Emotional choices make it `politics as usual'

Johnston Sun Rise ·

Could you imagine a political candidate saying that his/her opponent was a talented, dedicated and honorable American? Following this, the candidate would assert that their opponent did a great job at previous endeavors, and even though there were differences between the rivals, integrity was always in play. Finally, how about proclaiming that, if the other were victorious, the candidate promises to abide by the ideals of democracy and support the elected leader? I have been following politics for some time and have rarely seen such situations.

Let us be honest, most campaigns are the same. Incumbents will state that their records are wonderful, while challengers claim it is time for a change. Both sides will swear they are fiscally responsible. Also, each will bombard the other with vitriol, blaming them for every problem that has come down the pike. Fear sells. Blame sells. Perpetual motion sells. We have been hypnotized into believing that politics have to be conducted in this fashion. Shame on them. Shame on us.

Some voters are more interested in voting for D’s and R’s than truly investigating the issues. This is ironic since over time the D’s and R’s have actually flipped positions in many instances. The D’s opposed much of Abraham Lincoln’s reforms regarding slavery and voting rights. Years later they also formed a block in the South which was quite conservative (racist). In fact, ‘Dixiecrats’ was a term they were affixed with. This all changed when Lyndon Johnson (a D himself) had the temerity to support Civil Rights legislation. Whoops! Overnight, the Southern D’s became R’s. So much for party loyalty.

As for the R’s, it is interesting to see how minorities today shy away from them. This is the party that once led the way to freeing millions from slavery. Getting back to Abraham Lincoln, the first R elected President, he led an effort that would loosen the bonds of a horrific enterprise. Despite this, presently nearly 90 percent of African American voters choose the Democratic Party. Adding to the confusion, many Americans forget that Theodore Roosevelt (another R) was the original ‘tree hugger’. He was the major force behind the creation of our National Parks. Finally, let us not forget Teddy’s breaking up a number of financial monopolies. All of which is not very R of him.

Despite all of the above, many continue to vote along party lines. Many also believe that those on the other side are un-American, dumb, divisive, etc.

I have always been confused by the assertion that our current times are the worst ever. George W. Bush is the worst President ever. Barack Obama is the worst President ever. Really? What about James Buchanan? What about Millard Fillmore? What about Ulysses S. Grant?

Even our greatest presidents suffer through difficult times. Madison saw the White House burn. Lincoln had a Civil War. FDR endured the Great Depression and World War II. Each Commander and Chief has faced numerous obstacles. Today’s times have many challenges, but let us step back a bit.

So, I am looking for a candidate with a vision. I am looking for someone who promotes solutions over pointing to problems. Don’t you think we deserve more? Are you ready for it?

Presently, the general public has little faith in politicians. They also have lost confidence in the entire political process. Add in the fact that the media often supports and cultivates B.S. (just watch Bill O’Reilly and Lawrence O’Donnell) and one can see why Americans are distrustful. Can you imagine that a large percentage of Americans believed that ‘Birther’ baloney? Can you also believe that others were convinced that President George W. Bush was complicit in the September 11, 2001 attacks? Really!

Local politics can prove interesting as well. I once served as a member of the Exeter/West Greenwich School Committee. Surprisingly, for some, I ran as a Republican. It was fun, sometimes tedious, but necessary work. When first elected my intent was to ‘save the world’, revolutionize the political process and infuse education with new ideas. Unfortunately, the goals set for myself were not attained. First of all a significant amount of the budget was etched in stone due to mandates and contracts. Secondly, change often comes slowly, for other members of the Committee had alternate views. And finally, State and National edicts often impacted local dynamics.

Still, despite limitations, there were things individual members could impact. Hiring quality staff, setting a tenor of openness, as well as honesty, and supporting the local educational team, were amongst these. I learned to take my tasks seriously and myself less so. I also constantly reminded myself that the term ‘Civil Servant’ was paramount. All too often we forget that our leaders serve the people and not the other way around.

In the end it is really up to us for change to occur. We can blame politicians, but the populace often supports much of the silliness. Americans have been blessed with the right to vote, but unfortunately are uninformed in doing so. Many, sometimes, choose emotion over careful thought. Because of this, politics like history, repeats itself.

A frequent contributor to this page, Robert Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program.