(I originally posted this essay one year ago today. It was important then, but now, in an election year, it is even more relevant. I urge you to consider these thoughts as we begin a year filled with political scandal of epic proportions, an out of control Administration and a Congress unwilling to rein it in, local governments awash in ineptitude, political rhetoric that is deviod of action, and the future of America at a turning point.”)

There is something wrong with our government and the way it is run. I’m not just talking about the federal government, but our state and local governments too. Lacking common sense leadership, beholden to corporate interests and finances, cornered by special interests and threatened lawsuits, and muzzled by political party philosophies, our governments are about as responsive as a sea sponge and accountable to nothing. Overlapping regulations, agencies, and missions create an atmosphere of duplicity and waste while creating barriers between themselves and the people they purport to serve.

To make matters worse, the American public has become so distrustful of government that they distance themselves from it at every opportunity. With smaller percentages going to the polls, and an even smaller number actually knowing much about the candidates or propositions before them, government leaders are often picked according to who has the better sound bites, bigger budgets, and nicer hair. Such actions only serve to ensure that government will become less responsive to a public who largely ignores them, thus causing further estrangement by both parties, and on and on. The cycle perpetuates itself until it spins out of control. Propelled by its own inertia, an unchecked government moves backwards in history, becoming less responsive to the needs of its citizens and less representative of the people as a whole.

So what can we do about it? How can we retake government and make it accountable, efficient, and responsible? The biggest problem in government today stems directly from the political parties themselves. Although nothing in the Constitution requires or advocates it, our government is largely controlled by two main parties- the Republicans and the Democrats. There are numerous other small parties as well, but we’ll deal with “The Big Two.” The Democrat and Republican parties have created a divisive representational system, forcing constituents to choose a side. In an effort to gain members, each party portrays the other side as bad for America, bad for families, bad for you and me. Their messages have become so successful in fact, that the American people believe themselves to be split 50-50, creating gridlock and animosity of epic proportions. The parties’ successful attempt to make government look like a boxing match has the added benefit of distracting Americans from paying attention to what is really happening. While we’re all busy socking away at each other, our political parties have quietly carved up the country into “political safe havens,” where they can be sure of re-election, and thus less responsive. While we’ve been watching our tax dollars disappear, they have been securing fat cat deals for benevolent corporate donors and lining up lucrative post-public careers. And all the time, we’ve forgotten that government isn’t supposed to be a sport. Government is a public service, a public duty, and a public privilege.

Republicans and Democrats alike proclaim to have differences big enough to drive a truck through. Big Business vs. Pro-Labor. Tax and Spend vs. Fiscal Prudence. Law and Order vs. Nanny State. In truth though, the two parties have much more in common than they would have you believe. Their real goal is to consolidate power, not for the benefit of providing the public with better service, but for personal gain for their benefactors and themselves. They are both beholden to large corporate donors and labor unions, which, due to the bizarre nature of our campaign regulations, bankroll their ambitions to public office. These kinds of politicians may start out altruistically enough, but the minute they take their oath of office, there are but indentured servants, paying off a debt through favorable legislation, selective enforcement of regulations, and preferential treatment. They are at the mercy of party leaders, who in turn are being controlled by corporate and industry demands. Neither party has an interest in simplifying our government so that it can better serve the people. Neither party has an interest in fiscal responsibility. Neither party has a respect for the laws of this country, finding every loophole and exploiting every nuance. And neither party has respect for you, the taxpayer, the citizen, the American.

Government was created to provide certain basic needs of society. It provides public security. It regulates and enforces laws. It creates and regulates an economic base for business and labor. It provides some level of infrastructure. It defends the inherent rights of humanity, namely freedom of religion and thought and the chance for a happy life. Everything that our government does should fall into one of those main categories.

I think we all agree that we expect government to protect the integrity of our borders from attack and to defend our interior to its best ability. We expect government to fight for our interests abroad to further our safety as a country. We expect government to enact laws that apply to everyone and to enforce those laws equally. We agree that acts like murder, rape, theft, and assault, in all their many forms, should be illegal and punishable. We value the freedom to worship any religion we choose, to learn what we want to learn, to go where we want to go. And we expect our government to respect those freedoms and nourish them. We all want our children to grow up happy, in safe neighborhoods, and going to good schools. We all want to be able to provide for our families and give them something special now and then. We all want to enjoy good health and access to good health care. We have a lot more in common than the political parties would have you believe.

It is true that in finding our way to a common goal, we often come across many rivers that lead to the lake. The trick is in navigating the best stream at the right time. Unfortunately, our politicians aren’t even in the same boat. By focusing on their task of division, they try to get us to ignore that we have much in common. They want to keep us at odds so they muddy the waters by obscuring the true tasks of government. Instead, they highlight manufactured or sensationalized differences between “them and us.”

The only way to shake the grasp of a stagnant government is to abandon the parties en masse. A successful American government need not be dependant on artificial labels. Americans from both “sides” should re-register as independents, cast aside their party platforms and recognize candidates who use Common Sense. Choose leaders who shun labels and stand for principals we can agree on. We must understand that public service is a duty and an honor and choose leaders who believe that too. Only by denouncing the politics of partisanship can the business of government truly take place.

This would be a start in putting government back into the hands of the people. The very nature of democracy demands compromise before advance, and in this current political split, we need to not only abandon the parties individually, but abandon the politicians too. Doing anything less would prevent any meaningful reform. Look at the candidates, not their political affiliation. Don’t believe that party affiliation truly reflects who they are, or who you are either. Critically evaluate all candidates, especially independents, and find out where they stand on the issues. If no independents are on the ballot, find one and support them. Make politicians stand on their own feet and explain why they deserve the honor of repr
esenting our interests. Don’t let them hide behind boorish party talking points. To ensure that there will be plenty of non-affiliated candidates, encourage and support potential candidacies.

We must always remember that we do not owe it to politicians to keep them in office or to agree with their policies. Rather they owe it to us to defend our interests and to ensure that their policies are in line with our needs. We owe it to ourselves to make sure they deliver.

Update for 2006: As the administration continues it’s assault on the rule of law and erases the freedoms of American citizens, Democrats are finally attacking Bush, Cheney, and their administration. I wish them well in this endeavor. But I believe that even if they succeed in their efforts to spurn the administration, America is only safe from the worst abuses of political power. Even if Democrats regain control, American government is awash in corruption, unbridled pork spending, and tailor-made policies that ultimately do not benefit average citizens. Independent politicians could do the job of fighting irrational spending, inane programs, and failure bound policies if given the chance. At the very least, a healthy measure of independents could force the parties back to honest governance.