If You Think Washington is Broken, Perhaps You Should Take a Deep Look in the Mirror


These days, one of my greatest frustrations is with people who complain about politicians.  This essentially means that I’m frustrated with almost everyone I know.

I’m frustrated because I find most people’s view towards politicians to be rather irresponsible.  Americans live in a democracy, governed by the persons they themselves elected.  The people in government who are making policy and passing laws that govern the everyday lives of all of us didn’t fall out of the sky, ordained by god.  In some way or another, the politicians people complain about were chosen by themselves.

“But I didn’t personally elect most of the politicians,” most people respond, yet there’s something deeply troubling about this attitude.  Historically, Americans have overwhelmingly disapproved of the way Congress handles its job, but they have mostly approved of the way their own representative is performing.  This gap today remains as large as it ever has been at 30 percentage points, which means that nearly one out of three Americans think that Congress sucks, but it’s only because of the people outside of their state and their districts.  We don’t look too kindly upon the children in schools and professionals in the workplace who blame others when things don’t go their way, yet when it comes to politics, the blame game (by the people) is not only accepted  but seemingly embraced.

I’m not too sympathetic to the general complaint about the vicious rhetoric coming out of Washington, either.  Over the years, I heard far more ungrounded, malicious, personal attacks coming from the people I personally met, both from the right and the left, in all walks of life, in college, law school and in the workplace than from politicians in Washington.  If the American people are serious about wanting to change the tone in Washington, my suggestion is that the American electorate, particularly those who are most vocal about politics, ask themselves when is the last time they said anything nice about the people they disagree with.

I also don’t care for the self-rightousness of most people who bemoan politicians without principles because I have yet to meet a single person (present company included) who ever voted for a politician who stuck by his or her principles although the person disagreed with the politician.  When people say they want politicians with principles, what they really mean is they want politicians who are principled in the beliefs that they hold.  Much like Henry Ford, who, when asked what color options he would provide for the cars he sold, responded “any color, so long as it’s black,” American elecotrate’s view on principled politicians is “principled, so long as it’s my principles.”

What’s particularly insulting about people’s demand for principled politicians is that people themselves are hardly principled.  When Americans were asked whether there should be oil drilling in the ANWAR region of Alaska, the majority answered no, until oil prices went up, at which point a significant percentage of people changed their minds.  When it comes to the budget of any level of government, what people want can best be summarized as “more spending for programs with lower taxes and no borrowing.”  This is the proverbial “eating the cake and wanting to have it, too.”

I find it funny that people complain about “wasteful” spending in Congress because I don’t know anyone who complains about a check he/she received from the government.  It seems a government spending is wasteful only when it’s spent on others.  By that definition, though, no spending can be wasteful on a collective basis because there’s always a recipient of a spending that government is allocating.  Not too many people seem to catch onto this rather obvious conondrum.

All this isn’t to suggest that Congress is free from all the blame in what’s going on in Washington.   I certainly think our politicians can do better.

But the point of my rant is to highlight the difficulties of governance in a democracy, in a system of government in which the people–from San Francisco, California to Birmingham, Alabama, all of whom have fundamentally differing ideas about how America is and how it should be–all have a say in the way American government is run.  I think the people have the right to be selfish, and to vote their self-interest.  But if they do so, they need to take responsible for the divisive consequences that result.

When I look at the “broken” Washington of today, I don’t see a systematic failure in the governance of America.  Rather, I see a Washington that represents the divisive America that exists today.  Washington is divisive not in spite of the American people, but because of it.  A true progress in American politics would be the day that the majority of Americans come to terms with this, and realize that the problem isn’t so much in the politicians we elect, but in the people who elect them.

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9 Responses to “If You Think Washington is Broken, Perhaps You Should Take a Deep Look in the Mirror”


  1. 1 jon porus October 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    All very true, sadly. People are incredibly hypocritical.

    The only point I disagree about is the divide between the performance of Congress and the performance of one’s elected congressman. The gridlock of opposing views and inflexibility has led to the current predicament. There’s been a terrible unwillingness to compromise. However, its perfectly reasonable to think that a person’s elected official is sticking to their guns, and holding to the value of the district while being unable to do anything about it in Congress (i.e., a Texan Republican trying but failing to overturn ObamaCare might be pleasing to the district although they don’t like the result because of other region’s politicians)

    • 2 joesas October 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Jon,

      I don’t disagree!

  2. 3 Noodles August 6, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Three years later, I notice a flaw in this logic: “It seems [that] government spending is wasteful only when it’s spent on others. By that definition, though, no spending can be wasteful on a collective basis because there’s always a recipient of a spending that government is allocating.” In sociology, the concept of the Other is non inclusive to the Self. That applied realistically means that when our tax dollars go to finance, oh say the rescue and treatment of African refugees from an ebola outbreak in a small village in Nigeria, most Americans will not see how that expenditure of resources and money will “come back to them”. They are too near sighted or paranoid to see the value in a potential economic alliance with Nigeria, which is flourishing in business growth and green technology development, through the protection of their people. Combine all the problems of the world from the American perspective that somehow we can and should find a way to help out, and the large majority of those efforts becoming failures, and after a while it starts to look like either us burning money or us spending money on other countries.

    • 4 joesas October 10, 2016 at 8:52 am

      Noodles,

      Isn’t it only a logical flaw in the context of foreign aid (which I wasn’t thinking about because it only constitutes a small portion of the federal budget)? For domestic spending, I think the statement still holds true, no?

  3. 5 Rich November 7, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Should have led with this, “When I look at the “broken” Washington of today, I don’t see a systematic failure in the governance of America. Rather, I see a Washington that represents the divisive America that exists today. Washington is divisive not in spite of the American people, but because of it.”

    • 6 joesas November 14, 2016 at 8:29 am

      Rich,

      Based on your advice, I really tried redrafting by bringing that part forward, but I couldn’t do make it work. It’s so hard to redo something.

      Here’s an interesting tidbit. In English (as you know) you start off with the punchline and you explain how and why in the subsequent paragraphs. In Japanese, you really build up to the punchline.

      Sometimes I’ve wondered whether the Japanese style has seeped into my English writing. When you made this comment, I felt like what I had suspected was indeed happening.

      Joe


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