I Want to Feel America Again
A reflection on the days of civility in federal government.
Ah, July Fourth!
I’m as patriotic as they come. I still get goose bumps when I hear a (good) version of the Star Spangled Banner. I proudly display my tattered “1776” flag in the front of my house. I always vote. And, for a while, I toyed with the idea of running for elected office because I believe strongly that we should all give back to our country.
But I’m not sure if I am feeling America anymore.
Watching the rather predictable July 4th concert on the lawn of Capitol from the comfort of my home (I no longer want to deal with the massive crowds), I could not help but think about the state of affairs in the Congress these days. When I worked up on Capitol Hill years ago, I cherished each day (despite my embarrassingly low salary). In those days, members of each party would actually debate the issues of the day, as opposed to just reading talking points that were prepared by some interest group on K Street. After the debate, the adversaries would shake hands, maybe grab a beer afterwards. More importantly, those elected officials knew that, although they were sent to Washington to make a point, they also had to govern and that meant the inevitable compromise.
But when I saw the Capitol in the background this year, all I could think about was the rancor, the grandstanding, the pettiness and the sheer disrespect for our institutions. It’s hard to imagine but I actually remember a time when we actually rooted for our President, even if he was from the other party. Today, the goal is to tear down the opposition, embarrass them, catch them in a “gotcha” moment. And both parties are guilty of this silliness. The result, of course, is a paralyzed government that is fixated only on the next election.
This unproductive attitude has trickled down to the local level. For example, a friend of mine who was without power for days quickly made the determination that the CEO of Dominion Power should RESIGN. Sure, things were a mess and people were inconvenienced but this was a 100 year storm. I’m sure mistakes were made and things could have been handled better, but the point is that we all seem to be ready to attack, we are quick to judge, eager to create another Facebook page blasting some politician or civil servant. In extreme cases, some just can’t wait to spread the hate. I don’t even want to watch the Presidential campaigns this time around.
But, there may be glimmers of hope. About two weeks ago, I joined 20 other people at an event with former Governor Tim Kaine to talk about education. Kaine is running for the Senate against former Governor George Allen. At one point during that meeting, Kaine actually complimented Republican Governor Bob McDonnell about some action he had recently. I couldn’t believe my ears and, yes, I felt those goose bumps again. Afterwards, I told the Governor that I thought the American people were yearning for a more civil discourse and we appreciated when credit was given, even to an opponent. And then, a short while later, Chief Justice Roberts knocked our collective socks off when he sided with the liberal faction of the Supreme Court on the healthcare bill.
I want to feel America again. I’ll choose to hope.