Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beyond Politics

Since just after Christmas, I've been watching "The West Wing" on Netflix. What I love about the show is that it proclaims both the nobility of politics and the ugly competitive nature of the American political system. In fiction and real life, these are good people, looking to do good things, but they are still human beings, with all the ego and fallibility that are part of the package. So we divide them into two teams, human nature takes over, and the very predictable result is a game where winning trumps everything. Not always, but far too often, and with too much collateral damage.

The most recent episode, of course, was the whole "fiscal cliff" fiasco, but the game is played in so many arenas: health care, guns, immigration, etc, etc. The common good, and common sense, seem to take a back seat to scoring points. It doesn't have to be this way. The Los Angeles Times recently published an opinion article written by the four leaders of the California Legislature during our state's budget crisis in 2009.
We spent weeks in early February with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and together concluded there was only one way out: Both sides had to cross over and vote for budget solutions antithetical to our interests and desires.
There was no great "kumbaya" moment. The negotiations were difficult, exhausting and extremely frustrating. Each side sought a little more of one solution and a little less of the other. But over time, the four of us, all with different backgrounds and beliefs, went from being suspicious of one another to developing a strange but genuine camaraderie as we pulled the budget deal together.
... Our story and the current federal crisis are not identical. But we tell this story because the current circumstances are close enough. Sometimes what matters most is the future of the state or the nation.
"Sometimes what matters most is the future of the state or the nation." In other words, the family comes first. When politics is played as a game in which one party wins and the other loses, we all suffer. Compromise is not weakness, when doing so advances the common good. And stubbornly holding to your principles is not integrity if it violates that same good. When we stop playing the game, politics becomes an instrument for serving the needs of our family. That is noble and righteous by any standard.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."