Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Washington Prescription

People often complain that the artistic quality of Hollywood feature films has gone down over the years. Those who make this observation typically blame Hollywood for this phenomenon. However, like any free enterprise system, Hollywood produces products that ultimately reflect the demands of its market. Note that in the face of the general perception that its products' artistic quality is sinking, Hollywood's revenues are setting new records each year. Think about this in the context of the current political mess in Washington DC.

At the risk of being accused of blaming the victim I maintain that the electorate is responsible for the toxic political environment in Washington DC. The politicians there are well aware of the fact that we have the power to vote them out of office. As such, they act the way they do because it continues to provoke a positive electoral response from us. Arguably, most Washington politicians today are directing more of their efforts towards triggering that response than to actually doing their jobs.

Others have argued that the growing influence of deep-pocketed lobbyists is responsible for the current culture in Washington. However, such lobbyists have power in Washington DC primarily because it is still possible to sway enough voters to decide an election through the use of paid political ads. Our relative ignorance of the issues leaves us susceptible to such ads. This means that our political ignorance transfers some of our political power to those who pay for those ads. But we remain the source of that power. The same is true of the growing power of pundits and political entertainers. Being the ultimate power in Washington DC means we are responsible for its current condition.

In order for the electorate to have a direct hand in improving the political atmosphere in Washington DC, we must first accept responsibility for its current state. As long as we deny being responsible for this situation, we distance ourselves from the power to fix it. Expecting that things will get better simply by sending different people into the same noxious environment is analogous to that switching from regular to menthol cigarettes to treat your emphysema.

To improve the political environment in Washington DC we must each take it upon ourselves raise our level of political discourse. In order to do this, we must allow our personal ideologies to be primarily shaped by our life experiences rather than the talking points of people we like or even admire. We must develop our positions on political issues by analyzing them through the filter of our life experiences, rather than simply accepting or rejecting them based on how they are labeled (typically by people with a vested interest in how we react to them). When we present our political opinions to others we must do so in a manner that demonstrates our intelligence and respects theirs. We must give respectful consideration to divergent political opinions presented to us in this manner (rather than disparagingly dismissing them as partisan crackpottery).

As more of us begin to interact in such a manner I maintain that our elected officials will react to the spread of this new reasonable discourse by emulating it, if for no other reason than to avoid losing their jobs. In other words, by becoming a sensible, respectable electorate we can shape sensible, respectable representatives.

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