Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to stress that this is not a partisan post. This is not a Democratic thing, nor is it a Republican thing. It is an American thing.
As I look back at the various presidencies that I have witnessed in my lifetime, I have noticed a commonality that is worthy of some commentary here. It seems that all of the presidents that have been re-elected to a second term (in my lifetime) have faced a mounted campaign by the opposition to drag the sitting president into the gutter, during the second term. All except for those that didn't get the second term, that is.
For a brief synopsis of this, read this article from the NYT. (It's a bit dated, but illustrates much of what I am trying to say here.)
At a glance, it would appear this nation (that has influenced so many over the last two centuries) has seemingly developed some flaws along the way. In all of the history of democratic republics, there have been stumbling blocks along the way. Rome, ancient Greece, were models of democracy at some points in their history, at least in the time of their highest grandeur. But they too had flaws. If they hadn't, they would still be in existence in their original forms today.
But, as flawed as a democratic republic can be at times, the alternatives of absolutism and/or anarchy are not viable options to ensure that the individuals of a given society are as free from repression, as humanly possible. Monarch or emperor worship does not allow for freedom, any more than does the anarchist view of "every man for himself" does. So, here we sit with a system that is imperfect and often leases itself to abuse and mismanagement.
But that does not mean that we should accept anything, just because whatever that anything may be, is better than its alternatives. One must look to improve the system, not tear it down further. By tearing it down, it weakens. And if it is weakened by the people that comprise it, it can possibly set the stage for one of those alternatives that we do not want to think about, to come into play. (The Weimar Republic comes to mind here.)
A republic, if you can keep it is a phrase often quoted by many, said by Ben Franklin. It appears every so often during the course of op-ed pieces, essays, and other forms of expository writings. But do we really know what he meant, when he said it?
If we look at all the forms of government that has existed before and after that time, we see there are many. Not all have had the people's best interests at heart, not all have served the people well. Just look at the Soviet Union under Stalin, France under Napoleon, and Germany under Hitler (just to name a few). All gave the people an illusion. Are today's governments any different?
In the history of the U.S., there have been many internal movements for equality. The women's movement, racial equality, gay rights, all were noble movements in their day, all had a place in American society. All were needed and still are, but only to a smaller extent than the leaderships of these various movements today would have us believe. Why do I say this?
One thing I have noticed in all of my ponderings about mankind, is this. Once fairness and equality is achieved in anything, the goal then becomes empowerment. If we look at freedom from a sensible standpoint, we see those that truly want to do the right thing; but once that thing is done, they turn greedy and want more. They seek to extend their influence into other areas and seek more power, as if it were some kind of drug. So it is with politics, as well.
Many politicians start out with the idea that they are going to reform the system for the people. That's the platform they campaign on, that's what they get elected on. Once in power, they may try at first. But they all soon come to a stark realization that the system is set up for corruption. Lobbyists, special interests, and the likes are the real driving forces that govern, not the people that sent them there in the first place. This attitude and philosophy knows no party lines, knows no political ideologies. Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, or whatever, all are part of that same system. All want power. All will abuse that power in some way, in order to keep that power.
Sure, the party that has been out of power will always paint a rosy picture of what they will do, if only we give them a chance. When there is a generalized malaise caused by the party that is in power or some outrageous scandal that makes the people indignant and angry, the opposition is always ready to cash in. They will promise a change, they will promise anything. But once in power, they forget their promises. Then, it soon becomes more of the same, only with different faces and names (and different special interests).
After years of Democratic rule in the Congress, we saw the erosion of principles. The Jim Wright and the Dan Rostenkowski affairs were but a sliver of the corruption that took place over that time period. Then along came the GOP's Contract With America and the promises that came with it. One particular promise still comes to mind when I think about it is, term limits. Did term limits get implemented? Not as of this writing, nor is it likely to. Why? Because the only thing that supersedes the desire for power is, the desire to keep it.
Today, we see a new era of Democratic control, one that promised us the moon, the stars, and the sun in order to get into power. Do we have hope, now that the corrupt Republicans have been voted out of power? I can't say that we do. Again, we have new faces, new names, new special interests, but none of them are in this for the benefit of the people, they represent. They will govern until the people get sick and tired of them and the next round of rotten politicians sell the people their particular bill of goods, for the specific purpose of getting elected.
So, I guess if asked, it's safe to say that we have been able to keep this republic that the founding fathers have given us, so far. But with all that's been going on over the last 50 years or so, I wonder how long we will be able to continue to do so. With all of the polarization in the political arena today, it's a wonder there hasn't been fighting in the streets. But, that still may come someday, if we aren't careful. If we consent to tearing down the offices and institutions just for political gain (and the empowerment that comes with it), this may very well become a reality in many of our lifetimes.
Much of this isn't new. Scandals have been a part of every single presidency from George Washington on. One only needs to read the book, Executive Privilege by Jack Mitchell to see this plainly enough. Power struggles based on ideology aren't new either. One only needs to read the many books that detail the early days of the American republic, to get an understanding of this. The Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans were very polarized at the time, much like we are now.
But beside everything else, there is one thing (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that was true then and still holds true today. This imperfect system that is rife with corruption still beats the hell of absolutism and anarchy, any day of the week. It always will.
Knowing this, the questions then become:
How much are we willing to sacrifice to keep those horrible alternatives from becoming a reality, here in this day and age?
When will we realize that corruption does not have to be tolerated?
Is there any hope that someone, somewhere can lead this nation in a bi-partisan way, to meet the challenges that we all must face?
Is it even possible for the two parties to stop continually tearing down one another, with low-life dirty tactics; is it possible to sell their very best ideas to the American people, not because of their own interests but for that of the people?
I am beginning to wonder.
Naive, you say? Well, maybe a little. Cynical? Definitely.
I just think there has to be a better way for the government to meet the obligations of the people. That's all. There has to be a better way, but it has to start with the people demanding better. It's no wonder that the best people for the jobs, don't want the jobs. Until then, we will get the government we deserve. No more, no less.