When I was a boy, if my mother caught my brother and me playing with sticks she would call out, “Stop that or you’re going to put someone’s eye out!” Occasionally, we would wander out of her line of vision and continue playing with the sticks until one of us got wounded. Neither of us lost an eye, but we were, as my brilliant mother foresaw, injured nonetheless. That is what is happening in our economy right now in America and across the globe. The constituents have been yelling at our leaders, “Make a deal! Compromise! Keep us strong, or you’re going to put someone’s eye out!” Not unlike my brother and me in the land of yesteryear, they didn’t listen.
The Republicans and the Democrats, the Tea Partiers and the Independents have been so focused on being right that they have forgotten about us, the people they were elected to serve. Our labels have become more important than our economy, our quality of life, and our people. Raging elephants and stubborn donkeys abound when it comes time to talk about what is best for our country. As they fight, though, we all lose out in relation to our financial solvency, global economic strength, and respect among our citizens and around the world.
As we watch the S&P and Dow decline, as we watch our credit rating from Standard and Poor dwindle from a AAA to AA+ rating, as we watch people dependent on Social Security, Medicare, and other vital programs become victims of the national hatchet, all sides keep declaring victory in “the fight.” What are they talking about? The fight should be about what will keep our people healthiest; about what will keep our country strongest. It shouldn’t be who gets the highest score in the win column. What our legislators, and I mean those in every party and faction, need to experience right now is shame. They should be embarrassed that our country has lost so much from their arrogance. They should be red-faced that as they stand before the cameras blaming the “other side” for the problems, they have forgotten their abominable role in this process. Rather they should humbly go before the American people, one by one, and say, “I’m so sorry I haven’t accomplished the work of the people in a dignified and effective manner. I have shown my lack of focus, and I have behaved in a way that makes me cringe.”
Not one person in any part of government is likely to do that, even in the face of a Gallup poll reflecting a miniscule 18% approval rating of the legislature’s work. They, and we who support them, have forgotten that before we are Democrats, before we are Republicans, before we are anything in our country, we must be Americans when it comes to the administration of our country. But, perhaps, in some strange way we are expressing our americanism by being confrontational, angry, and short-sighted. Who else could claim leaving the comforts of jolly old England for a desolate land like North America for a better life? Who else has the shame of slavery, native genocide, contemporary classism, and the polarity of such extreme poverty and unimaginable wealth? We were born of a selfish, angry population. Have we changed so much? Not really.
The year is 2011 and we still have not figured out that we are Americans first after 235 years of existence as a nation. We have proof. Just look at every facet of American life. We must insist on our legislators working together with dignity, honor, and good faith as they go forward from here. We must rally for unity, respect for others’ opinions, and a pattern of listening rather than blustering rhetoric. Is it possible? Certainly. Is it likely? I don’t know.