I was glad to welcome my co-host’s first blog entry to the site this week, and after reading it there were a couple things I thought I’d like to respond to. So here it goes…

Matt and I don’t always agree on politics but there is actually quite a bit that we do agree on, even politically. I think he’s on to something in that entry and I wanted to expand a little on it with my own thoughts. I definitely agree with the assumption that something is broken in the US political system, and honestly I think most people would at this point. Matt is 100% correct that our politicians no longer represent us. And yet they keep getting elected somehow.

Like I said, I think he’s on to something, and in particular I think one of the big things that has changed since the 1980s or 1990s is the focus on the election. It seems most of our politicians spend 70-80% or more of their time campaigning or at least making the connections and networking to FUND their campaigns. And I think that’s caused a very fundamental shift. That kind of fundraising isn’t something that your average person has any kind of experience with, or interest in. And yet it is consuming our politicians’ time. I would submit that this has fundamentally changed those politicians, such that they now have more in common with each other than with the rest of us.

Because of that, I think the main “differences” between candidates are mostly for show, as part of the political spectacle that is the election process itself (at least the public part of it that you or I could see and participate in). The Hilary Clintons of the political world stake out this or that position that appeals to the political base that will get them elected, and so do the Ted Cruzes of that world. And they even go through the showy political battle of opposing each other in the media. And yet they all know that those extreme positions will never get any traction, because the majority of Americans don’t care about them. Those positions are safe in the sense that they don’t really need to be implemented and they are solely about appealing to the slice of the electorate that will get that particular politician elected.

 

This is one of the reasons I’ve found Larry Lessig’s MayDay project (which we talked about in episode 67) so fascinating. I think it hits on one of the reasons for that change, the incredible craziness of how we fund elections. That candidates have to spend so much time doing that I think has subverted them in favor of acting in their own interests (i.e. being re-elected), rather than in the common interests of the American people.

I would differ with Matt a little on the value of compromise per se. I don’t think it’s that politicians no longer compromise that’s the problem, as that it is actually they no longer are willing to set aside those agendas that appeal to the most extreme aspects of their particular political parties in favor of what’s best for everyone. So, in a better world, to take the 2 examples Matt used… I think if you could prove that the Keystone pipeline was actually a good investment (note: I’m not convinced of that personally), then those in opposition should be willing to set that aside in favor of what’s best for everyone. Or at least trying that particular approach. And the same with closing Guantanamo Bay. And yet, within our political process, there’s no willingness to really dig into the why of something being a good idea (or not). That would break the entire political theater that so many are now invested in.

For myself personally, I think the Keystone pipeline is a bad investment, in the infrastructure of the energy world of now and the past. Over the next 20-30 years (when we’d basically be paying back that investment), I don’t think the utility is there. HOWEVER… when Matt and I discuss these and don’t agree, I’ll just say right up front, that I’m WILLING TO BE CONVINCED OTHERWISE. The bar itself may be high, but my opposition to the pipeline isn’t ideological per se (although I think the environmental cost is high and too easily dismissed by proponents). And I think that cuts both ways. The main reason we decided to focus on the things we agree on, within Robot Overlordz, is that that’s the easiest way to keep moving forward. But when we don’t agree, it shouldn’t stop all forward movement, there should be a process for either tabling something and moving ahead with the things that can be worked out or figuring out an answer that works.

And I think that’s the core thing that the political process in the US has lost, for sure at the federal level, but it’s even starting to creep into state and local levels. And that’s a real shame, I think, because we have serious problems, that are going to require moving forward again.

So… how do we fix that? Because if you can’t do anything about something, then all we’re doing is playing the blame game. Fiddling while Rome burns. I think it’s going to take a lot of effort and more than anything it will take people caring and willing to get involved in the political process. There are a lot of people content to sit back and bitch about things, because that’s easy. Actually doing something is a lot harder. Like I said earlier, I think the MayDay effort is one really clear way that could help reverse some of the trends that are driving this. It’s for that reason that I contributed to that project. But it’s not the only thing that could fix this. I think more than anything, actual people have to start realizing that we are more interconnected, and that we should be willing to explain why we feel a certain way. And more than that, also to speak out on the things we care about. We should also be looking for common solutions, rather than focusing strictly on blocking what the “other side” wants (although in some cases, you can legitimately argue that the other side’s position is a bad idea).

Disagreement doesn’t have to be this anger-fueling partisan pitched battle that we have currently. It should be about pointing out where the arguments are weakest, so that they’re either abandoned (because of the new information or way of looking at it) or made stronger (it actually is a better way). So, for something like the Keystone pipeline, the question that should be looked at by both sides, to me, is what are the actual impacts and ways that this could help the country moving forward. And more importantly, does it actually move us forward?

I don’t know about you, but I for one am anxious to move into the future, to really fix some of these nagging problems we’ve got. This stalemate isn’t helping anyone. It’s just driving more and more people into cynicism and fear. We should be better than that.