I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the last few months (and several times here on the blog) why our government never seems to accomplish anything. Obviously there’s a gridlock in Congress that neither side is really helping, but does it go deeper than that? Is there some underlying cause to this inability to reach any decisions except at the last minute, or in pressured situations? In trying to answer these questions, I found something that we don’t oft acknowledge: our innate love of war.
I’m not talking about war in the traditional sense here, with guns and countries and death. I’m talking about war on more of a person-to-person level. These wars are fought not with guns (at least not in civilized government), but with words and power. It’s no secret that the government has been divided for hundreds of years, with both major parties struggling to gain the upper hand and shape the country into their definition of “America.” But until the last eight years or so, these parties have been able to coexist somewhat rationally. There were a few pieces of legislation for which the proverbial gloves came off, but the left and right have been able to compromise on a fair amount of things. Until now.
So what happened? Why are we suddenly unable to reach any decisions, or pass any sensible legislation with a majority vote? The short answer is “gridlock.” The more in-depth answer lies in the cause of this gridlock. It’s become apparent to me that, on a fundamental level, humans (or perhaps just Americans) have an instinctive urge to experience conflict. In layman’s terms, we love to fight. This carries through all aspects of life, from sports to political parties. We just can’t get enough out of watching two (or more, depending on the occasion) sides go at it in a heated battle. It’s exciting, entertaining, and fun. The problem is that, until now, we’ve been able to keep this addiction relatively separated from government.
It’s hard to turn on the news or jump on the Internet these days without seeing something about the “right wing critics” or “left wing zealots.” We’ve taken our political system, once functional and full of compromise, and riddled it with a hard line between the two major parties. Just twenty years ago, it was considered compromise to reach across the aisle to agree on something. Now it’s basically considered treason. “John is talking to a Democrat!! He’s betrayed us!!” No, he’s just a civilized, albeit fictional Senator that cares more about getting something done than satisfying his repugnant party leaders.
We’ve gone too far with this. In our frenzied attempt to get as much entertainment as possible out of the parties in Congress, we’ve blurred obliterated the lines of compromise. Hell, we’ve forgotten the basic idea of it:
I get some things I want, and you get some things you want. We both have to give a little on something, and that’s the point. Because if we go back and forth without the willingness to sacrifice here to take there, we don’t get anything done.
Battles are great, because they help narrow the field of possible compromises. But how enthusiastic is too enthusiastic? Our excitement for battles between the left and right has led to a complete disregard for the basic reasons for having a government in the first place. Our government exists to provide the best laws and policies for its people, and we’re clearly not advancing that goal now.
We’ve always been fine with this love of conflict, because it never had a tremendous impact on our lives. We root for our favorite teams [insert obligatory statement about the Ravens winning the Super Bowl here], or cheer on someone in a debate. But we’ve let it get so out of hand in the political arena that both parties (and a lot of Americans that belong to those parties, for that matter) have become like two children at recess.
Let’s set the stage: the Democrats have blue jelly beans, and the Republicans have red. They sit on opposite sides of the playground, with their respective jelly beans in big jars. Members of each party challenge one another to run and kick over the other party’s jar, for no particular reason. Putting aside the fact that they’re not making purple jelly beans (the best kind), both sides just go back and forth eternally. It doesn’t accomplish anything, and we just end up with a bunch of spilled candy.
It’s a silly analogy, but nobody can deny that it’s an accurate picture of our government today. We’re too caught up in all the crap-slinging, demagoguery, and slander against the other party to notice that we’re driving ourselves into the sea. We’ve become so focused on kicking over the blue jar or the red jar that we forget to look down at all the candy we’ve already lost. We can’t afford to keep this up much longer. We have to meet in the middle of the playground and shake hands before we’re all swimming in useless blue and red jelly beans.