, it’s like President Kennedy said–the torch has been passed. The Old Guard is slowly fading away, and another generation–and a New Promise–is shaping our government, nation, and world.
Yes, we can do these things. Instead of worrying about reforming the system after it’s begun to rear its ugly head, we can change who we bring to Congress, to our state offices, and to our local governments. It’s going to take a monumental effort–but above all, it’s going to take a monumental understanding.
Our country is great because we are different. The Snow Belt won’t ever be able to tell the Bible Belt how to vote on policy or ideological terms. And they shouldn’t try to. But what they can do is promote principle in politics over fame and fortune; they can ensure that the full truth is known about those who run for office and accountability is ensured once they reach that office. If you can believe it, the point is to “federalize” politics–like our federal system of government (a central, national government with state and local governments adjacent to), the federal idea of politics says that, while there are distinct values and reasons for particular states and localties to vote for politicians, there is a set of national principles that trump all–Integrity, Honor, Compassion, Selflessness.
Yes, this New Promise, this Great Understanding, might be idealistic. But do we move forward–do we make progress in politics–or do we move farther back to the past? If we’re going to make our country and world a better place, what other choice do we have?
Change isn’t a political slogan. Change is inevitable.
…And that’s what I thought about when it was snowing.
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