There are days when it seems we have more division than unity in these United States.
Our representatives in St. Paul have given up and hung a “closed” sign on the state.
It is troubling that in more than 150 years of Minnesota’s history, the two times state government has been shut down occurred within the last six years.
Our fearless leaders in Washington seem to be on a similar course, and a crash over the debt ceiling seems imminent.
Even in the normally sane and sensible world of professional sports (that is sarcasm, by the way), specifically the NFL and NBA, lockout, rather than teamwork, seems to be the order of the day.
We can’t do much about the wonderful world of sports, but we do have the opportunity to do something about our government.
There are some basic structural problems contributing to the gridlock that has plagued our state and national governments lately.
The founding fathers deliberately set up the organization of government to encourage a certain amount of conflict.
Having a house of representatives and a senate, as well as three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial) provides checks and balances and limits the power of any single part of government.
Some conflict is healthy, but when the participants start out too far apart, compromise becomes extremely difficult.
There are those in government who seem to believe that compromise is weakness, and they will defend their position at any cost. It is the taxpayers who pay that cost.
It seems that the people who are being elected these days tend to represent the most extreme points of view.
We might ask ourselves who is deciding which candidates end up on the ballot.
Some might say that the candidates who emerge from the caucus and primary system are extreme because the people who participate in those activities, a small percentage of the population, tend to be extremists.
Perhaps if more everyday people were involved in the process, we would see candidates who were more moderate in their views. They might better represent the views of the general population, and make compromise more likely.
We will need to compromise if we are to move forward, and it is easier to reach compromise when the parties start out miles apart, as opposed to light years apart.
Maybe there is room for reform in the mechanisms we use to nominate candidates and run elections.
The way redistricting is handled is another factor that encourages partisanship.
Redistricting should be overseen by an independent committee, not by politicians who represent political parties.
Organizing districts in an objective way, instead of allowing politicians to carve out “Democratic districts” and “Republican districts” might even force elected officials to pay more attention to their constituents than to party bosses.
Instead of arguing about who to blame for our present predicament, we should be asking more constructive questions.
Two questions that spring to mind are:
• What is the appropriate role of government?
• What quality of government do we want (or perhaps, what quality of government can we afford)?
We might even want to consider some radical ideas like instant runoff voting (which would make a nice change from expensive and time-consuming recounts) and term limits (which would ensure that a fresh group of legislators would be elected more often).
Term limits might cause us to lose some experienced people, but it would have the benefit of eliminating some career politicians who are more concerned about getting re-elected than about the needs of their constituents.
The point is, if we can’t even agree on the appropriate role of government, it is difficult to imagine how we will get results other than partisanship and dysfunction.
We are experiencing some dark days in state and local government, but we have been through tough times before.
If there is any good to come out of the recent governmental gridlock, perhaps it will be that these events serve as a wake up call that will energize people and encourage them to get more involved in their government.
I talk to ordinary, sensible people every day. These people take responsibility for their own lives, and for the most part, what they want from government is for it to take care of the big things and let the rest of us get on with our lives with minimal interference.
It seems that most people don’t want a government that tries to be everything to everyone, but rather, a government that is lean, efficient, and effective in a few key roles.
They don’t want a government that blunders around like a bloated water buffalo trying to do things it shouldn’t and failing, while complicating matters for the rest of us by entangling us in its web of red tape, overlapping responsibilities, unfunded mandates, and unnecessary restrictions.
There is wisdom in common people, and if we could inject more of that basic common sense into the way things are run, it seems we would all be better off.
Most of us learned by the time we were in elementary school how to work with others and compromise for the common good. We need our government to learn the same lesson.