Category Archives: Government

Is Breaking Up Hard to Do? (National Edition)

Let me first make abundantly clear that what I write here is meant as an invitation to frank conversation, honest debate, and in no way is meant to be a statement of a firm opinion.

You’ve been together for years. You have a great story: an almost fate-led, near mythology to those starry-eyed early days. Those first days, months, even years, were full of passion. A force beyond yourselves pushed you together into a magical bond that nothing could break. Perhaps all of that passion blinded you to a few differences that could cause some issues later, but you’ll deal with that when you come to it. You’ve got your song. You share common values. You have a shared vision for what the future looks like. Perhaps you occasionally argue, but nothing that can’t be worked through when you think of what really matters. To the world, you are strong as one, united together, ready to set forward into forever together.

What if you are a nation? What if you are a united collection of states, initially bound together with a single purpose that influences a common bond of passions, forever leading you into the future as one sovereign entity? After that single galvanizing event brings you together, you settle down the passions and discuss critically what your values are, how they will be laid out, and how they will dictate your future. With any luck, and a whole heck of a lot of continued investment by subsequent generations, you have managed to maintain a national cohesion around those values – struggling at times, of course – always looking forward at how you will stand together for the foreseeable future.

Like any romantic couple, any interpersonal relationship for that matter, its health always needs to include an honest, perhaps brutal, assessment in how you continue to look at the future. Do you still share the same values? Does that spark of passion still ring true? Are the qualities you still have in common strong enough to make the ways in which you may have grown apart seem minor? Or, are you fooling yourself into believing you still have enough to keep you together?

The United States, We the People, need to seriously assess who we are, what we value, and truly question if there is still enough holding us all together to maintain out identity as these United States of America. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we might all see that it is at the very least a valid topic to broach – cautiously. Such an exercise should have two possible conclusions. Either:

  • we are reminded of what brought us together, how strongly we still believes in our common purpose, even if our focus is being constantly distracted by the superficial
  • or we face a very tough reality that portions of our union have grown terminally apart from one another to the point that saving it is an exercise in futility

We have all seen, from the outside, that couple forcing it to work for much longer than they should. Is that who we are now, or do we still have enough to work for?

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Flip flops are for beaches. Let’s keep them there.

It is 2004 when the campaign of George W. Bush produces ads portraying his challenger, Senator John Kerry, as a flip flopper on important issues. I can still recall a deep voice in my head saying “flip flop, flop flip” in an ad that ends with a clip of Senator Kerry declaring, “I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” The declaration was in regards to an appropriation bill to fund the Iraq War. Many things haunted his campaign that year, including having a thoroughly uninspiring candidacy for a base that was looking to be inspired. That attack was among the most damning.

There is a school of thought in electoral politics that says anything and everything coming out of your campaign must stick to the message. When executed with the utmost discipline, it can be largely successful. But, in the case of Mr. Kerry, attacks that put everything you are working for at risk should not be ignored. Although there was a tepid attempt at addressing the attack, the label stuck and the rest is history.

We see this attack leveled against elected officials on a regular basis. It is utilized in races from Presidential on down to mayoral and city council. I don’t doubt that there are examples where a change of opinion comes purely from a place of political expediency. Candidates want to win and turning a blind eye to inner reservations for the sake of a few extra votes is nothing new.

However, I believe that these attacks are unfair in most situations and plant an easy label when individual situations often have much more complex details. It is the bumper sticker caricature that fails to recognize honest changes that happen with new knowledge, deeper understanding, or even simple evolution in perspective that every human being is entitled to. I should hope that we all allow ourselves the right to be moved as a fundamental part of growth and maturity.

I am not talking about retreating from calling those out who appear to take a vastly different approach than before without any real sense to be made as to why. Accountability is a paramount principle in public service. What I am saying is that we need to not be so easily influenced by this attack without considering the factors behind it. Seeking an easy way to turn voters against your opponent is understandable. You want to give people a reason to choose you over them, or at least make them reconsider supporting your opponent. My concern is that it does a disservice to the process. There is an environment in which fearful politicians find that it is politically better to be confidently wrong than to be perceived as a flip flopper. Most of us would call sticking to one position as being principled, and it is if you truly continue to believe in the same position. Standing on principle does not mean standing against reason when facts you know change or you develop a deeper understanding which alters your perspective. It is the principled leader of good character that is willing to admit they may have been wrong or at least not entirely informed when they took an earlier position. It is the reasonable, well informed electorate that can accept this as a part of the human experience.

Candidates for office need to be less afraid to grow as leaders and set themselves as examples for others to follow. They also need to be more prepared to explain themselves by addressing where a change in position grew from, and accept that it is better for people to disagree with your reasoning than to leave them in the dark. Voters must also attempt to refrain from accepting an easy label made by those whose motivation is simple — winning an election. We all know that very few situations in this life are as simple as they are made out to be. Governing is far from simple and as complex as anything in life can be.

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Filed under Government, Politics