Responsibility and America’s Political Mess

by Christy Ray

To the disapproval of many Americans—and dismay of anyone following American politics—Congress has a major problem. The problem, of course, is that the atmosphere in Congress has finally reached a point where few bills can live, survive, and pass. This is, of course, due to the hyperpartisanship that is erupting, influenced, no doubt, but the grassroots movement known as the Tea Party. However, because of our democratic government, it is ultimately up to We the People to decide the fate of politics, and this is possible even without running for office because we, as Americans, can voice our concerns to Congress. And if they don’t act, we should not reelect them.

Obstructionism is the key term thrown around when one side can’t get its way. And this may be true. Republicans keep using filibuster after filibuster in the Senate in an effort to stifle the Democrats. And it’s working. No-brainer bills and even ones with bipartisan support are failing to find their way through both the House and the Senate. Even if they do, as the recent cybersecurity bill demonstrates, the President threatens a veto which causes both sides to point to the other as a villain.

The Tea Party is a conservative branch of the Republican Party, if you can even call them that. While many Republicans are moderates and see the road of bipartisanship and compromise as a necessary step to running the country, the Tea Party doesn’t. In fact, the Tea Party is known for digging in their heels and, as many claimed, holding America hostage in an attempt to get their way as was seen in the last debt-ceiling fight. Consequently, the Democrats are starting to fight back in a similar manner, notably with the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year.

This hyperpartisanship has led to the lowest approval rating on record for Congress and a lack of legislation. Even though Congress does not seem to realize it yet, although some do and have even retired due to the toxic political climate, this cannot go on and things need to change. However, looking towards Congress is probably not the best option and Americans need to take it upon themselves to shape politics. Politicians created this problem; they won’t get us out.

As the legislative days slowly dwindle, there are a few bills Congress needs to pass. Many of them, like the Farm Bill, have traditionally been bipartisan efforts passed in the best interest of the American people. But Congress has failed to act on many bills before the summer recession that lasts from August into September. However, in an effort to avoid politically unpopular actions before an election, Congress seems to think the best course of action is none. After the last showdown over the debt-ceiling that is arguably a main factor in shooting down Congress’ approval rating, Congress has decided to keep federal government spending at the same level for six months—or until after the election so each party will not to hurt its own image.

Needless to say, Congress can’t keep function this way, hurting the America people in an economic downturn. Lawmakers should know better; it’s their job to act better. But it’s our job as American’s to ensure they do because, after all, America is supposedly run by the people. Even though the obvious choice for changing politics is running for office, there are other, practical options for everyday Americans.

First, Americans need to realize that Congress is not only vulnerable during election seasons. And we can take action by educating ourselves on their actions. Many people think that voting for the president is the most important thing, but voting in Senators and Representatives is equally important because of the way America’s government is set up. By looking at the actions, or inactions in this case, of members of Congress and by keeping track of one’s Senator and House Representative, then the American people will have information to make an educated choice during the elections instead of being won by empty promises and clean-faced politicians found only during election years. While it’s easy to point the finger and blame Congress for its inactivity and disfunction, as constituents who elect these officials and are able to voice concerns, the American people must realize that we, too, are to blame for this political mess because of inattention and inaction ourselves.

Many Americans only pay attention to politics when something important to them is at stake—this attitude needs to change. If the public isn’t watchful then politicians will, and can, get away with anything. Furthermore, many actions Congress takes aren’t publicized much, so while many Americans may object if they realize what is going on, Congress is able to pull the wool over our eyes by quietly passing bills especially with unrelated and important amendments. Even when there is not an election coming up there are other ways to get Congress’ ear especially now because of technology.

It is easy to call political representatives and to gain knowledge by the internet, but also people can make adds and videos to reach others, as recently happened with the viral KONY 2012 which influenced even the President’s actions. By becoming active and telling Congress through petition sites like change.org what you and your community wants for America, anyone can influence politics. Attending rallies, as the Tea Party has demonstrated, or staging protests are other ways to get the message across especially if they attract a lot of media coverage.

Many think that there is nothing ordinary Americas can do. This is a defeatist attitude and untrue. They think that politicians won’t listen to their voice, don’t know a way to make their voice heard, or think big money will drowned them out, so they do nothing. But as the international environmental organization 350.org demonstrates in the fight against big oil and the Keystone XL pipeline, thousands of American voices not proclaimed by well-funded lobbyists are capable of making changes in Congress. Elected officials tend to be receptive of their constituents because otherwise they won’t get reelected. They will listen.

Others find politics too stressful or boring and simply ignore Congress’ workings until elections come up, then reflect on the highlights of a politician’s career to vote for or against someone based upon the reviews by the media. But as conservatives often accuse the “mainstream” media of doing (although they are by no means free of this fault either), news outlets are biased and have agendas of powerful people or organizations influencing their stories. It’s important to get information from a variety of sources and for more than just three months before the election—neither of which American’s are prone to do. Otherwise, the information we base our decisions on to elect people on may be flawed, biased, or incomplete. It may seem appealing to vote for the other guy who’s not a career politician, but it’s very dangerous to vote for him if you don’t know who or what he stands for. After all, he could make the problem worse, not better.

While the politics now are depressing and grinding to a halt, when bipartisanship and compromise are seen as dirty words, and in a place where moderation is viewed as a fatal flaw, the politics in this nation need to be fixed. Politicians continuously blame the other side for obstructionism, yet they actively engage in such activities themselves. Something needs to be done before Washington drives this country into the ground. However, without the prodding of the American people nothing will change. America is supposed to be run for the people, by the people. But we’re not making progress; we only point fingers. Let’s change this so that something gets done in this country—so change happens—and we can get back on our feet again. But the only way Congress can hear you is if you use your voice and make them listen.

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