Voters sent all kinds of messages to Congress this last election, including fix the economy, reduce the deficit and shrink government. However, according to post-election polls, one of the strongest messages from the electorate is Americans are sick and tired with gridlock. As much as 80 percent of the voting population want the parties to work together to solve our ever looming problems. But how do we get there in this era of 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week news that shines a spotlight on conflict and controversy at every turn?
Recently, news comedian Jon Stewart attempted to show us the way through a March for Sanity in Washington D.C. With about 250,000 diverse Americans in the audience, Jon Stewart presented us with a poignant image of every day cooperation and progress. He showed on a large screen eight lanes of morning traffic and asked us to imagine a cross section of America being represented in each car. He had us seeing flaming liberals driving next to Tea Party zealots, Muslim moms driving behind Wall Street bankers and black ministers cruising beside immigrant workers. He even had us imagine a car full of conservative Republicans in one lane with progressive Democrats alongside. Then he showed these eight lanes of traffic merging into four lanes and eventually into two lanes as the morning rush hour headed into the Lincoln tunnel. "See, everybody is taking turns. You go, then I'll go. You first, then me next," Stewart said. Every day we practice this civil order where we take turns. And in taking turns, we progress through the tunnels and roadblocks.
Stewart also reminded us it is not the media that creates the problems but it is the media that makes our problems harder to solve. We hype the anger and not the cooperation. As a member of the media, Stewart was acknowledging his role and attempting to provide some corrective vision. This was a refreshing change from all the anger driven cable news.
Then came the election and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promptly returned us to the politics of gridlock. Amidst President Barack Obama's humbling comments on the Republican sweep into Congress, acknowledging the need to try and work together, McConnell announced the number one priority of the Republican leadership will be to make sure Obama is a "one and done" president. Wanting the President to fail is apparently more important than creating more jobs or reigning in government spending. Rather than acknowledge the 80 percent of Americans that want politicians to work together, McConnell wants to go back to gridlock. No taking turns.
I find this behavior appalling, even bordering on unpatriotic. While I disagreed with President George W. Bush on a lot of issues from the Iraq war to deregulating Wall Street and giving tax breaks to the super wealthy, I never wished failure for our President. I simply wished for when it would be the Democrats' turn. What happened to taking turns?
Didn't McConnell learn this in kindergarten? As Robert Fulghum reminds us in his book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten," we need to play fair and take turns. He also noted this lesson from kindergarten: "When you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together." It is a complicated world with difficult problems, problems that will only be solved by sticking together as Americans. Perhaps McConnell needs a return visit to the sandbox. After all, taking turns and being civil is what gets the ever diverse mass of humanity to work on time. A thank you to Stewart for that reminder.
Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.