“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” Abraham Lincoln – January 27, 1838——————————————————————————————-
Lincoln’s quote has been on my mind lately as I’ve watched what should be an honorable campaign for the highest office in our land devolve into a mishmash of contradiction, division and outright lies. It’s sickening.

Those of us who follow some of the better political opinion professionals are seeing more of them holding one of three views: our political system MAY be broken – IS broken – is IRRETRIEVABLY broken. Count me among them. I’m with the second group. For the moment.

The totality of evidence suggests the two party democracy we’ve relied on for a couple of centuries is collapsing under a daily onslaught of bitterness, division, anger, self-service, obstinance, ignorance – especially elected ignorance – arrogance, obscene amounts of money available to certain people and self-centered celebrity seekers out to make a buck.

Congress is gridlocked, daily demonstrating complete impotence in handing our affairs. The national election – 10 months hence – will not, I’m afraid, do anything to change it. In fact, when the next group of 535 is sworn in, we may very well be in even worse shape. That is likely to happen because of the oft-proven “my-guy’s-the-good-guy; your-guy’s-the-bad-guy” syndrome. It happens every election. It’s getting much worse.

I have a friend who’d like to see Nancy Pelosi tarred, feathered and dropped off the edge of some square earth. She’s his “bad guy.” He finds no redeeming qualities in the California congresswoman. But he lives in Oregon. Her home district is in the Marin County area of Central California – some 400 miles South of him. He may wish her gone but she’ll be re-elected in her district because, to a majority of those voters, she’s “the good guy.”

That scenario is repeated hundreds of times each election cycle. In my opinion, fully a third of the Texas delegation can’t put up a collective I.Q. of mold. To me, they’re “the bad guys.” But my Oregon ballot is of no consequence in their political futures. They’ll be probably re-elected. Again.

There are dozens of reasons for my political pessimism. But four really stand out as keys to what I believe is corroding democracy.

First: money. Too damned much money! It’s been eating away at government like a cancer for a long, long time. But it fully metastasized with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision assuring corporations all the rights of an individual including free speech. While there are many legal niceties to understand fully what that means, the short version is it gave multi-national corporations the open door to dump unlimited dollars into “free” elections. Dollars that outstrip the abilities of any individual or group of individuals to counter and which make some members of Congress little more than paid corporate employees. Or an honorary citizen of some foreign country.

The second erosion – in my view – is creation of a class of professional politicians in jobs meant to be “citizen-filled” on a short term basis. I’ve lived on the “other side of the fence” in Washington, D.C. and can attest to the isolation from reality you can experience if you stay there for a long time. It’s a far different world with far different values. A couple of weeks “home in the district” now and then doesn’t alter that effect. When members of Congress are “home,” they spend most of the time courting money. They give lip service to constituent concerns but many don’t feel them in their gut. Don’t know them in their bank account.

The third reason: an absence of good candidates for public office at all levels. In both parties. Many bright, intelligent people will not submit themselves to the torturous path we have constructed for candidates, especially for national office. For example, two reasonable Republican possibilities who wouldn’t run: former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Their demurring was the same: how such a campaign would affect their families. These are just two who have said it, so you know there are many others who have felt it. In the personally poisonous atmosphere we’re created, the negatives of political campaigning often outweigh the positives such good people could bring.

Add to that, our seeming intoxication with “celebrities.” “Beautiful people” who “look good” who, we find out later, are not up to the job. Do I hear the names Edwards, Ensign, Palin, Bachmann, O’Donnell? But once in, they are nearly impossible to root out. (See money above)

And fourth, we have created a fractured society of people living apart from each other instead of in the melting pot we used to be. Rather than value our differences and utilize them for our national good, we’re too often separated by them. I find it increasingly hard to have a serious political conversation with someone without having our differences outweigh our shared beliefs. Intolerance of each others views has created a political climate of fear, distrust, anger and, too often, ignorance of real facts.

We’re inundated with media bias left and right, points of view masquerading as news, an Internet chock full of distortions, racist rants and outright lies – a willingness to distrust and turn our backs on politics and politicians rather than take the time to find out what (who) is real and what (who) is not. Too many people would rather accept what sounds “right” and not take time or individual initiative to unearth what the facts really are. Many Americans simply don’t know how their government operates and still others don’t care. We are, I’m afraid, a nation of too many ill-informed or just plain uninformed voters. To that extent, there is validity in the proverb “we get the government we deserve.”

There’s more than enough blame to go around. Many, many factors have brought us to this dangerous situation. Our system of government seems overcome by a convergence of pressures we’ve never experienced before as a nation. What I’ve detailed here are some; there are others. Many others.

Some to whom I’ve expressed these thoughts say I’m a pessimist who underrates the greatness of this nation and the ability of its people to weather any storm. Maybe. But it seems to me we’ve found ourselves at the center of too many storms for too long a time. Nearly all of them from within. Continuing, merciless pounding of storm waves can erode the rockiest shoreline.

Which is why the danger described by Mr. Lincoln won’t leave my mind.

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