My View: America is entrenched in division
January 23, 2014
Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is quitting the Senate after this Congressional session, two years short of his second term. This will be a big loss because we need those in Washington who represent various viewpoints with sane, objective, fact-based analyses, who express themselves without flame-throwing clever phrases and speak not from someone else's prepared talking points. His annual reports on waste ought to be the basis of good government scrutiny; his viewpoints are expressed in clear, well thought-out arguments. I listen to him. I, a professed liberal, take him seriously, not because he is an effective threat, but because he elevates the debate.
There are some things more important than being the majority in a legislative body (of course, it makes it easier to get an agenda passed). It is passing legislation that has been thoroughly examined for its impact or its unintentional consequences, in our national interest. That takes compromise and fair debate. This is what our country's founders thought they were establishing.
Instead, what our country has become in this new century is entrenched in division. Divisions of ideological differences were present in the late 1700s, but political parties had not yet become organizations that could bring discipline and uniform ideologically based political correctness in thought and expression to its members. Since then, modern technology has become the enabler of stubborn divisive politics.
Gerrymandered districts with boundaries drawn to give one side an easy win make for few seriously contested general elections, throwing the important contests into primaries with only the most active party members usually participating. Laws to keep this from happening are weak or nonexistent. Our cable TV and radio talkers have contributed mightily to the extreme divisiveness, sometimes shaping partisan positions and preaching them to the choir. Views are often expressed in certain phrases, uniform and approved by whatever political power in the form of "think tanks" and political operatives. Debates about issues then become carefully choreographed dances designed to elicit the most applause from the audience, an audience makeup known in advance by focus groups and polls.
Another enabler of divisiveness is our permissive campaign finance system. Deep pocket corporations and unions are now called "people" covered by free speech. Social policy organizations who attempt to influence a specific election's outcome by running advertising under the pious guise of "education" can use faux facts and well-crafted scare-mongering with impunity of legal action and often without an equal time rebuttal by less well-funded opponents, given the cost of media exposure. Tom Coburn has represented the views of his state well, but he was above so many of these political practices, that this is another reason why his leaving will be such a loss.
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