We Get What We Elect

Democracy. We all have views. We all have a voice. We all have a vote.

Representative Democracy. We elect people to represent our views, to speak our voice, to cast our vote.

But something is not working. Our government is broken. Congress cannot get anything done. Our leaders are not leading. The solution is less government/more government; less spending/more spending; less rules/more rules, for us/for government. The answer is simple, if only …

And there is the problem. In this age of instant gratification, one-click media, and slogans and shouting, we have forgotten that democracy takes work. It was always difficult; now it’s even harder.

Much attention is being paid these days to the polarization of our political processes – from the effect of the Tea Party on the Republicans to the effect of the Liberals on the Democrats. We are not given moderate choices, so the argument goes. We cannot elect the thoughtful representatives we want, because we aren’t given the opportunity. But this, too, is an oversimplification. Democracy is about us – about We, The People – and if we don’t do the hard work, we surrender our Democracy to the Shouters and the Oversimplifiers. And then we get what we have elected.

Democracy requires respect for each other. We cannot all always be right. We cannot all prevail all of the time. Sometimes, we must each be a follower – and sometimes our elected leaders must be, as well.

Democracy requires conversation, not shouting. The Silent Majority must speak out, respectfully. We must all use our voices, constructively. We must converse with people with whom we disagree.

Democracy requires partnership, not just collaboration or compromise. We all have a stake in the outcome. Forcing one’s views or positions on others is inherently undemocratic.

Democracy requires a respect for knowledge. The right to express our opinion does not make our opinion right. Expertise and experience must be valued. The dumbing down of the conversation results in the dumbing down of our society.

We must put aside our labels. We must, in our own way, be the people who we want our democratic leaders to be. We must give voice to the thoughtful conversation that we want from our leaders. We must ourselves act the way we want our political process to be and our political leaders to represent.

There is no other way; there is no alternative. After all, that’s what Democracy is all about.

Devout Citizens

On 9/11/2001, our nation was united with the spirit that “We Shall Overcome.” Now, a decade later, we live in a toxic, shouting, angry national environment. And, not just in our political lives, but everywhere we turn. How did this happen, and what can we do to change it? More

America Isn’t Easy

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Movie Speech from “The American President” (1995)