OPINION | Why do I talk politics if it doesn’t make me happy?

Sometimes coffee groups run short of grist for the conversational mill. At least that’s my observation so I lob in a few conversational grenades to pep things up. The effect is the same whether at Haggen’s Café, a table at the YMCA or on the street. Utter “Obama” and certain blood pressures soar. Add Social Security, Medicare, TARP, Tea-Party, Libya, ACORN and Planned Parenthood and I can turn silent assemblies into screaming shout-fests.

A sage once said, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, things are interesting enough, thank you. Any more interesting and I’ll be looking for a hole to hide in, a hole high enough to escape tsunamis, deep enough to ward off radiation and remote enough to avoid armed lunatics. It doesn’t take a genius to see that society is coming unraveled in ways that make protection from home-grown nut-cases more necessary than from al Qaeda.

Society can’t get along without structure. We need good followership almost as much as we need good leadership. It seems that the day after we elect a new president, half the nation tries to bring him down. Imagine a car pool where half the riders are bent on wresting the wheel from the driver. Or a classroom in which half the students’ mission is to undercut the teacher. A president cannot lead if his real victories are painted as hollow and his defeats inexcusable. Yet vilifying presidents is business-as-usual for opposition parties. Sometimes with cause, most often, not.

We elect a Congress to make good laws. Instead, we get laws that reflect partisan point-scoring as much as nurturing the general welfare. The writing of critical new laws is often funded and scripted by vested interests for the twin purposes of advancing power and codling greed. Corporate interests employ Congress as a milking machine and us, their cash-cow.

Wait a minute! Isn’t this America, beacon of Democracy? Well, yes, but we need to keep Winston Churchill’s quip about democracy in mind. He said, “Democracy is the worst sort of government, except for all the rest that have been tried.”

Churchill hit the nail on the head. Democracy isn’t perfect, it isn’t easy and it’s woefully subject to abuse. To keep a democracy healthy, it has to be constantly in reformation just as the Christian church can’t stay true to its purposes without continual reformation. But that doesn’t call for a level of Constitution-worship that, in the hands of ultra-conservatives, comes off as self-promoting idolatry.

If you’d be interested in a non-partisan scheme for setting things right, do pick up a copy of Steven Hill’s book, 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy. Amazingly, Hill’s 10 Steps have earned high marks from both right and left. With both sides in agreement, how is it that they devolve into trash-talking ideologues once back in chambers? Clearly, some things must change if we are to bring respectability back to politics and put national interests ahead of party power.

If Hill had chanced an unlucky 13, he might have targeted three more points. The first would deal with rules of access: “Any contact between petitioners (think lobbyists) with elected officials or staffers would be fully documented and recorded for public scrutiny in approved hearing chambers. Any contact or attempt at contact outside approved hearing chambers and procedures between elected officials or staff with petitioners for the purpose of influencing legislation would be punishable by censure, loss of access, fine and/or imprisonment. Further, representatives of interests associated with sponsoring unauthorized contact would be barred from Capitol grounds for no less than five years.”

This next one would put a damper on the so-called Citizens United law in which the Supremes gave the deepest pockets in the land unlimited power to buy elections: “Contributions to the campaign funds of aspiring or incumbent federal representatives or senators shall not cross state lines. Platforms, funding and votes for each state’s candidates must be home-grown. This springs from a history of national political war-chests funneling into targeted state elections. Violations would be treated as election fraud.”

Next, “The terms of office for all elected and appointed federal office holders shall be subject to defined limits. Representatives’ terms will be increased to three years to reduce campaigning. Representatives and senators shall serve no longer than three terms. Committee chairs may serve an additional term upon vote of the body. Supreme Court justices’ terms shall be limited to twenty years.”

One more: Senators’ and Representatives’ oaths of office should contain wording to the effect that; “Since I and my colleagues were elected to promote the will of our constituents, I will not exert pressure nor bow to pressure to change anyone’s vote. Should it be determined that members of a party’s delegation attempted retribution against members for not adhering to that party’s position, guilty persons shall suffer censure and loss of key committee assignments.” Enough of the arm-twisting!

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@frontier.com.

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